Family games you can play during (and after) lockdown
The line between work and home life is blurred. Most of us are working from home. Some are home-schooling at the same time. Rather than write yet another work-related article, I’ve written about some of the games I’ve devised over the years for my own family and friends. I hope some of them inspire you too.
Teenagers often want money as a present – but I make them earn it. Here are some ideas. As you’ll see, the first two are inspired by TV shows, the third by a children’s game:
Deal or no deal
Collect a coin or note of each denomination in your currency: 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1, £2, £5, £10, £20 (and £50 if you want to risk giving away that much).
Wrap each separate amount in a tissue (so it can’t be identified by weight/touch) and put it in an envelope. Shuffle the envelopes so you don’t know which is which, and number them 1 to 11 (or 12). Make a list of the denominations on a piece of paper so you can cross them out in turn.
The game is played a bit like the TV game, with you as ‘the banker’. Here are the official instructions.
In my version, the player picks one envelope to keep, but they can’t open it yet so they don’t know how much is in it.
In each round, they get to choose one other envelope and open it, meanwhile you offer to buy theirs back from them (work out an amount halfway between the amounts still on the table).
Unless they accept one of your offers ‘take your deal’, they will end up with a choice of two envelopes. They can swap or stick with the first envelope they picked.
The amount they win is in the final envelope that’s opened.
I played this with with my older nephew. The two amounts he was left with were £20 and 2p. He picked the 2p envelope. Despite me being perfectly willing to give him the £20, he insisted on keeping the 2p “because that was his present”.
Who wants to be a millionaire
As above, you need to collect a coin or note of each denomination that add up to the maximum you’d be willing to give away.
If you use the 11 lower UK amounts, it totals £38.96. If you add the £50 note, it’s £88.96.
You also need a big quiz book.
Ask the player to pick a page number, and then a question number.
If they get the answer right, they win 1p. Hand it over.
The money goes up in increasing increments for each question.
If stuck, they have three lifelines.
- Ask the family
- Phone a friend
- Google it
Keep playing until they get an answer wrong and then award them the amount they’ve won so far.
We played this one year with my older nephew. The rest of the family couldn’t resist joining in to help him.
Pass the parcel
Wrap a parcel with the main present in the middle. For each layer, print out a challenge on A4 paper folded inside an envelope. On the outside of each envelope, write instructions e.g. ‘You can’t open the next layer until you’ve solved the puzzle inside’.
Pick challenges that are age-appropriate, not impossible, and likely to be enjoyed by the recipient. It’s supposed to be fun and not too much like hard work.
I did this with my younger nephew who was in a really bad mood when we started, but who couldn’t help himself smiling as the game went on.
Family Easter egg hunt
This game was inspired by Cluedo but shouldn’t be called that due to licensing issues.
It works if your family are all in the same house together, and assumes everyone has bought a chocolate egg for the child of the household.
Everyone hides in a different room with their egg.
Write the name of each person on a separate index card, or design and print special cards, each showing one of their headshots.
Start at the front door with the child. Get them to pick a card. Their task is to go round the house to find that person and get their egg before picking another card and finding the next person.
You roll a dice and the child can only take that many steps. Then you roll again.
For example, the child picks the card for Nanna. You roll a six, and they take six steps towards the dining room. You roll a two. Now they are at the door of the dining room but can’t see anyone in there. You roll a four, and they take four steps into the room, turning to see Daddy hiding behind the door.
You roll another four, and they walk back out of the room. Daddy stays where he is. Keep rolling the dice as the child searches upstairs, eventually finds Nanna in one of the bedrooms, gets her egg, and then picks the next card. It’s their brother. Having searched upstairs, they finally find him in the kitchen, then pick the Daddy card and go back to the dining room.
It’s fun for all, and more engaging than simply handing over a pile of eggs all at the same time.
I invented this for my younger nephew who was obsessed with Cluedo at the time. We let him throw the dice himself, which meant he threw it as far as he could and started counting his steps from there. That’s why I recommend you keep control of the dice.
Queen’s/King’s speech bingo
Everyone picks a word before you all listen to the Queen’s/King’s speech together. If/when she/he says your word, you get a point. The winner is the person with the most points at the end of the speech.
This forces all family members to listen harder to what she/he actually says.
