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The ‘Copycat Game’ Lets Busy Parents Tire Out Wild Toddlers

Think of this energy-burning exercise as interval training for little tikes.

‘The Copycat Game’ is essentially a ‘no-losers’ version of “Follow the Leader” designed to improve toddlers’ motor skills, test their ability to follow directions and, if done correctly, wear them completely out. I stumbled onto the idea while doing some basic stretches after a run. When my daughter came over and started mimicking each stretch I was doing, I wanted to see how long I could keep up her parroting act. Fifteen minutes later, my heart rate was climbing again, and my inexhaustible toddler was noticeably gassed. It’s a fun activity that can be played indoors or out and with as few as two people (parent and toddler) or as many as a big group.

Prep Time: 5 minutes, or however long it takes you to create a pattern of movements that will keep your toddler occupied.
Entertainment Time: 15-20 minutes
Energy Expended by Child: Moderate to intense physical, depending on the skill and creativity of the parent and the attention span of the toddler.

What You Need:

  • A clear area large enough for both you and your toddler to move around freely.
  • (Optional) Any objects that will make it easier for a little person to mimic you/extend the game. Think chairs (walk around in a circle, stand up/sit down), pots, pans, and spoons (to bang on like drums), a blanket (to shake out or throw over your head).

How to Set Up:
Setup is as simple as clearing out a section of a room so everyone can move freely about and/or explore the studio space ⏤ around 10 square feet should do. Carpeted or grassy surfaces work best, especially if you plan on going crazy and doing movements that require rolling around on the ground. If you use objects like chairs, set yours directly across from your child’s, leaving at least three feet between.

How to Play:
The first couple games require extra enthusiasm and some trial and error on your part. As the name suggests, all you’re doing is engaging in an activity or motion, literally anything, and trying to get your little one to follow along. To get things started, I throw out a challenge: “Do you want to play ‘The Copycat Game’? I bet you can’t do what daddy does …”

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Start with simple movements ⏤ marching, touching your toes, etc. ⏤ and work your way up to more complex gestures if your kid is following along well. I’ll typically combine normal exercise movements with utterly ridiculous activities. My typical round of ‘Copycat Game’ includes marching, jumping up and down, Rock Star screams (“Yeah!”), ballerina twirls, toe touches, getting down on all fours and barking like a dog, doing the silly dance, laying on your back, pretending to be a bug that flipped over, and kicking your lets wildly.

Feel free to repeat motions to take up more time, but be sure to take short breaks (30 seconds or so) in between rounds ⏤ think of it as interval training for toddlers. If you can get three or four solid rounds in, your toddler (and you) should feel the effects. To sweeten the pot, you may want to offer some incentives or rewards ⏤ e.g., “if you can make it through 10 minutes, you’ll get [insert reward here].”

Depending on the age of the child, you can also take turns being the leader. They’ll have as much fun coming up with funny motions to replicate as they will mimicking you. Similarly, if you’re playing with a couple kids, definitely give everyone a chance to get “copied.” This will help the game from going stale and force the little game-leaders to think on their feet.

Wrap Up:
‘The Copycat Game’ may seem too simple to actually work, but remember: Toddlers live (and love) to mimic. They’re basically like hairless, diaper-wearing parrots. Adorable, hairless, diaper-wearing parrots. This activity is a way to take that tendency to mimic ⏤ a tendency that can make you want to rip your own hair out at times ⏤ and turn it into something constructive. More importantly, if you need to tire your toddler out in a short amount of time ⏤ or kill 15 minutes before dinner ⏤ this game should get the job done.