The Hide and Seek Game - The Ultimate Guide

The classic game of hide and seek is centuries, and likely millenia, old. There's no way to tell it's exact origin because of the overall simplicity of the game. That simplicity is what makes the it a natural game for kids of all ages and playable in just about any location or environment. Read on to learn about what is probably the most widely played game across the world: hide and seek!

girl hiding in front of tree

Where Does Hide and Seek Fit In For a Child?

For babies, the game of peek a boo is a staple of family play. Peek a boo teaches babies the idea of object permanance. At first, when a parent covers up their face, a baby thinks that the parent has actually dissappeared. Once the hands are removed, the parent reappears like magic! Little ones invariably love this game and it usually brings a lot of giggles to both parent and baby. After many months, as the baby's brain develops, they come to realize that the parent hasn't vanished and is just hidden. 

When babies start walking and grow into toddlers, the game of hide and seek is the next natural progression. Instead of hiding a face behind hands, the a parent or another child hides their whole body somewhere and the newly walking tot must go find them. Hide and seek can start being played as early as a child can walk, about 1 year old. To fully 'get' the game and understand (even the basic rules), most children start really playing around age 3. That's when kids are able to move fast enough, have the brainpower to think of new areas to hide or look at and accept winning and losing. Before that age is great for parent & kid play as parents generally have a lot more patience and understanding for the abilities of a young toddlers.

Beyond 3 years old, the game can be played into adulthood! While not the same, there was even a movie about a game of 'Tag' that has been going on for over 25 years! Usually though, many kids lose interest in hide and seek by the time they reach 8-10 years old. There's just a lot of other options for entertainment out there that, after the prime years of hide and seek wear off, it just isn't as exciting as it once was.

group kids looking down

How To Play Hide & Seek - The Game Rules

To play hide and seek, players are split into 2 groups. The 'seekers' is usually just 1 player (see variations below). This player is commonly called "It". The remaining players are all on the 'hiders' team. To start, whoever is 'It' closes their eyes and counts slowly to twenty. Depending on the players or your location, the counting time may need to be altered. For instance, have younger children that can't count as high count to 10 really slowly instead. Or, for really large areas, you may need to have the seeker count to 30 or more to ensure each seeker has enough time to hide.

Once the seeker has finished counting, the game is on! The hider must search to find each of the seekers. On seeing another player, they yell "Found you!" or something similar and the seeker comes out. The first player found will be the seeker for the next game. The last player found is declared the winner of this round. Once all hiders are found, the round is over and a new round begins.

For basic play, there's a few rules of hide and seek that should be decided upon ahead of time:

  • After the seeker has finished counting, are hiders allowed to move? By moving, the game can become more challenging, but can also turn into more of a tag-like game with people running a lot, which may not be what every player is looking for.
  • Is communication allowed between the hiders? Can a hider point or wave to another hider to let them know the seeker is on the way?

Of course, when kids are playing any game, setting up too many rules ahead of time often leads to confusion. Many times, it's best to start playing and work out the specific rules as issues are encountered. This can lead to squabbles and disagreements, but that conflict resolution and social skill developments some of the many benefits of hide and seek.


boy counting 

The Right Amount of Players for Hide and Seek

One of the great things about hide and seek is the versatility it provides. Games can be played with as little as 2 players: 1 hider and 1 seeker to huge games with tens of players. According to the Guiness Book of World Records, the largest game of hide and seek had 1,437 players. Now that's a big game!

Personally speaking, the game of hide and seek is much better with a smaller with a group of no more than 5-7 players as it allows for a lot of replayability in whatever time you have available. With too many players, the 'good' hiding spots tend to be used over and over, making each successive round more stale as the seeker simply goes to the known spots. Also, with too many players, the game can progress slower as finding player after player gets, frankly, boring.

There are no set limits for hide and seek though, allowing as few as 2 people to easily play together and have a great time. As a parent playing with a young child, the one-on-one games can be some of the most memorable experiences as you form a bond with your little human companion.

kids running toward camera

The Benefits of Hide & Seek

Children have an incredible amount of developmental needs and hide and seek manages to tick off a surprising amount of them. As children move from baby to toddler to school-aged child, they are constantly learning. This is done through both observation and through action. Playing a game of hide and seek allows kids to do both. They are able to observe how other players act and react, which guides their actions as they find other players or caught themselves. 

