Whether it's to mark the big finish of a special unit at school or for a birthday party, playing jungle-themed games that let kids show their wild side seldom require any persuasion for children up to about age 10. Remember to alternate high- and low-energy games so that the pace stays manageable.
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Classics With a Twist
Tweaking a classic children's game like Pin the Tail on the Donkey is almost always a hit, probably because kids know the rules and just concentrate on having fun. So, try Pin the Tail on the Monkey or Pin the Horn on the Rhino. If time allows, let kids customise their own horn or tail in advance.
Even the littlest tigers love Jungle Charades. To prepare, glue animal pictures on index cards. One by one, let each child choose a card from the deck and act that animal out. Younger kids can just do the animal's noise to make it easier and keep the game moving. Once the animal is guessed, everyone gets to act and sound like that animal until it's the next person's turn.
Play a few rounds of Squirmy Snake and you'll put a slithery spin on Hot Potato. All you need is a plastic snake and jungle-inspired music like "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" or the theme song from the old Monkees TV series. Whoever has the snake when the music stops goes to the "snake pit" to keep watching.
If you have space outside, build an Alligator Alley obstacle course. Tell the kids gators are lurking---imagine them or use a few inflatable or paper ones---along the edges. For older kids, record times with a stopwatch. Course ideas: walking a plank (a board on the ground), crawling over a hay bale or beanbag chair, hopping through three to four hula hoops on the ground, skipping rope and making a Tarzan yell as you cross the finish line.
Catch the Lion by the Tail is similar to Duck, Duck, Goose. Everyone sits in a circle while the lion prowls outside it looking for a hyena. The lion wears a yellow fabric tail that is knotted at the bottom---a piece of fleece or old towel works well---in his waistband. The lion touches each child's head as he prowls, but at some point he also yells, "HYENA!" The two race around the circle, trying to reach the hyena's spot before the hyena gets the lion's tail. If the hyena grabs the tail, he becomes the lion; if not, the lion gets another turn before picking a new king of the jungle.
For readers, play Animal Scramble. Give kids a list of scrambled jungle animal names and a sharp pencil. Set the timer for three minutes and see who sorts out the most. For non-readers, play Mystery Animal. Wrap small plastic jungle animals in coloured tissue paper ahead of time. Pass one package around the circle as music plays. When it stops, whoever has the package gets 15 seconds to name the animal before unwrapping it as a party favour as she leaves the circle.
Jungle Bingo using free, printable bingo cards (animaljr.com) with pictures is a good transition as you prepare snacks or birthday cake. It's easy for even the youngest to play if you show the picture when you call out the animal's name. Use pennies or M&Ms for markers.
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