Get a bag or a basket and fill it with miscellaneous items from around your home or classroom. Just about anything will do, though you want as much variety as possible. Children who’ve played the game before can help you collect objects. Sit down with one or more children and look at all the things you’ve collected. The game goes like this: you choose an item, and ask what other item goes with it.
“What goes with this teddy bear?” you might ask.
“The pillow!” the child might say.
“Why?” you ask.
“Well,” the child might say, “I use them both at bedtime.”
“Aha!” you say, “Teddy bears and pillows go together because they both are a part of bedtime.” And then you sing the “Bread and Butter Song” (to the tune of “This is the Way We Go to School”):
Bears and pillows go together, go together, go together
Bears and pillows go together, just like bread and butter
Then, and this is the crucial part, you put the pillow back in the pile and ask, “What else goes with the bear?” They might choose the little plastic fish, because bears eat fish, or the brown crayon, because they’re the same color, or the cotton balls, because they’re both soft. Each time you re-describe the connection the child sees and sing the song again. If you like you can look for other items that fit the same category: “What else is soft like the bear and the cotton balls?” And when you’re bored with the bear, choose another item and start over.
This game is an exercise in lateral thinking. There’s not just one right answer—there are lots! And you can find all of them! For kids who are good at it, you can challenge them to come up with more difficult connections: “Okay, I choose the bear and the pencil—why do the bear and the pencil go together?” As children come up with multiple solutions to the same problem, they are thinking creatively and flexibly—skills that come in handy throughout life. Unlike problems you’re given in school, most of life’s problems don’t have one right answer. I’ve had kids come up with extraordinarily creative and perceptive ideas in this game. “The bear goes with the pencil because pencils are made of wood, and wood comes from trees, and bears live in the forest.” “The bear goes with the pencil because when we’re done with this game I’m going to draw a picture of the bear, and I’ll use the pencil to draw it.” And so on.
If you’re working with a group of kids, it’s easy to take turns in choosing objects or finding connections; older kids can come up with the connection challenges for each other. I wouldn’t try it with a group of more than five or six kids, personally—hard to think critically in too big of a group. And I’d say 3-and-a-half is about the youngest this game would make sense for.