the big game

Sorry to mislead you - you couldn't  possibly have thought I meant the super bowl?  I must admit I did come up with lovely color coordinated outfits for everyone (in fact we choose our teams based on the most prevalent colors in our closet - who knew we were secretly stashing Seahawk paraphernalia all this time?)  But I'm talking about something bigger in our parenting sphere:  Taking turns, sharing, winning graciously, loosing graciously, and following basic directions (because sometimes there are paths you have to follow in candy land and in life dag nabbit!)

Game playing etiquette seems so completely basic but it is apparently much harder to grasp and model when you're playing with two four year olds and two six year olds.  They are all so close to the same place emotionally and developmentally that we don't have that classic older sibling positive role model at work.  Don't get me wrong, the girls do a great job, (and the boys really are trying) but this is still something that needs diligent practice and lots of parental patience.  

Knowing that as parents we wanted to instill good sportsmanship, a love of games, and sibling camaraderie we decided try to build a few game nights into our weekly repertoire to reinforce basic game etiquette and to try to provide a counter point to the standard weekend request for a "movie night".   While movie night is most definitely the easier of the options (and so help me there are many many nights that I really want to have a movie night myself), we tell ourselves that the game night payoff down the road will be well worth it.

Deciding to play the games was one thing.  Finding the right games to play... and storing them?!? That was a board of another color.  Game night was something we wanted everyone to be able to participate in, but that meant finding games that worked for two different age groups.  Games like Chutes and Ladders, Connect Four, and Trouble, while classics, were too difficult for the boys but limiting ourselves to Candy Land was starting to bore the girls, and quite frankly made me want to alternately pull my hair out or binge eat gum drops.

After some trial and error we were able to find a few great games that everyone could enjoy and play together.  These games can all be played with four players, a requirement for DiStefano Family game nights, so sadly many radical two player games did not make this super official list.

Our kids love Zingo!  It's a fast acting bingo game with pictures instead of numbers.  You get to yell ZINGO when you meet the board requirements (hurray for yelling!) and apparently moving the red dispenser to reveal the next cards is an honor akin to being named MVP at the super bowl.  (Approximate play time 10 - 20 minutes)

Fish Sticks:
This fish friendly spin on dominoes is a new addition to the family.  The girls can play it well by themselves and the boys get to team up with mommy or daddy.  You develop the game board as you go by arranging your "fish sticks" so that one or more of your fishies exactly matches up with another players.  Each player tracks their number of personal matches on their individual game board.  The first person to make 10 matches for each of their fish wins.  Skills needed:  Counting to 10, matching, problem solving and strategy.  (Approximate play time 20 - 40 minutes)

Hoot Owl Hoot:
This game is just too adorable for words.  It is a collaborative game where everyone works together to get all of the owls back to their nest before the sun rises.  We all win or we all loose.  This in and of itself required some prep talk.   (Just because someone else moved an owl into the nest  on their turn doesn't mean you lost.  After all, it was your moves that helped to make it possible for the baby owl to go home, HURRAY!)  The game board is super cute, the directions are simple, there are some nice ways to incorporate color recognition, counting, strategy, teamwork, and if you're like us "hooting noises". This is hands down one of the most peaceful and enjoyable games that we play.  (Approximate play time 15 minutes - but we always play multiple rounds.)

This fast action dice rolling game has a ton of variations and as parents you can get as creative as you want with them; make it a team effort or work on winning graciously.  Each player chooses a color and number (1-6).  As the round begins everyone rolls their dice and sets aside any that landed with their chosen number face up.  Play continues by quickly scooping up your dice, rolling and removing your chosen number.  The first player to match all of their dice wins - and obviously shouts TENZI!  (more shouting!  HURRAY!)  The game comes with quite a few other suggested play modes - we like the one where everyone picks the same number and the game isn't over until all players are out.  (Approximate play time 1-3 minutes, making this the perfect "two rounds of tenzi and then it's time for bed" game.)

The Cat in The Hat, I Can Do That:
Too much indoor recess?  Long rainy days and tons of pent up energy?  The Cat in The Hat, I Can Do That is the perfect game for you.  Players choose a 1, 2, and 3 card and match them up to find a wacky cat in the hat inspired task to complete.  The game comes with foam replicas of some of the favorite book images so that players can hop in a circle with mothers gown under their chin.  This game usually has us all giggling and cheering, just watch out for those kill joy fish cards that make you loose your turn.  We've already removed these from the pile just to keep the game moving or instituted a house rule that you can only get one fish card during any single game.  (Approximate play time:  10 min.)

Hungry, Hungry, Hippos
It's a classic for a reason.  Though the hippos have required some zoologist upkeep from time to time, the kids still reach for this first.  Bonus, no hard core parental supervision required.  Let them smash it out.  (Approximate play time, 1-3 minutes many times over)

With a growing collection of fabulous games we faced the challenge of efficiently storing them.  There are several creative solutions floating around out there, but one of the easiest (and cheapest) that we've found is to store all games in a large clear storage bin on our book shelf.  When we get a new game we remove the contents from the box and store all of the pieces in clear zip lock bags.  (Larger game boards like Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders are folded at the bottom of the bin.  Honestly, most of the interior area of a purchased game box is waisted space, and let's face it, those boxes get destroyed pretty quickly anyway.  Scrapping them from the start saved us tons of space and makes our games super easy to travel with.  One medium size bin for us holds over 15 games.  That's a whole lotta practice at being a good sport!

With so many fun games to choose from the good sportsmanship message has got to sink in sooner or later, right?  At least we will have a whole lot of fun in the meantime.  Happy Game Night!

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