Live your Unitarian Universalist values out loud. Make your year-end gift today!
The bonding stage is the ideal time to teach, learn and play new games. In fact, bonding almost requires games, or at least some kind of structured social activity. Most group, non-competitive games learned outside of YRUU (Young Religious Unitarian Universalists) are conducive to bonding.
The first step in building community is to break down the cliques and barriers that exist, and to establish a relationship of trust among the individuals in the group. Bonding Games accomplish their goal best when the whole group plays together. This is the time for the generating of collective energy, not for intimacy. Keep everyone in one place and keep them busy, so that old friends will not be tempted to be exclusive with each other. If you are successful, newcomers will feel welcome and accepted, and will start to perceive how they fit into the group.
A problem-solving task or other activity that requires group members to work side by side can create communal bonds. Cooperation is the goal We have broken the Bonding Games into three sections, Mingling Games, Making/Cooperating Games, and Active Games. This is the time to learn everyone’s name and some of their identifying characteristics of everyone in the group, but not to delve much deeper. First, the group needs the experience of playing together. Group art projects are also well-suited to this stage, but remember, the process is often more important than the result. Working together, to cook a meal or collect cans for a food drive can also strengthen group bonds. If the group’s energy requires more jumping around, active YRUU sports are great bonding games as well. As each person’s input is accepted and welcomed by others, they begin to identify themselves as part of the team.
Parameters: 40 to 60 people
Have each member of the group clap out a beat corresponding to the number of syllables in their first name. Marc claps once. Alison claps three times. Then have people with the same number of syllables in their names find each other without speaking, by walking around the room clapping out their names. Once the group is divided into subgroups, have them introduce themselves to each other and then to the rest of the group.
Variation: Shake hands in a rhythm corresponding to the number of syllables in your name.
Have the group line up according to birth date by day and month. To make it more difficult, instruct them to do it without speaking. To make it even more difficult, give them a time limit.
Variation: Have everyone get together in groups of people born in the same month. Have each group come up with a cheer for their month.
Materials: Shoes on all feet.
Have everyone in the group take off their left shoe and throw it into a pile in the center of the circle. Tell everyone to find a new left shoe from the pile. Once everyone is wearing a mismatched pair, tell them to find the two people wearing the shoes that match theirs. When they find them, have them stand with their feet crossed over so that right and left shoes are matched up all the way around the circle. With a little maneuvering, the group should be able to form one circle.
Count off by two’s. Have all the “one’s” exit the room, and explain to them privately what they are to do when they re-enter. Have all “two’s” take off their shoes and put them in the center of the room. One’s return, and each “one” finds a matching pair of shoes, finds the “two” who owns the pair and put them on her feet, all without speaking.
Parameters: 15 to 60 people
Have the group split up into pairs and come up with a matching set of words or sounds (i.e. “hic-cup,” “peanut-butter,” or “honey-bee”). Have each person choose one of the words as their own. Then have each person announce their word to the group, so that there are no repeats. Then instruct the group to close their eyes and start milling around the space with the goal of getting as far away from their partner as possible. Once the pairs are well-separated, announce that they are to find their partners without opening their eyes, by shouting their word. (If all goes well, Peanut will meet up with Butter).
Parameters: 5 to 40 people
(Remember to ask about people’s comfort levels and understand that some people have boundaries around this activity)
Make a chain of bodies by having each person lie on the next person’s belly. Have the person on one end of the chain start by saying “HA!” When the next person feels his head rise and fall with the force of the exhalation, it is his turn to say, “Ha, HA!” Continue adding “Ha’s” proceeding down the chain, doing your best to not break into spontaneous laughter. If anyone mis-counts their “Ha’s,” return to the beginning of the chain. Play until everyone is laughing freely.
Parameters: 15 to 40 people
Have the group stand in a circle. You, or the leader you choose for this game, are the train’s engine. Begin by chug-chugging into the circle and hooting like a steam whistle. Stop in front of someone you don’t know and introduce yourself. When they tell you their name break into a cheer, chanting the person’s name three times. After the cheer, this person becomes the first car of your train and follows behind as you chug and hoot on to the next person. Every time another player is introduced the new person’s name is repeated down each car of the line, then the entire train breaks into the three times cheer. Continue adding cars to the train, splitting off to form new trains if necessary, until everyone has found their way into a train.
