While the grunts and groans in response to your daily interrogations about how the school day went may seem like communication, the truth is that finding shared activities and accomplishments can increase family connections, and even improve things like communication. So if you’re ready to organize a family game night in your household, here are some tips on how to pull it all together.
Make it a tradition – Set a night of the week and make it your weekly family game night. Perhaps you can alternate Friday nights between movie and game night every other week. Before long, you may find that both you and your kids are looking forward to the chance to take each other on, and you need to designate a separate day of the week for game time.
Choose Games Together – Whether you want to go with a democratic vote or rotate the family member in charge of the picking the game every week, make the game selection itself a fun party of family game night. Consider a competition the week before, or maybe rewards for chores being done. And take a trip to the toy aisle together and work together as a family to choose a fun game.
Make sure everyone is comfortable – Either gather round the kitchen table to put pillows on the ground, but make sure everyone has a comfortable area and space to sit, because ideally you’ll be playing for at least an hour together, if not more.
Provide healthy finger foods and drinks – There’s gonna be snacking going on during game night, and while chips and appetizers are delicious, make sure to provide apple slices, carrots and hummus or other healthy alternatives that can easily be grabbed and munched on the go. Make some lemonade, or even lemon water, and have a pitcher close by so no one needs to leave the action to go restock.
Declare it a no-tech zone – It won’t kill you, or your kids, to put down the phones and stop texting or checking e-mail a bit. Focus on the family and fun, and make a rule that there’s no using your phones or other devices while playing. Put them all together in a special bag or place, and make sure everyone sticks to the rule.
Mix Up The Teams – While it’s fun to have mom and dad vs. the kids from time to time, mix up the teams so that everyone gets a chance to play with, and against, each other. Invite neighbors, friends or other relatives over from time to time, as well.
Make Awards – Whether it’s a traveling trophy or special recognition on the refrigerator, keep a prize going from week to week to make sure you are battling for more than just pride. Kids will love competing for a tangible benefit, and it’s also a great teaching opportunity to learn about lessons associated with winning and losing. You can also have other prizes for things such as “Best Teammate” or “Funniest Moment” that you award every time you play.
Though buying a video game console may seem like an expensive purchase at first glance, it’s actually a great long-term entertainment solution for families. It’s an even better choice than ever, thanks to frequent price cuts and sales. But with so many systems to choose from, there are a few things to consider before buying a gaming system. Units currently on the market (e.g. the PlayStation 3, xbox 360, Wii, Nintendo DS/3DS and PlayStation Vita) offer a rich variety of content across multiple genres, including tons of educational and kid-friendly fare. Here’s what else you need to realize to successfully know how to buy a video game console.
There are lots of games for kids, but not everything is kid-friendly – Though video games are sometimes pigeonholed as a pastime for children, not all the software that’s for sale is appropriate for youngsters. Pay attention to the Electronics Software Rating Board (ESRB) rating on each game, and visit the ESRB’s website for detailed breakdowns of the potentially offensive content in each game.
Most game consoles—including handheld game consoles, like the Nintendo 3DS and the PlayStation Vita—have parental controls that you can use to disallow children from playing games above a certain rating. With some parental control settings, you can also restrict the amount of time that your child is allowed to play.
Some consoles sell add-on accessories that are ideal for family play—Microsoft’s Xbox 360 has a separate attachment called Kinect that allows you to play certain games using the motion of your whole body. It was engineered with families in mind, and there are lots of fun, kid-friendly games that utilize the accessory. You can buy the Kinect separately, though Microsoft also sells it as part of a bundle (a common industry practice which can provide cost savings when determining how to buy a video game console).
The Wii is your cheapest console option, but has limited features – Nintendo found enormous success with its Wii console, thanks in no small part to the fact that the system is priced considerably lower than its direct competitors, the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 (approximately $100 to $150 cheaper, depending on where you shop). That’s definitely something to keep in mind if you’re on a budget, though there are certain departments where the Wii is a little lacking. Its online features aren’t as robust as its competitors’, it doesn’t support HD graphic displays, and third-party support for the system isn’t very strong (“third parties” refer to game developers that aren’t Nintendo itself). The Wii might not be the best choice for a savvy game player who craves gameplay variety and/or a strong online presence, but the system still has wonderful games in many of Nintendo’s best-known franchises, including Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Kirby, Donkey Kong, and Metroid. Tablet-powered successor the Wii U will also be out by year-end (it’s backwards compatible with Wii games), which may affect your purchasing decision as well.
