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How to Host Game Night with Young Children in Tow

I’ve read a lot lately about hospitality and how important it is for Christians to be reaching out to those in their community.  One of the easiest ways for our family to entertain guests is to host a game night.  We love playing games of all sorts, and game night gives us an opportunity to develop relationships with others in a relaxing environment.

Perhaps my favorite reason for hosting a game night is that there is no need to prepare a fancy meal for lots of people – just have each family bring a snack to share.  You provide the dishes, and beverages.  ( Honestly, ours are usually disposable – paper plates and plastic cups.)  You don’t even need any special decorations, just table space!  It’s the perfect way for someone like me, who is not gifted in the area of hospitality, to have people over. 🙂

However, sometimes hosting Game Night involves entertaining young children as well as adults.  Even if you are having a family game night with just your family and attempting to play a game older children might enjoy, you still need something for younger children to do. Parents can’t play if kids aren’t occupied. 🙂

10 tips for Game Night

 10 Tips for Hosting Game Night with Young Children in Tow:

  1. Play their games.  Depending on the age of the youngest children, choose a few games they can play and enjoy, too.  See my post about Our Big List of Favorite Games for ideas on what games appeal to a wide range of ages.
  2. Give them a role.  If they cannot understand enough to play but want to be involved, give them a role to play in the game (handing out pieces, handing out money, etc.) or put them on someone’s “team.”
  3. Give them their own pieces.  If the children are too young for a role, give them their own pieces to play with next to the game (as long as they aren’t small enough to choke on).  If the kids are young enough, they won’t even care if the pieces even go to the game you are playing. Cards especially seem to do the trick, and you can find children’s decks at the dollar store!
  4. Give them child-friendly snacks.  The peace will only last as long as the snacks do, but fun snacks will buy at least a little time before you have to move on to something else.  Some of our favorite kid-friendly snacks are goldfish crackers, bite-sized cookies, grapes, cucumbers, pretzel sticks, cheese, etc.  Finger foods are fun for children, but I would avoid any messy snacks.
  5. Give them their own game space.  This approach works best if you have more than one child who cannot play because they can help entertain each other (one of the many benefits of having twins!).  Be sure to give them an activity they can do on their own with little to no help from mom or dad.  If they are old enough, you might give them a game of their own to play, especially if an older child can help.  Other activities such as playdoh, coloring, puzzles, building, etc. will provide distraction, too.
  6. Put an older child in charge of entertaining the younger children.  Some older children may not find this appealing, but on occasion, our oldest really enjoys entertaining the littles.  He is really great at using his imagination to make up pretend games for them and other children, too.  Of course, now he’s getting to the age where he would rather play along with the adults, but our middle son is just now starting to entertain from time to time, as well, although not for a long period of time.  If older children are not an option, then….
  7. Hire babysitters.  If you have no older children to entertain the young ones, consider hiring family members or youth from church for the job.  This is especially helpful if you have a separate area, such as a playroom or a finished basement where the kids can hang out.  Even a child’s bedroom will work!  Parents are nearby and still on hand if any major issues arise.
  8. Pull out the “company” toys.  In our home, we have a few toys that seem to be popular when there is a whole group of children in the house.  Some of them, we save specifically for special occasion use.  One is our set of Playhut tents (they are pop-up type tents and tunnels that connect).  Another is the basket of dress-up clothes (I add to this each year after Halloween when the costumes go on 75% off clearance or when I find them at garage sales!).  Duplo blocks or Legos (depending on age) are toys that groups of children can play with together (Duplo blocks or the off-brand Megablocks are easy to find at garage sales, too).  We also have a play kitchen with pretend food that has seen a lot of use.  These “company” toys should be toys that multiple children can play with at the same time in order to avoid disagreements.  Also, be sure to put away any toys that you foresee causing problems, such as our boys’ star wars lightsabers.  Any time we have company, those end up in the closet because they seem to cause accidental injuries. 🙂  In addition, you’ll want to put away any favorite toys that are special to your children.
  9. When all else fails, we put on a movie!  Usually, this is a last resort when other techniques aren’t working or when it’s  too close to bedtime but the parents aren’t done playing yet. 🙂  If you don’t have children of your own, be aware that very young children often won’t sit for an entire movie.  In fact, they might not be interested in it at all!  Usually by the time we decide to put in a movie, it’s bedtime for the younger ones, so we offer it as entertainment for any older children.  It helps to have a movie that the children haven’t seen very often or recently.
  10. Put them to bed. When our twins were babies, we either had to take turns playing games or wait until their naptime or bedtime. In fact, at first we would only host game nights close to those times so that we could enjoy our company. If your friends have young children, too, you could always offer another bedroom or space for their children to sleep if needed.   It’s a great idea to hang on to at least one pack-n-play, even after your children have outgrown it, for times like this.

