Plan A Night For Family Fun

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Take a look at the family's schedule. Find a night when everyone's at home and plan some time and fun together with a family game night. Play cards -- that is a favorite with my family, my grandmother taught my sisters and me how to play rummy almost as soon as we knew our numbers -- or bring out the tried and true board games like Monopoly or Clue. The goal is to get back togetherness and have fun.

Family game night is a way to spend quality time together and create a family tradition that everyone will remember and cherish for years to come.

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One of the favorite games the Ward children play is Life. Ready for action this weekend were (from left) Marcy Ward, Abigail Ward, Terena Ward and Andrew Ward, the children of Curtis and Wendy Ward.

Don't jump in with both feet with no warning though. You can't suddenly come home one night and expect the family to be overjoyed that you've suddenly decided they need to drop everything that they had planned. If you want your family game night to be worthwhile, then you need to make sure you have the right attitude up front. Plan ahead. At dinner one night, discuss what you'd like to do and come to an agreeable arrangement with everyone. Which night are you going to have family game night and how long will it go for? Your intended target will be much more agreeable if they are expecting it. They will also learn to appreciate just how important it is if you take the time to make plans for it.

Get everybody involved in the planning of the game night so that no one is feeling pressured to participate in games they don't like to play. If you make family members choose the game of the evening then they all have some degree of accountability and are likely to appreciate it all that much more. It also gives them a way to be more involved in the planning and especially makes children more understanding and respectful of decision-making and turn-taking.

Stock up. It is no use deciding on game night if there is nothing to choose from in the way of games. While you don't always need to sit down and play board games, they are a great way to get really interactive and are a good resource to fall back on.

The standard Monopoly game or Game of Life are great ways to get together and often require a lot of thought, especially for younger children.

Pay a visit to area thrift stores, yard sales, e-Bay or Amazon.com -- used games can often be found for a fraction of the price being asked for new editions.

Make sure to include a deck of cards in the game cupboard. There are games with cards for all ages. Your 2-year-old may not be up for a game of poker, but they will sure know how to play go fish or match.

Get a book of card games and set about learning a new game every now and then. You can find other games based on ages and interests at AreYouGame.com.

Here's a recipe on how to maximize the time you have together:

1. Mark your calendar one night each week to spend uninterrupted time together.

2. Eat dinner together, clear the dinner dishes, and clean off the table.

3. Resist falling into the same routine and get your family excited by pulling out your family's favorite board game.

4. Put a bowl of snacks on the table.

5. Let the games begin. And while fun is the goal, there are some lessons to be learned from a family game night too: Social Interaction: Playing a game allows your children to learn from you and from each other. It encourages a sense of connectedness and respect among family members.

Learning: Games are a learning tool. For instance, Clue is good for learning deductive reasoning; Scrabble is ideal for teaching math and spelling skills; a card game involves math and strategy.

Life Skills: Games teach important life skills such as patience, concentration, teamwork and perseverance. Everybody wins when the family plays a game together.

Involve the children participating in the planning. Let them: pick the game(s); select the snack(s); choose teams.

When picking the games consider the ages of the people playing; their interests; and what games you liked to play as a child. With help from the National Parenting Center, Hasbro developed a free brochure about family game night. It describes ways parents can start a family game night, and it includes tips on keeping it going and adding to the fun, tips on games, and information on the school and life skills children learn from playing games with the family. To get a copy of the brochure, e-mail your name and home address to fgn@Hasbro.com or write to Hasbro Family Game Night, P.O. Box 5659, Pawtucket, RI 02862.

Evelyn Petersen of the National Parenting Center offers these tips:

Remember that you as a family have the right to modify games to fit your needs. For example, you can simplify Monopoly if you have young children by playing for a set time limit, and/or by omitting the small bills.

Also, younger children who cannot read can play many games with the rest of the family, such as Clue, Monopoly and Yahtzee, if an older sibling or an adult plays with them as a partner and mentor, helping with the reading or totaling. Take the ages on games with a grain of salt. You know your family and what each member can do.

Although it is called family game night, you can still enjoy game time even if you don't have your own family. If you are married with no children or even if you are dating, games are a great way to spend quality time together. You will have the opportunity to play different kinds of board games now than you will in the future if you have kids.

If you are beyond the young family years, get together with friends or with a family in the neighborhood. Imagine how you could brighten the day of someone's grandparents by showing up with dominoes.

My grandfather, who is now in his 90s, still enjoys going to the senior center and playing a game of Phase 10. My grandmother, who had difficulty with her memory as she grew older, could still wear down all comers with her enthusiasm and skill for the same game. If you haven't played it, give it a try. It really is suitable for all ages since it involves only colors and series of numbers, and the numbers are in large print.

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