No cheating! People have to pick their word before the text of the speech is leaked to the press or trailed on the radio.
Pass the Christmas parcel
Wrap a parcel with the main present in the middle. In each layer, put a retro sweet and a forfeit written on an index card. Pass it around the table between the courses of your Christmas lunch.
The person who is holding the parcel at the moment the music stops opens the layer, wins the prize, and has to do the forfeit. For example, they must sing a carol, eat a brussels sprout or tell a cracker joke before the game continues.
Christmas card crowns
Keep the fronts of last year’s Christmas cards. Cut the top corners off to make a point. Fold the sides towards you by about 1 or 2cm.
Group the cards by content e.g. colour, theme, glitter. Staple the sides of several similar cards together to make a crown (you may need five or six depending on the width of the cards and the size of heads they need to fit).
When we did this, my youngest niece set up a ‘shop’ where people could buy the crown of their choice.
Christmas card jigsaws
Keep the fronts of last year’s Christmas cards and cut them into random pieces. Mix them up. The task for the children of the household is to put all the cards together again.
You could set it up as a race or competition to see who makes the most. Watch out for arguments when one child has a ‘piece’ that another child wants to use.
Christmas card collage
Keep the fronts of last year’s Christmas cards and task the children to cut out and make a collage with the theme of their choice.
You’ll need to provide them with backing paper, scissors and glue.
Christmas card gift tags
Keep the fronts of last year’s Christmas cards and cut out the most interesting section of each. A close-up of a robin, say. Or the row of three Kings. Or the ‘Merry Christmas’ wording.
Punch a hole in the corner of each tag and thread through a piece of gift string or ribbon. Use them to adorn your presents.
In advance, encourage the children to think of a character they’d like to play. Maybe they can even bring their own costume. Working together with them, create a storyboard that incorporates all the characters. Scout around the house and garden to choose locations for the shoot. Rehearse them.
Film them on your smartphone or tablet (holding it landscape not portrait). Reshoot as necessary. Edit the video using iMovie or Splice (Apple apps). Screencast it to the big TV so the adults can enjoy the performance. Maybe edit an out-takes reel too.
This is the same as Victorian children doing a Christmas play for the adults, but with added technology (which appeals to the children of today).
We’ve done this to create: poems, stories, chat shows, magazine shows, Christmas carols, and a series of family interviews.
We’re a big family, and usually more than 15 of us get together at Christmas. Each person has at least one ‘job’ to help the host and hostess. One of my jobs is to provide the crackers. Although you can buy excellent crackers online and in the shops, it has become a tradition for me to make my own. Some years, the crackers replace presents.
Note that you can’t open these crackers all at once by everyone crossing arms, holding one end of each cracker and pulling. Instead, each person holds their own crack, twists and pulls (they can shout ‘bang’ if they want). When the crackers are opened, there are no hats, ‘snaps’ or jokes. They are customised with items to suit the recipients.
We usually open our crackers between courses of a long Christmas Day lunch. As you’ll see, they contain so many activities that it causes a delay for clearing up to be done and for appetites to return.
Collect the insides of toilet rolls, two per person. (With at least 15 crackers to make, I often start collecting from October. Even so, I sometimes have to request extra from friends.)
Fill them with treats, gifts and games that your family will enjoy. Choose word games, number games and picture games, and ensure there is at least one challenge to suit each age group.
Choose nice Christmas wrapping paper (or brown/eco paper and decorate it yourself). If I’ve put different gifts inside for men, women, children or specific individuals, I ensure the crackers are wrapped in different paper (or labelled).
Roll your gifts inside the A4 pages. Tuck them inside a pair toilet roll inner tubes. Ensure there’s a gap between the two tubes. It can help to stick the tubes to the paper with sticky-back tape (or a small loop of tape with the sticky side out).
Roll the wrapping paper around the tubes (you need surprisingly a small length), and seal it with a small piece of sticky tape over each tube (don’t tape across the gap between the tubes).
Scrunch the ends and tie with gift ribbon.
I then use the point of a scalpel to prick perforations through the paper along the gap between the tubes.
I’ve found that quizzes are more fun when done in teams, as this saves anyone from embarrassment. One year, I got the family into teams according to the colour of cracker they chose. Another year, it was decided by which side of the table they were sitting.
Buy prizes for the winner/s.
