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When our kids were young – around 5 or 6 – we started having bi-weekly game nights. This tradition was important to us and we continued it as long as we could – through middle school and into high school whenever. We also determined that these would always be fun family game nights.
Once the boys were out on their own, in college, starting careers, and then married with children – we still play games any time we’re together. And we’re all looking forward to fun family game nights with the grandchildren. Making a fun family game night a priority is an important parenting skill to master because it builds and strengthens family bonds and creates lasting memories.
The Basics of Having a Fun Family Game Night
First, if you don’t have a family game night tradition, start one! It doesn’t matter if your kids are two or twenty or tweens – if they still live at home, do your best to get them committed to family game night. That said, starting younger is better, then when they get to those tween years you can just say, “This is what our family does” to short-circuit complaints.
Second, choose a schedule you can live with. We did bi-weekly game nights and on the off weeks when the boys were younger, we did family movie nights. As they grew older, we had sleepovers, baseball games, and bowling nights.
You should probably start with either bi-weekly or monthly. After a couple of months, you can change the frequency if necessary or desired.
You also need to choose your family game day. It could be Friday or Saturday evening. But it could just as easily be an afternoon on the weekend. If you have unusual work hours, work around your job and the kids’ school schedules. Once you’ve set the schedule – stick to it for at least three or four months before changing. Once the family gets used to the schedule, they’ll learn to anticipate Family Game Night, and schedule other things around it.
Third, choose games that everyone can enjoy. Some suggestions for this are (1) letting everyone choose a favorite game and taking turns on Family Game Night; (2) letting everyone choose a favorite game and rotate games from night to night; (3) letting everyone put a favorite game in a hat and draw one to play that night. If the game or games chosen go quickly, you can always choose to play more than one game.
Fourth, have snacks! Food makes everything go better. And if you have sons of almost any age they eat nonstop anyway, so you might as well be prepared with snacks.
Free or Cheap Games for a Fun Family Game Night
- Charades – The ultimate acting game! Divide into teams if you wish. Choose a category before starting, such as TV shows, Disney characters, or favorite movies. Each player thinks of a title, person, or thing to pantomime to the group. (Alternatively, you could create a list of choices to draw from a paper bag.) The player then acts out the chosen topic for other players to guess. The person who guesses correctly wins a point (or a point for their team). For more detailed directions, see familyeducation.com.
- Dominoes – Whether you play Mexican Train or traditional, dominoes is an easy game to learn, and has several variations. The more pips (dots) in your set, the more challenging. We play with double-six or double-nine, but you can get domino sets up to double-eighteen! For rules about dominoes go to DominoRules.com.
- Memory – Also known as Concentration, this is a perennial favorite with kids! Just turn over more matching pairs than your opponent and you win. To print your own, go here.
Traditional Card Games
- Spades – A game of partners. The perfect card game for four people, Spades was the go-to game during our sons’ high school years because we could easily take it anywhere or play without a lot of time. Although you are supposed to play to 500 points, you can modify that target or just play a hand or two for fun. See more rules at thesprucecrafts.com.
- Spoons – A fun card game for 3 to 13 players, and great for kids as well as adults. The object of Spoons is to get a set of 4 cards that are the same (e.g. 4 jacks), then stealthily get a spoon from the middle of the table. The set-up, like musical chairs, is that there is always one less spoon than players – and you don’t want to be without a spoon! See thesprucecrafts.com for more details.
- Rummy – A card game for 2 to 6 people, this is our current ‘empty-nest’ favorite. The goal is to be the first to 500 points, and points are earned in each hand by creating runs of 3 (e.g. 4, 5, 6 of hearts) or sets of 3 (e.g. 8 of clubs, spades, and diamonds). Thesprucecrafts.com has rules for this card game as well as many others not mentioned here.
Special Card Games
- Uno – You can play Uno with 2 to 10 players; the more players, the more fun. Although the official rules state that it’s for ages 7 and up, we’ve had bright 5-year-olds play with a little help from a friendly aunt or uncle. This was a favorite at family reunions for years, simply because a lot of people could play at once and it was good for all ages.
- Phase 10 – A rummy-type game where each player must get 10 phases in order to win the game. The 10 phases run from easy (2 sets of 3 of the same number) to hard (1 set of 5 and 1 set of 3), although I’d argue that a run of 9 (phase 6) is the hardest! Made by the same company as Uno, with rules available online, this is a game that’s sure to become a favorite.
- Go Fish – Classic kids’ game of matching pairs, this can be played with an official Go Fish deck, or with a traditional deck. It may easier for younger kids if you have the Go Fish deck. Check out the rules at thesprucecrafts.com.
- Old Maid – Another classic kids’ game – be sure not to be caught with the Old Maid or you lose. As with Go Fish, a special deck can be purchased for playing the game or traditional cards can be used as described here.
- Yahtzee – This 5-dice game has been around for decades and involves both strategy and luck. It is easy enough for young children to master, although they might need help with scoring. The rules are available on the aptly named Yahtzee-rules.com.
- Farkle – Also known as Greed. Perhaps not as well-known as Yahtzee, but easily as much fun, this 6-dice game requires strategy, luck, and a bit of nerve. Will you risk losing the points you’ve already earned by going for more? Will you Farkle? Check it out here.
Games Worth Buying for a Fun Family Game Night
- Monopoly – Need I say more? Some games are classics for a good reason. Just be ready to spend a decent amount of time on this real estate game.
- Sorry – AJ’s favorite game growing up, we played Sorry a lot! Kids love being able to send mom or dad back to the beginning with a Sorry
- Rummikub – As the name implies, this game resembles Rummy because it uses sets and runs. Numbered tiles are used to build the sets or runs (called melds). That is challenging enough. But the real fun starts when there are enough melds on the table to start rearranging things. Challenging brain work for older children, teens, and adults. You can leave out the re-arranging part to include younger children. Rules are available online, as are tutorials to show you how it’s done.
- Outburst – A group game, so any number of people can play – the more the merrier! This is a great choice for a sleepover or family reunion. Also check out Taboo, another great group game.
- Hedbanz – The goofy guessing game, where each player wears a headband with a card attached. The object is to be the first to guess what is on your headband by asking questions of the other players. Lots of fun and easy for all ages.
- Sequence – This game uses cards and a game board and involves a lot of strategy and thinking ahead. Recommended for ages 7 and up, I have no experience with younger kids playing it. However, there is a Junior edition available.
A Few Games on My “To Try” List for Family Game Night
These 6 games I came across while doing research for this post look like loads of fun. If you have experience with any of them, let me know!
That’s it. Choose a time, place, and game to play. Make it mandatory fun until the habit is set. You’ll never regret spending quality time around a game. The years go fast – make memories while you can.