Contemplative young girl  looks up.Sometimes our children need a bit of encouragement to use language in a creative way, especially when it’s the minority language. Practicing a language can quickly feel like work, unless you manage to create situations that are fun and subtle. Thinking games for kids are some of the easiest activities you can find, and can fill in ‘dead time’, like when you’re waiting in line, or driving in the car with kids who cannot keep still or stop asking “Are we nearly there yet?” We have played “I spy with my little eye…”? in the car on our journeys until I could strangle the next person thinking of the word “car”… so here are some ideas which can be played in any language, and which while away a good few dull minutes:

1. How many? This simple game started when my daughter was around three and fascinated by animals, but it can easily be adapted to other themes. I would start by asking a question about a specific animal attribute (see some examples below) and she would call out as many responses as she could think of:

  • How many animals can you name that hatch from eggs as babies?
  • How many animals can you name that have patterns on their bodies?
  • How many animals can you name that eat leaves?
  • How many animals can you name that live in the sea?
  • How many insects can you name that have six legs?
  • How many vehicles can you name with four wheels?
  • How many things can you name that are cone shaped?
  • How many things can you name that can fly?

2. I’m thinking of…: A simplified version of 20 questions, and somewhat easier than I Spy when on the move in the car, we start this game with a single object in mind and the phrase, “I am thinking of something ….,” and then name a feature or attribute of the object or thing. So it might begin, “I am thinking of something that is blue.” The other person is welcome to make a guess or ask for another clue and we go back and forth between clues and guesses until they work out the correct answer.

3. Guess who? We started playing this game when Gen was four and play it in much the same way as we do game #2 but focus on a storybook character or one from a film. Of course this one only works once your children have watched some films or are familiar with characters from books and TV programmes, but I love it because both kids now get really into it when we start guessing new characters they have read about.

4. Imaginary traveller. Taking turns, and continuing with consecutive letters of the alphabet, kids imagine where they might go and what object they want to take along on their trip. For example, “I’m going to Aunt Alice’s and I’m taking my armadillo.” “I’m going to Brighton and I’m taking my blue balloon.” Encourage participants to be as silly as possible.

5. Name five. Choose a category such as states, flowers, animals and going through the alphabet, each player must name five things in that category. For example, if animals is the category, the first player may say aardvark, antelope, ant, anteater, ape. The next player starts with B: baboon, bee, bear, bullfrog, bird.

6. Timed categories. The cell phone in your pocket probably has a stopwatch. Pick a category such as animals, games, plants, purple foods and challenge you children to see how many items they can come up with in that category in one minute.

7. Story time. One child begins a story with a single sentence. Building upon that sentence the next child continues the story with his own sentence to continue the story. You can vary this game so that the story is told with alternating words, phrases, sentences or paragraphs.

8. I see a rhyme. Taking turns, complete the sentence “I see a ____.” Each player must rhyme the last word with the previous player’s word. For example, “I see a bat”, “No, I see a hat”, “But I see a cat!” When you’ve exhausted one rhyme, start with a new word!

9. Fortunately/ unfortunately. This game is inspired by Remy Charlip’s book, Fortunately. One player starts a story with a sentence such as “Fortunately, the bus is coming.” The next player counters with a sentence such as, “Unfortunately, it turned into an airplane and flew away!” The next player starts again with “Fortunately…” My kids both love this one!

10. And finally, personalising songs. A big favourite of my two is singing familiar songs but changing the lyrics to something that will make them laugh. A bit noisier than the previous 9 games, maybe, but it keeps the spirits up as we sing lustily together!! One of our top choices is:

  • Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream.
  • Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is a…. bowl of spaghetti!!

Both my children love to think of random things to end with, or to make it harder you can go through the alphabet and in turn they think of something starting with the next letter, ie: … life is an apple pie/ bicycle race/ cat in pyjamas etc!!

Don’t forget to factor in the ages of your littlest participants. Each game can be altered accordingly. “Name five…” might became “Name two…”, for example. And don’t be surprised if your kids want to make up their own thinking games. It’s a great sign that their brains are in good working shape, and might even allow you time to switch off and leave them to their own devices. Bliss!!