I hope these tips inspire you to try out family game night or to host friends or neighbors for a game night party of your own!  It really is possible to host and still have fun even when young children are involved, as long as you know what to expect and how to help the kids have fun as well.  If you’ve never hosted a game night before, I suggest starting small with another couple or family  that you know well.  Then, you can work up to multiples couples or families at once!  Game night really is a great way to build fellowship with neighbors, with friends, with family, with small groups, with Sunday school classes, and more.  Why wait?

Jen 🙂

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Our Big List of Favorite Games

As a follow-up to the Mama Mondays post on Why Families Should Play Games, I wanted to provide some practical information on what games to choose for your children, family, ministry, or event.  For those who don’t already know, we have four children, ages four through thirteen, and we’ve spent a lot of years working with children and youth in various churches.  So, over the years we have tried out a lot of different games available and found quite a few favorites! 🙂

The list I started became fairly large, so I’ve divided it into a few different categories such as age or group size in order to give it a little more organization.  Most of these games can be researched more online.  I also have a pinterest board specifically for learning games and activities where I gather ideas for homeschool or just home learning fun, and an AWANA/VBS board where I gather ideas for youth group and children’s ministry.  For family-specific activities, be sure to visit the Family Fun Day/Night board, too.

Games favorite

Toddler/Preschool Games

Memory (matching, critical thinking, memory) is one of our familly favorites for this age.  We started at the age of 2 (possibly even younger) with our firstborn, but not with the entire game.  For very young children, I would start by choosing out just a few matches to start with and let them get the hang of it.

Hi-Ho Cherry-O (colors and counting and following directions) is another favorite and can be played from an early age with modifications.  In fact, before you even try to play the actual game, you could have your child do some color sorting by putting all of the cherries on the correct trees!

Go Fish – I love this game because you can make your own and use it to teach just about anything: for example,Go Fish Colors, Go Fish Shapes, Go Fish Animals, Go Fish Alphabet, and so on.  Just buy a pack of index cards, print off some graphics (or use colored cardstock) and tape or glue them to the index cards.  Our middle child has been our most active child and has been that way from birth, literally!  Go Fish is one game he would actually sit still for at a fairly young age – young enough that he couldn’t even say, “Go Fish!” correctly.

Trouble – we played this game with our two oldest boys before our youngest (at the time) son could even count.  We just counted the spaces out for him.  Why did he enjoy this game so much?  He looooved pressing the domed popper in the middle. He also really enjoyed landing on other players and sending them back home.  However, we did experience some tears when one of his pieces had to be “sent home.”  At that age, we fudged a little and purposefully tried not to land on him very often. 🙂

Candyland – the best thing about this classic, aside from being candy-themed, is that you move by colors rather than numbers.  Thus, you can easily play with very young children.

Elementary-age Games

(many of the games listed in the toddler/preschool category are still interesting enough for this age group as well)

Pictureka!  We absolutely love this game that was introduced to us by friends!  It is easy enough to play that even very young children (pre-readers) can participate, but also quick-paced and competitive enough that even my husband enjoys playing.  It’s just perfect for our age range of 4 year-olds to parents.  The board is a series of large square tiles that are moved often throughout this picture-finding game. With very young children, you can make every card an all-play card and take a less competitive, more team-work approach.

