101 (mostly) stay at home family night ideas

Dog and Bone newspaper hockey championships.


We are about to start another family night. Tonight the plan is for each family member to make their own pizza following a rousing game of Dog and Bone newspaper hockey, with perhaps a sock wrestle afterwards, depending on the state of the troops.

Family night for us is actually in the late afternoon so that we can do all our special things and still get the kids into bed at the usual time. It feels later than it is because we have done so much together before bedtime rolls around.

We have family night as part of a deliberate strategy to build family identity, foster unity and strengthen family ties. The old adage that “the family that plays together stays together” still applies and both quality and quantity time are important. With that in mind, here are lots of ideas to get you started.

  • dark hide and seek A variation on traditional hide and seek which is also lots of fun. Wait until the sun goes down and turn off all the lights in the house. Players move in pairs of one older and one younger family member which reassures those little ones who don’t like being alone in the dark. Hiders use torches to find their place to hide before switching them off, with older family members helping their younger partner to find a hiding place before hiding themselves.  Seeker pairs find by feel and peering about in the dark. It allows a wider variety of hiding places simply because in the dark you can be more exposed and still remain undiscovered. Works well as “Sardines” also – see further down the list for an explanation.
  • photo albums Children are fascinated by photos of themselves and love re-living family memories together. They also enjoy seeing their parents as children and hearing stories about them growing up. My children regularly ask us to tell them about our childhood and ask all sorts of questions about other family members too. Having a new baby and watching me photograph all his milestones prompts a heap of questions about themselves as babies and it is fun to go back through the albums I have created for each child to show them their own special milestones and events.
  • family shields Another way to build family identity is to create shields, banners and flags with mottos, goals, creeds and values that you want to cultivate and uphold as a family. There are lots of examples on the web and instructions on how to do these with ideas and examples of the kids of things you may like to include.
  • sleep-outs Whether it be in the back yard in a tent or cubby house or indoors in the loungeroom, a sleep-over is always heaps of fun. Combine it with fun food, story telling and games or any other family night ideas and you will have a memorable time together.
  • toast marshmallows It’s rare for us to have the opportunity, but a campfire cook-out is always very special, especially for boys! Toast marshmallow, roast damper and potatoes or BBQ over the camp fire for a great evening. Whether it be the real deal, combined with camping out, or simply an evening in the backyard with a gas burner, sitting about the fire is a great way to bring the family together.
  • late library run Once at the library, everyone heads off to find picture books that interest them and meet back together for a shared reading time. Older children can read their picture book to the family and choose a chapter book or two to take home for themselves. If you are game enough, the whole family can go in their PJ’s for some extra fun. The kids will love it and won’t be able to stop giggling at Mum and Dad in their pyjamas too. (Neither will the public, but I dare you to do it anyway!)
  • Duplo charades See here for instructions and ideas.
  • board games and card games Play in teams with older and younger pairs; younger children count squares, move counters and hold the cards while older family members deal with the strategy side of the game.
  •  dog and bone/newspaper hockey Split into 2 teams. Traditionally numbers are allocated so that a given pair (ie. number 1 from each team) comes to the middle when their number is called, however we play that a name from each team is called so that uneven ability matches can be evened out and uneven numbers of team members are not a problem. Each pair races to the middle (we crawl because we play in a combined space), grabs their newspaper bat and hits the ball towards their team goals while the other person attempts to do the same. See photo at top of article.
  • icecream run 50 cent cones from drive through at McDonalds are a bargain for us. Grab one each and head to a beach or somewhere with a view to eat them.
  • trampoline star-gazing On a clear night, take sleeping bags, pillows and blankets onto the tramp to watch the stars and find as many constellations, satellites, aeroplanes or falling stars as you can. Take some kind of treat to snack on while you do it and be prepared for littlies to be jumping all over you while you do it. Perhaps combine this with a good sock wrestle. (See below.)
