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Parlor Games

Parlor Games

It’s probably hard for any of us, much less our children, to remember a time before computers and television or even radio, when family gathered after an evening meal for some entertainment with each other rather than with electronics. In The Creative Family (Trumpeter, 2008), author Amanda Blake Soule writes about traditional games, those that do not require any materials, as one of the ways families passed the time together! Parlor games provided a way for them to be together–imagining, pretending, and playing. Blindman’s buff and charades are the games that have carried over most into our modern times. There are many more that are similarly creative, open-ended, and fun for the whole family.

Soule says that: there seems to be less time in our lives for such games. I think that might be because we are out of the practice of playing together. So often, we separate to our own bedrooms with those our own age. I encourage you to give parlor games a try in your home after dinner some evening–or even on a regular night each week. The following are a few traditional parlor games that we’ve adapted and tweaked to suit. They can be adapted and played anywhere and by anyone. They are a great way for your family members to spend some time connecting with each other.

Whatever You Do, Don’t Smile
A big favorite in the two-to-four-year-old crowd, we’ve adapted the traditional Victorian game of If You Love Me Dearest, Smile. Everyone gathers in one room, and the person who is “it” walks from person to person saying, “Whatever you do, don’t smile!” to which the recipient replies, “Whatever I do, I won’t smile!” without a smile. The “it” person then moves on to the next person until they get a smile from someone, who then becomes the “it” person. The children have a fabulous time going from person to person, making silly faces, gestures, and voices, trying to get the family to laugh, which we always do.

A Twist on Charades
We like to play charades with a bit of a difference. First we choose a category, such as animals, emotions, or adverbs, and we write down several words related to that category on small pieces of paper. We put the pieces in a jar and then select something out of the jar to act out. Our family favorite is surely “emotions,” which is not only fun, but also a healthy way to think about and act out feelings surrounded by the safety and support of those who love and care about us.

The Endless Story
I remember playing this game with my grandparents, and you might too–whether with your own grandparents or at summer camp. One person starts a story-it can be any story with any characters. That person tells the story for a given period of time (with our young children, we use a one-minute hourglass, which seems just about right). When the time is up, the storyteller stops, midsentence or not, and the next player takes over. The story takes twists and turns, and new characters emerge. This is a fun way for the whole family to create and imagine together.

What’s in the Bag?
As another kind of twist on charades, we keep a bag of props that we pull out for this game. It’s full of random bits and objects, such as kitchen items, fabrics, tools, anything you can imagine. Depending on how you’d like to play, one or two players choose an object and have thirty seconds to come up with a short skit based on the object they have. A wonderful improvisational performance ensues, entertaining us all.

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.

11 comments

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3:48PM PDT on Jul 21, 2010

i always try to keep my kids away from all the violent video games and other unspeakable games. I used Big IQ Kids games and believe me there is a big difference between my children and many others. A good difference.

3:35PM PDT on Jul 10, 2010

Despite its name, it isn't a board game. :-)

3:34PM PDT on Jul 10, 2010

This reminds me of a game called 'salonowiec' (parlor man) in Polish. LOL!

11:42AM PDT on Jul 8, 2010

My mother and I played so many games together our entire lives. Especially in the later years, we played a lot of Yahtzee, "Go Fish", gin rummy, double solitaire, and an old German board game she and my grandparents brought to this country with them 'Mensch Argere Dich Nicht", something like "Trouble", I believe. I always loved board games, especially with my mother.

When my son was growing up, he and I played Scrabble a lot. That is very educational, when you think about it. "Clue" teaches deductive reasoning skills. How I loved the old board games! They were far superior to the new video games for so many reasons. And, families actually talked, interacted while they were playing those games. Imagine that .......

11:41AM PDT on Jul 8, 2010

My mother and I played so many games together our entire lives. Especially in the later years, we played a lot of Yahtzee, "Go Fish", gin rummy, double solitaire, and an old German board game she and my grandparents brought to this country with them 'Mensch Argere Dich Nicht", something like "Trouble", I believe. I always loved board games, especially with my mother.

When my son was growing up, he and I played Scrabble a lot. That is very educational, when you think about it. "Clue" teaches deductive reasoning skills. How I loved the old board games! They were far superior to the new video games for so many reasons. And, families actually talked, interacted while they were playing those games. Imagine that .......

11:32PM PDT on Apr 1, 2010

Thanks.

10:40PM PDT on Mar 22, 2010

I think board games are worth being brought back to life. Those are such a splendid way of boosting logical thinking, planning or just a sheer pleasure to interact. I have spent hours playing ludo/monopoly/scrabble and really admire my friends' initiative to meet up and play regularly in a small group. We are all in our twenties!

1:36PM PST on Mar 2, 2010

Considering my kids won't have video games, these are great =)

8:28AM PST on Feb 27, 2009

We didn't play games in my family. We had ONE radio which I thoroughly enjoyed. We bought only one tv, so, we all watched together, if there wasn't homework to do. Of course, we ate Sunday dinner together, and, most nights of the week also. Naturally, I didn't appreciate that when I became a teenager. We need to turn off the electronics and REALLY TALK and INTERACT positively with each other more often.

8:26AM PST on Feb 25, 2009

In my family, it was card games. From Old Maid, to Spite & Malice, to Canasta, to Spoons, to Dirty on Your Neighbor, to Cribbage; my family played cards. The cards gave us something to do with our hands as we talked.

To this day, I have found memories of Grandmother & I trouncing Grandfather & Mom in Canasta. I learned to play Spite & Malice before I could read properly; counting was all that was needed.

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