Battleship – it’s an oldie, but a goodie.  I love this game because it’s challenging enough that my husband and I can play each other for at-home date nights, yet our two oldest sons can also play each other.  Our middle son learned to play it at the age of 6, but probably could have learned earlier.  It’s a game of strategy, and only requires 2 players!

Don’t Break the Ice or Don’t Spill the Beans – both are 2-4 player games that even young elementary children (or even preschoolers) can play as they do not involve numbers.  Don’t Break the Ice uses a small plastic hammer to knock out individual ice cubes until the whole platform falls. Don’t Spill the Beans is a game of balance in which plastic beans are added to a pot one by one until the pot tips one way or the other.  These games both utilize and teach scientific principles!

Our Big List of Favorite Games, games for families to play together, a big list of games categorized by age and use, family game night, games kids love


Risk – a game of strategy and conquest.  You can make and break treaties, create and destroy armies, and take over the whole world!  I think this game appeals more to boys rather than girls, but my sister and I both happen to really enjoy it even as adults. Risk  is time-consuming, but that is part of what makes it fun!

Settlers of Catan  – see description in Family category below.

Murder – this game has been a youth group favorite wherever we go, and we even played it at an adults’ game night once!  You need lots of playing space for the game to work well and you also need darkness. We created our own dim area by covering some windows when we played.  Basically, one person is chosen by random to be “it” and is unknown to the other players.  Then, everyone spreads out and the “murderer” is free to work.  What makes this game fun is that when a “body” is found, the lights come on and all players gather together to make accusations and try to figure out who the murderer is.  If the person accused is not truly “it,” then the game continues!

Games for the Whole Family

Jenga – easy enough for small hands, but interesting enough for older brains, as well.  We have played this game with our four-year-old twins and it works very well as long as we help them a bit.

Pictureka – see description in Elementary category.

Life – our two youngest aren’t quite old enough for this game, but will be soon.  They still enjoy participating through roles such as handing out pieces or playing “banker.”  This game is a lot of fun for our family and teaches about life choices, careers, finances, and random chance. The first time we played, my husband’s pink “wife” fell out of his minivan game piece and our middle child got the worst case of the giggles. Now every time we play, we talk about the time Dad’s “wife” tried to run away. 🙂

Settlers of Catan – This is our all-time favorite family game (we actually call it “The Game”) and can be played with as little as 2 players (although it’s not quite as fun) and with as many as 12 if you want to re-paint or decorate some of the pieces like we did.  The game is very unique and involves a lot of strategy and planning, as well as bartering. Basically, you are a “settler” who chooses where to build.  Your object is to grow your territory using resources that you earn according to rolls of the dice.  You build roads, cities, and other settlements as you earn the resources to build with.  You can also trade with other players, but beware of the black robber!  Although this game is a little expensive and takes time to learn, it is well worth the effort and expense!!

Aggravation/ Marble game – this game is an oldie, but a goodie.  You may remember playing it on a wooden board as a child.  This game is easy to learn, and is much like the game Sorry in that players can be sent back to home if they are landed on.

Farkle – This is one of the least expensive games ever, but is so much fun.  All you need is a set of dice (6, I believe), a printed out set of rules from the Internet, and paper and pencil to keep score with.  Although this game is numbers oriented, our middle son learned to play at age 6 and really enjoyed it.

Our Big List of Favorite Games, a list of games categorized by age and use, games for family night, games kids love

Large Group Games

Cranium – I love this game, especially for large group play, because it combines aspects of many of my favorite games.  There are 4 categories: one uses word-based clues (missing letters, scrambled letters, spelling, etc.), one uses music/acting based clues similar to charades, one uses data-based clues (true/false, multiple choice, etc.), and one uses clues that require drawing (sometimes with your eyes closed!) or sculpting with clay.  It’s basically like playing pictionary, charades, trivial pursuit, Boggle, and other games all at the same time!  The best part, however, is that you play in teams, so this game can work for anywhere from 4 to 20 or more players.

