Raising Kids

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40 Fun Family Games That Don’t Cost A Dime

Found objects and a little bit of imagination are all you need for hours of fun.

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Bored, bored, bored. Bored to distraction. If that’s your children’s reality right now, we get it. We’re all feeling some cabin fever as of late. At this point you’ve probably exhausted every kid-friendly Netflix show, used every bit and bobble in your craft kit, and run out of ideas to entertain your brood. The eye rolls are increasing and the heavy sighs working overtime. It’s time to get back to basics. We’re talking about no batteries needed, imagination-only games everyone can play. We give you a handy list of games to play when the whole family is bored out of their minds.

Sure, these ideas don’t involve fancy CGI graphics or the latest advances in toy technology. They don’t come with jazzy accessories or instructions, but they’ve been keeping kids entertained for, in some cases, hundreds of years. Time-tested, parent- and kid- approved? Heck yes. The only requirement needed to make these games successful is a positive attitude from all participating parties, and that starts with you, parents. If you look like you’re having fun, chances are your kids will too. Lead by example and roll out these classic family activities for at least an hour or two of honest to goodness playtime the whole family can enjoy.


Run Through The Sprinklers Olympics

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Have a hose? A set of swimsuits? Then you’ve got yourself an afternoon activity with this game to play when the kids are bored. Create your own Olympic sport, giving awards for best leap over the sprinkler.


DIY Board Game

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Kids love to make their own rules — it gives them a sense of control. So why not let them come up with their own board game. You can use exciting game pieces or have your child design their own and let them take it from there.


Imagination Box

A great game to play around the table, imagination box is all about pretending. You pretend to open a box and pull something out of it. The rest of the family must guess what the pantomime object is.


Tic Tac Toe

You might be surprised to discover how many hours a Tic Tac Toe tournament can take up. Get out a big piece of paper and some crayons and go at it, or use fun toys and objects from around the house.


Pillow Fight

Safety is important, but with a few ground rules and a little open space, you can have yourself a fun family pillow fight that your kids will remember for years to come.


Nature Scavenger Hunt

Need to keep the kids entertained with a game when they’re bored? Write up a list of 20 objects they can find in nature and send them on a backyard or neighborhood scavenger hunt. Whoever comes back with all 20 wins.



The beauty of checkers is you don’t have to have a set to play the game. Make your own board using whatever materials you have lying around (really a piece of paper or cardboard and a marker are all you need), and then use things like buttons or bottle caps to teach your kids who to play.


Food Fight

Yes, it’s a messy option, but your kids' minds will be blown when you tell them they can go ahead and throw their food at each other. Set up a tarp in the backyard if you want to keep things relatively clean.


Rube Goldberg Machine

Find a marble or a ball then show your kids how, with a little creativity, they can make their own Rube Goldberg machine (a chain reaction machine, or something created to perform a specific task), following the travels of the object through their own construction efforts.


Indoor Obstacle Course

There’s a reason kids love to watch American Ninja Warrior: It mirrors what they love to do in their own living rooms, which is to build obstacle courses, of course! Build your own and give your fam challenges like avoiding the floor because it’s lava.



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Charades, the game of guessing what someone is acting out, is believed to have originated in France sometime in the 1800s, according to the 1850 book Acting Charades. A simple concept even children can understand, the game has aged well and can be just as entertaining today as it was in those French parlor rooms of old.



Friendly competition is healthy, and the sooner you can teach your child how to be a good loser, the better. Plus, kids as young as four can comprehend this simple paper and pencil game.


DIY Bingo

You don't need a bingo board to play bingo. Make your own, then use anything around the house as markers. This past week we used beans and M&M's — winner got to eat them all!


Four Square

Have chalk and a bouncy ball? Then you can play Four Square. This playground classic has entertained kids at recess for ages. But we understand if you need a refresher on how it works. Watch this ActiveCambridge YouTube tutorial for a reminder.


Hop Scotch

Again, sidewalk chalk is your saving grace here. All you need to get started on a rip-roaring round of Hop Scotch is some chalk and a steady hand.


Go Fish

The beauty of Go Fish is you don't have to have a Go Fish set of cards to play. Any deck of 52 cards will work. And this is a great way to introduce young kids to numbers.



Have some budding spellers in the house? Put their skills to work with a game of Hangman (or feel free to rename this outdated title). Just give dashes for the missing letters and have them guess the word on your mind.



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You know what little kids love? Hearing their parents say gibberish. Trust me. Playing telephone — where you whisper a phrase into someone's ear and they have to pass it on to the next player — has elicited loads of laughs from everyone in our family, especially my 4-year-old.



