Hide and Seek is a classic kid activity, but it’s not just fun and games.
Hide and Seek is amazing for our kids’ brains, hearts and bodies!
It spans cultures and times, and we all know how to play – but let’s talk about why you should play. I’m also offering ways to elevate the game – inspired by the Child’s Play NY classroom – to make it sophisticated and satisfying at any age. (Just please remember to always play safely and establish ground-rules that fit the space you are in and the age of kids with whom you are playing.)
On the most profound level, humans – especially children – crave learning. And Hide and Seek is an astounding teacher. Watch these preschool children playing, and listen to our collaborator, Dr. Aliza Pressman, of Seedlings Group, weighing in on the benefits of this game.
Here’s Why To Play:
Play “Hide and Seek” to Strengthen the Brain with…
Executive Functioning Skills
These skills grow our kids’ mental capacity in powerful ways and have been proven to be predictive of school readiness, school success, successful life outcomes and future happiness. 1 For more about the incredible evidence-based research that connects these skills with our children’s ability to thrive, see Dr. Adele Diamond’s article here.
However, kids aren’t born with these skills programmed in. Therefore, we must teach them. What better way than to learn through play? Amazingly enough, Hide and Seek hits all of the pillars of executive functioning: Working Memory, Mental Flexibility and Self Control.
1. Working Memory: Kids can keep important information in mind even as they process other info. I’m remembering those instructions and rules as I’m playing. First it’s my turn to hide. Then it will be my turn to count.
2. Task Initiation: Kids can get started on a goal. I want to find the best place to hide.
3. Organization: Kids can keep track of things physically and mentally. I already looked under the bed, now I’ll look in the closet.
4. Planning and Prioritizing: Kids can make a goal and execute it. If I hide here, my feet will stick out, so I’m going to find a better place!
5. Perspective Taking: Kids can place themselves in another person’s position.2 If I was my mom, where would I hide?
6. Flexible Thinking: Kids adapt to unexpected or new circumstances. I thought for sure they were under the bed. But they aren’t so I’m going to keep looking.
7. Impulse Control: Helps to think before you act. If I blurt out “I’m here!” the game is over. So I’ll hold on to my words!
8. Emotion Control: Helps to keep modulate strong feelings. I may feel a little scared not knowing where my friend/parent is, but I really want to play (and find them!), so I’ll keep going.
Play Hide and Seek to Bond with your Child
At its most basic level, Hide and Seek is like an elevated game of peek-a-boo. Babies thrive with that game because it helps teach them about object permanence. They get positively giddy with the feeling of re-finding something they thought was lost, and learning that even something that they can’t see, still exists.
9. Boost Happiness: The sheer joy of “being found” by friends or grown-ups can flood our kids brains with serotonin – a key hormone in regulating moods and increasing happiness.
10. Work Through Separations: Play this game when you are working through separation anxiety, such as transitioning to a daycare or going back to school or even going off to sleep-away camp. The comfort in knowing that you’ll be reunited, and the pleasure that happens when you do, are being practiced on a playful level with this game. It will serve as a touchstone for your kids when they have to deal with longer separations.
Play Hide and Seek to Boost Emotional Intelligence
11. Practicing Courage: It can be scary to play this game – to live in a state of unknowing. That said, the more we can expose our kids to those feelings in a safe and playful context, the better prepared they will be for feelings of uncertainty when they arise in them. Their coping muscles will be stronger.
12. Fostering Independence: Giving kids the choice of where to hide and where to look may seem obvious, but for the preschool set, these steps of independence are hugely empowering. Make sure you set the safety boundaries appropriate for your space and ages of children. And then let them free!
Play Hide and Seek for Gross Motor Development
13. Co-ordination and Balance: Kids are working on spatial reasoning when they determine if they will fit or be hidden in a certain spot. All the better if it requires agility and flexibility to fit!
14. Exercise: When you are stuck indoors and want an alternative to screen time, this game will get you moving. If you are outside, you can add in the element of a spirited run and a large distance between the counter and the designated hiding spots. No doubt your kid’s heart rate will go up – if not through sheer excitement of the game – but because of lots of great moving!
Ways to Elevate Hide and Seek
While we all know the traditional way to play, I’m suggesting here some ways to take “Hide and Seek” to the next level so that it is satisfying and challenging for kids of all ages.
Give the Hide and Seek a Dramatic Play Context
Hiding and being found is such an elemental part of growing up, so it’s no small wonder that many fairy tales provide excellent frameworks for your game. Use the characters and scenarios from classic children’s literature to add in some dramatic-play and kick the game up a notch.
I love to riff on Jack and the Beanstalk (or my favorite, Kate and the Beanstalk by Mary Pope Osbourne), Peter Rabbit, Peter and the Wolf, Swan Lake, or make up my own story! Make sure that you give your children or the youngest players an opportunity to play the “big bad” characters too.
You can also simply play as characters that excite your children. Kid Detectives or Superheroes are natural fits with this game.
Change up the Counting
Before your kids start counting and shout “Ready or Not, Here I Come!”, think about ways to customize for your family. Here are some unique ways to kick off the game:
- Count by 2s, 3s, or another number to work on multiplication
- Count in another language you may be exposing your kids to
- Use the alphabet instead of counting
- Count in character voice if you are using a story-framework.
Turn Hide and Seek into Tag
Use tag as a creative add-on for kids ages 5 and up.
If you are spotted in your hiding spot, make a run for it! Designate a home-base or a safe-zone. Decide if other players can “free” people who get tagged.
As long as you are clear with the rules or collaboratively decide on them, you can customize this part of the game to suit your age and number of players. This is a great option for outdoor play and to improve gross-motor functioning.
What are your Tips?
I love to hear from my readers about the ways they play these games in their families and classrooms to maximize play-potential. Please chime in below to let me know your variations for growth!
Ready or not…Here we come!
- Diamond, Adele. “Want to Optimize Executive Functions and Academic Outcomes?: Simple, Just Nourish the Human Spirit.” Minnesota Symposia on Child Psychology. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 28 Oct. 2014. Web. 04 Feb. 2017.
- Nilsen, E. S. “The Relations between Children’s Communicative Perspective-taking and Executive Functioning.” Cognitive Psychology. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Mar. 2009. Web. 04 Feb. 2017.