Starting a Family Game Night
June 6, 2011 by Stephanie O'Dea
We play a lot of games in our house. This is a photo of the family game shelves in the garage. The board games and puzzles are accessible to the big kids, but out of reach from the baby. I try to maintain a “one or two games in the house at a time” rule, to limit lost or damaged pieces.
Since my kids vary in ages (9, 6, and seventeen months), we have quite a few to choose from– but truly only play a handful on a regular basis. I always thought it would be a good idea to have a way to rent board games. Or a lending library. This might be neat to set up in schools, or through your church or neighborhood— something free the whole family can enjoy that promotes togetherness.
If you’re new to playing board/card games with your children, do not expect everyone to have fun and get along perfectly. This is real life. Go with the flow, and try not to be a dictator. Rules are important, but good sportsmanship is a much more valuable lesson to learn. I’m okay with bending rules or getting new cards/scrabble pieces to keep a game moving along and to retain interest, but the family needs to agree. Anything sneaky is cheating, and that’s not okay.
It’s not about winning or losing. It’s how you play the game. — Grantland Rice
words to live by!
Preschool Games (no reading required):
Candyland— this is THE classic preschool board game. This game teaches the “luck of the draw,” taking turns, and color recognition. Ages 2.5 or so and up–child needs to be able to not flip the board, and understand taking turns.
Chutes and Ladders— the other classic preschool board game. This game has a spinner, and is a great way to introduce numbers. Try to just enjoy and not turn each play into a math lesson. Let the math come naturally— learning is best when it’s not forced, anyway! ages 4 and up.
Memory— this simple matching game is fun for all ages. If you have very young children, start with only 5-10 pairs, then build up. When I taught preschool, I started the little ones right around age 18 months. You’ll be surprised at how quickly small guys figure it out!
HyperDash— great indoor game on a rainy day, or outdoor game to let a pack of kids run off some energy. The ages on the box says for ages 7 and up, but I think that recommendation is completely out-of-whack. There are batteries, but this is a fantastic preschool game–I’d say for ages 3 and up.
Connect Four–a large version of tic-tac-toe, Connect Four is appropriate for ages 4 and over, and I still really enjoy playing with the kids. This is a good way to teach planning-ahead and strategy– important skills for more advanced games.
Go Fish, Uno, Old Maid, Crazy Eights (you can usually find these games at your local Dollar Store)– great classic card games to toss in the diaper bag, beach bag, to keep in the glove compartment, etc. You can customize the games for smaller children by limiting the amount of cards in play. Although the Uno deck says for ages 7 and up, I taught a group of 4-year-olds who picked the game up quite quickly.
Jenga —family building game, or a solo game. It’s kind of tricky to rebuild the stack for small children, but lots of fun to knock down, or to watch mom or dad “mess up” and knock the tower over.
Young School-Aged children (but still fun for older kids/adults!)
Battleship — beginning strategy game, teaches graph/cooordinates-reading. 2 player game, ages 6 and up (looks like Amazon doesn’t carry the regular vs.; you’ll need to look locally).
Apples to Apples Jr. — we love this game for building vocabulary, and for just a great family game. Children need to be able to read/sound out words. Ages 6 1/2 or 7 or so and up. GREAT game for a large group, family gathering with all ages, etc.
Boggle — fun, quick family game. Builds vocabulary, promotes reading/word-making. ages 6 and up or so. Fun for adults—Adam and I get quite competitive with Boggle.
Yahtzee — Great math skills game. This game also sets up the framework to play poker, which is a valuable skill, right? (gotta be better than Liar’s Dice… at least…)
Older Elementary-aged children to adult
Clue — the new version has added a few more rooms and weapons, and “intrigue” cards. Our family ignores the intrigue cards, and plays the classic way– we just try to solve the crime. If you’re playing with teenagers or an adults-only game, you might want to use the intrigue cards. This game is best with 3 or more players.
Blokus — Remember the old Game Boy game, Tetris? (there’s probably an app for that now, huh?) Blokus is a boardgame version of Tetris. Players use geometric blocks to build board presence and block players. Teaches spatial awareness, logic, and strategy. The game works the best with 4 players, although you can play with 2 or 3.
Carcassonne My friend, Kelly, from The Spunky Coconut told me about this game, and we’ve been playing it every couple days ever since. My kids cheat too much when they play on their own— I’d recommend having an adult involved. This is our current favorite, and when/if we outgrow this game, there are add-ons available. Great way to introduce more advanced games like Risk (which we own, but I still haven’t figured out!).
Cranium Family — This family game combines classics like pictionary, charades, and name that song in an entertaining (and not too challenging) way. (PS. Amazon is listing this for $57 right now, which is absurd. I have no idea why.)
These are our current favorites, but I’m ALWAYS on the lookout for great new games. If you have any other suggestions for me to keep an eye out for, please let me know!