It’s the start of another school year and at my church in Beijing we have a LOT of new teens in our youth groups this year. There are new grade 6 students now old enough to attend, some 7th graders who didn’t come last year, some older students who’ve decided to be more involved this year, and a bunch of families new to Beijing.
When half your group is new, learning names is a big deal – when you know others’ names it makes you feel more connected, less isolated. For the not-new students, learning the new kids’ names helps them be more inclusive, and get to know the new people faster.
With that in mind, we’ll be sharing some great name learning games that don’t require much by way of prep or props. These are the games we’re using to start off the school year in our youth groups.
The Pillow Game
When I was a student, we played this game with a rolled up newspaper. With my groups now, I use pillows. It doesn’t really matter what you use, as long as you can hit people with it without actually hurting them. Pool noodles would work well, too. So yes, a prop is needed, but there are lots of round-the-house type options. The best thing about pillows is that you can throw them across the circle to hit your target – an additional bit of fun.
Everyone sits in a circle; one person stands in the middle with the pillow. A name is said to start things off. The person in the middle has to hit the named person with the pillow before they say another name. Then the person in the middle goes for the newly named person, who says another name. It keeps going in this fashion until the person in the middle hits a named person before they can say another person’s name. (You can’t call the name of the person in the middle). The new person stands up and the one who caught them sits in their chair – this means people change seats throughout the game so you have to remember what a person looks like, not just what part of the circle that name was! When the person in the middle catches someone, they must say a new name before sitting down – or they can get whacked back and be right back in the middle.
That’s a little confusing, with all the pronouns, so here’s how it works. Let’s say Bob is in the middle. The name “Mary” is called. Mary yells “Lily” before Bob gets to Mary. Then Bob runs toward Lily who yells “David”. David says “um um um” at which point Bob hits him with the pillow. David stands up and takes the pillow, Bob says “Peter” and sits down.
With a large group, we added a second pillow – so two people were in the middle, chasing after the one name that was called. If you have two people with the same name, the group should agree ahead of time on separate names (use a nickname, a surname, whatever you like) so that they can be distinguished. Careful, though – those nicknames can stick!
A prop is needed for this, too – just a blanket or heavy sheet/tablecloth, or something or that sort. You could use a tarp or a piece of canvass… lots of options. This game works best once the kids have had a chance to learn names first – so it’s best played after another name game or a few weeks in.
Divide the group into two teams. Two leaders hold the blanket (or whatever) between the groups so they can’t see each other. A leader counts down from 5 to 1, while the groups each choose a representative, who stands in front of the blanket. When the count gets to 1, the leaders pull down the blanket. There are two kids facing each other who must now race to say the other person’s name correctly first. The first one to guess correctly wins a point for their team.