Homework, extracurricular activities, electronics, and other distractions take away so much family togetherness that many parents feel like they need to spring for a group getaway just to spend some quality time. There's a simpler, cheaper option, though: Make some popcorn, break out a deck of cards or another game, and savor family time at home for less than $15. Check out these interactive games that get all ages involved for some good old-fashioned fun.
For families with children ages 3 to 5, a memory game is not just fun but good for educational development -- and all it takes is a deck of cards. Sort the cards by number and, depending on the age of the children, select half the deck or less. Mix up the cards and spread them out face down. Players peek at two cards at a time, and the object of the game is to match numbers across suits. (Fewer cards and numbers work better for young children, of course, while older kids can keep track of more numbers.)
Grab a toy microphone (the kids must have one!) or set up a karaoke machine (if there's already one in the house). Pick 10 songs everyone knows and write them down on pieces of paper. Each person takes a turn drawing a song to perform from a hat or bowl. The rest of the family acts as judges and writes down their scores for each performance. The person with the most points after three rounds wins.
Priced at less than $13 on Amazon, this classic game for children 5 and up is a race around the board for two to four players, with movement controlled by dice in a "Pop-O-Matic" plastic bubble. Kids learn to recognize numbers and their value, and everyone loves to pop the dice.
Widely available for less than $15, depending on the version, this is a popular choice for a child's first board game. The fun, interactive game teaches the concept of taking turns, moving pieces, and following directions -- all players have to do is follow what they're told to do by a draw of the cards or their turn on a spinner. Parents will love the throwback to childhood, although the game has seen a few revamps since the 1949 original.
HUNGRY HUNGRY HIPPOS
Kids have loved this action-filled game since its 1970s introduction to pop culture. It can be found for less than $15 and appeals especially to the younger set. Drop the marbles in and see who can gobble up the most.
Priced for as little as $7 and widely available, anyone 5 and older can play Jenga, a game created by a family in Ghana in 1970. The goal is to take turns pulling out a block from a tower and using it to rebuild at the top without crashing the tower. Take it as a family challenge to beat the record of 40 solid stories and a 41st partial story, set in 1985, according to the game's official site. Playing with giant blocks could be even more fun, but the official sets cost $100 and up. If there's someone handy in the family, it's cheaper to make a set at home (with directions posted on Instructables).
A deck of cards and spoons are all that's needed for this game. Each player starts with four cards, and spoons are placed in the middle of the table, always with one fewer spoon than there are players. Players pass around the remaining cards from the deck one by one. The first player to get four cards of the same number grabs a spoon and everyone else follows suit as quickly as possible. The player left without a spoon at the end of the round is eliminated.
Everyone can help with a puzzle, which is a great way for a family to spend time together and actually talk -- with many other game-night activities, the action limits conversation to what's happening with game play. Puzzles can be very simple for kids or get super complicated, with more than 5,000 pieces or even three dimensions. Family-style puzzles challenge different ages at the same time with multiple sizes of pieces in the same box.
All this game needs: a timer and paper. Everyone privately writes down three things -- a movie, object, TV show, or book. Split into two teams and have someone from each team select a piece of paper and act out whatever is written. The team that guesses the most answers in three minutes wins. With the arrival of the Internet and smartphones, the game has gotten easier to organize. Several websites and apps offer word lists and suggestions for players, as well as variations for when the basic game gets boring. A Reverse Charades version ($15) proposes that a whole team gets up to perform while one person guesses.
While the concept is similar to Charades, in this game for ages 12 and up, the topics are drawn instead of acted out. Teams can use pieces of paper or a dry erase board for the designated artist to use while the rest of the team guesses. Many families have a copy of this game tucked away in a cabinet, but it costs $20 or less and might be found secondhand for as little as $8 online.