Hearing a collective, “Yesssssssssss!” from children when you’ve introduced a game to the lesson brings a smile to every leader’s face.
Games are a great for several reasons: they allow laughing and having fun together—an important ingredient in building healthy, trusting relationships; they’re an opportunity for leaders to model godly interactions with others; and, they can also be a way to reinforce a truth from the Bible.
Here’s 17 quick and easy games that might be helpful to have up your sleeve for your kids church or SRE classes.
Games to play when you’ve got (almost) nothing
Would you rather?
This can be played on the spur of the moment; with options you’ve prepared or with options suggested by the children. The children are presented with a choice and move to one side of the room or the other to cast their vote. For example, “Would you rather grow wings and fly or be able to walk through walls?” Silly options are especially fun: “Would you rather have jelly legs or sausage arms?”
The 60 second game
This is a great game for settling a group down. Ask everyone to stand up and put their hands behind their back. Tell them they need to silently guess how long one minute is and sit down when they think it’s up. You do need a clock or watch so you can tell when the time is up. This game can be adjusted to a shorter period for younger children, but I’ve been surprised how well it works even with a Kindergarten group.
This is a classic follow-the-leader style game where the leader calls out instructions that prompt the group to do certain actions as fast as they can or be caught out for being too slow or doing the wrong action. Traditionally the actions are all related to ships and pirates but they can be adapted to any theme. They can also be adapted to suit the space you have. Some favourite instructions to include, “Climb the rigging”—queue running on the spot with arms climbing an imaginary rope. “Captain’s coming”, calls for standing to attention and saluting. “Scrub the deck”, everyone drops to their hands and knees and scrubs the floor with an imaginary brush. A quick Google search will help you find more.
This is a quick and fun game that is easier to show than tell. Everyone stands in a circle facing inward. Everyone holds their right-hand palm up towards the person on their right. Everyone then forms their left hand into a pointing finger and places it pointing down into the palm of the person on their left’s hand. This can be quite challenging the first time. The leader then calls “1, 2, 3!” and on three, each person needs to grab the pointing finger of the person on their right while snatching away their own left hand from being grabbed. This game sounds odd but it creates lots of laughs. It’s also a great mix of concentration and action.
Number each child from one to five (adjustable) and explain that each number is a different animal and make the appropriate sound. For example, all number ones are cows who say “Moo”, twos are chickens who go “Bock-bock”, threes are pigs who go “Oink-oink” and so on. Everyone stands up and starts making their noise. They need to find their matching animals and sit down together as a group. First group to find everyone wins. This can be adapted to involve different animals, or characters or words. It can also be played so that each child needs to find only their pair.
Charades and Reverse charades
The usual version of the game involves one child silently acting out something for the rest of the group to guess. It’s usually best to choose a theme or topic like animals, jobs, sports or an area related to the teaching topic, like kings in the Old Testament. This helps give children a starting point for their guess. Reverse charades is played in teams of five or six. One team member guesses while the rest of the team acts out the clue. Two teams can play simultaneously and the team who gets the answer right first wins.
Rock, paper, scissors
This is a great option when you want to involve everyone and don’t want to spend time giving instructions as it’s such a familiar game. Before you begin, it is helpful to agree on whether players have to make their choice on “Three” or after “One, Two, Three”. With younger kids, it’s good to remind them that rock beats scissors, scissors beats paper and paper beats rock. Children can quietly move around and find someone to play against. The winner from each play-off moves on to play again. The loser can sit down or join the winner’s chain by standing behind them with hands on their shoulders and cheering them on. Allow play to continue until the final play-off between the last two.
This can be played in two different ways. Similar to celebrity heads, one child stands up the front and the leader writes a name on the board behind them. The child then asks the group up to 20 yes/no questions to try to work out who they are. In the other version, the child up the front is given the name and can answer yes/no questions posed by the group who is trying to work out who they are. The correct guesser is the next one to have a go up the front. This can be a useful game to remember the stories surrounding a key person you are learning about, like Moses, David or Paul.
Games with a few items
Cup stack races
Keep a stack of cheap plastic cups in your bag to pull out for a quick game. Two children can race each other in making the highest or biggest pyramid of upside-down cups in one minute.
