Outdoor play is essential to our kids’ health and well-being. That said, given the need to keep distant and wear masks, the normal routines of play for our kids can feel strained. Therefore, I’m excited to share some of the activities that have been working well for my theater program, Child’s Play NY.
To get some more inspiration, I turned to the teachers of Child’s Play NY who have been in the “play-trenches” this year. It was a pleasure to interview four of these intrepid and innovative teachers. These folks have been re-imagining our traditional theater games (not to mention braving all kinds of weather!) to jump into outdoor play with our students. Unsurprisingly, the kids have risen to the occasion, and have relished the robust and silly games and made them a joy to play!
So, whether you are doing a park playdate, a party, or running your own playgroup, use these to get the games flowing. Once the kids know what the games are, you can step back and let the playing take care of itself! Connect with me about any questions on the playing and to share what games helped the kids in their outdoor play.
What games have helped kids socialize best, even through a mask?
Amanda Mason: “Hey, guess what?” provided the opportunity for one kid to go run to a landmark like a tree. They use their imagination to look out with their “binoculars” or “telescope,”. Then they got to share their findings with their friends by describing what they saw!
Olivia Dunn: “I got you something” worked really well as a game to promote interpersonal connection and on-the-spot creativity while keeping our distance. Tossing our imaginary gifts to each other across the distance between offered a nice moment to make eye contact and feel seen, even with our masks on.
Brandon Zelman: Red Light Green Light and Dance Parties have been my favorite. Taking a page from clown school, I also like this take on a Name Game: standing in a circle, kids give themselves – a new silly name and they have to do a dance in the middle as their new character. Also, I play something called New Move where the kids will make up a name for a new move and then teach us. They’ll take turns demoing it in the center while we copy it. Zip Zap Zop, is a classic theater game that works great too. It keeps kids on their feet, thinking on their toes!
Hilary Kelman: A rescue mission always brings a group together. It’s a birthday party go-to. Incorporate the party’s theme with a rescue mission! Princess party? Someone kidnapped the royal kitten! Octonauts? A dolphin is stuck in an underwater cave! They get to work as teammates to solve the problem by…building a submarine…packing the right supplies…relying on each other’s superpowers.
What games helped to keep them moving the most when it was cold out?
Amanda Mason: Flying through different clouds in our warm ups and having the kids pick what the cloud was–bumpy cloud, silly cloud, slow motion cloud, fast motion cloud, sleepy cloud, allowed them to move around even in one spot.
We loved to play “Missions” aka “Sneaky Tag” to a far away landmark like a tree to steal back treasure from a sleeping pirate or grab a magical item from a sleeping witch and bring it back to the class were also great to get a nice burst of energy going.
Olivia Dunn: Instructional movement songs and various Freeze Dance songs were a fan favorite. Many of these songs can easily be followed while staying in one spot (personal space) or keeping a personal bubble while moving around in general space. Encourage big gestures/shapes and lots of up and down movement, when applicable, to keep the blood pumping!
Brandon Zelman: Improvised Obstacle Course, that’s where one person runs their own obstacle course. They are kinda like a carnival barker and will give instructions like: “hop to the tree, run around the garbage can four times, act like a cat to the picnic benches”. Then everyone goes for it, and follows their instructions, either all at once or in teams of two.
Hilary Kelman: With the students in my “Blast Off!” class, we created an intergalactic runway and we took turns walking and dancing down it as different aliens and space creatures.
What games got them into their feelings/emotions and expressing themselves?
Amanda Mason: Traveling through different clouds (above) and getting from the kids the kind of cloud it was was useful for them to explore feelings, too. One kid shouted out that we were in a MAD CLOUD, and so we all got to be mad, mad, mad! Another shouted out that it was a silly cloud, so we got to be our silliest!
Gibberish Translator was a hit for self expression, too. I pretended to be an alien, and while we were working as a team to translate what I was saying, one of them just started speaking in Alien, too! She was delighted by my surprise that she spoke Alien, too, and it allowed her to make up fun and silly sounds and movements to communicate with our alien friend!
Olivia Dunn: This particular small group, made up of very close friends, created their own game called The Hyena Family. Inspired by their current obsession and admiration for hyenas, the game consists of acting out a day in the life of a hyena family, full of dramatic interactions between mother hyena and her baby hyenas, the thrilling hunting missions of father hyena, and lots of playful dance battles. These imaginary circumstances of playing hyenas with particular familial roles really got the group into expressing emotions and creating/resolving conflict.
Hilary Kelman: Silly 8-count shake out is a great physical and emotional warmup. Counting down from 8 to 1, you shake out each of your limbs but you let the kids decide what style. They can choose an emotion or feeling: shake out as angrily/gleefully/sleepily as you can! I also love dramatic scenarios like: “there is a T-rex chasing you!” Or, “there’s an earthquake!”, shape (circles, zigzags), characters (we’re robots!)…there are no limitations!
Any other game or play ideas that you have for parents out there?
Olivia Dunn: Hosting a Talent Show can be an absolute blast. All you need is a host/presenter and a contestant or contestants – the categories are limitless!
Hilary Kelman: It’s fun to take advantage of what your landscape has to offer. Students use sticks, leaves, rocks (whatever is at hand) to build a Hero (obstacle) course. Also, they build traps for evil sorcerers, zombies, bridges to get from one cliff’s edge to another. They really enjoy working together to design and construct.
What were some successful ways you were able to keep distance and stay playful?
Hilary Kelman: During Mythology camp, we established our personal space by laying down towels or blankets and calling them our islands where we each were the ruling god or goddess. We took turns pretending to put up moats, fortifications, magical protection spells. These physical landmarks (turned imaginary) made staying in our space into a game
I hope you enjoy these outdoor play games!
Thanks for watching, reading and playing
Amanda Mason is a Brooklyn-based actress, originally from Houston, Texas. She trained at Boston University (BFA) and London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA). She is the co-founder of an all-female theater collective; Edinburgh Fringe Festival and 59E59 have featured her original plays. When Amanda isn’t teaching, she stays busy writing, training with UCB, and even marrying people (yes, she’s ordained!) over Zoom. Learn more about Amanda here.
Brandon Zelman is an actor, comedian and filmmaker from Brooklyn. He is a graduate of Fordham University at Lincoln Center. Brandon has worked as director at the Mill Basin Day Camp and a performer at Ripley’s Believe It or Not. He is an improviser with Story Pirates the team Promises at UCB Lloyd Night. Learn more about Brandon here.
Hilary Kelman is a professional actor, producer, and educator raised in Kansas City. Hilary holds an MFA from East 15 Acting School in the UK and a BA from the University of Kansas. She has performed in a variety of productions in NYC, regionally, and internationally. She has worked with Merry-Go-Round Playhouse and Hampstead Stage Company, bringing youth theatre and arts education to students. Hilary believes arts education and play are paramount for the development of empathetic, confident, and resourceful children. Hilary has toured the UK and US with Ladies in Waiting: The Judgement of Henry VIII as Catherine of Aragon.
Olivia Dunn is an actor, singer, and movement artist. She has performed in a variety of regional theaters along the east coast and performance spaces in the NYC area. Olivia is a certified yoga instructor for all ages and levels. She teaches vinyasa and hot yoga for small corporate groups and privates all around the city. She also enjoys teaching dance to young children at the Mark Morris Dance Center in Brooklyn. Olivia holds a BFA in Drama from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.