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Family Games: Teaching Life Skills; Hunt the Thimble, Chinese Whispers, I-Spy and More; Rules and Skills

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Ann is a retired teacher of literacy and EFL (English as a foreign language) to multi-national and dyslexic students, having a DipSpLD.

Traditional Family Games

There are so many games I played as a child which seem to have faded from use with the onset of computer games. Though I’m sure some are still played, along with board games, I think it’s a pastime in decline.

I’m concentrating mainly on the games which can be played with friends and family without needing to spend money; games using our imagination, observation and knowledge. You probably know some of them, if not all, but might need reminders. If they’re new to you, I hope you have fun trying them out!

Skills for Learning

Skills for Learning

Skills being Learnt

A child learns all the time when interacting with family, friends and peers. With games, learning comes through fun. At the same time, though, various processes are being practised automatically; short- and long-term memory, careful thinking, piecing together information, considering outcomes, sequencing and spelling, as well as achieving success which we all enjoy!

Through play so many life skills can be learnt without tedium, without the child realising they are being ‘taught’ and with the added bonus of building social skills. It’s also a great way to have quality family time.

Your Experiences

Let me know of any games you enjoyed when young; maybe you still play them, maybe you’ve passed them on to your grandchildren. Some of your rules may differ. Whatever the case, I’d love to hear about them.

The use of these games will vary depending on the age and abilities of those involved; I’m starting with the easiest and I’m not including games which involve drawing or writing (those are for another hub).

Can you find it?

Can you find it?



You need a thimble! Something similar, small enough to hide easily, will do, although a simple metal sewing thimble is ideal because it stands up easily, you can’t break it and it shines so can be glimpsed more easily (and children love old, shiny things!).

How to Play

Those playing need to shut their eyes, no peeking!, until you’ve hidden the thimble and you’ve told them they can start looking.

When anyone goes towards the object, you say ‘You’re getting warmer.’ The closer s/he gets, ‘you’re very warm’, ‘you’re getting hotter’, etc.

Whoever finds the object is the one who hides it for the next search.

Skills being practised

Observation (looking high, low, under, behind),

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Memory (which places were ‘cold’, what the object looks like),

Spatial awareness (where it could fit & be hidden, where you can reach, where you’ve already looked),

Imagination (which place will be difficult and why, using a variety of places)

Children love hiding things from each other, they love the thrill of choosing as difficult a place as possible and they love the triumph of finding something.

The Moon is Round


You need a ‘drawing’ stick/baton which can be easily held in one hand, not too long and not pointed (to avoid any accidents!). It’s going to be used to ‘draw’ in the air.

How to Play

You need 4 or more people (including you).

Sit everyone in a circle as the stick will be passed round continuously.

Say that you're going to draw something in the air, that you want them to look carefully and then copy what you do.

Start the game by holding the stick in either hand and pretending to draw a moon in the air, accompanying each movement by saying,

‘The moon is round (draw a circle), it has two eyes (draw 2 points in the circle), a nose (1 point below the eyes) and a mouth’ (a curve at the base of the imaginary circle).

Then pass the stick to the person on your left, with your LEFT hand.

You then say to the person on your left ‘Can you do exactly what I’ve just done?’ and encourage them to do the drawing and say the words (you can help with the words).

The trick is that each person, as the stick is handed round to the left, must pass on the stick with his/her LEFT hand - that’s the only requirement (but you don't tell them that!).

Everyone should be watching and trying to work out how to do it correctly. Have a trial run round the circle, then say, ‘Right, now whoever gets it right can stay in the circle, but those who get it wrong will be ‘out’.’ Repeat the 'air drawing' yourself, then pass on the stick (with your left hand, of course). They will be concentrating really hard to see what you do and to work out how others might be getting it wrong.

Skills being practised:

Careful, detailed observation


Pass it on!

Pass it on!

How to Draw the Moon

How to Draw the Moon

Chinese Whispers


A few short sentences written on paper as suggestions (to be read for the person if necessary). It’s important not to make them too long as the words can become totally lost; the amusing part of this is that some words remain but make the meaning totally different!

How to Play

A game for up to 10 people (or more if you know the message is going to be passed on quite well).

One person decides on a short sentence, e.g. ‘I’m going to the station tonight.’ A simple phrase will do, to make it easier; for example ‘fish and chips’.

That person then whispers the sentence to the next person, who then passes on the message to the next and so on.

You have to make sure that the message is only heard by the intended recipient. You also must insist that the message is repeated exactly as heard, with no repetitions. When these rules have been explained, then start one off yourself.

When the message gets back to the originator, s/he says it out loud and then says what it should have been. The changes are often most amusing.

If a group has managed to deliver the message unchanged, then they deserve a huge round of applause!

Skills being practised


Auditory Memory (short-term and sequential)

Clear speech

Awareness of syntax

Knowledge of vocabulary

Anything you can buy at the shops!

Anything you can buy at the shops!

I Went to the Market and Bought...



(for younger ones or those with no ideas, you can have a few props as cues/ reminders, though the items still have to be recalled in the correct order - then move on to trying the game without props)

How to Play

You need 3 or more people, though for practical purposes it’s probably better to have between 3 and 10. Sit in a circle.

