Your typical afternoon probably goes like this: Pick up kids from school; shuttle to soccer game, music class and dance lessons; head to the grocery store; then get back home in time to make dinner. And even though the time you spend with your kids is precious, you probably wouldn’t classify this minivan marathon as quality time.
But who’s to say that everyday experiences can’t turn into special moments? And what better way to infuse laughter and fun than with games that draw out every family member?
“Using this time for fun activities reinforces the idea that you can take pleasure in the mundane parts of life,” says Cynthia Copeland, author of Fun on the Run: 324 Instant Family Activities. “It also teaches kids to make the most of what’s available to them.”
Check out Copeland’s kid-friendly game ideas and create memorable moments in the car, at the market and the family dinner table.
In the Car
Instead of popping in a DVD, use car time to get kids to observe their surroundings.
- For short trips Crank up the radio. Pick a common word you’re likely to hear in songs, such as “love” or “time”. As your kids listen, they can announce when they hear the key words, keeping track of how many they hear. The one who racks up the most callouts by the time you reach your destination wins.
- On a long ride Choose a highway-related category — such as “semi-trucks,” “red cars,” “fast-food restaurant signs” or “billboards” — but don’t reveal it to anyone. Next, count out loud each time you spot the object, letting your kids guess the category. The correct guesser takes over by coming up with a new category and starting the game again.
In the Grocery Store
If your kids aren’t old enough to help you find items on your list, these games will keep them entertained, learning and bonding with you.
- For children old enough to count Engage her in a guessing or number game. Ask her to figure out which items in your cart add up to $10. Have her guess how many people will be in line, how many minutes it will take to get through the checkout or how much is the total amount of the bill. If your child can also read, turn the tables and let her quiz you! Have her read the nutrition label on a box of, say, cereal, and ask you how many grams of protein, fiber and sugar it contains. She’ll get a kick out of being the quizzer and telling you whether you’re right or wrong. (This also opens the door for you to slip in mini-lessons on nutrition.)
- For toddlers A simple hiding game is enough to keep a little one’s attention. Pick out an item from your list, take it off the shelf and then together, find a place to hide it — behind boxes or cans — in another aisle. Throughout your shopping trip, remind your little guy about the secret place that only the two of you know about. If he can talk, ask him questions about it: What color is the box? When do we eat this kind of food? Check back periodically to see if the item is still hidden. Finally, place the item in your cart before you check out.
At the Dinner Table
Besides being fun, a game at mealtime gives you a little extra face time with your kids. “Entertainment is an incentive for them to stay at the table, and inevitably, it opens up the channels of conversation,” says Copeland. You needn’t spend the entire meal playing games; play one each night as a dinner icebreaker, and your kids are more likely to chat and share toward the end of the meal.
Here are a few games to try:
- Word of mouth A version of the old favorite telephone, this game starts with someone mouthing a sentence to the person across the table about what they did today. That person must then say aloud what they think their table mate said. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, the person gets it wrong, but it doesn’t matter — each guess usually ends in a good laugh, and you get to hear about some part of a family member’s day you might not have talked about otherwise,” she adds.
- Creative round robin Copeland likes creative storytelling games because they allow imaginations to run wild and help sharpen your memory — a bonus for kids and adults. To play, start a story with a general and true phrase, such as “I saw a dog today.” Then go around the table and have each family member contribute, repeating the previous sentences before they add on their own. Encourage everyone to be as silly as they like.
- Would you rather Go around the table, and have each person ask another family member a question that starts with “Would you rather …?” The questions can be on any topic, serious or not. Even suggest different rounds, such as one that’s goofy (Would you rather have floppy clown feet or big Mickey Mouse ears?), one that’s more serious (Would you rather vacation by the beach or in the mountains?) or one that’s gross (Would you rather eat ants or monkey brains?). Encourage the responder to explain the logic behind the answer, and you’ll get rare insight.
After all, isn’t it better to at least discover why someone prefers monkey brains than only hearing that school was “fine”?
Photo: Corbis Images