10 Fun Things for Kids to do with Their Hands

by Andrew Barkan

Bored?  Bonkers?  Snap out of it, kids!  This list of hand-related games and activities is the parent version of “break glass in case of emergency” that can provide life-saving entertainment the next time your family is stuck in traffic, trapped in an airport layover, or waiting in a long check-out line.  Little-to-no preparation or equipment required, just ten fingers and either a competitive or silly streak:



Hand clapping games are played around the world by all ages as a way to connect (not to mention building coordination and communication skills!), though we usually don’t see many grown-ups or boys breaking them out in western cultures.  Whether you played them as a kid or not, consider hooking your kids on this zero-equipment cooperative physical dexterity puzzle.  You might learn some new rhymes while you’re at it.  We cover games like Slide, Sevens & Miss Mary Mack in our Ear Snacks Snacktivity episode about hand-clapping games:


PS - did you know there are 79 types of different claps? That’s what Sara Bernstein claims in her 1994 book Hand Clap!  

We were super-duper excited to have Jazzy Ash in our studio to show us these fun hand-clapping games and dish about her new album, Swing Set.  Here's one of our favorites from the record - check out these mega rhythms from Uncle Devin.

Here are some more great videos of Jazzy Ash clapping with her friends in the studio: Miss Mary Mack and Head & Shoulders, Baby.


The beauty of this game is threefold: first of all, it’s even simpler and more universal than hand-clapping games, no rhymes or coordination required and all genders and age groups are likely to join in.  Second, it fits the amount of time available -- you can play it once to settle an unrelated quarrel (such as who gets to go first), best of five for some variety, or a whole tournament with a big group of friends.  And finally, if you need some narrative magic (for the non-competitive or to diffuse or redirect competitive juices) just start inventing new objects your hands can be.  Bunny?  Oh, bunny hops on rock.  Turtle?  She just hides, she’s really shy.


Along with whistling and tying shoes, snapping is one of the most elusive skills of childhood.  It could take ten minutes to try and explain it, let alone master the musical maneuver.  Part of the process involves building the strength of your fingers as well as considering how the snap sound is actually made - ask yourself, do you know?


Or Thumb Dance Party, if you’re not into that whole ‘war’ thing?  This can be a straight up competition to see who can pin whose thumb down for a three count...or it can get creative.  Make up new rhymes (e.g. “5, 6, 7, 8, I declare a Thumb Date...hey, you wanna go see a movie or something?”) or simply give the thumbs their own foibles and character flaws (e.g. Diabolical Genius Thumb vs Disco Thumb).


We’ve moved entirely away from speed and coordination into the realm of art and storytelling: who can make a dog shadow with their hands?  Woof!  A bull?  Snort! My dog is sniffing your bull...what animals can we make with four hands?  What are their names?  What’s their favorite food?  Interviewing shadow puppets can take a while.


Kevin & Louise

Kevin & Louise

Requires socks, preferably tube.  See shadow puppets, but with more physical decoration activity involved.  Sock puppets tend to inspire funnier voices than shadow puppets.  Best if you have some stickers lying around for flair.  Or if you’re anti-improvisation, order a My First Sock Puppet kit (I swear they’re not sponsoring us, we just like ‘em!)


Back to a kinetic activity, good for one or more participants with meditative or competitive potential.  Requires a hard, flat surface and spin-able objects.  What can you spin like a top?  A quarter?  A Frisbee?  Who can spin it the longest?  What happens if two makeshift tops collide?  This is one of the most useful activities involving coins, but of course there’s sorting and stacking coins by size and date.  (Did you know coins have dates on them?  Check it out!  This one’s a Grampa coin.  Ooh, this coin grew up playing Mario Brothers and listening to Cindy Lauper.  WHO’S CINDY LAUPER!?!?  Alright, where’s the iPad, we have a new project...)


Great solo activity, requires cards.  This lovely sonic & tacticle experience has the residual effect of being useful next time grownups are playing poker.  Once you master shuffling, try adding the best sound in the world, a bridge - like Polly does right here.



This is getting a little on the crafty side, but still only requires paper and a basic water color set (you keep those in your car, right?)  There’s a whole world of art (and mess, of course) once hands and paints get together.  We recommend one simple rule: fingertips only!  It’s a parameter that makes kids think harder about what they can create and inspires more creativity in the process (and is easier to contain and clean than entire paint-soaked palms).  Fingertip leaves on an autumn tree?  Little fingertip kids playing fingertip basketball?  Spell your name in five different colors, one on each fingertip?  If you’re in a real tailspin, offering a kid an opportunity to “paint your feelings” can magically release tension, worth a shot if you have the supplies on hand!

10.  Read a Book!

If you're super interested - or just looking for a lil' more fun, check out these great books!