Apples to Apples – is another party favorite in our home.  It is easy to learn and usually involves a good deal of humor.  It also gives you insight into the people you’re playing with!

Catch Phrase – is a favorite for me and probably anyone who is good with words and talking.  It can be used in a group as small as 4, but is more fun with larger groups.  The beeping timer makes the fast-paced gameplay even more competitive!

Settlers of Catan – see the description in family games.

Euchre – an inexpensive card game that requires only a single deck of cards.  You can play with Four or more.  I had never heard of this game until I met my husband, but it quickly became apparent that I would have to learn.  It took me a while to learn this game, but it has quickly become one of my favorite card games!

Hand and Foot – a card game in which you have two “hands” of cards – one to start with and a second one, called the “foot,” that you play when you finish your first hand.  I like this game best when played with partners, in which case you would need at least four players.  If you have enough card decks and table space, you could play with a group of 8-10 easily.  This game simply requires several decks of normal playing cards.  Look up the rules online for more information!

Mafia – this game isn’t your typical board or card game, but can be fun if you have an adventurous group of people.  Basically, it’s a whodunnit? game, narrated by a player who sits out of the gameplay and simply tells the story.  The game involves a “criminal” who points at a victim, a doctor, who points at someone to save, and a police officer or detective who chooses someone to accuse.  The most important part of this game is choosing a good narrator because a lot of fun is in the details that they make up.  Look up the details online!

Wink Murder – okay, so this game may be a bit juvenile for adults, but I guess I’m a kid at heart.  This is another game that you can play on the fly with no preparation and no supplies.  Look up the rules online for more information.

Active Games

Twister  – children and teens alike enjoy this game of contorting one’s body in order to touch the correct colored circles.  With our two youngest, we don’t bother with differentiating between right and left since they haven’t learned this yet.  Instead, we just say, “Put your hand on blue.”  Surprisingly, one of the favorite parts of this game is the spinner!

Hide-n-Seek – yes, this is usually an outdoors game, but a few winters ago when I was doing some in-home childcare for a friend, I decided we could play indoors!  In fact, it becomes even more fun when you turn off all but a few lights and play Scary Hide-n-Seek!  Just be sure to tell the players if there are any off-limit areas before you start.  Fair warning, you will probably be asked to hide along with your younger children, especially if you play the scary version.  Another fair warning, if you’re a mom who has had many children and scares easily, go to the bathroom first, seriously. 😉

Sardines – similar to hide-n-seek, only the player who is “it” hides and everyone else tries to find him or her.  The twist is that when you find “it” you have to hide along with them until everyone ends up in the hiding spot.

Simon Says – I know this is an old school game, but my children love it.  The most popular position is Simon, of course, but it’s really good for our younger children to learn to follow directions and to listen!

Mother May I? – another old school game, but gets my children up and active without being too crazy.

Indoor obstacle course – This is mostly for younger children, but older children and parents can participate by creating the course.  Pull out your kitchen chairs, small end tables, and as many pillows as you can gather (you can even use boxes to create tunnels).  Find the longest straight stretch in your home and design your own course!  My children will do the course over and over and over……well, you get the idea. 🙂

Additionally, Energy-burning Indoor Fun for Kids is chock full of ways to help the kids burn off extra energy when you’re stuck inside.

Well, that’s it for our BIG list of favorite games.  These aren’t the only games we play as a family, but they are definitely our favorites!  I hope you find some ideas for new games to try out at your next family game night.  We’re always looking for new family oriented games to add to our collection, so let us know if you have a great suggestion!

What is your family’s favorite game?  What games would you add to the list?

