Nursery Rhyme Games for Kids

Boy and girl playing outside.
Image courtesy of pixabay/public domain

Classic nursery rhymes have become one of childhood's traditions for a reason. They are easy to learn, fun to sing and often times, they are a child’s first introduction to storytelling. The imagery from some favorite nursery rhymes are so synonymous with childhood, they can be found on everything from clothing to baby decor. And they also serve as a fun party theme for everything from baby showers to first birthdays to preschool graduations.

If you’re using a nursery rhyme party theme for your special occasion, plan some of these fun  games to entertain young guests.

Humpty Dumpty had a Great Fall

Think of this game somewhat like a nursery rhyme version of tin can/bean bag game played at carnivals. To set up for playtime, you will need something to be the egg. One fun idea is to paint clean, plastic milk jugs or soda bottles to resemble silly egg creatures. Line them up at the edge of a table, or better yet, on a wall ledge, if you have one (think pony walls, deck rails, fence tops). Have players stand several feet away and toss bean bags at the Humpty Dumpty characters. Anyone who knocks Humpty off of the wall scores a point. The player who earns the most points wins the game.

Put Humpty Dumpty Together Again

Another game with a Humpty Dumpty theme is this puzzle challenge based on the line, “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.” To prepare for the game, draw a large image of Humpty Dumpty on a sheet of poster board.

Then, cut it into puzzle pieces. Scatter the pieces around the room. Set a timer and challenge the kids to gather all of the pieces and try to tape them back together, onto another piece of poster board, before time runs out. 

Old Mother Hubbard's Cupboards

According to the nursery rhyme, "Old Mother Hubbard went to her cupboard, to fetch her poor dog a bone.

But when she got there, the cupboard was bare, and so her poor dog had none."

The object of this game is to flush out Old Mother Hubbard from among a group of players. To set up for the game, set up as many shoe boxes as you have players on a table. Place a dog bone in all but one of the boxes (use milk bones or paper cut outs in the shapes of dog bones). Have players circle the table of boxes. After several seconds, bark like Old Mother Hubbard's dog, begging for a bone. When you bark, the players must stop and open one of the shoe boxes (cupboards) on the table. The player who opens the empty box is "Old Mother Hubbard," and she must leave the game. Remove one box (keep the empty one in play) and start again. Keep playing until only one player is left. She is not Old Mother Hubbard and is therefore the winner. 

Find Little Bo Peep’s Sheep

This is a cute little scavenger hunt game based on the nursery rhyme characters of Little Bo Peep and her lost sheep. You can use plush sheep to play this game (or even substitute sheep for whatever plush animals you have on hand). Another idea is to use printed images of sheep for your scavenger hunt.  Before your party guests arrive, hide your collection of sheep all around the play space.

To play, gather guests and have them recite the nursery rhyme. Then ask them to help Little Bo Peep find her missing sheep. The kids will then go and collect all of the hidden sheep they can find.

Don’t Get Caught in the Old Woman’s Shoe

For this game you will need to make a giant shoe to resemble the home of the Old Woman in the Shoe. Start with a large cardboard box that would be big enough to turn into a playhouse. Instead of making it look like an ordinary home, however, cut and decorate it to look like a shoe-shaped house. Then cut an opening on either side of the shoe house. Play some music (maybe a collection of nursery rhymes) and have kids line up and begin crawling through one side of the shoe and out of the other. Stop the music at random. Anytime the music stops, whoever is inside of the shoe is “caught” and has to exit the game.

Play continues until only one player is left.

Jack Jumps Over the Candlesticks

This game is all about imitating Jack the candlestick jumper from the nursery rhyme, Jack Be Nimble. To play, print out several images of candlesticks. Tape them to the floor in a winding pattern. Set a timer and have kids take turns jumping over the candlesticks from start to finish. If anyone lands on a candlestick, he must go back and start again. The player who has the fastest time for jumping over all of the candlesticks wins.

Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater

This game is really just a traditional pie eating contest, but in honor of the nursery rhyme, all of the players are called “Peter” and all of the pies are pumpkin.Have players race to see who can finish a pumpkin pie the quickest, or set them up with a few pies, set a timer and see who can eat the most before time runs out. 

Jack and Jill Relay Race

To play this game, divide kids into two teams: Team Jack and Team Jill. Give each team an empty basin and a small beach pail. If you have a hill, place a larger basin of water at the top of a hill. If you don’t have a hill, you can still play; just place your basin of water at the other end of the yard. Have teams race, relay-style to collect water from the big basin and carry it in their beach pails to the empty basins. As they reach the empty basins, they will dump their pails into it. The first team to fill their basin to the top (or to a designated fill line) wins.You can "crown" the winners with broken, paper crowns. 

Hey Diddle Diddle Obstacle Course

Hey Diddle Diddle is a fun nursery rhyme from which to design an obstacle course. Start with a cat and a fiddle (a plush cat and any prop that looks like a fiddle). Place them at the start of the course. You can tell kids to circle them twice, jump over them, run around them backwards or whatever sounds fun for your group.  Another idea is to have them put on cat ears and mimic playing the fiddle.

Next up in the obstacle course is “the cow jumped over the moon.” Have kids put on a cow costume or mask or even just a cow-printed article of clothing, and jump over a moon (maybe a yellow ball or a cardboard circle taped to the floor.

You could also hang a moon from a tree branch and have kids toss a plush cow over it for this leg of the race.

“The little boy laughed to see such sport.”  For this section, simply have them stop and laugh three times.

“And the dish ran away with the spoon.” Lastly, players will pick up a dish and a spoon and run to the finish line.

Row, Row, Row Your Boat Races

For this game, have kids make their own row boats out of cardboard boxes. Or you can use sleds, laundry baskets or even little red wagons. Whatever you use as the rowboats, kids must sit inside and actually “row” their way from start to finish (you can use hockey sticks as oars).  Have them do this in pairs, and then have the winners of each race compete again until you have only one winner.

Musical Tuffets

Play this game like the traditional activity of musical chairs. Instead of chairs, however, use stools as the tuffets.  Play some music and as it plays, have all of your Miss Muffets circle around the tuffets. When the music stops, they must sit on a tuffet. The player left standing is out, but before she can go sit down, pour a box of fake spiders over her head and have her run away, pretending to be afraid.

Kitten Mitten Lost and Found

Based on the nursery rhyme where “Three little kittens lost their mittens,” this game is kind of like hide and seek. Divide players into groups of three (take turns if not evenly matched). Give one group of three players three sets of mittens. Have a second group leave the room. The first group hides the mittens and the second group comes back to try and find them.  To play up the cuteness factor, you can have all of your players wear cat ear headbands. 

Itsy Bitsy Spiders

This is a game to be played outside in the warm weather, as the kids will get wet. Have them crawl like spiders around a sprinkler (the sprinkler should be turned off). As they circle the "water spout," have someone turn on the sprinkler at random. When the water starts spraying, the spiders should scurry away. Turn the sprinkler off and have the spiders return. Keep doing this for as long as you wish, as there is no set end or winner to this game, it is just to have fun in the water.