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What Should We Play?

No matter what game you play, some kids are just not going to get into it. The trick is to start them young and keep the games alive. Try setting up tournaments and championships. Once you get them hooked, they'll come back to the table fast enough—after all, their survival instincts are sometimes even stronger than that of the tired and weary adult. Shut off the TV, computer, and video games and let the answering machine screen the calls. Get the kids excited about spending time with the family—even if they don't know that that's what you have in mind.

Winning Plays

Technological evolution changed the way we play games, and even the games themselves. For example, the discovery of rubber led to the creation of new types of balls. Pairing these discoveries with new global trading partners resulted in the introduction of different toys and games.

The Treasure Chest

In my family, playing cards was an after-dinner ritual. My parents kept a jar of pennies on a kitchen shelf and a deck of cards in our game cupboard in preparation for game night. Sometimes they'd even invite their own friends over and we'd have a houseful of fun. The game cupboard was full of various materials used to entertain ourselves—from board games to outdoor recreation items like balls, badminton rackets, nets, and tennis rackets. On the inside of the door were the decks of cards. My mother kept the penny jar high up on a shelf to avoid the temptation of little fingers reaching for coins for the candy store. It didn't have to be coins that we used either. Sometimes we used rocks or seashells or candy. Occasionally we even used our marble collections. And one way or another the winner always put his loot back in the jar at the end of the night … well, unless it was a candy-stakes night.

It's in the Cards

A stake is a prize you can win in a contest.

One rainy, summer afternoon in the country, my grandfather taught my four siblings and me to play Poker, using packing “popcorn” as the stakes. As a kid it didn't matter what you played with—just that you had the most of it by the end of the game.

Just the thought of that penny jar can still get me excited for a competitive night of family fun.

Fun for Everyone

There are many games that are suitable for younger and older kids alike. Sometimes it doesn't hurt to indulge in these if only to appease the little ones before bed, before the more complicated games are brought out. Games like Pick-Up Sticks, Tic-Tac-Toe, War, Old Maid, and Go Fish are great for families with youngsters and can be played around the dinner table or living room coffee table. For adults looking for a little more competitive edge to their evening but who want to include the kids, there are plenty of more “mature” card games like Spades, Hearts, Poker, or Cribbage. It's easy to get the kids involved, especially if you play in teams. The kids can help you develop strategies or even keep score. They'll be happy to just be included.

In my family, we also used to pull out Bingo cards and have a blast calling out letters and watching, in silence, as everyone focused on covering their numbers. For games like Bingo, it's best to have a prize at the end because Bingo is a reward game. When playing with kids, you can have levels of prizes depending on the amount of the card you're playing. For example, winning four corners gets a slightly better prize than a diagonal line, and a full card gets the biggest prize of all. This game requires a little bit more planning and possibly shopping on the parents' part. But everyone loves Bingo—kids and adults alike. It's a great game to play on a rainy day. You can pick up Bingo cards at almost any store that sells children's games. You can either use chips to block the numbers or ink blotters depending on whether you are playing on cardboard or paper. If you're really inventive, try making your own cards.

Hello, Sunshine

On the weekends, when the weather is nice, get outside and play! Sunny days are a great time for families to play together. If you have younger children, there's nothing they love more than a game of Hide-and-Seek or Tag (and you thought you had to spend hundreds of dollars on a gym membership every year for that workout). Kids have boundless energy—you'll lose calories just by trying to keep up with all of their running around. There's no better way to relive your own childhood either. There are so many great games to play outside when the weather is nice—hundreds of derivations of the game of Tag, for example. There's Blind Man's Bluff, Touch Iron/Touch Wood/Touch Stone, Prayer Tag, Wolf in the Henhouse, and Mother May I. Growing up, one of my personal favorite tag-type games was British Bulldog.

Three Strikes

Before beginning any game make sure you have clearly stated the rules of the game and that everyone participating understands how to play. Family fun night can turn in to family feud night if rules are not clearly stated up front.

It's in the Cards

Equipment consists of the physical resources you need to play a game. For example, you can't play Kickball without the ball and the bases.

My siblings, and all the neighboring kids, gathered every night to play that game. One person is “it” and everyone else lines up against a wall or other starting point. When the “it” calls out “British,” everyone runs at the same time. The goal is to reach the “safe point”—usually another wall or mutually agreed upon landmark. We used to start at dusk and the household rule was that we had to be back inside when the street lights came on. We were exhausted by bedtime. It was especially fun when the grown-ups joined us. We'd squeal with laughter when a kid tagged a slow-moving parent.

Outdoor fun is a great way for families to spend time together. Some of the best games of all are the ones we play outside in wide open spaces like Softball, Frisbee, Bocce Ball, Touch Football, Volleyball, Badminton, and Croquet. There are hundreds of games to play outside and this is the best place to tire out the kids and get your own work-out into your schedule. You don't have to spend a huge amount of money on equipment either. In fact, the less equipment required, the better.

Go Team!

Some great traditional family board games like Monopoly can be played in teams. This is especially great when you're including younger children in the fun. Kids love to be part of a grown-up's team. It makes them feel valued and special that they are considered old enough to have a say.

More on: Games

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Family Games © 2002 by BookEnds, LLC. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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