You probably remember playing the Hot Potato game at birthday parties when you were growing up. Easy to learn and fun to play, Hot Potato is a great game whether you have a few kids over for a playdate or are hosting an all-out birthday bash. Throwing a hot potato game into the mix not only entertains energetic kids but helps them gain valuable skills.
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“Kids are learning agility, fine motor coordination and to take turns while working on their audio and prediction skills as they’re listening for the music to stop,” explains Dr. Marcy Guddemi, the executive director of the Gesell Institute of Child Development. “Hot potato is most developmentally appropriate for kids over age 7. Prior to that, children aren’t ready for games with rules or eliminations and don’t have the attention span to wait around with nothing to do between rounds.”
To make the game fun for all ages, Dr. Guddemi recommends modifying it to the appropriate developmental age level of the participants and breaking up large groups into smaller circles of about four players each to reduce time between rounds.
Integrating fun into your daily life using simple games is important for kids. “The great thing about hot potato is you can play with anything,” says Donna Bozzo, author of the upcoming book “WHAT THE FUN?!?”, a lifestyle expert and creator of The Lady With the Alligator Purse.
“Creating fun in your life and your family’s life will make your children become resilient and help them cope with stress and change. They develop a great self-awareness and self-acceptance by taking a humorous approach as a blueprint for their life.”
The Original Hot Potato Game
The basic hot potato game is simple. One person is in charge of music while three or more players stand in a circle and toss a soft ball or bean bag from person to person while music plays in the background. The object being passed is the hot potato. The goal is to pass it as quickly as possible so you don’t get burned! That means you don’t want to be caught holding the “potato” when the music stops. Whoever has the hot potato when the song ends is out and has to sit out the next round. The play continues with new rounds until one player is left — and that person is the winner.
But while the original is great, sometimes you need to spice things up a bit. Here are five new variations on the classic game:
- Use a Water Balloon
Take the game outside and use a water balloon as the hot potato. No music is needed, simply pass the balloon until someone pops it and gets soaked! The kids will probably end up popping them on purpose, so have a large supply at the ready! To add an element of suspense, the Toysmith Tick N’ Tater Game automatically pops the balloon when time runs out.
- Play “Pass the Present”
Wrap up a sharable treat — cookies, candy or simple party favors — in a package wrapped in multiple layers of paper. When the music stops, whoever is holding the present unwraps one layer. Play continues until all layers have been unwrapped. Ideally each child gets to unwrap one layer until the treat is revealed and then the children get to share the treat.
- Take a Step Back
If you only have a small group of players — no problem! Even with as few as two players, you can make the classic game of Hot Potato challenging and exciting. Have players start very close together so they only have to hand the ball (“potato”) back and forth to one another. After each time the potato makes it through all the players without being dropped, everyone takes a step backwards so they now need to toss the potato and eventually to throw it to each other.
- Make It Active
Rather than having a child get “out,” give them a special action to do when if they end up with the potato. Maybe they hop on one foot, run around the circle or act like their favorite animal for the others to guess. Make sure everyone gets a turn.
- Set a Goal
Encourage older kids to work together to see how many times the potato goes around the group in 30 seconds. Or see how quickly they can get it around the circle one time. Have a stopwatch handy and challenge them to beat their time, if someone drops the potato, it starts back at the beginning. Have them think of strategies to improve their time. Should they stand closer together? Do underhand throws lead to fewer drops?
These simple variations make Hot Potato fun and inclusive for all ages!
Victoria Georgoff is a freelance writer and psychotherapist who enjoys writing about parenting, helping other parents and, of course, being a parent herself.