Some childhood games last for generations and the Hot Potato game is one of those. Its simplicity makes it a game returned to again and again for parties, at camps – anywhere a group of any age gathers and requires a spontaneous game of fun and laughter.
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One does not really use a hot potato for this fun game. The name implies the need to quickly pass the ball or other item to the next player.
Hot Potato has remained popular because:
- It is a game suitable for any age.
- It works for large or small groups.
- It can be played outside or indoors.
- The rules are simple and easy to follow.
- The game builds hand-eye coordination.
- It is an excellent team building game.
- The game develops concentration and increases attention span.
In this article, we will share some information about the game of Hot Potato, present the clear and simple rules for playing, and end with a section on Hot Potato Game Songs.
How to Play Hot Potato
A traditional game of hot potato is very simple. Have your players stand in a circle. Play music and while the music is playing, the ball or other item is passed from person to person. When the music stops, the person left holding the item is out. When the music begins again, play resumes. The last person left in the circle or line is the winner.
The leader of the group, counselor, or teacher should oversee the music and decide when it should stop. You can use any music you wish. A cell phone will work with the volume on high. If you are not using music, the leader will call out, “Start!” and then, randomly call out, “Stop!”
If you do not have music to play, the group can sing one of the songs or chants we share in the last section of the article.
Alternatively, one person can stand with their back to the group and yell stop after the game has gone on for a few rounds. Each time someone is out, they can become the person starting and stopping the game. The reason for standing with their back to the group is to guarantee they will yell without knowing who has the object being passed.
- On a hot day, use a water balloon. Have several as the chances are the balloons will break if they hit the ground. Wear clothing suitable for getting wet!
- Anything passable will work for a hot potato game. Consider a small stuffed animal, a ball, bean bag, or even someone’s shoe!
- To make the game more difficult and if you have many players, you can pass two balls at the same time in the same or opposite direction.
- When someone drops the ball, start the game over instead of having that person leave the game. This works well for smaller groups.
- Use a task or activity for the person caught holding the hot potato instead of having them leave the game. You can have them sing a song, tell a joke, dance to the music, stand on one leg, or any other task you wish.
- Use the game to get a new group or team acquainted. Have the players tell their names to the other members of their group. Then have the players call the name of the person to whom they pass the ball. Each group should have no more than eight players.
Rules of Hot Potato
Hot potato is suitable for anyone over the age of five. You need to have at least three players to play Hot Potato. For a very small group, you can have the players take a step back after passing the “hot potato.” Eventually, someone will not be able to catch the item and will be out.
Players can sit on the floor or chairs in a circle or line, or they stand in a circle or line to pass the ball. Choose whatever method works best for the size of your group and their age. Although all the players should stand an equal distance apart, the distance between players can also vary dependent on the ages of the players. You can choose to have the hot potato passed or tossed as well.
Rules for Very Young Children
For very young children, the goal will be simply to pass the potato without dropping it, increasing the speed with each rotation.
Rules for Older Kids
Have the players start out passing the ball slowly and then increase the speed for each round. This works especially well with children under the age of ten.
Rules for Teens and Adults
Teen players might enjoy this alternate way of playing Hot Potato. Have the players call out the name of another player in the circle as they throw the ball. This makes the game a bit more challenging.
Adults will enjoy seeing if they can break your own record of seeing how fast the ball can be passed from one person to the next.
Hot Potato Game Songs
Several songs for the Hot Potato game can be found on the Internet on YouTube. One is Miss Patty’s “Hot Potato Game Song.” The Wiggles also have a video. You can use any music you wish, or simply chant the following:
Another fun song is singing the following lyrics to the tune of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”
Pass, pass, pass,
Just as fast as you can.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Back where it began.
You can also chant as the ball is passed. For example, players can say, “Hot potato, hot potato, hot potato . . .” as they pass the ball.
Hot potato can be played at parties, camp functions, or use a ball for a playground recess game. Remember, any small item can be passed, so you do not need a potato. With simple rules and the game’s suitability for any age, hot potato provides loads of fun and excitement. Enjoy your game of hot potato!
Susan majored in English with a double minor in Humanities and Business at Arizona State University and earned a Master’s degree in Educational Administration from Liberty University. She taught grades four through twelve in both public and private schools. Subjects included English, U.S. and world history and geography, math, earth and physical science, Bible, information technologies, and creative writing.
Susan has been freelance writing for over ten years, during which time she has written and edited books, newspaper articles, biographies, book reviews, guidelines, neighborhood descriptions for realtors, Power Point presentations, resumes, and numerous other projects.