How to Play Monkey In the Middle (Game Rules)

Got a group of energetic kids that need entertaining? Then why not have them play a few rounds of Monkey In the Middle. It’s a game as old as the hills themselves – but many of us may not have had the chance to play for a while. A classic schoolyard game played the world over, the rules for Monkey In the Middle couldn’t be simpler. 

Heads Up Seven Up, Dodge Ball, Four Square – these games will surely remind you of simpler times, many moons ago, of messing around with your friends. Another of these games that you might remember is Monkey In the Middle.

The game rules are so simple, and it can be played with any number of people, either young or old, but it was an absolute classic schoolyard game back in the day. If you want to play it with your class, with your camp group, or maybe at a party, but can’t remember how to play Monkey In the Middle, you’re in the right place. 

Read on to find out how to play the game.

What is Monkey In the Middle?

Monkey In the Middle Game Info image

We wouldn’t be surprised if you knew Monkey In the Middle by a different name. Some people call it Keep Away; some call it Piggy in the Middle; others still might know it as Pickle in the Dish, Pickle in the Middle, or just Monkey – at the end of the day, it’s all the same game, so don’t worry!

In essence, Monkey In the Middle is a throwing and catching game ideally suited for a small group. It’s a bit like the opposite of Dodge Ball, where you actively try and intercept the ball rather than dodge it. There’s more to it than that, though.

One person is ‘it’. They have to stand in the middle of a circle of the other players and become the ‘monkey’ in the middle. The other players then have to throw a ball to one another while the person who is ‘it’ tries to intercept the ball. 

If the person who is ‘it’ (the ‘monkey’) manages to intercept the ball, then the person that last touched the ball becomes the new ‘monkey,’ and the interceptor joins the circle around them. 

Number of Players: Minimum of 3 players are required.

Ages: 5+

Difficulty: Easy.

Length of Play: Rounds can vary in how long they last – it all depends on how good at intercepting the ball that the ‘monkey’ is.

Similar To: Dodge Ball; Water Balloon Toss; Egg Drop.

Main Objective: If you are ‘it’ / the ‘monkey’ – to intercept the ball as it is being thrown. If you are not the ‘monkey’ – to try and make sure that the ‘monkey’ doesn’t intercept the ball.

Why We Love It: A kids classic, played at school and at home alike, we’re sure you’ll have great memories of playing this with your friends and family.

Playing Monkey In the Middle – What You’ll Need

You won’t need much at all to get a game of Monkey In the Middle going – just 3 or more players, and a ball!

We recommend getting this playground kickball to play Monkey In the Middle.

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You can also use a hacky sack, if you want something a bit different.

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You might also want to get hold of some sidewalk chalk – you might want to have the ‘monkey’ stand in a circle drawn on the ground in the middle of the other players. You can play it without this, however.

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Monkey In the Middle Rules and Instructions

Gather all the people who want to play – for these instructions, we’ll use the minimum of 3 for example purposes. Choose who the ‘monkey’ is – you could try flipping a coin or maybe asking a quick-fire question with the person who answers incorrectly being the ‘monkey’.

If you like, use a piece of chalk to draw a circle. The ‘monkey’ cannot leave this circle until they end up touching the ball. You can also draw a line or a box around the two other players, making it a little trickier for them to evade the ‘monkey’ successfully.

If everyone is ready to go, grab the ball and give it to one of the players. 

Passing the Ball

The two players who aren’t the ‘monkey’ have to pass the ball between each other while trying to make sure that the ‘monkey’ doesn’t intercept their passes. The ‘monkey’ has the main objective of trying to intercept the ball.

Intercepting the Ball

If the ‘monkey’ manages to intercept the ball, then the last person that had the ball becomes the new ‘monkey’. 

You can also have a rule where if the ball is thrown too far, or a player drops the ball, anyone playing can go after it – including the ‘monkey’. In this instance, if the ‘monkey’ gets their hands on the ball, they are then no longer the ‘monkey’.

Monkey In the Middle – Game Rule Variations

There are all sorts of different variants that you can add to the basic game of Monkey In the Middle. If you want to make sure that the players don’t throw the ball too high, you can implement a rule that means the ball has to bounce at least once on its journey to the other player. This makes it easier for people who aren’t as tall!

You can also have a rule where the ‘monkey’ can move about and isn’t confined to a chalk circle. You can also have the other players not being allowed to move while they have the ball. 

This makes the players pass the ball to each other much faster, and can result in a really quick, exciting game. Having a maximum amount of time, such as 5 seconds, for the player to pass the ball can also add plenty of excitement.

If you’ve got a larger group of people, you could even try having more than one ‘monkey’ in the middle. And if you wanted to make an even more exciting game, you could even try adding more than one ball into the mix!

How to Play Monkey In the Middle – Video Tutorial

Frequently Asked Questions

Who goes in the middle of Monkey In the Middle?

As the game master, it’s up to you to choose or figure out how to decide who goes in the middle and is the first ‘monkey’. You could do it by age, you could flip a coin, or have a quick pop-quiz – or simply ask for a volunteer.

When was Monkey In the Middle created?

Like many games you might have played when you were younger, the origins of Monkey In the Middle are a little mysterious – it’s thought that people have been playing it for many generations though.

What does Monkey In the Middle mean?

Unfortunately for some, Monkey In the Middle doesn’t actually involve any monkeys! The ‘monkey’ in this case is the person who is in the middle of the group trying to intercept the ball.

Alternatives to Monkey In the Middle

If you need some games that can keep a group entertained, there are plenty of different options out there that are great alternatives to Monkey In the Middle. 

We mentioned Four Square and Dodge Ball earlier, both of which involve using balls. You can also check out our Kickball rules guide for another competitive game to play. But if you want something different you could also try playing Kan-Jam, or even having a go at Crossnet

If you’re on the hunt for some more games to play with groups that are primarily outdoor games, then check out our rundown of 36 fun camp games for small groups to play.

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