Just a few of the games I’ve included over the years:
- Easy jigsaw puzzle (Each person gets a few pieces that connect to each other, the whole family have to join their sections together to create the complete puzzle)
- Murder mystery game (You’ll find loads of these online, choose one that has a suitable character for each family member. Go round the table reading out the clues one by one, then all guess who the ‘murderer’ is)
- Name the tube station (Cryptic clues)
- Name the brand (Redacted logos)
- Identify the flag (Picture quiz, also marked on a map),
- Identify the tall tower (Picture quiz)
- Complete the lyrics (Written quiz)
- Name that tune (Music quiz)
- Fill in the blanks (Multiple-choice story quiz)
- Bingo quiz (Rather than prepare separate bingo sheets, you can include a blank sheet of A4 and ask people to write the numbers 1 to 20 in a random order, then use a free bingo app to pick a random number, and match that number to a question from a quiz book)
- Consequences drawing game (Stick three sheets of A4 together at the short edge, you’ll need one such ‘scroll’ for each person. Ask them to draw a picture in the top 1/3 of the top page then pass it to the person on their left. That person should describe what they see in about 3 lines, then fold it over so the original drawing is hidden. Pass the paper to the left. The third person draws what is described, and folds it so the description is hidden. Pass the paper to the left. The fourth person describes the new drawing. Repeat until the pages are full. Open up all the scrolls and see how the image has changed from the original)
- Treasure hunt (hide each person’s gift somewhere in the house, write a two-line rhyming clue on an index card, put the card in the cracker. As soon as their cracker is opened, everyone runs around trying to find their present)
- Christmas bingo. For example, I’ve used these: Amazon Christmas bingo 1, Amazon Christmas bingo 2
- Escape room game/s in an envelope. For example: Puzzle Post
Small gifts that fit inside crackers:
- Amazon gift vouchers
- Perfume samples
- Lip balm
- Wine glass charms
- Drink miniatures (over-18s only)
- Serviette rings (these were presented outside the crackers)
- Christmas tree ornaments (these were used as ties at each end of the crackers)
- Party poppers
- Indoor sparklers
- Personalised pens
- Envelope containing a different denomination coin or note (wrapped in tissue so it’s not obvious until it’s opened) 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1, £2, £5, £10, £20, £50,
- Charity donation e.g. Cafod meal stickers…
Sweets that fit:
- Individually wrapped chocolate Santa or penguin
- Sugar mice
- Small bag of Minstrels
- Single wrapped Lindt chocolate
- Pez refills (wrap the dispensers and give them separately)
- Tube of Lovehearts, Rolos or Smarties…
Town treasure trail
This is great to entertain visitors for an hour or so, maybe leaving you at home while you wash up after lunch and prepare their tea.
Work out a walking route of a mile or two around your local area. Look for big landmarks and small details such as road signs, dates on buildings, and logos on shops. Think of tasks you can get your guests to perform. Write up directions and clues. You might want to add snippets of local history.
For example (this is about half the ‘real’ treasure trail I created near me, edited):
- Turn left at the end of Road A
- What days/times are you forbidden to stop on the entrance markings outside the school?
- Find the logo on the corner of Road B and Road C, and take a photo of the oldest person in the group pointing at it
- Go to the playground in the park
- Take a photo of everyone sitting in the little train
- Leave the playground by the gate past the red swings
- What two activities are you NOT allowed to do outside Sainsbury’s?
- Turn right and walk up the High Street
- Looking across the road, what year is written above the porch of the pub?
- Cross Road D
- What design is carved into the wall?
- Take a photo of the two youngest people in front of the little green building
- Walk towards Road E
- What is the maximum height to enter the car park?
- Take a video of everyone running up and down the town hall steps
- Enter the cemetery
- Who is buried in the vault by the black lamppost?
- What is the warning on the church drainpipe?
- Leave the cemetery
- Looking across the road, what giant fruit is cut in half in the supermarket window?
- Follow the sign to Town X
- Take a photo of the shortest person lying on the bench near the silver birch trees
- What is the letter of the bus stop opposite the train station?
- What two colours are the downpipes on the first house you see?
- On the roundabout sign, what road leads to Town Y?
- What is the name of the corner shop?
- Return to Road A
If you’ve invented your own family games and traditions, please add them in the comments. Thank you.