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How to Play Barrel of Monkeys

An example of a successful monkey chain. Good job!
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Barrel of Monkeys is one of those sneaky games that successfully merges fun with learning: Kids will believe that there's nothing more fun than a barrel of monkeys, while you get the bonus of knowing that they're developing color recognition, counting, fine motor control and turn-taking skills while they play. Suitable for ages 3 through 7, the aim of the game is to hook monkeys together in chains. Each barrel contains monkeys of one color; you can play with one set or buy different ones to add more colors to the mix.

Get Your Monkeys Ready

Start by tipping your monkeys out of the barrel. If you're playing with young kids, it's easier for them if you pile up the monkeys as more arms will stick out. As kids get good at building chains, try spreading the pile out to make things a little more challenging. If players haven't played before, show them how to build a chain by picking up a monkey and using one of its arms to hook the arm of another monkey. Let them try themselves before starting the game.

Hook Some Monkeys

In a one-player game, players try to beat their best chain lengths or, if they find it easy to pick up all the monkeys, you can time one of their turns and encourage them to beat their times. If you have two or more players, they can take turns to build chains, passing play to the next player when a chain breaks, or they can play at the same time. If you have more than one game set, you can also give each player a color and tell them that they can only hook monkeys in that color.

Winning the Game

Each monkey is worth one point. In a multiplayer game, play until someone reaches a winning score, which is typically the same number as the number of monkeys in the pile. Players earn points in each turn based on how many monkeys they hook before their chains break; a player who successfully connects all monkeys automatically wins. Alternatively, set a time limit on each game: the player who builds the longest chain in that time wins. You can also use the points system in a solo game to encourage kids to try to beat their scores.

Barrel of Monkeys Variations

Make the game more challenging for older kids by getting them to hook monkeys with their nondominant hand. Or, add Pick Up Sticks rules to the game, making players hook monkeys without moving any others in the pile. Kids may also enjoy throwing monkeys into the barrel, scoring one point for each monkey that lands inside and two points for each one that hangs on the side by its arm.

You can also buy versions of the game for younger kids, ages 2 and over. These sets have chunkier monkeys in different colors with numbers printed on them.

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