10 Family Game Night Ideas

Game nights can be such a fun way to connect with our kids. Whether you enjoy cards, dice, strategy games, or cooperative play, games can bring us together, create fun memories, and lead to tons of teachable moments.

Now, some parents are just awesome at playing and pretend. My husband, Dustin, is like this. He’s silly & playful and joins our girls in whatever they’re doing. He’s a natural connector.

Obviously, this guy is the fun one.

Dustin and I find value in using a trauma-informed approach to our parenting, so we do our best to implement the three main strategies – empowering, connecting, and correcting – throughout our family culture.

In our early days of parenting, I found myself leaning into the empowering (meeting physical needs) and correcting (teaching/guiding) part of this process, while leaving out perhaps the most critical piece – building genuine connection in a way that disarmed fear and promoted attachment. 

I wanted to find a way to intentionally connect and play with our girls, so I started thinking about what I loved when I was growing up – playing softball, putting on plays, and LOTS of family games. Even into adulthood, when my family gathers, we play games for hours at a time.

After researching, I discovered several games that were age-appropriate and actually looked FUN for everyone. So we created a new routine – family game night!

Every Friday afternoon, Dustin and I would go together to pick-up the girls from school/daycare and we’d all head to a local coffee shop. We’d bring a couple of games, buy the girls a treat or a special drink, and enjoy an hour or two of quality time together. We’d laugh and play, and of course sometimes, have to redirect behavior.

With each roll of the dice, card drawn, or match made, we were growing closer as a family and establishing a tradition that we all began to cherish.

Now, a little over four years into our parenting journey, our life rhythms have changed a bit. During this last year, we decided to homeschool our girls to have more time with them, so we integrate games into our ongoing curriculum. We learn math, reading, and critical thinking skills, all while playing together. 

As our girls get older, I’m sure our rhythms will change again, but I hope our love for playing games together is a tradition of connection that can stay with us through all seasons of life.

So, the next time you’re looking for a way to connect with your kids, grab a snack, and try playing a game together. You can hit up a thrift store or borrow from a friend, or check out ten of our favorites below!

  • Quixx (Family dice game, good for developing basic addition skills)
  • Cat Crimes (Critical thinking game where you try to figure out which cat commited the crime; can be played as a team game for cooperative play.)
  • Pengoloo (A more interesting version of a memory game, good for younger kids ages 3-7).
  • Eye Found It (Cooperative game good for visual learners)
  • Cadoo (Active game for the whole family. Can be adapted for younger children.)
  • Topple Chrome (Hands on game, good for developing impulse control and patience)
  • Snappy Dressers (Fast-paced game with many versions of play, good for 7 and up)
  • Spot It (Fast-paced game with many versions of play, junior versions available)
  • Ok Play (Simple tile game making five in a row, requires a little strategy, good for 7 and up)
  • Splendor (Made for older kids and adults, but simple enough concept for younger elementary.)
  • Ticket to Ride – First Journey (Simple concept, but longer game play. Good for 6 and up)

Why I’m Learning to Talk to Strangers

Our girls are two of my best teachers. They see the world so differently than I do. They’re young, free, kind, and compassionate. They don’t always know what’s expected in situations, so they’re often unencumbered by social norms and pressures. 

Because of these things, our younger daughter, Kristin, talks to strangers. This is not just a once in a while thing. She actually seeks out conversation with people she does not know on a very regular basis.

Now, this probably sounds a little creepy, and at times it does make me nervous. I’m well aware that not everyone is safe, and some people don’t have good intentions. I want her to know the importance of safety and being with a grown up you can trust. But most of the time, she’s talking to strangers when we’re together, when she knows she’s safe, and when she wants to include someone.

Sometimes we’re at the grocery store in the checkout lane, and she just launches into a full conversation with the 17-year-old behind the register. Other times we’re getting out of our van in our driveway, and she runs out and immediately screams “hi” to someone walking past our house that she noticed as we pulled in. She chats with receptionists at appointments, patrons at the movie theater, and just about anyone she notices.

Sometimes, quite often actually, she chats with strangers at our weekly Sunday morning Breakfast Club. These are normally people who are experiencing homelessness, so our guests rotate regularly. Our guests are usually looking for a good meal. What they don’t know is that they’ll be welcomed with heartfelt conversation as well.

A typical morning at Breakfast Club

We arrive at 6am, and Kristin can’t wait to see her “best friends” a term she uses far too often for people she doesn’t know well. When she says, “best friend” she just means it’s someone that matters to her. It’s a sweet perspective and reminds me that we often just pass by the background players in our life. In coffee shops and restaurants, as we shop and as we work, it’s fairly common practice to just ignore one another.

But not my Kristin. She is a people-person. She sees the humanity in those around her and takes a genuine interest in them. She asks questions, sometimes about what they’re wearing, why they look sad, or who they’re with, and while Dustin and I are constantly trying to steer her inquisitive nature into appropriate social norms, we’ve decided we don’t want to crush it completely. 

Maybe it’s ok for her to go against the grain a little bit. Maybe it’s ok to ask how someone is doing and really wait for the answer. Maybe it’s ok if she shares a little bit of her own story with them. Maybe it’s better for all of us if we stop rushing past the other humans in our story, and we lean in a little bit for the connection that so many of us are craving.

She Leaves a Little Sparkle Wherever She Goes

Kristin Joy-

Today you’re 7! I can hardly believe it.

You’ve been with us almost half of your life now, and I’m not sure how we ever got along without you.