One person starts by saying ‘I went to the market and bought (a book).’

The next person says, ‘I went to the market and bought (a book) and (a scarf).’

Each person round the circle has to repeat the phrase with all the previous items in the correct order, then add an item of his/her own. Anyone who gets the list wrong or in the wrong order, is out. The winner is the last person to name all correctly.

The more people there are, the easier it can be for anyone to remember the items because an item can be matched to a face even though eventually each person names more than one item.

Skills being practised


Auditory Memory - short-term, sequential

Visual association

Knowledge of Vocabulary



Nothing - just an environment with plenty of objects around!

How to Play

This requires 2 or more people.

One starts by saying ‘I spy with my little eye something beginning with (a letter)’, giving the first letter of an object which can be seen by all.

The first person to guess the object correctly takes a turn at saying ‘I spy.......’, giving the first letter of another object.

You can make it more complicated by allowing two letters, for example C T for ‘coffee table’. You can also allow clues if people are finding it difficult to guess the object; the clue shouldn’t be too easy!

If the object is not guessed within a pre-agreed amount of time, or when everyone agrees, then the one whose object it is can reveal the answer and gain a point. The winner is s/he with the most points. Alternatively the game can be played without worrying about points; people love to guess correctly!

Skills being practised

Knowledge of spelling

Knowledge of vocabulary


Imagination (choosing objects which could be more difficult to guess)

Further games for older children and adults

More hubs to come on other games which can be used to help children learn a variety of skills, as well as learn about the world around us, about other people and about interacting with others.

Many of these games are great fun for adults too. It's good to re-visit these childhood games, to let your hair down but, above all, to watch your children improve their social and life skills and build bonds within family and with friends.

Tell us about your family's favourite games - the ones which don't need a computer, the ones you get together for on high days and holidays.

© 2012 Ann Carr


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on December 02, 2013:

Sounds great, Beth! Thank you so much for your contribution. It's so interesting to hear about all these alternatives. Ann

Beth Eaglescliffe on December 02, 2013:

Instead of hunt the thimble, we used to play hunt the sixpence. The carpet in our main living room had an intricate pattern of tiny loops and swirls. The sixpence could be hidden "in full view" just by placing it onto the complex pattern. (I was only six years old at the time!)

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on March 06, 2013:

radame7: Thank you for your comment. I don't think any child tires of 'Hunt the Thimble', from 0-100! Apologies for the late reply but I didn't get notification of your comment. Much appreciated.

radame7 on February 27, 2013:

Nice tips - I'll definitely try the thimble game!

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on February 25, 2013:

Thanks Melovy; I appreciate your comment as well as the input. I like the scissors one! Good to see you again. Ann

Yvonne Spence from UK on February 25, 2013:

We played I-spy constantly on journeys when our kids were little, but I've not heard of the Moon is Round before. It reminds me of a game I once played in a yoga class (yes really!) where we passed round something (scissors or 2 pens perhaps) and said, "I'm giving these to you crossed." Some people got it right and some wrong, but eventually we worked out that it wasn't what we passed round that mattered but whether our legs were crossed or not!

A fun hub!

Casimiro on January 15, 2013:

It can be any word, but HORSE is traditional. You just keep track of your own count in your head.

Say I'm first to shoot. I make a shot with my back to the basket and it goes in. The next person has to make the same shot or else they earn a letter. If I don't make the shot then the other person makes whatever shot they want to challenge with. For extra fun, you can call "swish" and if the shot goes in without touching the rim of the basket then the other person has to make a swish shot, too.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on January 15, 2013:

Do you collect a letter from a pile of the alphabet, or only certain letters? How does the spelling of H-O-R-S-E come about? I feel I'm being a bit dense but I still don't quite understand, sorry!

Casimiro on January 15, 2013:


Sure. If a person makes a successful shot, then the person following must make the same shot, the same way. If they fail, they collect a letter. The fun is making the shots in creative ways, such as with your eyes closed, or upside down, etc. The first one to spell H-O-R-S-E is out.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on January 15, 2013:

Casimiro: can you explain what that is please? I have never heard of it and it would be useful to know. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to contribute.

Casimiro on January 15, 2013:

For older kids, a game of "HORSE" with the basketball is really fun. You can spell any word, of course. It's a great skills leveler as the kids can shoot any way they want.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on December 13, 2012:

Thanks for reading and for the comment Dolores. It's interesting to learn about people's alternative names too.

Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on December 13, 2012:

Not only are these games helpful but it's so much fun to play with the kids. We used to play Chinese Whispers only we called it gossip.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on December 02, 2012:

Thanks Mhatter99. Good of you to drop by and take the time to comment. Ann

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on December 02, 2012:

Thank you billy! I'd be interested if you remember the alternative name for Hunt the Thimble. Always great to have your comments and support. Ann

Thanks Mhatter99. Good of you to stop by and take the time to comment. Ann

Martin Kloess from San Francisco on November 30, 2012:

Thank you for this. I think you are right. I was a game collector since I was 8. My kid's first game was Stack-em". It only required blocks.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on November 30, 2012:

Great suggestions Ann! I have never heard of the last few, but the thimble one we used to play by a different name...and I can't remember what that name was. LOL I'm all for parents playing these games with their kids; great learning opportunities.

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