As mentioned above, the rules of the game are pretty open to interpretation and flexible enough to accomodate different locations. Chosing and applying these rules properly can cause small arguments between children playing. That's okay! Much of childhood development is figuing out how to work with others and not always get things your way. Games like hide & seek, tag and other outdoor activities help to reinforce the cooperation. Even when it seems like kids are getting down and dirty, it's useful to remember that's its better for them to do that now than when they're older!

Beyond social skills, hide and seek offers individual benefits as well which apply to a broad age range of children:

  • Cognitive Development - Thinking skills for figuring out logical hiding locations and how to properly eliminate spots.
  • Emotional and Impulse Self-Control - Children learn the importance of staying quiet when hidden and not getting upset when found.
  • Object Permanence - For the youngest players, simply realizing that other players haven't vanished is a critical skill.
  • Reduce Separation Anxiety - Again, for younger players, being alone for minutes at a time is a valuable skill to be learned.
  • Exercise - Kids need to move. A lot. Hide and seek usually involves a lot of running, crouching, jumping and other activities that help a child physically develop.

On a pro vs cons scale for playground games, hide and seek ranks right up at the top. The worst thing that can happen is someone tripping while running too fast or accidentally hiding in a thorn-bush (ouch!). Those are normal events that can happen whenever a child is playing any game, so nothing to really concern yourself with there. As for the pros, there are many and they all are great early-preparation for adulthood. 

Hide and Seek Variations

Although simple, there are a ton of ways to switch up the rules and change how hide and seek is played. There really are no limits beyond what your imagination comes up with. Whether you add new items to the play, change the location or revise the rules, hide and seek can stay fresh for you and your kids to make sure play stays a part of childhood as long as possible. Below are some common alternative rules and ideas for playing.

Nighttime Hide and Seek / Flashlight Tag

This is an extremely easy way to change up hide and seek. All you need is a flashlight and a little patience to wait for nighttime. In this variation, the seeker gets to use the flashlight. Everything else remains the same. The hiders choose a hiding spot while the seeker counts to 30. While searching for other players, the seeker uses the flashlight. Once the seeker finds another player, they shine the light on them and yell "Found you" as usual. 

While commonly called Flashlight Tag, this is much more like hide and seek. In tag, players usually run until they are touched by whoever is 'it'. However, for nighttime hide and seek, it's still just that, hide and seek. The hiders shouldn't move after they've found their hiding spot.

Zombie (or Viral) Hide and Seek

This variation starts the same as every other game, but it's played as though the seeker is a zombie or infected somehow. As the seeker finds other players, they join his team and become seekers as well! As the game goes on, the number of seekers increases which makes for a quicker paced game. When you're the last one hiding and see lots of others looking for you, it can get really exciting.

This variation is excellent to play with larger numbers of players or in really large areas. 

Hide and Seek Toys

Recently, new products have come out which modernize the hide and seek game through new toys, like The Countdown Game. It adds a timer and a set of challenges to play through after the toy is found. With that, hide and seek is taken to a new level by a game that requires players to move fast and work together to overcome the new challeneges.


This variant was sent in by a reader and it sounded really interesting. The game is setup like normal with everyone hiding and one seeker. The difference comes when the game starts. As the seeker searches they count up (loudly) up to 30. Once they hit 30, they have to close their eyes and count to 10 out loud as well. Durin gthis 10 second count, anyone hiding is allowed to move and find another hiding spot again.

This variant is an excellent way to add a bit more activity and excitement to the game. If you're hiding and the seeker approaches, if they reach 30 near you, you get a second chance to run. You'll have to be both fast and quiet though to try to get to a new spot without the seeker knowing you moved (or where). It can add a whole level of depth to the game.

Of course, you can change the seeking and counting time according to whoever is playing. The important thing is that the seeker counts the same speed whether they are searching or re-counting again to make it fair.

The Active Game For Everyone

No matter how you choose to play, hide and seek has something for everyone. It's great for groups, it's great for keeping active, it's great for socializing, learning and overall healthy development. It should be a part of everyone's childhood and there's no reason to stop playing then. Hide and seek is great for adults too!