I'm Thinking of an Animal
Ages 3 and up
One player says, "I'm thinking of an animal that...," and gives a clue ("...has fur"). The next person tries to guess what the animal is ("A bear?"). If the guess is wrong, the "it" person repeats the clue and gives an additional one. ("No, that's not the animal I'm thinking of. My animal has fur and whiskers.") And so on. The winner gets to be "it" next.
Try it: When you're trying to keep your son from behaving like a bear, a pig ...
What Happens Next?
Ages 4 and up
Begin to tell a story. Just as you reach a dramatic moment, say, "And then...." This will be your child's cue to continue. The next person, in turn, picks up where he left off. If your child is too young to develop a story on his own, ask leading questions. ("Do you think the cat ran away? Where do you think she went?") Once you agree on a plot direction, ask for more details. ("Who came with her?")
Try it: As you wait for dancing popcorn to hit the big screen
Ages 3 and up
On your computer, make up grids of pictures of things your kids are likely to see from the car on a road trip (or find ready-made ones at momsminivan.com), then print them on index cards. Everyone gets a card. When someone spots something, he crosses out the picture. When a complete row of pictures is crossed out, the player calls "Bingo!" Tip: For younger kids, try smaller cards; for older kids with longer attention spans, try larger ones.
Try it: When you just can't handle the Wiggles CD.
Ages 4 and up
One person closes his or her eyes and makes a scribble on a piece of paper. The next person, with eyes open, must turn it into a drawing of something real.
Try it: When the unthinkable happens: no crayons at the restaurant table.
The License-Plate Game
Ages 4 and up
Sure, you can play the classic version (see who can spot the most states), but there are variations. For older kids, read out the numerals that appear on a plate; the first person to multiply all the numbers together wins. For younger kids, have them look for the entire alphabet, starting with A.
Try it: When the CD inside the Harry Potter case is in fact Danielle Steel.
Mad, Sad, Glad
Ages 3 and up
At dinner everyone takes turns describing one thing that happened during the day that made them mad, one that made them sad, and one that made them glad.
Kid’s prize: The whole table's undivided attention.
Your prize: Dinner theater.
Ages 5 and up
On index cards, jot down some provocative questions. (You can file the cards in a recipe box.) When the dinner-table conversation gets stuck on soccer schedules and whose turn it is to take out the garbage, let one of the kids pick a card, then go around the table giving everyone a chance to respond to the question. Suggested topics: If you could have any talent or ability, what would it be and why? What would you like to be doing in 10 years? Which person from the past would you most like to meet and why? What five items would you put in a time capsule? If you had one day to do anything you wanted (money is no object), what would it be?
Kid’s prize: A chance to think big.
Your prize: A chance to think big.
What's Wrong With This Picture?
Ages 5 and up
Ask your child to set the table and deliberately mess something up. (A fork can be switched with a knife, a glass can be turned upside down.) When he's done, it's your job to find out what's wrong with the picture. He can also play with a sibling if the cook has her hands full.
Kid’s prize: Permission to make a mistake.
Your prize: A set table. (Well, almost.)
Ages 4 to 8
Stash a dozen texturally weird things (cotton balls, paper clips, a chunk of pizza dough, an avocado) in paper bags. Place the bags in a row on a table and have the kids reach inside them, assembly-line style, to guess what they're touching.
Gear: Lunch bags and assorted household items.
Cost: About $2 for bags.
Ages 4 to 6
Tape two large pieces of poster board to a wall and draw a big head-shaped oval on each. Divide the children into two teams, line them up, and give the first person in each line a crayon or a thick marker. When you give the signal, the first person in each line runs to the wall and adds a facial feature?a mouth, hair?then races back, handing the marker to the next child in line. The first team to complete a face wins.
Gear: Two large pieces of poster board, masking tape, and crayons or markers.
Cost: About $1 for each 22-by-30-inch poster board; about $3 for a set of 10 markers.
"Everybody Wins" Musical Chairs
Ages 3 to 6
In this version, no one is ever out. Start the usual way?with one chair fewer than the number of children. Set up chairs in a row, with adjacent chairs facing opposite ways. When the music starts, the children walk around the chairs. When it stops, they sit, leaving the last two kids to sit on the same chair. Before you start the music again, remove a chair. Keep going until all the kids are piled up on the one remaining seat.
Gear: Straight chairs and a music player.
Pass the Parcel
Ages 3 to 8
Gift-wrap a trinket or a treat (a toy animal, a superball, a lollipop) and secure it with tape. Wrap that package and a second treat in another piece of paper. Continue until you have a big package with enough treats for all the children attending the party. Then have the kids sit in a circle and, as music plays, pass the package from person to person. When the music stops, the child holding the parcel gets to unwrap a layer and keep what's there. Be sure to stop the music at the appropriate times so everyone gets a prize.
Gear: Wrapping paper, tape, small gifts, and a music player.
Cost: $3 for wrapping paper; $1.50 for tape; $1 to $2 for each trinket or treat.
Ages 5 to 10
Before guests arrive, make two piles of large-size clothing?pants, shirts, jackets, ponchos, gloves, hats, scarves. Divide the children into two lines across the room from the piles. At the signal, the first child in each line runs to his team's pile, puts on all the clothes, turns around, takes off the clothes, runs back, and tags the next person in line. The first team to complete the race wins.
Ages 3 to 5
Give each child a feather. At the signal, the kids start blowing their feathers in the air. Whoever can keep his in the air the longest, using only lung power, is the winner. This game can also be played in teams, with everyone in a team working to keep one feather in the air.
Gear: Feathers (available at art-supply and five-and-dime stores or at orientaltrading.com, $5 for a three-ounce bag of neon feathers).
Cost: About $5 for a bag of feathers.