Traditional games in Spanish teach language and culture. These 12 games are from Latin America and Spain. All of them incorporate language, so they are excellent to play with children learning Spanish. In addition to vocabulary and common grammatical structures, the games are culturally relevant and fun. They are played every day by children around the world.
1, 2, 3 Momia Es (1, 2, 3 Calabaza)
1, 2, 3 Momia Es is a playground game kids play in South America. In Mexico, the same game is called 1, 2, 3 Calabaza. In Spain, it is 1,2,3 Escondite Inglés and in English it is Red Light, Green Light. In the game, one player faces a wall or a tree with the rest of the group behind her at a distance. The group tries to move forward while her back is to them. She says Un, dos, tres momia es (or 1, 2, 3, calabaza) spins around, and tries to catch someone moving. Everyone must stand perfectly still, like a mummy (or a pumpkin), while she is watching. If she sees someone move, that person must return to the starting line. The first person to reach her takes her place.
This game is called Basta in Mexico, but it has lots of names: Tutti frutti, ¡Mercadito!, Stop, Lápiz quieto, Animales con E, Alto el fuego, Ensalada rusa. It is a category game in Spanish – the original, non-commercial version of Scattergories.
To play this traditional children’s game in Spanish, everyone makes a game board with categories. Common categories include nombre, cosa, animal, fruta o verdura, color, país o ciudad and apellido. Categories can be anything though, including pop culture references like marca, música, famosos/as. When I play with children learning Spanish, I usually include verbo or acción as a category.
To play, players select a letter this way: one person says the alphabet very quickly and someone else stops her by saying basta. Whatever letter the person is saying when she hears basta is the letter for that round. I have printable game boards and details on how to score the game in an earlier post.
Tripas de Gato
This is a traditional game where players take turns drawing lines between pairs of numbers (1 to 1, 2 to 2) without crossing or touching any other lines. This gets harder as the lines form a maze.
Here are more instructions and adaptations for language learners.
A Pares y Nones
This traditional game is played with groups of kids in Mexico. Everyone joins hands in a circle and walks singing the song. Then, the leader (teacher) calls out a number and everyone hurries to form a group of that many people. I have also seen the game played using other traditional songs, like Limón partido.
This video shows the game with groups of different ages, so you can get a good idea of how it works. These are words that you hear in the video:
A pares y nones / Evens and odds
vamos a jugar. / We are going to play.
El que quede solo / Whoever is left alone,
solo quedará. / will stay alone.
Here is a post with another video of the game with a slightly different version of the song.
¿Quién Robó el Pan?
This is a chant in the form of a dialog. Kids often play this game on a bus or when a group is waiting. Players clap as they recite this dialog:
Todos – Jorge robó pan en la casa de San Juan.
Jorge -¿Quién, yo?
Todos – Sí, tú.
Jorge – Yo no fui.
Todos – Entonces, ¿quién?
Jorge – Ana
Todos – Ana robó pan en la casa de San Juan.
Ana – ¿Quién, yo?
Todos – Sí, tú.
Ana – Yo no fui.
Todos – Entonces, ¿quién?
Ana – Mari
Here you can see a video of the game.
Mar y Tierra
This is a very simple game, and it can be played inside if you have enough space and do not mind the jumping. Kids jump between two spaces designated mar and tierra.
To play, kids line up beside a line on the ground, so that they can jump sideways over the line. They can also face the line and jump forward and back. One side of the line is mar and the other side is tierra. A person who has been chosen to call first calls out mar and tierra as the players jump across the line (or in place) to be on the correct side.
You can see videos of the game here.
There are many traditional hand-clapping games. The simplest are based on one word, like mariposa or chocolate. Others are much more complicated. They all are wonderful for pronunciation and also teach vocabulary and structures. Here are links to posts about a few of the most common that I use with kids learning Spanish.
Mariposa and Chocolate
Por aquí pasó un caballo and Estaba la Catalina
Debajo del puente
Piedra, Papel, Tijera
The game rock, paper, scissors is played all over the Spanish-speaking world. In most countries it is piedra (rock), papel (paper) o tijera (or scissors). In Peru, it is called janquenpón, from the Japanese yan-ken-pon, and in Chile it is called cachipún. This is the rhythm that you chant as you play: piedra papel tijera
Frío o Caliente
Children play Frío o caliente in Spanish the same way they play Hot or Cold in English. There are just a few Spanish phrases to learn, and this game can easily be adapted to review Spanish vocabulary. It works well with just two or three children or a larger group. To play Frío o caliente, choose one person who will look for something. That person leaves the room, and the others hide a small object or choose something in the room.
When the person who is guessing returns, the others call out these Spanish phrases:
- Caliente, caliente – You are close.
- ¡Te quemas! (You are burning) – You are very close.
- Tibio, tibio (lukewarm) – You are at a middle distance.
- Frío, frío – You are farther away.
- Te estás congelando (You are freezing) – You are very far away.
You may want to set a time limit of two or three minutes. The game ends when the person finds the object or time runs out. Someone else leaves the room and the game starts again.
Veo, veo is the equivalent of I Spy, and it begins with a simple rhyme – a question-answer exchange.
1 – Veo, veo. / I see, I see
2 – ¿Qué ves? / What do you see?
1 – Una cosita. / A thing.
2 – ¿Qué cosita es? / What thing is it?
The game is great for practicing yes-no questions and all kinds of descriptive language. Here are several variations of the game and a Veo, veo song.
Tag has different names in different Spanish-speaking countries. In Mexico, it is called la traes, which translates roughly as “you have it.” In Spain, it is called pilla-pilla or tú la llevas. In Argentina, tag is la mancha and in Peru las chapadas. Of course there are many variations of tag, but here are phrases used to play basic tag in Mexico.
Vamos a jugar a la traes. – Let’s play tag.
¿Quieres jugar a la traes? – Do you want to play tag?
¿Quién la trae? – Who is it? (Literally – Who is carrying it? / Who has it?)
>Yo la traigo. – I’m it. (Literally – I am carrying it. / I have it.)
¡Tú la traes! – You’re it. (Literally – You are carrying it. / You have it.)
Sofia la trae. – Sophia is it. (Literally – Sophia is carrying it. / Sophia has it.)
La base – safe (the place you can not be tagged)
Me salvo/ A salvo – I’m safe.
To play this traditional game, the children join hands and walk or skip in a circle. One child, the wolf, remains outside the circle, a short distance away. (An adult can also play the part of the wolf.) The children in the circle walk and sing Juguemos en el bosque mientras el lobo no está. Juguemos en el bosque mientras el lobo no está. Then they stop and ask ¿Lobo, estás? The wolf, answers by saying that he is putting on a piece of clothing and acts out putting it on: Me estoy poniendo los pantalones. The kids in the circle sing the song and ask again, until at some point the wolf answers: Estoy con hambre. ¡Me los voy a comer a todos! and chases the others.
Here are more detailed instructions for ¿Lobo estás? with adaptations for language learners and a link to a video.