People Games: Five little men in a flying saucer!

GamesinSun2In my role as an educational consultant parents of children with special needs often ask me about appropriate toys and games they can play with their children. With the availability of technology there is sometimes a tendency to “pull out the iPad”. While I am a fan of developmentally appropriate use of technology there is so much value and fun gained from just playing (minus iPad)! During summer holidays and while traveling the toy box can’t always join you. Some outdoor fun at the beach, visiting play-grounds and People Games can be enjoyed by all children.

People Games are interactive games that you play without toys. When you play without toys, the focus becomes on the interaction and opportunities for communication, rather than on the toy. You can turn any fun activity with your child into a structured People Game where you each have predictable turns to interact and communicate. This is an important skill for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) who find communication hard.

People Games teach children to:

  1. To pay attention to people and copy their actions and words
  2. To take turns
  3. To request actions
  4. To imitate words
  5. To engage in the interaction for longer periods of time
  6. To start a game
  7. To know when a game comes to an end

People Games make it easy to learn these skills because they are STRUCTURED, and therefore your child is able to predict what will happen. They are REPETITIVE which helps your child learn new actions and words that go with those actions. Your child will also learn when it is their turn because of the structure you provide. This is achieved by always PAUSING at the same point, or by REPEATING the same words.

Children with ASD will show sensory preferences, and by incorporating movement into these games such as running, bouncing, twirling and spinning, you provide the sensory input that they seek but in an appropriate way paired with interaction. This ensures that both you and your child have fun. When your child is motivated they are more likely to stay interested for longer and to readily communicate. They people games need only be for a few minutes to start off with and you can judge when your child is ready to move onto something else.

One of my favourite songs for a people game is, “One little man in a flying saucer”

5 little men in a flying saucer
looked around the world one day
They looked left and right
but they didn’t like the sight
so one man flew a way.
4 little men in a flying saucer. .. and so on till you have 0.

This song was originally posted here.

I love to add a “wheee!” or “whoosh” after each little man flies away, and I pick the child up and spin them around.


As an adaptation, for children with physical disabilities this can be done on a swing or on a chair that turns around. You can also sing this while climbing up a slide, pausing and having a “Whoosh” to go down the slide. It is important to STOP, PAUSE, LOOK and WAIT for your child to initiate by looking or saying “Whoosh”, “Down” or “Wee”. Children don’t tire of games being repeated and you can vary the complexity of the game.

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