  • sock wrestling Every family member puts on socks (the longer the better, but only one pair allowed!) The simple rules are that the last person left wearing a sock wins. You may like to confine the wrestling to a certain place or make it a fast paced, wide-ranging game that moves throughout the house. Ground-rules are necessary and older children must be taught how to look after the little ones and how to make it fun for them ie. NOT removing both their socks in the first 3 seconds of the game or handling them too roughly. We like to sock wrestle on the trampoline and Mum and Dad both enjoy the tussle. With little kids, we pretty much wrestle each other while they gang up on us to try to get our socks. It’s harder than you think but lots of fun. You can play that once you have no socks you are out of the game but we let the children continue regardless.
  • giant icecream Sundays Provide a stack of yummy ingredients and everyone helps to create one large masterpiece. All dig in with spoons to the same dish to enjoy the creation once complete. A large serving tray or similar works well.
  • feeling rich? Visit the local ice-skating or roller-skating rink, theme park, miniature golf, bowling, indoor playground centre or other attractions in your city.
  • fish and chips at the beach Summer is perfect for a fish and chip dinner and sandcastle competition or even a dip. If the budget is tight, take tomato sauce, mayo, and a loaf of fresh bread from home and just get a bulk lot of chips for chip buddies.
  • progressive dinner Follow clues to track down the entrée and enjoy it wherever you find it. More clues lead you to the main in a different part of the house and still more to an interesting location where dessert is waiting.
  • museums Museums are usually free and can be interesting. Find out what is on first and choose a couple of sections to visit that will appeal to the children. Don’t drag them through every single display and insist on reading every plaque or they will hate museums for ever! Many museums have sections especially designed for children and some even have hands-on displays and activities to do. Find out what they usually do for school class visits and ask for an activity pack or whatever they usually supply to the students.
  • sardines Another variation on hide-and-seek. One person hides and everyone searches. As each seeker finds the hider, they must join them in their hiding place until everyone is squashed in like sardines. The trick is not to hop in the hiding place when others are watching, but to wait until you are alone to join the hider.
  •  hiking/nature walks Head to the country, local lake or river or anywhere scenic for a nature walk. Take a kite, football, quoits, bocce or any other outdoor games to enjoy together. Enjoy a picnic along the way and perhaps have the children create their own trail mix to take with them before you leave home.
  • pick fruit or berries together Visit a fruit orchard or berry farm and pick tonnes of luscious fruit for jams or just to enjoy fresh off the tree. Have fun cooking it up into treats when you get home.
  • bake-off Choose you favourite biscuit and/or cake recipes and hold a bake-off. Pair older and younger participants. Take some of the delicious cakes and cookies to neighbours, visit someone who is sick in hospital or spend time visiting a retirement home.
  • art and craft night Find some simple craft activities the whole family can enjoy. Things that require mess and/or effort that you wouldn’t normally get around to. There are unlimited ideas available on the net.
  • make birthday, Christmas or special occasion gifts and cards
  • catch a bus or train to an area you don’t usually visit. Perhaps go to a cafe and let the children choose a special drink or snack.
  • indoor picnic or backyard picnic. Under the kitchen table, in the cubby, under or on the trampoline, in a sheet tent, at the local park, beach, bush area etc.
  • Go on a neighbourhood walk. See how many different kinds of plants and flowers you can identify. Prepare a list of items to spot along the way. Perhaps the kids can ride bikes while Mum and Dad walk.
  • tub of icecream  Swing past the supermarket for a tub of icecream. (Don’t forget the spoons.) Take it to the local park and let everyone grab a spoon and go for it. If you want to be more civilized, buy a pack of cones as well.
  • backwards dinner Start with dessert and work backwards. Tip: Don’t prepare a large main meal or entrée. Chances are the kids won’t get that far!
  • movie night Make caramel popcorn or another suitable movie style treat. Set up a snack stand and “sell” the treats and drinks for Monopoly money. Roll out the red carpet (bath mats, towels, sheet etc) and make pretend tickets for the kids to distribute. Darken the room and have ushers seat guests by torch-light. Set out doonas, pillows, beanbags and cushions. We watch very little TV on a day-to-day basis so a movie night is something special for the kids.
  • make your own pizza. Roll out the dough and top it with sauce. Set out a selection of toppings and let the kids choose their own. Don’t forget to make a dessert pizza too.

