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Magic Show (and Tell)

Kids love magic. It's a key ingredient of childhood. Every day is a new adventure of discovery, mystery, and wonderment. It starts when they're babies playing peekaboo ("Mommy's gone! Oh, here she is!") and continues through their forays into imaginary worlds, where they can sling webs like Spider-Man or slay the dragon that lives in the closet. I recently caught my 3-year-old niece, Nula, sipping tea with an invisible fairy named Ubba Gobbler. According to Nula, her fairy friend had given her the magical power to disappear. Nula told me that all I had to do was close my eyes real tight, say the magic words "Ping Pong Pooey," and poof! She would vanish instantly. And she did. (Luckily, I found her hiding under the coffee table.)

Performing magic tricks is a great way to join your own child in her world of wonder. Plus, your guaranteed status as the Cool Mom or Dad won't be a bad perk either. I know this from firsthand experience. I'm a professional magician and have performed for kids for more than 14 years. Click to the next page and I will share a few starter tricks with you that are guaranteed to amuse and delight your kids faster than you can say "Abracadabra!"

Young kids are amused by silly gags like the "I got your nose" game. Kick up the fun a notch with this thumb-splitting trick.

  1. Hold up your right hand, palm in, with the fingers pointing to the left. Bend in just the tip of your right thumb so the joint peeks out over the fingers.
  2. Next, hold up your left hand, palm facing out, and tuck your left thumb between your left middle and left ring fingers. Your thumb should be poking out and pointing to the left.
  3. Now move your two hands together, with the top of your folded right thumb touching the bottom of your left thumb so that the two thumbs look like just one thumb.
  4. Quickly slide your left hand to the left while keeping your right thumb fixed in place. And voilà! Your "thumb" will look like it's being pulled in two.

If your kid is older or not as easily impressed, you'll have to create a more in-depth illusion to get her psyched. Try this "Guardian Angel Trick."

  1. Say, "Did you know you have a guardian angel watching over you? He's behind you with big wings. If you close your eyes and concentrate, you can feel him tap your shoulder. But when you close your eyes, I have to hold them shut so you don't peek."
  2. Demonstrate closing your own eyes while holding them shut with both your right-hand and left-hand index fingers. Then tell her to close her eyes.
  3. Instead of holding hers shut with both index fingers, use your right hand's middle and index ones. Now tap her shoulder with your free left hand.
  4. Quickly move both hands in front as she pulls her face away. The next time she asks you to do it, you can tell her if she concentrates really hard, she'll be able to feel the angel brush her shoulder with his wing, which you can do with a gentle stroke across.

I perform a variation of the coin-from-ear trick at the dinner table called "Presto, Veggio!"

  1. Grab any veggie (I like to use broccoli tops), and raise it to your mouth as if you're about to eat it, but cup it in your palm by slightly bending your fingers and thumb.
  2. Say, "Tommy, is that a legume in your ear?" He'll be so baffled wondering if something is in his ear (and what a legume is), he won't notice the hidden veggie.
  3. Simply reach behind his ear and reveal it, saying "It's not a legume?...?it's broccoli!"

My nephews, ages 4 and 5, are really into Star Wars, so I combined a little myth of Jedi visitation and some magic to blow their minds with this "Jedi Mind Trick."

  1. Tell your child that Luke Skywalker crash-landed at your house last night. Before he fixed his X-wing fighter and took off back into outer space, he had time to teach you one Jedi trick. (Note: If your kid isn't a big fan of the series, substitute a visit from Harry Potter or a magical fairy for the Jedi).
  2. Ask your kid to choose a crayon from his art supplies, then put it on a table.
  3. What you're going to do is make the crayon roll across the table using nothing but "The Force." Explain that since you're not a powerful Jedi yourself, you'll need your kid's help.
  4. Tell him to concentrate as hard as he can on the crayon. Participating makes your child feel empowered and also focuses his attention away from you so that you can pull off the trick.
  5. Put your finger on the table two to three inches behind the crayon and point as if you're going to use invisible energy to push the crayon.
  6. If your child is properly focused on the crayon, he won't be looking at your mouth (which is where the magic happens). You're going to blow the crayon down the table.
  7. Puff air behind the crayon, and it will start rolling. As it does, move your finger forward so it stays the same distance away from the crayon as if you are pushing it with "The Force." When done right, this one will astound and amuse your child. All kids love believing they have some kind of super power, and moving things with their mind definitely tops the list of the coolest special abilities.

Originally published in the September 2010 issue of Parents magazine.