Every family has one: a closet full of old board games. The boxes are beat up. The pieces are often missing. And while there may be plenty of newer games piled on top, it almost always contains a handful of classics ⏤ whether it’s Jenga or Clue, Sorry! or Stratego ⏤ that rarely see the kitchen table on family game night. For whatever reason, they just don’t quite capture a kids’ attention the way a whipped cream pie in the face does.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t make those old boring games fun again. With a little creativity and some simple rules changes ⏤ or maybe even abandoning the rules all together ⏤ it’s easy to introduce kids, especially preschoolers, to the joy of classic games. Here are 12 kid-friendly twists on games like Life, Scrabble, and, well, Twister, to get you started.
Rather than use the included Sorry! pieces, play instead with Hershey’s Kisses in different colored wrappers. Or, if you only have standard silver-wrapped Kisses in the cupboard, color them with markers. The winner of each game, naturally, gets to eat the pieces they were playing with.
Game of Life
Add a fun charades-style twist to the Game of Life by having players act out big events like getting married, having a child, buying a house, or starting a career. With younger kids, provide some prompts to help guide them through their ‘scene.’
For more food fun, put a snack or piece of candy on each of the Twister dots. If someone wants to step or put their hand on that dot, they first have to eat what’s on it. This is also a fun way to get picky eaters to try new foods. Another fun alternative to traditional play: Sumo Twister. Each player stuffs their shirt with a pillow to make things just a little more challenging (and silly).
Chutes and Ladders
The game of Chutes and Ladders is essentially a game of good versus bad deeds. If you land at the top of a slide (i.e. bad deed), you’re taking a detour back down the board. This can be frustrating for younger players. Instead, tweak the game’s rules by allowing younger players an option if they land at the top of a slide: either ride it down as you would normally or they can say or do something nice for any of the other players (even their little sister!), such as a give them hug, blow them kiss, or just say something along the lines of, “You smell much better today than you usually do.” If they complete a nice act, their piece stays put until the next turn.
When playing Scrabble with a young reader, focus the game on spelling and math skills rather than hammering them with 76-point words like “quixotic.” Take turns drawing tiles and forming words with the letters. Basically, place the words anywhere on the board but make sure they add up the numbers after each turn.
Similarly, when playing Checkers with a preschooler, handicap yourself by playing with fewer pieces. Or, instead of playing by the real rules, make the game more about racing across the board ⏤ taking turns moving pieces one square at a time (in any direction) until one team has them all along the back row.
This one is easy: Turn the damn buzzer off. Toddlers and preschoolers are still mastering their pincer grip, and it’s challenging enough using tiny tweezers to remove Cavity Sam’s ribs without worrying about touching the sides. Plus, it’s less annoying. You can also make the game harder on yourself by playing with your non-dominant hand.
Admittedly, this adaptation requires some prep work but ends up being fun for the whole family. Instead of using the included Guess Who characters, replace them all with pictures of relatives, friends, teachers, and babysitters ⏤ pretty much anybody who’s recognizable and omnipresent in your child’s life.
It doesn’t matter whether you use a traditional Mancala board or a homemade version with an egg carton, replace the marbles with ⏤ you guessed it ⏤ their favorite candy like M&Ms, Skittles, or Raisonettes. Nothing extends the life of a game like the chance to eat more sugar.
Perfect for a game night that starts with Chinese takeout, remove Jenga pieces using a pair of chopsticks (clean ones, of course) instead of your hands. Harder? Yes. But it should also lead to a lot of good laughs.
For a team-oriented version of Connect 4, draw a pattern of yellow and red game pieces on a sheet of paper before you begin. Rather than playing a competitive game, all the players take turns dropping the pieces into the rack to complete the pattern exactly as it appears in the drawing.
Hungry Hungry Hippos
Instead of using your boring old hands to control the hippo’s lever, use your elbows, your forearm, or your feet ⏤ any other body part that makes it more challenging. Or, and not to keep falling back on the same bag of tricks, but round M&Ms also make a nice substitute for the marbles.