  • puzzle night Choose some difficult and some easy puzzles to work on as a family. For the younger kids, hide puzzle pieces around the room and have them search until they have completed the puzzle. Perhaps have a race against the grown-ups or older children to see who can complete theirs first.
  • watch home videos Most of us take home videos from time to time so sit down and enjoy watching them together. Kids love to see themselves on TV.
  • make home movies Sing songs, perform plays, read radio dramas, record favourite stories to make your own read-along audio tapes complete with sound effects, record video “letters” to friends or family who live a distance away, write scripts and act them out or try scripted funny home movies.
  • press flowers Go for a nature walk to collect flowers and sprigs of attractive leaves to press in home-made flower presses or in the pages of telephone books. A couple of weeks later, use them to make home-made cards for friends and family. Make sure children get permission before taking flowers from neighbours’ plants or trees.
  • Hold a gingerbread man decorating competition. Pre-make the dough and provide rolling pins, cutters, cutting boards, knives, toothpicks and the like. Lay out the icing and toppings for everyone to decorate to their heart’s content. Have several categories for winners (most interesting, most colourful, neatest, most appetising etc.) so that everyone can have a prize (eating the gingerbread man of course!)
  • obstacle course Use household items and equipment to set up an indoor or outdoor obstacle course and run time trials. Place time handicaps on older participants or have them do it running backwards etc.
  • old-fashioned games night Go bobbing for apples, play jacks, hopscotch and other traditional games.
  • scavenger hunt Collect all of the items on a written or pictorial list as quickly as possible.
  • treasure hunt Follow clues to get to the location for the next clue or look up bible verses to provide answers to questions that must be complete before the next clue is handed out. Don’t forget to have a “prize” at the end; perhaps a special snack to share together.
  • neighbourhood trivia hunt Spread out around the local area in teams with an older child or adult leading each one. Go to various locations to answer trivia questions once they arrive at the designated place. For example, “What colour is the letter box at number 10 James St?” or “How many trees are there in Mrs Jones’ front garden?”
  • playdough Pictionary Use suitable cards from Pictionary or create your own. One member from each team looks at the card and both race to create the object using playdough. The first team to guess what it is wins a point. Be sure to match abilities of team representatives for each round as evenly as possible.
  • visit the confectionary and chocolate isle at the local supermarket and let the children have the chocolate or lolly of their choice. When children are not regularly eating this kind of food it’s a big deal to do something like this. This can also be done in the lunchbox snack area with all those pre-packaged processed lunchbox snacks that I never buy my kids!
  • tower or castle building competition Use Duplo, Lego or whatever construction materials you have at home with a time limit for construction to take place.
  • Visit the local Bunnings, McDonalds or Ikea playground. Have a cone or sausage sizzle while you are there.
  • shopping centre adventure Ride on one of the merry-go-rounds you usually say no to before going into the supermarket and letting the kids choose items for lunch at the park afterwards (fresh rolls, packet of biscuits, snack cheese, sliced sandwich meat, yoghurt tub, mini chip packets or whatever takes their fancy and fits within your parameters.) Don’t forget to grab a cheap packet of  plastic spoons for those yoghurt pots – it’s very difficult to scoop out chocolate Yogo with your hands. (And yes, I am speaking from experience!)
  • $2 dollar shop Go to the local discount variety store and give each child $2 to spend.
  • op shopping Visit the local recycling boutique or secondhand store and give each child $3 to spend. The catch is, they lucky dip the name of a sibling or family member first and must choose something for them, rather than themselves. Supervision is required here for the younger ones. While my 4 year old daughter was sure my 8 year old son would LOVE a pair of pink sparkly shoes, I was not so convinced.
  • google playgrounds and parks in your city and visit one you have never been to before. We were introduced to a new one recently that was just 10 minutes from our house that we didn’t know was there and it was great!
  • charades Play in teams and dress-up in costumes and props from around the house.