(Some people are differently abled and this game can be exclusive if played by running around. Slowing the game down will help keep it accessible. Try pretending you are stuck in a giant vat of (vegan!) Jello. It allows most everyone to play and it’s so much fun making the Jello noises. Or you could just play in slow motion!)
Materials: Enough chairs for all members of the group minus one, and no more.
Also known as, “All my friends and neighbors,” “The chair game,” “I like people who...”
Have the group sit in a circle of chairs. “It,” who doesn’t have a chair, goes to the center and picks something about themselves she might have in common with other members of the group. They say something like, “I like people who...have ever dyed their hair a color of the rainbow.” Everyone to whom this applies must jump out of their chairs and find another chair (not either of the chairs next to them), a la musical chairs. The person remaining after all the chairs are taken makes the next statement, “I like people who... are at their first conference.” For added madness: seated members can make eye-contact with each other across the circle and switch seats before “It” has made their statement. If “It” perceives this happening, they can quickly try to steal a vacant seat, leaving a new “It” in the center.
Variation: Choose slightly more meaningful categories, and everyone to whom they apply comes to the center of the circle, holds hands, and gives themselves a cheer before they rush to find another seat.
Sit or stand in a circle. The person who is “it” walks up to any other person in the circle and without touching them says, “Honey, if you love me, won’t you please, please smile?” and attempts to make them smile with their beguiling ways. If the person being asked to smile manages to keep a straight face and respond, “Honey, I love you, but I just can’t smile,” the “it” person must move on to their next victim. Whomever they can successfully cause to smile then becomes the person who is “it”.
Choose a person to leave of the room. The remaining group chooses a verb. When the person returns to the room, the group must replace that verb with “teapot,” or another chosen word, when they speak. The person tries to discover the meaning of “teapot” by asking members of the group questions like, “Do you teapot a lot?” or, “What does it feel like to teapot?” Whoever reveals the verb in her answer to the question gets to be the next person to leave the room.
Parameters: 5 to 15 people
Materials: A tube of toothpaste
Sit in a circle. Everyone is renamed Harry. One person turns to the person next to them and starts the dialogue, which is as follows:
#1: “Hello Harry,”
#2: “Yes Harry,”
#1: (referring to #3) “Tell Harry,”
#2: “Thank you, Harry.”
#1: “Hello Harry,”
#2: “Yes Harry,”
#1: (referring to #3) “Tell Harry,”
#2: “Thank you, Harry.”
Then 2 becomes 1 and 3 becomes 2 and the dialogue starts over. When someone messes up the dialogue, they get a spot of toothpaste on their face and their name becomes “One Spot” instead of Harry. Once they reach five spots they become “Super Spot,” and after six spots they owe the rest of the players one dare. When the group is finished playing the game they can dream up something silly and mildly humiliating for him to do. (Note: It’s important for the facilitator to be careful about setting boundaries for appropriate behavior in this activity.)
Have the group sit in a large circle on the floor. Tell them each to pick a fruit (Variation: choose any category) and go around the circle once, each person calling out the fruit they have chosen. “It” goes to the center of the circle and picks another person by saying “Kiwi (that person’s fruit), who do you love?” “Kiwi” picks another person by saying, “Kiwi loves Plum.” “It” has to remember who “Plum” is and run over to him before he can say “Plum loves Guava.” If he succeeds in touching someone before they can say who they love and redirect his course, that person becomes it.
Variation: “The Pillow Game” uses a pillow or scarf to do the tagging. One additional rule: No throwing the pillow.
Variation: This version is done with sign-language and in complete silence (except, of course, for shrieks and giggles). Have each person to choose a physical gesture to represent themselves. Instead of saying “Kiwi loves Plum,” the person who starts it out demonstrates their sign, then the sign for love (crossed arms over the chest with hands in fists), then someone else’s sign.
Parameters: P erfect for a group from two to infinity!
Materials: Every kind of art supply you can rustle up.
Here is a great way to decorate your youth group or conference space while bonding. Put out the magazines, paints, pencils, paper, scissors and glue, put on some good music (not too loud, so that people can talk), and go for it. Encourage people to make their corner of the project their own, but to interact with and respond to what others are doing.
