This is my kind of silliness. These family games are creative, simple, and spontaneous. They need almost no preparation and only minimal equipment, just household stuff. They are unplugged, screen-free, non-board games that un-bore children, and they are all about playing rather than producing something, or winning and losing. Best of all, they don’t cause mess-ups that disappoint everyone and make a parent like me look foolish because she didn’t inherit the ‘crafty’ gene.
Some of these games you’ll recognize. The more eccentric ones originated in this family. Honestly, a couple of these are so odd that I wonder why my kids enjoy them so much, but the giggles they generate and the repeated requests to play them cannot be denied!
Folding Game – (pictured twice above) For at least 2 players, better with 3, ages 4 to 104. (Need paper, crayons or markers.)
Take one piece of paper per player and fold it into horizontal thirds (or quarters, with 4 or more players). Each player draws a head and shoulders of some sort (person, animal, vegetable, mineral, monster, alien, whatever) in the top folded section.
Continue the shoulder lines very slightly into the next folded section to give guidance to the player who will continue on that page. Then fold the page back to hide what you have drawn and expose the rest of the paper (with just the little lines of guidance showing) to the person next to you.
Each player then draws a mid-section of any kind, including hands and arms (if your creation has any) in any position. Continue the lines of the hips and the tops of legs very slightly into the bottom folded section, fold back to expose only the bottom section to the player next to you and pass on.
Last round, everyone draws legs and feet. Finally, unfold and enjoy your communal person/beast. Name him/her/it, if you like!
Sardines In A Can – 3 players or more (the more the squishier!), ages 2 To 102.
This is the classic game of hide ‘n seek turned inside out. One player hides, the others find him and snuggle in next to him in his hiding spot. The last player to find the hiding spot opens a can of very giggly sardines. (For safety, youngest players should team-up with someone, not go hiding on their own.)
Close Your Eyes And Open Your Mouth – Parent and 1 child or more, ages 2 to 102. (Need a kitchen and some food.)
Players take turns closing their eyes while mom, dad, or trusted older sibling brings tiny bites of various edible items. Players guess what they are tasting. As tempting as it is to take full advantage and pop in those highly nutritional foods our children always nix, I’ve found (for the sake of fun and trust!) it’s best to hold the cod liver oil and give samples they can at least tolerate.
Copy – 2 or more players, ages 3 to 103. (Need paper, crayons or markers.)
This one’s really simple, but my children have played it with me – and better yet — with each other for hours.
Each child has a piece of paper. One child draws a shape, dot, figure, or whatever, on his paper. The other child tries to copy it onto his paper, and then adds something more.
The first artist then copies the other child’s addition to the drawing on his paper and adds something more. This copying back and forth continues until the children decide they are done. They end up with two drawings that are similar, but surprisingly different.
Charades – At least 2 players, but the more the merrier, ages 3 to 103. (Need small scraps of paper, pen or pencil.)
This game is a personal favorite. Since I loved charades parties in my teens and twenties, I wanted to introduce the concept to my children as soon as they were old enough to understand it. Younger children can begin by recognizing an image and acting out what it represents.
There is a wonderful charades board game, Kids On Stage, which includes picture cards in three categories: animals, actions and objects. Children embrace the challenge of slithering like a snake or pretending to swing on a swing. We soon memorized all the cards and with the slightest twitch we could shout out which one it was.
Charades has now become a favorite after dinner party game when we have family or friends over. The younger ones need a little help and encouragement at first, but soon everyone is willing to go out on a limb, behave foolishly in hope that the movie, book, or famous person they are acting out is recognized, and join in the (often hysterical) laughter.
Spice Girls – 1 adult, 1 child (girl or boy) or more, ages 2 to 102. (Need spices.)
This is a guessing game variation on “Close Your Eyes And Open Your Mouth” that my daughters and I invented. One person closes her eyes while the other holds a spice jar under her nose, and she then has to distinguish the spice. Adults should try this one, too. It’s tough! And some of the most commonly used spices have a surprisingly unappealing smell.
Scavenger Hunt – At least 1 child, the more the merrier, ages 3 to 103.
Scavenger hunts take some preparatory work for the parent, but the joy of sending children out to explore and discover nature is well worth the trouble. There were summers when my children wanted to do this almost every day, and I happily obliged. (This could certainly be done indoors as well, perhaps focusing the hunt on one particular room.)
We are blessed to live in a semi-rural area and have a large un-manicured yard. I would wander about, noting the colors, shapes and designs of leaves, small rocks, flowers, etc., and make a list, which might include: something purple, something that smells good; something that smells bad; something sharp; something soft, etc. When the children were pre-readers, I drew little pictures.
The search gets more complex as the children get older and might include items like “a piece of eucalyptus bark the length of your humerus”, or “a live isopod crustacean” (roly-poly bug). The hunt always ends up being creative, educational and fun (for me, too).
I hope these play ideas come in handy, or inspire spin-offs of your own. I admit to often groaning inaudibly when my children ask me to play, but I have never regretted saying yes. Playing together bonds us, creates memories, rituals, family lore, and carves time out of our busy lives to focus on each other. In fact I’ve made a pact with my kids for this summer: Wednesday night is game night. So, please forgive me if I don’t answer the phone (or post). I’ll be getting back to you Thursday morning!