What’s Missing?

activitiesHere’s a simple but engaging game to play with children. You could play with one kid or a group; you could take turns or use teams or play altogether; you could play with a single age or mixed ages… As long as the kids are at least, oh, say 2½, you can adapt this game endlessly.

I’ll describe it for a group of 2–3-year-olds, because that’s how I last played it, but you’ll get the idea.

I get out about five toy animals, and line them up at circle time. “I’ve got a cow, a pig, a dog, a chicken, and a fish,” I say. “Now watch carefully…” I cover them all up with a cloth (a blanket from the baby dolls works perfectly). “Abracadabra, abracadeer, one of these things will disappear!” And I lift off the blanket with one of the animals clutched underneath. “What’s missing?” I ask.

I might take turns, or ask specific children what they think, or just let them all shout it out. When they guess right, I’ll peek the animal out from under the cloth, and we all cheer.

If it gets too easy, I might make two or three of the animals disappear at a time. Or I might add animals to the pile. Or use other toys. Or have the kids play with each other. Or have the kids try to fool me. In my 5’s classroom a few years ago I watched two girls playing this game with each other, using Legos and covering them up with one of those big flat “grass” Lego pieces. They took turns hiding and guessing, and each round they’d add one more piece to the pile—they must have gotten up to about 20 Legos, and were still guessing right.

It’s a game about observation and attention, obviously, and about memory. Younger children will still get a kick out of the peek-a-boo vibe of it. Older children will get a kick out of trying to fool each other, or fool you. It’s a good game for families, because it’s so easy to change the difficulty for each player on the fly.

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