Variation: Create your art in silence.
Variation: Offer a topic for the art like “Going home” or “Breaking down the Walls.”
(Ask if everyone is comfortable touching hands and be respectful to those who don’t want to deal with touch at that moment.)
Also known as “Pass the Squeeze.”
Everyone sits or stands in a circle, holding hands. One person squeezes the hand of the person to her right, who squeezes the hand of the person to his right, and the squeeze is “passed” around the circle until it returns to its starting place. Try this game with your eyes closed, or with multiple squeezes in different directions.
Materials: A thick rope—25 feet or longer depending on the size of the group.
Have the group sit in a circle. Tie the rope together to make a large loop, slightly smaller than the circle of people. Place the rope inside the circle in front of their feet, and have everyone hold on. Tell them that the goal is to get everybody to a standing position by pulling on the rope, and without touching the floor with their hands.
Variation: Try this exercise in a traditional tug of war formation.
Variation: “The Yurt Circle.” Start standing in a tight circle. Hold onto the rope (or each other’s hands) and lean out. Notice how each individual affects the whole group’s effort.
Parameters: 5 to 10 people
(Ask if everyone is comfortable touching hands and be respectful to those who don’t want to deal with touch at that moment. This is a classic game, but it can also put people very close to each other. Make sure this is ok with all if the participants.)
Stand in a circle. Everyone puts their hands in the center and grabs hold of two different people’s hands. Try to untangle the knot into one or two circles without letting go of one another’s hands.
Variation: Divide into teams and have a race.
Variation: Try it in silence.
Everyone sits on the floor in a circle, one person selected to be “It” leaves the room. The players remaining in the room choose a rule to use while answering questions. Examples: Answer questions as if you were the person to your right; all the people wearing sandals lie and all those who aren’t tell the truth. “It” comes back into the room and tries to guess the rule by asking players questions about themselves. If the guessing takes too long, participants can exaggerate their responses.
The person who is “It” leaves the room. The remaining group chooses a leader and sits down in a circle. “It” returns and sits in the circle. The leader will decide on a repetitive motion for the entire group to make. When the leader changes motions, everyone must follow suit. “It” tries to guess who the leader is. The leader keeps changing her motions and the group keeps following, but the group must try to deceive the person guessing by watching anyone but the leader to find out the next motion. When the leader is found out, she must leave the room and he group chooses a new leader.
Parameters: 15 to 40 people and a large outdoor space.
(This is a really fun activity, but not everyone can participate as the game was originally intentioned. First ask if everyone will be able to participate in some moving around, if not just grab a different game. Then ask if everyone is comfortable with the touch. Remember these are the questions to keep a group a welcoming place for people.)
Divide the group into two teams. Each team forms a “dragon” by lining up and holding onto one another’s waists. Each dragon’s “head” must try to catch the other dragon’s “tail” without letting the body break apart. The gait, voice and personality of the dragons are up to the members of the teams.
Parameters: 8 to 15 people
Materials: Index cards for each member.
The leader of this game orchestrates and does not participate. She writes an identity on an index card for each member of the group. Two of the cards should say “Mafia,” one should say “Informant,” and the rest should say “Civilian.” Have the group sit in a circle. The leader distributes cards, instructing everyone to read in secret. Then the leader says, “It is nighttime, everyone go to sleep.” Everyone closes their eyes. The leader says, “Mafia, wake up.” Those with “Mafia” written on their cards open their eyes. They must agree, without speaking, to kill one of the civilians. They point to this person, and the leader makes a mental note. Then she says, “Mafia go to sleep, Informant, wake up." The two Mafia close their eyes and he who has “Informant” written on his card opens his eyes. He selects one person to know more about, by pointing. If that person is Mafia, the leader nods, if a Civilian, she shakes her head.