Game purchases don’t stop at retail, and some consoles have stronger online markets than others – Buying a video game no longer means trudging through the elements to reach a game store—not exclusively, anyway. Modern game consoles also offer a plethora of downloadable games, including brand new titles and some previously-released retro fare for anyone who’s nostalgic for the “good ol’ days” of gaming. The Wii has the Wii Shop Channel; the PlayStation 3 has the PlayStation Network (PSN); and the Xbox 360 has Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA). Again, each online market has its strengths and weaknesses. XBLA and PSN are great for downloading original games, but if you want to play all those awesome NES, SNES, and Nintendo 64 games that were released in the past, you’ll have to go on the Wii Shop channel!
Don’t forget, mobile phones and tablets have a lot of cheap, fun games – Finally, if you have a mobile phone, particularly an iPhone, at your disposal, you already have access to a huge library of cheap (and free!) games. Tablets like the iPad are also striving to compete directly with consoles, and a short search through online stores like the App Store will yield a selection of decently-priced, high-quality games. You may even find some reasons to skip the console race entirely.
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Researchers worldwide extol the benefits of play in the development of young minds. It’s a key part of a child’s social and emotional development, and something even grown-ups should do more of. These five selections are some of the best toys for kids currently available in 2012 and 2013, but we think the whole family could probably benefit from spending some time playing together with them.
Trunki – From Melissa & Doug, one of parents’ most trusted toy brands, comes Trunki, a multi-purpose suitcase and riding toy that can even be used for parents to pull their kids along. Not only is there the obvious benefit that it’s perfect taking on a trip, but kids’ will love stuffing it with items even when they’re simply playing at home. You can get a Trunki shaped like a ladybug, tiger or monster in six different colors.
Rory’s Story Cubes – The most important element in this game that can fit in your pocket is a good imagination. In Rory’s Story Cubes, kids will roll up to nine dice, each with different pictures on them. Once the pictures are displayed, kids must come up with a story that involves all the elements they’ve rolled. Rory’s Story Cubes can be played alone, or with as many players as possible. Available for less than $20, it’s a small, simple and completely brilliant way to unleash your child’s (and your) creativity. There’s even an iPhone app which recreates the dice-rolling experience on your smartphone.
Hot Wheels Wall Tracks – We all remember playing with the iconic orange Hot Wheel tracks, but make sure to see how far track design has come with Hot Wheels Wall Tracks. With a little bit of wall tape (such as blue painters tape), kids can now bring their tracks up the walls, upside down, and corkscrewing around all their rooms. The starter set costs around $35 and comes with a diverter switch, a flap-ramp, a steep-drop ramp and a 360-degree loop, and is compatible with all other Hot Wheels tracks.
LEGO Harry Potter Hogwarts Game – We wouldn’t feel right compiling a toy list that didn’t include some LEGOs on it, and this one combines two more things that kids love with the LEGO experience – Harry Potter and a competitive game. In LEGO Harry Potter Hogwarts, 2 to 4 players will build and navigate around Hogwarts castle as they play, using moving staircases and secret passages in order to be the first one back to the room. With nine Harry Potter LEGO figures and 332 pieces are all, there’s a lot of Wizarding fun and value for $35.
Nerf N-Strike Maverick – Although many parents shy away from guns and gunplay, many elementary aged boys and girls gravitate towards Nerf guns as safe ways to play out their good guy/bad guy games. The Nerf N-Strike Maverick is a six-shooter type pistol that shoots the recognizably soft Nerf darts from a rotating barrel. Enhancements allow for a more futuristic feel to the N-Strike Maverick. We love how this particular Nerf gun isn’t as overwhelmingly large as other N-Strike products, which makes it especially easy to store come clean-up time. The N-Strike Maverick costs about $10 wherever toys are sold.