Heads or tails
If you’ve got a coin handy, this is a quick and easy game that involves no skill. Children need to make their choice before the coin is flipped. They either put their hands on their head or hands on their ‘tails’ to indicate their choice. Those who guessed correctly stay standing, the rest sit down. Play a few rounds until there is a final winner.
This is a favourite of Youthworks Ministry Advisor, Kate Haggar. Have a small bag of pegs with you and a prepared value for each peg according to colour. For example, white pegs are worth five points, black pegs are 10 and so on. You need less pegs of the colours that are worth more. You also need one ‘peril peg’ of a distinctive colour (eg red). The group is divided into teams and the leader asks the group questions. A correct answer means the child can choose a peg from the bag (without looking, of course) and their team scores the value of the peg’s colour. If the peril peg is chosen, all that team’s points are lost. The game can go as long or as short as is needed and questions can focus on a particular area of interest, like the Bible story or memory verse, or news that needs to go home to parents. The game can also be played with ping pong balls with the number of points written on each ball and a specially coloured or marked peril ball. For younger children, Kate takes out the peril peg or peril ball.
If you have speakers or a device to play music, this old classic is still popular with younger children. The group moves around and dances while the music plays and freezes when the music stops. Failing to freeze or hold the frozen position until the music starts again leads to sitting out. Variations include asking those who are out to pull funny faces so their frozen friends laugh or asking the children to sing along with the music—a great way to get familiar with a new song.
Another classic that is easy to play if you have a whiteboard and markers. Children take turns to draw something while the others guess. It can be played with two teams, each trying to guess what one of their team members is drawing on their side of the board. This is another one that can be used to remind kids of previous stories or lessons or reinforce one just heard.
Games that teach or reinforce the lesson
So-named by Youthworks Ministry Advisor Tim Beilharz’s SRE class years ago, this game requires five or six children to stand up the front and in turn come up with one word that relates to the day’s lesson. Words can’t be repeated or too much time taken thinking of one. If a child is taking too long, the leader calls ‘Laurie’ and they are out. The challenge continues until only one child remains. This could be adapted to include everyone in a smaller group. Another version could use scrabble tiles or a Bananagrams set where children can find letters to form words related to the lesson either individually or linked to a previous word. This could also be done on a whiteboard without letter tiles.
There are many variations of this one. Requiring a Bible for every child or one between two, the leader calls out a book of the Bible or specific verse reference (depending on age and skill) and the children race to find it. First to get there leaves the Bible open in their laps and puts their hands on their heads, no calling out so others can continue to search without interruption. Leaders encourage the effort and teamwork of helping each other rather than focusing too much on who wins.
Requires some preparation of pictures of the Bible story on separate pieces of paper (preferably laminated). Muddle them up and ask kids to put them back in the right order. If you have two sets, two teams can race. With older children, after they have the pictures in the right order, ask them to reduce the number of pictures keeping the three most important ones. Encourage them to share why some pictures show more important bits in their view than others. Then ask what’s the most important single picture and why. For younger children, encourage them to remember the story in small groups looking at one picture each, then standing in line in the right order telling parts of the story one by one.
Speech bubble skits
Suitable for older children, this game involves a fair bit of creativity and some preparation. Write a short skit involving a few characters that relates to the Bible lesson leaving the resolution open, that is the key ‘speech bubble’ blank. With a small group or in several groups, ask the children to read through the skit and come up with their own ending. They can then take turns acting it out and showing their version of the end. A less dramatic option could involve reading scenarios and asking children what they would say or do in given situations.
Hopefully these suggestions have stirred your imagination or reminded you of old favourites you used to play. There are so many great games and it is hard to remember them all, but you only need one or two ready to go. Playing a familiar game is always easier than teaching a new one.
How do you remember those two or three games you want to try? Stick a list on the back of your SRE teacher’s manual, or make a poster to stick up in the kids church room, even create a list in your phone.
God’s word is the most important part of any lesson or program. Let’s work hard on being clear and faithful and taking our responsibility seriously. That said, you can use games in your teaching that suit your group, support the lesson and show the children that you are willing to have a bit of fun and laugh with them too.