Then the leader says, "It is daytime, everybody wake up.” Everyone opens their eyes and the leader tells them who was killed by the Mafia while they were asleep. Then the entire group comes to consensus on who they think is a member of the Mafia; who they should kill by pointing to them. The true Mafia should try to hide their identity by engaging in the debate. The Informant should try to use his information to protect Civilians and kill Mafia, but without revealing his identity as the Informant (or risking his own life for the next night of Mafia prowling). Every person who comes under suspicion has a chance to defend their civilian status. When the group decides and kills, the leader informs them whether the person they killed was Mafia or Civilian. Round two begins by the leader saying, “It’s nighttime...” Continue until all Civilians are dead or Mafia members are found out and killed.
Materials: Interesting clothing items or props, pillowcases, and children’s books.
Break the group into teams of two to five people and distribute the pillowcases among them. Have each member of each team find and bring back one unusual item (toothbrush, can opener, banana, guitar pick) and put it in the bag. Gather the bags. Redistribute the bags among the teams and give them instructions; to create a skit using all of the items. Establish whatever guidelines you want—everyone must have a line, the skit must include a certain phrase—but don’t give them too much time to prepare. Bring everyone back together and have each team perform.
Variation: Include a children’s book or the title of a well-known fairy tale to act out in each bag.
Parameters: Perfect for a group from two to infinity!
Materials: C ornstarch, water, food coloring, measuring cups and a large bowl.
Measure out 1/4 cup of cornstarch for each person in the group. Add five tablespoons of water per 1/4 cup and mix. Add more water little by little until the concoction is malleable. Add some food coloring. This is some crazy stuff to make and play with. When you squeeze it, its dry and hard, but release it and it melts into a puddle. Dive in! Make sculptures and watch them melt. Talk about metaphors for life. Think of new names for the stuff. Read Bartholemew and the Oobleck by Dr. Seuss aloud while the group is playing.
Darken the room. Have the group sit in a circle. Explain that you are going to start a repetitive motion and that it will travel around the circle to the right until it comes back to you, at which point you will start another motion. Tell the members not to change what they are doing until the person on their left has changed.
The order of the motions is:
Once you reach #5, repeat the motions in descending order. The last motion to be passed around is stillness and silence. Variation: This game works well in a worship if you omit the explanation and see if everyone can pick up on what is happening and follow along.
(Always ask first when playing a game that might not be accessible to some participants. If running, jumping, etc. won’t work, try getting through Jello, or only allowing walking, etc. Sometimes a game won’t work for a group and it’s good to find a game that everyone can play.)
Parameters: 15 to 40 people and an enclosed, large space free of sharp objects.
This will help all of you Unitarians get back to your Transylvanian roots. Choose one person to be the referee. Everyone except the referee closes his or her eyes and begins milling around the room. The referee will keep you from colliding with anything but warm, living flesh. They will also pick one person to be the vampire and whisper it in her ear. The vampire keeps their eyes closed like everyone else, but when she bumps into someone, there’s a difference. She snatches him and lets out a blood-curdling scream. Then he becomes a vampire as well. He is now on the prowl, seeking new victims. Only when two vampires snatch and feast on each other by mistake do they transform themselves back into regular mortals. Continue playing until your voices are hoarse.
Parameters: 15 to 40 people and a large space.
Materials: Orange cones
Also known as “Tunnel Tag”
Ask the group to scatter about the space. If you are not in a space with natural boundaries like a field, create some boundaries. Ask for a volunteer to be “it.” When “it” manages to catch someone, then that person is stuck in the muck and can only be released by another person crawling through her legs. The goal of the person who is “it” is to move fast enough so that everyone gets stuck in the muck. To pick up the pace and relieve the exhausted “it," you can have another person join him as “it.”
Choose one person (the caller) and send them to the far end of the space. The caller remains stationary, turned away from the rest of the group. When they call “Green light!” the group moves towards them. When they call “Red light!” they have to stop. The caller turns around quickly and if she sees any members of the group still moving, those players have to return to the beginning. The goal of the game is to touch the caller without being seen moving.
Variation: Tie the group into pairs with rope and have them hop toward the caller. Try it with one of the pair closing his eyes.
Form a standing circle. Tell the group you are going to make a ball of energy. Pluck an imaginary particle out of the air and roll it in your hands, making it larger and larger. Once you have patted it into the shape and size you want, place it squarely between your hips. Pass it to someone across the circle by winding up your hips and thrusting the imaginary ball into the air. Watch as it soars through the air and your friend catches it in their pelvis. Remind the group to think about how much the ball weighs, to experiment with sounds to compliment their pelvis action.
