It’s cozy to curl up with a book on dark winter evenings, but for more lively entertainment, a family game night is the perfect way to spend time together.
If you don’t have to have a full game shelf! there are many games that require only a deck of cards. Speed, Rummy, Crazy Eights, Spoons, Spades, Slap Jack, and War are some common card games. We always played a version of Uno that uses a regular deck of cards. The rules are the same, but Aces are skip, Jacks are wild, 2’s are pick up two, and Kings are reverse play.
Another simple idea for hours of imaginative play are dice-based role playing games.
Dice-based role playing games are great for kids, because they get to interact with and move a story in whatever direction they want. As the adult telling the story, the dice help to keep things on track and realistic. All you really need to run a RPG (Role Playing Game) for your kids is an imagination and dice (even the dice aren’t really necessary, we’ve played in the car using “I’m thinking of a number between 1 and 10” instead of dice). Unless you’re really good at making up stories on the spot, you’ll want to do some preparation before the game begins. For your first episode, you’ll want to come up with the basic premise and the scope.
Simpler is better until the kids get the hang of things. It helps too if you have some sort of visual aid. We’ve used the playing board from other games as our map. (We use a CandyLand board but go backwards on it and call it “Escape from King Cavity’s Castle”). Once you know your premise (trying to escape from King Cavity), you can decide on the scope, or what you can do in the imaginary world. Is it a swashbuckling swords and magic type of game, or is it going to be more of an open ended type universe? A word of caution with boys and swords and magic games. Once they realize they can hit things with swords and get treasure, it really hard to keep them from trying to hit everything they meet in the game, no matter how incongruous. Mirin at one point was tasked to sneak into a castle guarded by a dragon, and despite being armed with only a butter knife he’d stolen from his dinner, decided on a frontal assault.
So on to actually playing. Your kids know what their goal is, and what they have to do it with. Your job is to keep them from getting sidetracked into throwing butter knives at dragons. This is where the dice come in. Any action they want to perform in the game can be rolled for the outcome. You can either have a very rule oriented game using all sorts of dice and specific known values (you can’t hit the giant rat unless you roll a four or higher, etc), or you can just say “I think you need to roll for that” and make it up on the fly. We’ve done both, and they both work well. So there you go, you can make up a game to play with your kids.
One other thing to think about adding is a story journal where you write down what happened in the days play. If one of the kids will keep it even better. Not only does it help to review before playing again, but long after the game is done you can come back to it and laugh at all the outlandish things that happened.