Jen 🙂

Sharing with: Family Fun Friday,


Why Families Should Play Games


We love games!  Perhaps this love of game-playing stems from my MK (missionary kid) roots – no tv, no electricity, but we did have board games!  Perhaps the love for games also comes from many years of working with youth groups.  Perhaps the teacher in me just loves being able to engage young brains in learning activities that are fun and entertaining for the whole family.

I’m sure all of those reasons come into play in one way or another.  Over the years family game night has been something we all look forward to, and I think more families could benefit from it as well!  Even those who don’t have their own families can enjoy similar benefits by playing games with those they have relationships with (friends, neighbors, other relatives, church family).

family game night, why families should play games, what games to play, kids, parents, games, family fun, family night

  1.  Quality family time.  We play games together and laugh together.  Sometimes, we even get mad at each other.  🙂 Often family game time results in more than just playing a game to win.  While we play, we relate to one another and focus in on one another.  Playing games together leads to a lot of good conversation and sometimes even leads to family jokes that last well beyond game time.  Years later, whenever I hear certain phrases, like “rooooo-aaaaaaddd,” I’m instantly taken back to some awesome family memories.  Some games have even become part of our family identity (Settlers of Catan, for example, is simply known as “The Game” in our household). Why not build game-play into your family identity?
  2. Media-free entertainment.  Yes, I’m one of “those” moms.  Even before our children were born, I knew I didn’t want them to spend a lot of time in front of the tv.  My husband and I have compromised by allowing tv, but with time limits.  So, we try to find other ways to encourage our children to entertain themselves when they are bored.  On rainy days, wintery days, or long summer days of boredom, why not break out a board game or card game?
  3. Frugal entertainment. Other than the initial cost of a game, and perhaps some snack food, you can entertain a whole house full of people for very little.  In fact, we’ve entertained guests with games that you don’t even have to pay for, such as Mafia (a story-telling, role-playing, whodunnit? type of game). Family Fun nights are often game nights when the budget doesn’t allow for taking out a family of six.  Also, My husband and I even have mini-dates at home on occasion when the kiddos are sleeping by playing Battleship or other two-player games.
  4. Learning new skills.  Playing games is not only entertaining, but it can also teach your children new skills, such as counting, matching, planning, developing strategy, problem-solving, and more.  The bonus?  It’s so much fun, your children won’t even realize they are learning. 🙂
  5. Learning sportsmanship.  Children have to learn how to be good sports, whether they are winning or losing.  We have one child in particular who is extremely competitive and really struggles with emotions in general.  What a perfect opportunity to model good sportsmanship for him and his siblings during family game night.  Additionally, playing together as a family gives children multiple opportunities to make mistakes and grow in the safety and comfort of their own home.
  6. Learning about others. Whether with family or friends, playing games with others is a great way to get to know them better!  When people are relaxed, they are more open and honest about who they really are as people.  One thing our guests are sure to learn about us when playing games is that some of us are more than just a little competitive and that we all like to laugh!  I especially enjoy playing games with my husband. It brings out the silly side in each of us and gives us an opportunity to tease each other, much like the flirting of our early dating relationship.  Game playing fosters a feeling of friendship between us that is important for two busy parents who sometimes end up feeling more like business partners than soul mates. 🙂

I’m certain there are other reasons for playing games together, as well, but these are our favorites.  I’m happy to know that my children enjoy playing board games just as much as they enjoy playing video games.  Although, I have to also admit that on occasion, family game night does revolve around the wii (Mario Kart, anyone?). 🙂  The main idea is just to take time to play together.  It’s an investment in your relationships that will multiply endlessly.  As our children grow older, we enjoy family game time more and more!

Be sure to check out Our Big List of Favorite Games for ideas on great games for the whole family.  The list is even organized by age and group size!

The family that plays together stays together…..or something like that, right?  I’m putting family game night on the schedule for this week or next.

Will you join me?

Jen 🙂

How does your family enjoy games? What are your favorites?