This morning, Nathaniel busted out the mittens, long underwear and a new winter coat. Alexa’s chipper voice tells us there is a freeze warning in effect in Brooklyn tonight and you can bet we will be doing indoor play this weekend.
Since we’ve got to make these long hours inside filled with something other than screens and shpilkes (that’s Yiddish for “ants in one’s pants”), we’ll be playing “Hands Through” – one of my all-time favorite theater games and a staple in our Child’s Play NY classes.
Just setting up the right kind of game, can provide hours of silly – and enriching – fun. Plus it keeps us warm!
“Hands Through” is a great indoor play option to have in your back-pocket. As with all the theater games I offer up here, there are real benefits. For example, this one can help with bonding, communicating and social-emotional development.
Indoor play can be as purposeful as it is silly. While the best games are obviously screen-free, they are also mess-free (who needs more stuff to clean up?). Ideally, there is a clear structure that parents set up that kids can ultimately master and take over.
“Hands Though” not only checks all those boxes, it is incredibly joyful to play.
The Only Indoor Play Game You’ll Ever Need
Watch this video – and our expert weigh-in from Small Brooklyn Psychology – to learn how (and why) to play “Hands Through”.
Here’s How to Play
- Player One sits in a chair, with their arms out in front of them. They are the “Hands”.
- Player Two sits in front of Player One and clasps their own hands behind their back. They are the “Talker”.
- Hands threads his/her arms through the space between Talker’s ribs and arms.
- Then, Hands hides his/her head under a cloth, coat or oversized sweater.
The Crux of the Game
Once the players are in position, the game starts. Encourage the Hands to really gesture. It is essential that they are really active and creative, finding lots of ways to connect with the object, gesture, and engage with the Talker.
I find it helpful if there is a third person as an interviewer. Depending on the age of your players, this Interviewer can be an adult, or a kid who is able to keep the momentum of the game going by asking great leading questions.
Once you model the style of an interview, kids (ages 5 and up) are more than able to step into this role as well. Here are some ways to scaffold Hands Through so that it has a little narrative flow. In these variations, the Talker can be…
- An expert in something and the interviewer asks them all about it.
- Selling something, infomercial-style.
- Speaking in character based on a person from a book they love.
Tips on Play
As part of scaffolding the play, set a clear signal for the players to either switch, or trade out with other kids. For example, asking how much their object costs, asking the viewers – if there is an audience – if they would like to buys said object, or simply setting a timer and having it go off to signal the end of the turn.
If you playing this as part of a birthday party or with a larger group, you can have four kids go simultaneously and even talk to each other and interact.
Use the audience if you’ve got one – and have them sit as close to the front of the players as possible where sightlines for the hands are best.
The players also have to be connected to an object and paying attention to how it is touched. Is it touched gently or roughly? Is it thrown, bounced, dropped, smushed? The Talker has to be aware of these details and incorporate them into the conversation about the product.
Above all, make sure that you are silly and go with your instincts as an adult player. Watch this for more ideas on how to use improv to enhance playing with your kids during indoor play.
Tools you Need
- Cloth to hide the person in back – this can be a big scarf, sweater or coat
- Any kind of prop for the Hands to hold onto to.
- pretend microphone to direct the speaker (I use an iphone or a pen!)
Collaborative Indoor Play is Best
This game makes your kid a better listener
The players have to be incredibly connected and listening to each other, although not in the traditional sense. The person playing the Hands is communicating, but not through words. Rather, their gestures and actions have to be “listened” to and processed by the Talker in front They are a complicit team: essentially, two people become one.
Accurately reading non-verbal communication is an important skill for any child to learn. Gesture, and body movements are as much a language as words. This game offers the kind of practice with interpreting these kind of gestures, all through play.
Make sure you watch the video above to see the weigh-in by Dr. Mandi White-Ajmani, owner of Small Brooklyn Psychology about how this game positively impacts child development.
The joy of this game comes from working hard to synch up the gestures the Hands make in the back with the story of the Talker in the front. The Talker has to justify the moves that the Hands come up with. The only way this successfully works is if there is true attention – ie listening – paid to the body language.
Here are some examples I have seen in Child’s Play NY classes, where kids work together, listening to gesture. The Hands…
- start tapping the side of head the Talker in front – and the Talker starts to discuss how smart or how much she knows.
- aggressively point to onlookers and the Talker decides to reprimand someone.
- use their fingers to count, and the Talker has to say the number the Hands come up with.
- begin to comb hair, pat face, squeeze cheeks and the Talker has to discuss and justify each of these actions.
Impulse Control Bonanza
Although the person in the back guides a lot of the playing through their gesture, they are essentially hidden from the audience (except for their hands) and must remain silent. Additionally, the person in front may want to gesticulate as well, but they have to restrain themselves as their hands are behind their back and the illusion is destroyed if their hands emerge. Through this game, kids get to practice impulse control by way of play.
Another social-emotional benefit of this game is that kids get to practice perspective taking. As the two players literally merge into one, they have to take on the other player’s perspective in order to create a unified person and story.
Here’s Who Should Play
A Great Game for Siblings
Since there is often a natural physical comfort between siblings (they know about roughhousing and being close too), Hands Through is automatically easy for them to play. It it bonding and the adult interviewer can lead the discussion to interesting places that might be helpful for siblings to discuss.
Switching off the roles of Talker and Hands – allowing equal turns – is key. It can be empowering for littler siblings to be in front as the Talker, while their bigger sibling is behind as Hands. And when the smaller person is the hands, they actually have a lot of control over the scene since all their gestures have to be justified and addressed!
Even without an audience present, you can play it one-on-one with your child. It can open the floodgates of communication, especially since there is no direct eye-contact (think Taxicab Confessions) and you can talk through issues that you might not otherwise bring up because there is the safety-net of play.
An Indoor Play Sleepover Game
This game is a magical one for sleepovers. While it is certainly giggle-inducing, the trick is that it requires everyone to be still, so it is a fun one for winding down. Hands Through almost feels like a show, so use it instead of lots of screen-time.
An Indoor Play Birthday Party Game
Hands Through is a great ice-breaker and essential for the indoor play at parties that happen in the colder months. Partner up kids who don’t know each other to develop camaraderie among the birthday party guests.
Customize it how you see fit, laugh and stay warm!
Thanks for watching and playing!