Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Kidding Around

By Alli Sinclair

When I lived in Cuzco, I taught English to street kids and quite often they asked me to join in their games. To be honest, I sucked at most of them, but the gorgeous laughter coming from kids who had such tough lives always warmed my heart. After that experience, whenever I had the opportunity to join in a game with kids, I jumped at the chance. Here’s a list of games I’ve played throughout South America:

Colombia – La Cachanga (Cotton Sandal)
Players form a close circle and kneel on one knee, the other knee is at right angles. While the person who guesses is on the outside of the circle, the players quickly pass the cotton sandal under their knee in a clockwise direction. The player on the outside tries to guess who has the shoe. While the game is going on, participants chant “Que corra la cachanga” (the sandal that runs). Game is over when the person on the outside guesses who has the sandal. It sounds simple, but when you get a bunch of kids well-practiced at this game, the sandal can literally, fly between the players.

Brazil - Luta de Galo (Fight of the Roosters)
This game requires a minimum of two. Players tuck a handkerchief in their belt and place their right arm across their chest while hopping around on their right foot. The left arm is used to grab the opponent’s handkerchief. If a player’s left foot touches the ground or the right arm moves away from the chest, the player is disqualified.

Brazil – Vivo ou morto (Dead or Alive)
A leader is chosen amongst the children and they stand in front of him or her, awaiting his instructions. When he yells “vivo!” the children stay standing, when he yells “morto!” they crouch down. If one of the participants gets it wrong, they’re out of the game. The fun part of this game is when the leader shouts the instructions really quickly and the kids get super confused. The last person to have followed all the instructions correctly gets to be leader in the next round.

Chile – Quien es? (Who is it?)
If the idea of 20 or more teenagers congregating in one noisy place frightens you, don’t play this game! If you do decide to brave the gaggle of hormonal teenagers, it’s well and truly worth the effort.

One player is chosen as the leader and is the head of the line. The remaining players stand in an orderly line. The leader asks the question, “Have you seen my friend?” and the players answer with, “No, Sir/Madam.” The leader than asks, “Do you know who my friend is?”, the group answers with, “Yes, Sir/Madam.”

The leader takes nine steps forward and doesn’t look back at the other players. The other players quietly change positions and the (new) first person remains quiet while the other players shout out, “Who is it?” The leader asks three questions before they guess. Typical questions are, “Boy or girl?”, “Dark hair or fair?”, etc. The leader then guesses who’s standing behind him or her. If the leader wins they can stay in that role or if they lose, someone else is nominated for this position.

Los encantandos (The Enchanted)
This game is similar to “freeze” or “tag”. One person is chosen as the enchanted one and if they touch a person, that person has to stay frozen until one of the unfrozen players touches them. There is usually a safe place where the enchanted person can’t enter, and if a player makes it to the safe spot, they can form a chain with other players to release frozen people.

And just for fun, I’m adding my all-time favorite game for kids—one that is played in many countries around the world. I only discovered this after I became a mum and this game is a firm favorite in our house (especially when little friends are over):

Dead Fish
A fisherman is chosen from the group of kids and the players lie on the ground, not moving. The fisherman moves between the fish and if he/she spies a moving fish, that fish is moved over to his “basket”. The game keeps going until there is only one fish left. Needless to say, the idea of a group of kids lying on the ground and being still and quiet is a caregiver’s dream!

What I’ve discovered since playing games with kids is it doesn’t matter where you come from or language you speak, as long as you join in and embrace the spirit of the game, you’ll always be welcome. Games breakdown barriers, create friendships, and encourage the sharing of moments that can stay in our memories forever.

How about you? Have you ever joined in a kid’s game on your travels and ended up with an experience you’ll never forget?


  1. I love a good old game. I think kids these days don't play as much anymore because of all the video games available.
    When I was a kid my cousins and I would play Murder in the Dark. I don't think I remember the rules exactly, but you play at night in a closed room and someone decides who the 'murderer' will be (a bit morbid, but anyway!), and whispers something to each person, so only the murderer knows who they are. Then that person taps their victim on the shoulder and the person screams and collapses, and they have to guess who the villain is... or something along those lines!
    Oh, and I do like the sound of Dead Fish - that's a good one for when a kids party gets a bit overhwhelming!

  2. Juliet, I remember playing Murder in the Dark too! Maybe that's why I like reading crime novels these days... ;-) Dead Fish is by far one of my favourite kids games. Gee, I wonder why?