Your joy is infectious. Your compassion is authentic. You love babies and taking care of people, and I love watching the ways you make the world a better place just by being you. When I was looking for a gift bag to put your presents in, I couldn’t resist the one that said, “She leaves a little sparkle wherever she goes.” It’s just the absolute truth, my girl.

We celebrated with your favorite things this weekend – special treats, baby doll accessories, and a ballet leotard

so you can turn on that classical music you love and practice dancing for endless hours in the playroom.

And then, we got to the cake.

When we went to our friend’s first birthday party in May, you were enthralled by the smash cake experience immediately asking if you could do that on your birthday. Your eyes lit up as everyone cheered on our little toddler friend and laughed as he dug his hands into that cake.

And I wondered to myself, “Did you have a smash cake when you turned one? Did you try to blow out your candle and open presents with your little hands and light up the room with your beautiful smile?”

Oh how I wish I could have been there. I would have loved to see those early years, my girl.

So today, for the final part of your 7th birthday celebration, I made you a smash cake.

We sang you “Happy Birthday” and you blew out those candles, and then I told you to dive in. Your seven-year-old eyes lit up with pure joy, and just as you do with all parts of life, you enjoyed the moment to its fullest. You smashed your face into the cake and shovelled it into your mouth by the handful.

I am so happy to have shared that moment with you.

I’m learning that part of this parenting thing means doing whatever it takes to parent each of my girls in the unique ways that you each need. In doing that, I become more of the parent that I am meant to be, and you are able to grow and thrive and move ahead.

And today, Kristin Joy, I think our whole family grew a little bit closer by watching you smash that cake between your hands. Because even though this might not have been your first smash cake, it was your first smash cake with us, and we’re grateful we got to share the moment with you.

With all my love,

Mama

 

 

 

how the journey began

 

I remember the Facebook message she sent to a few ladies at our church.

My friend had been contacted by another state’s child welfare worker. Her husband’s relatives had hit some rough spots and our friends’ nieces had been removed from their home and were in need of a place to live. She and her husband were on the list of “kin” to call, a practice that is done in most situations when families can’t stay together due to abuse or neglect.

My friend – the beautiful, selfless, young woman, with two girls at home who were 2 and 3 – was asking this group of women via Facebook message – what should she do? Should they say yes and offer for the girls to come live with them? It looked like it would be a long-term placement leading to adoption, and this wasn’t something either of them were expecting, let alone planning for.

The group message went back and forth a little bit, as each of the women within the group offered our two cents about a situation none of us knew much about.

And even though we were uninformed, we loved our friend, and made sure she knew we’d support her in whatever ways we could.

When our friends made the decision to move forward with the process of welcoming the girls into their home and their family, our church was there to support them.

One Saturday afternoon while our friends were at a foster parent training class, we broke into their home, as any loving church family would do.

We brought in bunk beds, rearranged furniture, decorated walls, and made sure all of the girls would feel special in their home. We worked quickly, aiming to be done by the time our friends got back from their class. I’ll never forget their reaction when they came into their home. Tears and laughter and so many hugs. It still goes down as one of my absolute favorite days.

Our little church had found a practical way to come alongside this brave couple and their two (soon to be four) daughters. We didn’t know much about foster care or trauma, but we recognized the courage of our friends as they stepped into an unknown future for girls they’d never really known. That type of commitment and love made us all want to do something.

A few weeks passed, and they welcomed their nieces into their family. Now, a family of 6 with no relatives in the area for support, Dustin and I began to help out in little ways. We met them at the hospital one evening when their oldest girl had swallowed a penny. We babysat, so our friends could connect to a weekly small group and have date nights. I even got to attend “Grandparents’ Day” since their kindergartener didn’t have a grandparent in the area who could come.

Dustin and I were four years into our marriage at the time, and we hadn’t made any decisions on whether or not we’d have kids someday. We had been focused on graduate school, working a few part-time jobs, and just enjoying our twenties without the responsibilities that kids would certainly bring. But we had lots of experience around kids, and it felt pretty natural to offer help in this way.

It was a sweet season of our life, and when we decided to move back to Illinois just a couple of years later, saying goodbye to those precious girls was one of the hardest parts. They had become family.

When our friends said “yes” to their two nieces joining their family, I had absolutely no idea that the course of my life was being altered forever. But that is exactly what happened.

Their willingness to step into their girls’ story has forever impacted ours. The family we have built, the church we attend, the jobs that we love are ours, in part, because of the decision they made to open their hearts and home to two little girls who needed a forever family.

We watched their family walk a foreign road, and their living, breathing, demonstration of what it meant to love compelled us forward. Dustin and I could see a path in front of us that was different from anything we’d considered before. Their faithfulness will forever be a mile-marker in our foster care journey.

And once we began to dive deeper into understanding the foster care system as a whole, we simply could not look away.

Healing Through Relationships

My life has been so full these last few months that I haven’t had much space to share more of our story. Here’s a post I wrote recently about how healing for children from hard places comes through relationships.

conversations on the fringe

Last week, my husband and I spent thirty hours in a three-day training about parenting children from hard places. The course was designed to equip us to train other parents who are doing the tough but important work of parenting children from hard places. The training was informative, difficult, and incredibly beneficial, and I can’t wait to pass on the information to other families in the foster care and adoption community.

More than that, however, I want to pass on this information to those who are interacting with children in all settings. Our schools, our churches, and our community organizations that serve children and teens would benefit greatly from understanding the effects of trauma on the developing brain. And while I could get into the science side of this, and I hope to in future posts, I want to start with the basics.

Relationships are at the heart of God’s…

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