We have all been there. You need a quiet and engaging activity for your kids to prevent a meltdown at a restaurant. Or quite possibly you have a sick family member that needs your presence but lacks the energy to converse. Maybe you are in a relationship that is experiencing a communication slump or your quiet child needs ideas for how to make new friends. Conversations take effort and sometimes we are not up for the task. Here are ten art games that can be used to initiate interaction, stimulate dialogue, or simply to have fun.
1. Pass it Back Scribble Drawings
Supplies: Blank paper and anything that can be used to write or draw with.
Directions: Each participant takes a blank piece of paper and quickly creates a scribble on the page. The scribbles are exchanged. Individuals must look at the scribble handed to them by their partner and look for a familiar shape, object, or image. It’s a little like finding shapes in the clouds. Once discovered, the object is to use their drawing tool to outline or highlight their findings to help their partner see what they see.
A friend suggested this game to me when my kids were small as a way to stay connected through busy times. We modified it and it became the Pass It Back Scribble Journal. I put a scribble on a page in the journal and then left it on my child’s pillow. He created a drawing using the scribble and then created a scribble on the next page. Leaving the journal on my pillow indicated it was my turn. We revisited this during the “tween” years when communication became strained.
Supplies: Blank paper and anything that can be used to write or draw with.
Directions: Partners decide between them who will go first. Turns are taken drawing features and body parts until a monster is completed. Only one feature per turn. For example, a turn consists of two eyes or two arms. No other features can be added in one turn. Coming up with a name for the monster can be fun as well as creating a brief story of origin. If more structure is desired, try using a die with feelings on each side. (See pdf for free printable die cutout here.) A player can roll this at the outset of the round to determine what expression and body posture the monster will exhibit. Cards can also be created so that players take turns drawing cards to determine which feature or body part they will draw. (See pdf for free printable cards here.)
This game was created during an art therapy session with a child who shut down under the pressure of verbal “getting to know you” questions. Through the back and forth exchanges, a rhythm was developed that became the foundation for conversation. This game can be modified to Build a Princess or Build a Hero depending on the interests of your game partner. It can also be modified to accommodate a group by simply allowing each group member to add a feature to the monster and taking turns until it is completed.
3. Musical Scribble, Stop & Go
Supplies: Table, Large Paper (I buy large rolls of painters’ paper from Lowe’s for about $10 a roll), Markers, Music Source
Directions: This game is reminiscent of Musical Chairs but can be played with either partners or a group. Cover a table with paper. Wrap the edges of the paper over the table edges and tape to the underside of the table. Remove the chairs from the area. Determine who will be the DJ and who will be the Scribbler. The DJ will play a song and randomly press pause as the Scribbler moves around the table scribbling on the paper only while the music is playing. Once the DJ pauses the music, the Scribbler must freeze. This game can be modified so that the DJ can also shout out directions like “hop on one foot” or “backwards” to further challenge the Scribbler. The round ends when the song is over. The DJ and the Scribbler switch places after each round.
4. Spaceship Wars
Supplies: Blank paper and pencils.
Directions: Place paper long ways between partners who are facing one another. Each person creates a Base by drawing a line about an inch and a half long in the center just above the edge of the paper facing him or her. Next two ships are drawn to the left of this line. The ships are small circles with two lines on each side of it sort of resembling Darth Vader’s Tie Fighter. The ships to the left of the base line are the ships in reserve. One ship is drawn just above the baseline and this is the ship in play. Ships are moved by holding the pencil in the upright position with the lead on one of the ships drawn on the paper and a finger on the eraser. The other hand is used to gently flick the pencil. The mark left on the paper determines how far the ship traveled. The ship is redrawn at the end of the mark and the ship where you began is crossed out. If the end of your pencil line comes into contact with an opponent’s ship, they are effectively “blown up. ” The opponent must start over with a new ship at their base line as in the beginning. The game is won when your ship successfully moves all the way to your opponent’s base line or when your opponent loses all three ships.
