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7 Family Games to Play Anywhere!

7 Family Games to Play Anywhere!

Remember those fun, informal games that parents and kids have enjoyed for generations—no batteries or equipment required? They're perfect this time of year when you're stuck waiting on a long line or caught in holiday traffic. Here's a refresher course in the classics, which you can adapt to your own family. The bonus: They help boost language, memory and other learning skills. (But you don't have to tell the kids they're educational.)

  1. 20 Questions One player thinks of an object, letting the others know only whether it is animal, vegetable or mineral. Then the other players ask questions that can be answered with yes or no.

    For instance, if the object is a car (mostly mineral), the players will ask, "Is it bigger than a laptop computer?" or "Can it move?" The object: Guess the answer in fewer than 20 questions.

  2. Botticelli Each player takes on the persona of a well-known person and offers only that person's initials as a clue. The questioners try to guess the identity of the person by asking specific questions that can be answered with yes or no.

    The first questions may be general, such as "Are you alive today?" The player, answering in character as George Washington, for instance, may say, "No, I'm not alive today" without offering any other information. The next questions continue to zero in on the identity until a player correctly guesses the mystery person.

    Botticelli is a great game for older kids who are familiar with people in the news and historic figures. It can be made more difficult by using just a last or first initial.

  3. Categories One player states a "category" and the other players take turns naming items that belong in that group. The category can be as broad as "animals," or as narrow as "types of dogs."

    Traditionally, a clapping rhythm keeps up the pace so players won't take forever to come up with a response. The category chosen determines how difficult or easy the game is. The game continues until players run out of ideas for the category.

  4. Geography Each player comes up with a place name (town, state, country, etc.) that begins with the same letter as the last letter of the place the previous player mentioned.

    Example: Player 1 says Spain. Player 2 has to name a place that begins with an N, such as New York, which ends in K. Player 3 then mentions Kansas. Keep going for as long as you can name a new place.

  5. Ghost One player names a letter of the alphabet. Each player takes a turn adding a letter that contributes to the spelling of a word each has in mind. A player can be challenged if another player suspects the letter just added isn't part of a real word.

    The catch: Players have to avoid completing a word. Each time a player completes a word, he gets another of the letters in the word ghost. Once a player has all five letters, he's out of the game But that person can then help, or haunt, other players.

    Example: Player 1 starts with the letter B. Player 2 adds A. Player 3 adds L, having in mind the word balance. Player 4, thinking about the word balloon, adds another L, forgetting that it completes the word ball. The fourth player, having inadvertently spelled a word, would get a G for ghost, but stay in the game.

  6. I Packed My Grandmother's Trunk Each player starts off with the same sentence: "I packed my grandmother's trunk and in it I put ___." The player completes the sentence with a word that begins with the letter A. For instance, "I packed my grandmother's trunk and in it I put an alligator."

    The next player repeats the previous sentence and must add a B word. "I packed my grandmother's trunk and in it I put an alligator and a banana." In turn, each player has to remember what the past players have said and add an item that starts with the next letter of the alphabet.

  7. Charades Players divide into two teams and each member writes a phrase on a slip of paper, folds it up and places it in their team's bowl. A player picks a paper from the opposing team's bowl and acts out individual words, syllables and other hints to depict the phrase.

    This pantomime play hones communication skills as each player provides nonverbal clues to help teammates guess the right phrase within an agreed-upon time limit. The game has some formal conventions—for instance, gestures that describe what type of phrase is being guessed, such as making quote marks with your fingers for a quotation or placing hands together then opening them to signal a book title. But you can adapt the format in many ways.

    Unlike the other games here, charades can't be played in the car, but it's a great party game once you get to your destination!

    For suggestions on how to get more quality time out of your game playing, see my On Parenting column, Family Games — 6 Secrets for Making Them Fun.