Parameters: 5 to 15 people and a large outdoor or indoor space with plenty of places to hide.
This game is reverse hide-and-go-seek. The player who has been chosen to go first leaves the other players, who all cover their eyes for a few minutes, in search of a hiding place. They have a minute to find a space in which all of the players will be able to fit (just barely). Then all players set out in search for the missing one. Players can band together in teams or set out alone. When a player finds the selected person, they quietly join the found person in the hiding place. All players continue searching and hiding until all but one are crammed in the space. When the last player finds the rest of the group and confirms that was the last one out, he becomes the next “it” and sets out to find a new hiding place. The sardines (those packed tightly in the first space) wait a few moments and then charge out in search of the new “it”. This game is especially fun in the dark.
Materials: Two small items that can be easily balanced on the head. Rolled-up socks or chalkboard erasers are ideal.
Have the group spread out around the space and stand still. The person who is “it” puts one of the objects on her head. Another person puts the other object on his head. “It” chases them and tries to tag them. The chased person can escape by giving the sock to one of the standing people, who then becomes the chased one. If “It” tags the person they are chasing before the chased can pass on the sock, the relationship is reversed.
Parameters: 15 to 40 people and a large field.
Materials: A beach ball, frisbee, baseball and bat, tennis racket and ball, or whatever assorted sports equipment you can find.
This game has a few more rules than the one Calvin and Hobbies play, but it can be just as open to improvisation. Divide the group into two equal teams, called the Batters and the Fielders, and have each team stand in a loose circle opposite the other. Elect a referee to stop anything dangerous and to call for the teams to switch. When teams switch, the new Batters can make up new rules, but here are some to start: Fielders choose a pitcher, who can choose which item he is going to throw. Batters are up to “bat” (or catch and throw) one at a time. When the ball is hit, the batter must run around the entire group of Batters, while the pitcher retrieves the ball and it is passed through the legs of the entire group of Fielders. The last fielder to receive the ball holds it up and yells “Stop!” to the batter. The Batters goal is to accumulate as many complete “runs” as possible.
Materials: Socks, beanbag, or anything that is soft and throwable to be the “fish.”
“It” stands in the center of the room with the “fish,” spins and lets it fly. She makes up a rule to apply whenever the fish lands in the same corner of the room in the future. Some examples: When the “fish” lands in Corner 1: Everyone pair up and piggy-back, and have a chicken-fight with everyone else. The last pair left standing gets to be “it.” Corner 2: The present “it” gets to tell everyone else what to do. Corner 3: “It” closes their eyes and everyone else hides. The last person they find gets to be “it.” Corner 4: “It” relinquishes their “it-dom” to the person of their choice. Center: The first person to grab the “fish” gets to be it. As the rules are created by successive “its,” everyone has to memorize and follow them.
Materials: Two rattles (soda cans with rocks inside, or bunches of keys) and two blindfolds.
The group forms a loose standing circle. Two people are chosen to be in the middle. They are blindfolded and given rattles. They try to tag each other. The circle of people keeps them within itself. When they tag each other, they choose their replacements.
Parameters: 14 to 40 people (an even number)
Materials: A frisbee and orange safety cones or anything else you can find to mark off the playing area.
Divide the group into offense and defense teams. Have the teams stand at opposite ends of the field and give the offense the frisbee. The object is to score a touchdown by catching the frisbee while standing in the other team’s goal. Players may not run with the frisbee; the team must move it down field by passing it. Your team is on the offensive as long as one of your players has the frisbee in hand. Once the frisbee hits the ground or is intercepted by a member of the other team, the other team is on the offensive.
For more information contact
This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations.
Please consider making a donation today.
Last updated on Thursday, October 25, 2012.
Sidebar Content, Page Navigation
More Ways to Search
Donate to Support This Program and the Ongoing Work of the UUA
Read or subscribe to UUA.org Updates for the latest additions to our site.
Learn more about the Beliefs & Principles of Unitarian Universalism, or read our online magazine, UU World, for features on today's Unitarian Universalists. Visit an online UU church, or find a congregation near you.