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The Best Way to Entertain a Big Group of Kids Is This Animal Game

Add it to your next birthday party activity list. Stat.

‘Move Like An Animal’ is a follow-the-leader exercise game for toddlers and preschoolers designed to build motor skills, encourage creativity, and most importantly, tucker kids out when they’re stuck inside. It’s essentially a combination of ‘Mirror Dance’ and Daniel Tiger’s ‘Animal Ball,’ where each kid draws an animal movement card (strut like a rooster, kick like a donkey, slither like a snake) and everybody goes crazy imitating it.

The game can be played with any number of kids (from a single toddler to an entire birthday party), takes no time to organize, and, in addition to encouraging physical activity, is also helpful in developing listening skills and getting kids to follow directions. Even better, you can put a fun Eric Carle twist on every turn that the kids will love: “Brown bear, brown bear, what do you do…”

Prep Time: Zero, after the initial 10-15 minute setup
Entertainment Time: 15-20 minutes
Energy Expended by Child: A lot

What You Need:

  • An open space.
  • Pen, paper, scissors, and a bowl out of which to select the cards.
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How to Setup:
Setup is a one-time deal and totally optional. It involves using the pen, paper, and scissors to make cards labeled with each animal’s movement. Simply cut a sheet of paper into 12 pieces and write a single animal action on each. Obviously, there can be as many cards as actions you can creatively come up with (Climb A Tree Like a Sloth!), but here’s a list of 25 to get started. If you don’t want to make cards, no a big deal. As the game’s host, simply keep this list handy and read a new action off each round.

Gallop Like a Horse
Fly Like a Bird
Walk Like a Crab
Leap Like a Frog
Chomp Like An Alligator
Hop Like a Bunny
Fly Like an Eagle
Swim Like a Fish
Amble Like a Turtle
Trumpet Like an Elephant (Use arm like a trunk)
Jump Like a Kangaroo
Slither Like a Snake
Kick Like A Donkey
Wag Your Tail Like A Dog
Scratch Your Head Like a Cat
March Like an Ant
Waddle Like a Penguin
Pounce Like a Cat
Strut Like a Rooster
Peck Like a Chicken
Roll Like a Pig
Run Like a Cheetah
Beat Your Chest Like a Gorilla
Swing (or Oooh, Oooh, Ah, Ah Scratch) Like a Monkey
Strike Like a Cobra

How to Play:
Gameplay is entirely flexible and adaptive to the group. If you’re playing with only one kid, simply stand together in the middle of the room and call out each animal: Run like a cheetah! Then climb down on all fours and crawl across the room as fast as possible. If the animal makes a distinctive sound, the cheetah is probably a bad example (a roar?), encourage the child to make it as well, à la Animal Ball, while imitating the action.

With a group of kids, it’s best to circle them up or form a line, and there are multiple ways to play: 1. Put all the animal cards in a bowl and let one child draw a card. They then announce the animal/read the card to the group and say go. Everybody imitates both the animal’s movement and sound; 2. Similarly, instead of everybody following the leader, the child who draws the card is the only one to act out the animal’s motion (without sounds this time) while everyone tries to guess what it is; and 3. The full zoo ⏤ each child draws a card at the beginning of the game and, when the parent says “go!”, imitates the animal at the same time. When the parent yells, “switch!” the kids stop, randomly trade cards, and perform a different animal. Obviously, parents should control the chaos with a good “freeze!” if things get out of hand and/or ‘animals’ are crashing into one another. Arranging the kids in a line and having them follow one leader helps to keep the game orderly.

And, finally, there’s also a more competitive version you can play with two or more kids to add structure: Animal Races. Line the kids up against a wall on one side of an empty (ish) room and designate a finish line on the other. Draw a card from the bowl and announce the animal that all the kids will be imitating in the race. Obviously, choose a different card if you draw an action that requires standing in place, i.e Beat Your Chest Like a Gorilla. Then yell, “Ready, set, go!”, and they’re off. The snake that slithers to the other side first wins. The entire zoo can also race at the same time by letting each child pick a different card at the outset. That is a ton of fun.

Wrap Up:
For as simple a game as ‘Move Like An Animal’ is, it packs a lot of punch when it comes to teaching new skills ⏤ which is why it’s a favorite in a lot of early education settings. For parents, though, it’s a fun rainy day time-killer and full-fledged birthday party game, both of which generate a whole lot of laughter and even more exhaustion. Considering how much young kids love imitating animals, not to mention how many different ways there are to play, it rarely gets old.