  • bike rides Bike riding is always fun. Use tag-alongs, baby seats or toddler trailers for the littlies and take the bikes, scooters or skateboards to the local bike path, unused basketball or netball courts or just for a cycle around the local neighbourhood.
  • wet weather exploring Don wet weather gear, get out the gumboots and go for a rain walk, jumping in as many puddles as you can find along the way.
  • karaoke/Australian idol Rehearse and perform for a family concert. Organise a ticket booth and snack bar as for movie night. Video proceedings for a laugh later.
  • surprise lunch For those whose children are at school, a surprise pick up and special lunch at a nearby park or take-away venue will be a memorable treat. Collect Dad from work in his lunch hour and “kidnap” your school children. (With the teacher’s knowledge of course!)
  • breakfast dates Head out early before church or school for a family breakfast together. This also works well for one-on-one dates with Dad or Mum.
  • dress up Choose from the dress-up box or Mum and Dad’s wardrobe if you’re game. The kids will love it, especially the shoes. There’s just something about shoes! Have a photo session with everyone in crazy attire, followed by a disco dance session to boppy music with a couple of rounds of musical bobs and musical statues.
  • talent quest and family orchestra or marching band Singing, playing instruments, acting, skits, reciting a poem and telling jokes are all suitable for the talent quest. Finish off with a family orchestra – everyone grabs a percussion instrument and plays along to lively music while marching about the house.
  • cooperative drawing Cover the table with a huge roll of paper and everyone draws. Try blindfold drawing. Everyone closes their eyes to draw a picture and has a laugh at the results.
  • pamper night Give everyone face masks (yes, even Dad!), paint nails, give the girl’s “up do’s,” spike up the boys’ hair and get dressed-up in fancy clothes. Take family photos now that everyone looks so nice and go out somewhere to take advantage of everyone looking so good. The photos could be serious (set up lighting, use a tripod) or silly (weird clothes, expressions and poses.)
  • teddy bear’s picnic or tea party All stuffed animals and dolls must be dressed for the occasion. Make invitations and menus. Cook some tiny food treats to share.
  • tapas night Serve authentic Spanish tapas or just little plates of nibblies. We put out heaps and heaps of tiny plates from every tea set we own with 7 of everything on each plate – one per person. 7 strawberries, 7 meatballs, 7 apricots, 7 grapes,  7 finger sandwiches and on and on. Ours was just regular food but after you’ve eaten one block of cheese, 1 cherry tomato, 1 mini muffin and so on, it makes for quite a meal.
  • outdoor movie nights Check local guides over summer for sessions and go all out with a fancy picnic. Don’t forget the chairs and blankets – even on summer nights these events can get chilly.
  • beanbag wars (See here for instructions.)
  • spy missions  (I’ll post on this separately another day)
  • story telling Combine this with a sleep-over, star-gazing or other family night idea. Take turns adding one sentence at a time to the story. Play “Fortunately/Unfortunately” where each person adds on a small section of the story at a time, alternating between fortunately and unfortunately. (1st person: We were driving along in the car when unfortunately the tire blew. 2nd person: Fortunately we had a jack in the boot. 3rd person: Unfortunately the spare tyre was missing.)
  • ping-pong (table tennis), badminton or tennis championships Play round robin style games where everyone gets a go and rotation is fairly fast.
  • junk modelling Collect boxes, tubes, containers and decorative bibs and bobs of all kinds. Use them to create sculptures and amazing creations as a family. (If the creations are suitable, the children may like to keep them in their rooms for a few weeks to play with eg. castles, 10 story building etc.)
  • nobody’s birthday party Complete with cakes, party food and party games. Choose gifts and donate to a charity organisation.
  • puppet shows Set up pairs of chairs with sheets draped across as makeshift theatres. Use old socks, paper bags, bottles, wooden spoons or other simple items to make puppets. Use your puppets to rehearse and put on a puppet show for each other.

Well, there you have it; please share your ideas via a comment below – its always nice to glean a new idea from someone else!

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2 Responses

  1. wow these are fabulous, thanks for collating!!! will be filing this away for when the kiddies are a little older but will look for some we can do now too!

  2. This is a great list Angela – even for a family of teenagers.

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