Summer Family Fun

27 Low-Cost, High-Imagination Games

Get the kids to put up with long waits, share details about their days, do their chores, and―oh yes―have fun.

By Jane Margolies
Boy wearing a paper hatMonica BuckRealSimple.com

More Games to Pass Time

Doodle
Ages 4 and up
One person closes his or her eyes and makes a scribble on a piece of paper. The next person, with eyes open, must turn it into a drawing of something real.
Try it: When the unthinkable happens: no crayons at the restaurant table.
 
Opposites
Ages 6 and up
You say a word ("sunny"); your child has to give the opposite ("cloudy"). With older kids, the words can get more sophisticated ("attack/defend," "exonerate/blame"). Not only will they be passing time but they'll also be prepping for their SATs.
Try it: When the amusement park opens at 11, not 10.
 
The License-Plate Game
Ages 4 and up
Sure, you can play the classic version (see who can spot the most states), but there are variations. For older kids, read out the numerals that appear on a plate; the first person to multiply all the numbers together wins. For younger kids, have them look for the entire alphabet, starting with A.
Try it: When the CD inside the Harry Potter case is in fact Danielle Steel.
 
I'm Going on a Trip and I'm Packing... 
Ages 4 and up
Start with this phrase, then add what you're bringing. The next person repeats what you said and adds something else. A more challenging version: Players have to add things in alphabetical order ("an apple," "a beach towel," "a camera"). For younger players, make the game easy by not requiring that they recite all the previous items.
Try it: When the road sign flashes, DELAYS: EXITS 54–92.

Anagrams
Ages 7 and up
Write your child's name or a familiar word on a piece of paper and see if she can rearrange the letters to create other names or words. Alternative: Scramble all the letters in a word and see if she can figure out the word you started with.
Try it: When the doctor's receptionist says, "Just five more minutes," like she did an hour ago.
 
Buzz
Ages 8 and up
Agree on a number (say, three), then go person to person counting to 100. Whoever comes to either a number with a three in it or a number that's a multiple of three says "buzz" instead of the number (1, 2, buzz, 4, 5, buzz...). Tip: Don't use the exact number of people playing or the same person will be saying "buzz" again and again.
Try it: When all else fails.

 
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Illustration of suitcases

Packing for a family vacation? Travel versions of favorite games won’t crowd suitcases, and playing them will keep kids from begging to watch TV at night. Get more tips.