I recently finished up a teaching gig at a local summer camp, working with children ages 2 1/2 through 13 years old teaching them rhythm, music and movement. Boy, did we have fun! We played so many cool rhythm games that helped the campers improve their listening skills, both musically and otherwise. One of my favorite games is called "A Stitch in Time," a game in Kalani's book "The Amazing Jamnasium" (Alfred Publishing Co.). The book includes several patterns that you can cut out and use over and over--or you can go online and Google 'patterns' to get some really cool and creative ones of your own! I tend to use the ones from the book to explain the game to the group, and then I divide the students into groups and give each group a pattern I found on my own, for them to use their imaginations. Here's how it works: you hold up one of the patterns and ask the group what it is--use words to elicit from them the response "pattern" such as: 'repeating,' 'shapes,' 'over and over again,' etc. Once the group has defined "pattern," you can explain what you will do with the pattern card. Let's say you have a pattern of a small circle, a large circle, three squares, and a triangle, repeating several times on the card. Together the group comes up with a sound to make on their instruments for each of those shapes--it could be a visual representation on their drum (such as drawing a square with their finger on the top of the drum); a sound representation that defines how many sides the shape has (such as hitting the drum 4 times for a square), or a dynamic representation that illustrates how loud they think a certain shape is (such as one loud hit in the middle of their drum for a circle). Once the group comes up with sounds for each shape, you can guide them into putting it all together to make a rhythmic pattern. The best part is, there's no right or wrong answer!
After they master this, you can pass out pattern cards of your own and encourage them to get creative with their sounds! By the way, this game also works superbly with movements rather than instruments. Have the students make up a movement for each shape, much in the same vein as coming up with a sound. This seems to encourage use of both their creative and their analytical sides, and it is a simple and gratifying project for them to start and finish together in the span of 10 minutes. You don’t even have to be a musician or a music teacher to try it—cut out some cool patterns online and go to it with your family!