‘What Time Is It, Mr. Fox?’ Is A High-Thrills Game of Bedtime Tag

Although it wear kids out any time of day.

‘What Time Is It, Mr. Fox?’ is a creative Simon Says-styled chase/tag game in which players cautiously approach ‘Mr. Fox’ before desperately trying to avoid being ‘eaten.’ My husband came up with it (while I was traveling) as a way to tire our sons out before bedtime. It worked. Before he knew it, the boys ⏤ who had been all over the place prior ⏤ were not only listening and focused, but exhausted at the same time.

The best part about ‘Mr. Fox’ though is that it need not be reserved for bed. It can be played any time, anywhere, and it’s perfect for helping kids burn off excess energy indoors or out. You really just three or more players and a room or yard around which to run. Better still, it has the added bonus of reinforcing counting skills.

Prep Time: None.
Entertainment Time: 5 to 10 minutes.
Energy Expended by Child: Moderate to extreme physical energy from running and being chased; moderate mental energy from counting.

What You Need:

  • An open space.
  • Three or more players.
  • The ability to count.

How to Set Up:
The object of the game is to walk past Mr. Fox without getting caught. Start by picking one child to be “Mr. or Mrs. Fox” and positioning them in the middle of the room or yard. Now line the other players up about 10 feet away from the fox along a starting line ⏤ like a bed, couch, or wall.

How to Play:
To begin, the group of players along the line asks, “What time is it, Mr. Fox?” In reply, the fox calls out a random hour of the day, i.e “It’s 5 o’clock!” Players respond by taking five steps ⏤ of any size they choose ⏤ towards the fox. Again, players ask, “What time is it, Mr. Fox?” Now, the fox calls out another time (ex: 3 o’clock), and players take three steps toward the fox. Players must move toward/past the fox as many steps as he or she instructs, even if it causes them to be super close.

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The call and response continue until the fox decides to yell, “Lunch time!” instead of a numerical time. Players then run for their lives while Mr. Fox tries to catch them (ostensibly to eat them for lunch) before they return to the starting line. If the fox does tag someone, that person becomes the next fox. If the fox doesn’t tag anyone, they remain the fox until they do so. Note: If you want a less frightening version for younger kids, you can have your fox say “midnight” instead of “lunch time.”

To make the game more challenging, you can also add rules about ‘how’ players have to get back to the starting line ⏤ for example, they have to skip back, or hop on one foot, rather than simply run. Or you can place an object a few feet away from the fox that players have to grab before returning to the starting line and/or getting tagged. And finally, you could have the fox turn his or her back to the players so they can’t tell how close anyone is (unless they’ve already walked past) before yelling “lunch time.” This rule definitely takes away the fox’s inherent advantage.

Wrap Up:
‘What Time Is It, Mr. Fox’ is, at its core, a fun game of tag where the suspense is high and the giggles are loud. The added thrill of being chased by a fox who wants to devour evokes a feeling of a Grimm fairytale where naughty children get eaten if they misbehave and don’t go to bed. And depending on your kids’ ages, stamina, and ability to take small steps, you can play around with the different variations long enough that, before you know it, everybody will be cuddling up and requesting a much more mellow bedtime story.