Kids love answering questions. Add a competitive team element to that and you have yourself a trivia game. And don't sweat finding questions.


Hide & Seek

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Hide and seek never goes out of style. And while it's great to play with other kids, getting mom and dad involved can feel like a real treat to children.


Indoor Bowling

OK, hear me out on this one. You take a relatively soft ball and a stack of say, empty boxes or boxed food — stuffing mix, pancake mix, noodle boxes. Stack them up in an open, safe space, then watch the family attempt to bowl.


Hot Potato

As retro as games get, grab something, anything (a stuffed animal, a ball, an oven mitt) and tell your kids it's a hot potato that they have to pass before the timer stops. "Alexa, set a timer for 25 seconds." Game on.


Guess the Food

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I remember having hours of fun playing this game. Basically, you have one person pull out a selection of random food items from the pantry. Then you blindfold another player and they have to guess, without looking, what food they're eating. The best part is to throw in a real wild card, say pickles or miso.



It's time to open the ol' game cupboard and pull out what's inside. You might be surprised to find the family fully engrossed in a team puzzle building afternoon.



You can call it "Freeze!" or "Statues," the name doesn't matter. What does is that when you say the word, everyone playing must immediately stop. Whoever was still moving last is out.



Now, I know not everyone likely has a set of Dominoes. But that doesn't mean you can't find other objects to stack in a long line then topple over. We'll save the real game of Dominoes for the big kids.


Dance Party

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Not so much a game as an out of body experience, cranking up the tunes and letting your entire family let loose with the dance moves is guaranteed to boost your collective moves. In our house we're partial to "Fight For Your Right (To Party)" by the Beastie Boys. And, yes, I did let my son dance on top of the kitchen island. I regret nothing.



Marbles, y'all. They're cheap. They're beautiful. They're mesmerizing. Trust me. Get some marbles as soon as possible and just see what your child does with them. You might be surprised how quiet the house gets as they become engrossed in the tiny glass balls. (Just make sure they're past the age when you have to worry about marbles as choking hazards.)


Treasure Hunt

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Be it outside or inside, providing your kid with a bunch of clues and sending them off to find hidden treasure is wildly appealing. Fortunately, the internet is full of pre-fab treasure hunts. BuggyandBuddy.com has a list of 30 printable treasure hunts you can find here.


Duck, Duck, Goose

Perfect for little ones craving some distraction, head outside and sit together for a few rounds of this nursery school classic.


Musical Chairs

Dinner dishes put away? Head back to the table and teach your kids how to play musical chairs. Note, a large space is best for this energetic game.



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The art of folding paper, or Origami, traces its roots to 105 A.D. China, according to PBS, and as elaborate as it can get, there are really fun, simple patterns kids can follow. Great for motor skills and from distracting them from screens, check out EasyPeasyandFun.com for instructions for 20 different Origami lessons.


I Spy

I Spy can be played absolutely anywhere. Just gather your fam together and take turns spotting something then giving clues. I spy a good time had by all.



Who has the best balance in the family? Let's find out. Have everyone stand on one leg. The first person to topple over is out. Or, set up a backyard balance beam for everyone to cross. If you really want to score awesome parent points, set up a whole backyard Olympics.


Touch and Feel Boxes

Kind of like the blindfolded food game, this gives kids a chance to explore another sense — touch. Take a box and put something inside. Then ask them to put their hand in and identify it based on how it feels.


Two Truths and a Lie

A great excuse to teach your kids about why it's good to not lie, this game also gives everyone the opportunity to use thier storytelling abilities. Have each player say two truths about themselves and one lie and see if everyone can guess what's what.


Paper, Rock, Scissors

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Every child should learn this fun playground game. Just don't forget the rules. Paper covers rock, rock smashes scissors, scissors cut paper.


Twenty Questions

Avoiding all prompts, one of the more entertaining things you can do with your kids is ask them Twenty Questions. Better yet, record their answers. This little audio gem will become a beloved memory years from now.


Thumb Wrestling

Haven't taught your kids thumb wrestling yet? The time is now. Sit them down for the ultimate battle royale. Or, better yet, pair them up with a sibling for some


Draw and Pass

The idea with Draw and Pass is the youngest child starts making a picture on a big piece of paper, then they pass the crayon to the next sibling who continues the image and so on until everyone has had a turn and, eventually, you see what masterpiece your family can produce.

Boredom is real, but it doesn't have to be the end of fun. With these free game ideas (and a little positive energy), you can get your family back in the playful spirit.

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