Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Games and Conversations without Screens

Summer is fast-approaching, and for many families this means lots of waiting. Road trips and seemingly endless minutes waiting to sit down at a restaurant, board a plane, or see a doctor leads lots of parents to thrust iPads at squirming kids. Why not use conversation and games instead of technology to make the minutes pass? Here are a few of our favorite ideas:

  • Play 20 Questions – One person, the Chooser, should think of a person, place, or thing ("thing" includes animals, foods, etc.). The Chooser can tell the other players, the Guessers, what category they've chosen, or keep the category a secret for extra challenge. Then the Guessers take turns asking yes-or-no questions to try to guess what or who the Chooser is thinking of (e.g. "Is it furry?" "Can it fly?"). The Chooser keeps track of the number of questions asked, and they win if the Guessers ask twenty questions without figuring it out. And yes, guesses count as questions!
  • Tell Circle StoriesOne person starts a story by saying a sentence, and each person adds their own sentence in turn. Decide in advance how many sentences each person should contribute, or simply let the story grow!
  • Compose Circle Poems – A Circle Poem starts like a Circle Story: One person says any sentence. But the next person must say a sentence whose last word rhymes with the last word of the first sentence (e.g. "Is this the right route?" "We need to find out." "Someone should go scout.") The one who starts the game should be careful to end with a word that has lots of rhyming possibilities. You could use a point-keeping system like in the basketball game Horse in which the first person who can't add a rhyming sentence gets a letter (and the first person who accumulates all the letters in Horse is "out"), or you could just play for fun.
  • Use Conversation Starters – Open-ended questions that encourage imagination and critical thinking can be lots of fun. Start a conversation with questions like, "If you could be any animal for a day, what would you be and why?", "Would it be worse to be eight feet tall or two feet tall?', and "If you could make one rule at your school that everyone had to follow, what would it be?" (This can be followed by questions about the downsides to the rules proposed or how a child might convince the principal to adopt the rule.) You could use the cards from You've Got to be Kidding, a would-you-rather board game available from toy stores, or simply make up your own.
  • Play Categories – For younger kids, take turns suggesting a category and then going around the circle listing as many things that fit into that category as possible (e.g., for sports: "soccer," "tennis," "baseball," etc.). Use a scoring system like the one from Horse (described above) or simply play for fun. For kids who can write easily, give them a minute or two to write as many items as they can in particular category, then ask them to read their lists aloud. They get a point for each item they listed that is unique, but if one of their items appears on someone else's list (for example, if two people wrote "Hawaii" when listing US States), neither player gets a point for that item. 

You'll be amazed at how fast time can fly without the aid of flickering screens. In fact, you may find your kids groaning instead of cheering at the end of a long drive!

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