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Playing Charades With Kids

Updated on June 26, 2012
Charlie Chaplin (1889 - 1977), one of the world's most well known pantomimes.
Charlie Chaplin (1889 - 1977), one of the world's most well known pantomimes. | Source

My three boys, ages 8, 6 and 3, play charades with such passion and energy that it has turned into one of our favorite family activities. I love it, too, because we can play it anywhere and anytime. It literally just requires us, and a little bit of creativity. The hardest part is usually to contain the excitement, and to decide who goes first as well as the order in which everyone follows. It is wonderful to see their eagerness to play and best of all, to see them come out of their shells and become entertainers.

Setting the Ground Rules

Boys seem to spend an awful lot of time deciding on the rules of the game. Charades is one of those games where the rules are plentiful and varied, so I do suggest that you spend a few minutes to get agreement before you start. We try not to stray too much from the basics: only body movements, no language, and a quiet hand for those of us who have a guess.

We also choose not to split into teams. Everyone plays for themselves. Each one of us gets a turn coming up with an idea and puts the idea into action. No props are allowed. Once the answer is correctly guessed, the next person in line takes center stage. There is no score keeping or time keeping. We do try to remember not to shout out answers for the benefit of the littlest one. If noone can guess the answer, the actor takes pride in having 'stumped' the rest of the family.

Why We Love Playing Charades

Playing charades is a wonderful exercise for the creative mind. Especially for my boys, where organized sports seem to rule the majority of our free time. I think they love it because it is still a physical game, satisfying their need to be on the move all the time.

I love it because I get to see their creativity come to life, not only in their choice of charade but also how they choose to execute it. The other day at the beach, my 6-year-old laid flat on his belly in the sand and awkwardly flopped his body with his arms by his side. Unable to come up with the answer among the two families who were playing together, he proudly announced he was "a fish washed up on the beach". We all had a good laugh!

The Universal Signs of Charades

Reviewing universal signs of charades might only be necessary if speed and winning the game is on your mind. In particular, pantomiming the specific category is often perceived as the first crucial step in playing charades so as to narrow the guessing field.

  • For an author: clap your hands together and then split them apart so as to motion the pages of a book being turned
  • For a movie actor: pretend to crank an old-fashioned film camera
  • For a TV personality: draw the shape of a box with your fingers to visualize a TV to others
  • For a singer: pretend to hold on to a microphone and mouth words into it
  • For 'sounds like': hold your cupped hand to your ear, or tug your earlobe, before acting
  • For a person: place your hands on your hips, thumbs pointing backwards (a special note about genders: let your imagination be your guide, but holding up an index finger to signal a male and drawing a circle in the air to signal a female might work for you.)
  • To indicate someone has guessed a portion of your charade correctly: point one index finger to your nose and the other index finger to the person
  • To signal 'You are on the wrong track': wave your hands, palms down, in a criss-cross motion, much as you would to call someone safe during a game of baseball
  • To signal 'You are on the right track': palm facing towards you, wave your hand in a circular motion

Playing Celebrity Charades

This particular version of charades is one of our favorites. It works for grown-ups and kids alike with just minor modifications. We first played this in our early thirthies and have fond memories of many fun evenings together with our adult friends. Even the most hesitant of charaders became willing participants. OK, I admit, maybe a drink or two got them loosened up enough to join in on the fun.

All of the above mentioned charades rules apply, in addition to the following. Obviously feel free to adjust the game to suit your audience.

Here is what you will need:

  • Paper
  • Pencils
  • Timer
  • Imagination

And here are the rules of the game:

  • Every player gets between five and ten pieces of paper (exact number to be agreed upon in advance by all players)
  • In secret, each player jots down the name of one celebrity on each paper. The celebrity can be living (Barack Obama), deceased (James Dean) or animated (Snoopy), but must be recognizable to the players at large. If you are playing with kids, be mindful to choose names which are relevant in their world.
  • Fold up your papers indvidually and place them in a collective bowl, hat, or whatever container you have available.
  • Divide the group into two equal teams and sit accordingly.

And, finally, here is how you play:

  • Round One

Set the timer to one minute.

The first player from team A draws a piece of paper from the bowl and uses words to describe the name on the paper until his/her teammates guess correctly. He plays for his own team and continues to draw papers from the bowl until the timer expires. The goal is obviously to work through as many pieces of papers as possible.

When the timer signals that time is up, count the number of correct guesses before the turn switches to the other team.

Team B proceeds in the same manner.

Round One finishes once all papers are guessed and the score is tallied.

  • Round Two

All papers are returned to the bowl. Follow the steps from above with one modification. Rather than using unlimited words, during this round, the actor may use only ONE word to describe the celebrity name he/she reads on the paper. Needless to say, choose your words wisely. If both Barack Obama and George Bush are a part of the line-up, choosing the word 'president' would not be your wisest move.

Continue taking turns until all papers have been guessed and the score is tallied.

  • Round Three

For the final round, return all names to the bowl and prepare for charades, in the truest sense of the word. No use of language or sounds. Memory becomes a key piece to playing the game, and here is where your kids can be of tremendous help. If your kids are anything like mine, they never let me forget a thing!

When all papers have been guessed, tally the results of all three rounds together and declare the winner.

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