My husband taught me this game from his childhood years ago and we played this with our sons while waiting at restaurants or in places where we understood our kids needed a distraction.
5. Follow the Leader
Supplies: Regular Markers or Bingo Markers and Large paper (I use 18”x24” newsprint but any large paper will do. Rather than putting of the game until you can get out to buy paper, consider using newspaper or wrapping paper.)
Directions: Determine which of you will be the Leader and which of you will be the Follower. The Leader places his or her marker on the page and is still until the Follower has done the same. When the pair of markers is situated side by side, the Leader slowly begins to move his or her marker on the page. The Follower fluidly makes marks in synch with the Leader. The Leader and the Follower switch roles periodically. A timer can be helpful for ensuring smooth transitions if necessary. Playing music in the background adds an additional sensory component wherein individuals can be encouraged to move in synch to the music as well as with each other. It’s like dancing with markers on paper!
In adult child dyads it is often energizing to the child when they are allowed to be Leader. Children are used to having to follow along according to the directions and schedules of the adults in their lives and relish getting to be “in charge.”
6. Dot to Dot
Supplies: Dice, Blank Paper, Marker (Bingo Markers work well too.)
Directions: Determine which person will go first and have him or her roll the dice. After counting the dots on the dice, the player selects a marker and holds it about 8-10” above the paper and drops it onto the paper to create a dot until the number of dots on the paper matches the number of dots on the dice. The player then connects the dots and creates a picture out of the shape that is created.
This game is effective for children who have difficulty sitting still or who lose interest quickly. It can be played one on one or with a group.
7. Round Robin
Supplies: Blank Paper, Any Drawing Tool, Timer
Directions: Each person is given a blank sheet of paper. Next, set a timer for 1 minute and have each person draw on their paper until the timer goes off. Anything goes. Scenery, patterns, scribbles are all acceptable. Each person then passes his or her paper to the right. The timer is set again and each person draws on the paper in front of him or her, adding to the existing drawing. Rounds continue until each person receives his or her paper back.
This drawing game works best with a group. However, two people can play. Roll dice to determine the number of rounds and pass the papers between each player, adding to the drawings each time, until the number of rounds has been reached.
8. Thumbprint Drawings
Supplies: Washable Markers and Blank Paper
Directions: Use the markers to color on thumbprint. Once thumbprint is effectively saturated with color, press thumb on paper to create a print. Use other markers to develop print into an image. See Ed Emberly’s Great Thumbprint Drawing Book for ideas on turning prints into animals and creatures. This technique is great for creating independently, side by side, or it can be modified for partner work. Have each person create a series of thumbprints on their pages and then switch papers so that each partner can create an image out of the thumbprints he or she is given.
9. Blind Contour Drawing
Supplies: Blank Paper, Pencils, Tape, and a Scarf or Large Paper
Directions: Choose an object in the room to draw. Place a blank piece of paper in front of each person. Tape a scarf or larger paper to the table over top of the blank paper. Ask each person to select a pencil and reach under the larger paper or scarf and draw the designated object on the blank paper while their view of their drawing is covered. You can set a timer, but only if it adds fun to the exercise. Partners can also draw each other to create blind contour portraits.
10. Dice Drawings
Supplies: 3 Blank Dice (see pdf.), Blank Paper, Drawing Tool(s)
Directions: Fill out each die with a different shape on each side. Determine who will go first. Once the dice are rolled, the player must draw the shapes rolled onto his or her paper and then is challenged to use these shapes in a drawing. A timer can be used, but again, only if it adds a fun element to the game. This game can also be modified to pass the paper to the partner after the shapes have been drawn on the page. Then, it becomes the partner’s responsibility to create an image on the page he or she has been given.
While art play with the special kiddos in your life cannot be encouraged enough, remember these games can be enjoyed by all ages. Consider distributing Post It scribble notes to your co-workers or create a Pass It Back Scribble Journal with your spouse. By engaging in these back and forth exchanges, participants can experience acceptance, validation, and stimulation that transcend language. Simply put, art games provide the benefits of conversation, but without all the words.