Here are a few suggestions for family fun activities that are free or won’t break the bank, which you can engage in with your kids to help bring the family closer together. Whether you’re Mom or Dad (or Grandma, who’s raising the kids), and whether you’re the custodial parent or the visitational one, you want to foster a feeling of family togetherness and help the kids feel that you and they are still a family, even though the family is broken apart. So here are some further activities that are free or super-cheap and, regardless of the weather outdoors—too hot, too cold, too rainy–can be enjoyed indoors.
Materials needed: Pair of dice, paper and pen or pencil
This game is best suited for children and adults who are baseball fans and have a rudimentary knowledge of baseball scorekeeping. Many kids are knowledgeable enough about box scores to play at age 10; others may need to be a couple of years older. As far as upper age limits of players, the friend who first told me about this game pointed out that investigation of certain college graduates in their forties might suggest that the upper limit has yet to be discovered.
Basically a two-player game, it is also suitable for solo play in which one person simply determines the outcome of a match-up between two fantasy teams. Some persons playing this game will want to use real Big League teams’ and players’ names for this, but most will find that it’s a lot more fun to invent teams comprised of whatever real or imaginary people come to mind.
Play follows the rules of baseball, except that the outcome of each “pitch” is determined by the roll of the dice. If one player is playing, he is simply observing two fantasy teams, rolling the dice for both, and waiting to see what the outcome is. But I’m assuming that there will be two players playing in this case, most likely Dad and his son (which is not to presume that women and girls can’t enjoy baseball…and Dice Baseball…as well). If two players oppose each other in this game, each has a team for which s/he is rolling the dice and determining the outcome. As in any baseball game, the winning team is the one with the highest score, and therefore the winning Dice Baseball player is the one whose team has won the fantasy game.
The player whose team is at bat rolls two dice for each fantasy player who is at bat, then records the results on his or her box score. Each inning continues till there are three outs, games are nine innings, and games go into extra innings in case of a tie, just like in the real game. The roll of the dice determines the fate of the batter. The dice-rolls are as follows:
1-2, 1-3,: Player has been put out
1-4: Walk (base on balls)
1-6: Double play. If there are runners on base, the batter and the most advanced runner are out; no one advances. If there are no runners, the batter is still out
2-3: Batter gets on, on an error
2-4: Sacrifice fly; if no runners on, it’s simply a fly out
3-4: Player has been put out
3-6: Stolen base for the leading runner; batter remains to take another pitch; if there are no runners, roll again
4-4: Home run
4-6: Player has been put out
5-6: Player has been put out
• Runners advance the same number of bases as the batter. Examples: If there’s a runner on first and the batter hits a double, the runner automatically advances two bases and gets to third; if there’s a runner on second and the batter hits a double, the runner automatically scores.
• Because each roll of the dice is an at-bat, rather than just a single pitch, the game moves fairly rapidly.
• Though a casual player might keep the box score for a game, throw it away, and play again next time with a new line-up, a committed fantasy-baseball nut (adult or child) might play every night and keep exhaustive season-after-season records for each player, each pitcher, and each team.
Got a couple of dice? Batter up!
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Materials needed: Multiple copies of the same picture from a magazine. Use an ad that appears in successive issues of the same magazine, or in two different magazines you receive, or a picture or ad that appears in both your copy and your neighbors’ discarded copies of a particular magazine; cardboard; scissors; pens or pencils
Have each child paste his/her copy of the picture in question on cardboard, then draw a jigsaw puzzle pattern of cuts on the back of the cardboard. Parental help may be needed with the scissors in cutting the pictures up according to the kids’ patterns, or if they’re old enough, they can do it themselves. Remind them that the more intricate the cuts, and the more cuts there are, the harder the puzzle will be to solve, but it will be more fun.
Now mix all the pieces from the two or more copies of the picture together, and you have a real puzzle to deal with: pieces of multiple copies of the same picture to sort out into two or more pictures.
You can also have the kids exchange puzzles after they’ve cut them up, so that each child is putting together a puzzle whose picture is familiar but whose cuts are unfamiliar.
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Materials needed: None
This game is suitable for any number of people from two up, but the more the better. Almost any age can play except the really littlest ones, and I am definitely including parents when I say “almost any age.”
The game, which is non-competitive and does not involve scoring or a winner, is as suited to car trips as to the living room. It’s also a great time-passer while the family is engaged in some chore together or out on a walk; just don’t play it while you’re drying the crystal serving bowl—someone’s likely to get a fit of the giggles and drop the good crystal!
One player starts—it doesn’t matter who, though you do want to keep the rotation the same as the game progresses. If Joanie starts the story, and it then progresses to Mike, Mom, and Vic, completing the list of players, then it should keep following the same order as the game continues around again and again.
The player who starts sets things in motion with a sentence, preferably silly. It can be a piece of dialogue (“‘Excuse me—is this where the giraffes are marching?’“ “Unhand that possum, you traitor!”) or a bit of narrative (“Donna had no idea why her hair had turned green.” “The 21-story schoolhouse was the newest building on Mars”) or any other kind of sentence.
It is now the second player’s turn. S/he must come up with a sentence which follows the first sentence logically to some degree (it can be as goofy as desired)and begins with the letter of the alphabet following the one with which the first sentence started.
In the case of the sentence beginning “Excuse me….” the first sentence started with “E” so the second player must furnish a sentence that makes some sense in context of the first sentence and starts with “F.” (Example: “Find a giraffe around here, and you’ll win a pair of purple sweatsocks.”) In the case of the sentence beginning “The 21-story….” the next sentence would have to begin with “U.” (“Under normal conditions, Martian buildings were not allowed to exceed the height of structures on Venus.”)
The third player must now come up with a sentence beginning with the next letter of the alphabet. (“Venusian buildings never exceed 18 stories.”) After the sentence beginning with “Z,” the next player must start with “A.” The game is over when play returns to the letter the game started with—which can be any letter in the alphabet.
Of course this is a silly game, played for fun and giggles, but in the process, the kids are stretching their imaginations, becoming more at ease with the alphabet (if they’re still little and not totally sure what letter follows what), and even learning something about continuity and order in telling a story.
Variations for older/more sophisticated players:
Variation # 1: Each player writes a situation down ahead of time, and all situations are thrown into a bowl or similar container. (“You’re in a hardware store looking for radishes.” “It’s halftime at the Super Bowl and you’ve accidentally wandered into one team’s locker room.” “Your mom just announced that NASA has drafted her to lead the world’s first exploration of Jupiter.” “You’re on an underwater exploration digging into the earth’s core.”)
Now each player gets a turn to start a story, picking a situation out of the bowl. Again, s/he can start the story with a sentence beginning with any letter of his/her choice, but the others must follow alphabetically.
Variation # 2: Players need not confine their contributions to a single sentence; players who wish to may carry the dialogue or narrative forward several sentences, though the first letter of the first sentence must conform to the alphabetical requirement.
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Cynthia MacGregor is the author of over 100 books, many of them for parents or kids, many of which help with difficult situations. These include The Divorce Helpbook for Teens, The Divorce Helpbook for Kids, After Your Divorce, and Jigsaw Puzzle Family, all in print, and such e-books as Solo Parenting and “Step” This Way. Learn more about them at Cynthia’s website, www.cynthiamacgregor.com.
Cynthia is available for copywriting, ghostwriting, and editing. Email her at Cynthia@cynthiamacgregor.com.