Family dinners offer a valuable opportunity to connect with one another, share about our days, and teach social graces. But if we put too much pressure on all that family dinners are supposed to be, it can start to become a tension-filled time rather than a joyful one. That is where family dinner games can come in handy.
While family dinner at our house is usually a time of checking in and sharing, there are evenings when we play games to keep the conversation fresh and the dinner table lively. Sometimes we use them just to break the ice and sometimes they will last all dinner long.
Below are some of our favorite dinnertime games. Some help children develop their vocabulary, spelling, or counting skills. Some build their social skills. And some are just plain fun
Each family member has to talk for 30 seconds (use a timer) without preparation on a topic someone else chooses without saying “um” or “like” or pausing for more than 2 seconds. Subjects can include anything from eggs to Italy to autumn.
This is a great one for large family gatherings. The family tells a story with everyone at the table going around and adding just one word. When someone wants to end the story they can say “period.” The stories can be hilarious (especially if you do what we’ve done and ban “potty talk” at the table, lest all the words involve a bodily function).
“Made You Say”
Scramble founder Aviva Goldfarb’s husband Andrew developed a silly family dinner game that really gets the kids talking about their days. You ask them different questions that all begin with, “Tell me something that happened today that made you say…” The last word ranges from “huh?” to “cool!” or “darn!” or “that’s weird.” It’s amazing how this simple game inspires them to share stories about their day and chime in on dinner table talk.
Name the Movie or Book
Family members take turns reciting a line from a favorite children’s book or movie (that everyone at the table is familiar with) and others have to guess where it came from. Sometimes we throw in song lyrics to.
Would you rather?
Take turns posing unappealing (but appropriate) choices to each other. Here are some ideas to get you started: Would you rather walk across hot pavement in bare feet or hold an ice cube for 30 seconds? Would you rather brush your teeth with soap or drink sour milk? Would you rather lose your sense of taste or lose your sense of smell?
Famous person game
One person secretly decides on a famous person (everyone needs to know who it is) and then acts like that person during dinner until someone guesses to correct famous person. Then it is someone else’s turn!
Two Truths and a Tale
Everyone takes turns sharing three things that happened in their day. Two are true and the third isn’t. The rest of the family then has to decide which one is not true.
The Mysterious Disease Game
One person is selected as “The Doctor” and they leave the room while the rest of the people at the table agree on a mysterious illness (e.g., they think they are cats, they can only sing lyrics to songs, they wink every time they talk, etc.). When “The Doctor” returns, s/he asks questions of the “patients” who answer according to their illness but without saying what it is. The game ends when “The Doctor” identifies the mysterious disease (or close enough to it) or when they have asked 20 questions, whichever comes first. Then someone else becomes “The Doctor.”
I’m Going on a Picnic
This is a classic memory game. You take turns going around the table adding items to the picnic basket and repeating all of the items that have already been added to the picnic basket in the correct order. For example, “I’m going on a picnic and I am bringing an apple.” “I’m going on a picnic and I am bringing an apple and a sandwich.” “I’m going on a picnic and I am bringing an apple, a sandwich, and a radio.” “I’m going on a picnic and I am bringing an apple, a sandwich, a radio, and a blanket.” A player is eliminated when they can’t remember the items or put them in the wrong order.
Want more ideas? Here are a few family dinner games suggested by other parents on The Scramble Facebook page:
“We have young kids – so we do alphabet games. Everyone goes around (in order) and names a word that starts with A, the next person with B, so forth. As they get older, they can also spell the word.” –Beverly Cook Halperin, Plano, TX
Spin the Dreidel
“We spin a dreidel to get my almost 4-year-old son to eat. He eats the meat, veggies, starch or drinks water based on what letter the dreidel lands on. My 6-year-old daughter came up with this idea last winter, and it works well.” –Tracie Cohen, Singapore
Guess the Animal
“We do an animal guessing game, kind of like twenty questions but with actual answers to keep things easier for the little ones. This works great until my husband picks an animal no one knows, like a wallaroo.” –Trudi Benford, Washington, DC
“We play a game we call ‘Food Mash.’ It works best with three people. Everyone thinks of a basic ingredient (preferably unprocessed, but certainly no more complicated than a condiment) but keeps the item to themselves. Then we all announce our items and collaboratively try to think up a dish that would be somewhat palatable featuring all of the ingredients (we allow the addition of other minor ingredients). More often than not, we can think of something we’d all eat.” –Molly Thompson, Bozeman, MT
There are, of course, some meals where the kids just don’t feel like talking much, and others where they won’t stop interrupting each other and us. But we find the meals where we all happily engage in conversation to be some of the most memorable times for us as a family.
By the way, if you’re having too much fun at the table to end the meal, extend it by serving these delicious Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cornmeal Muffins for dessert.
Want another way to make family dinners more pleasant? Sign up for a two-week free trial of The Scramble’ meal planning service to see how stress-free and easy it can be to get dinner on the table every night!
What family dinner games keep your family happily seated and engaged at the table? Please share here or on The Scramble Facebook page.