Heather Swain is a former third-grade teacher, mother of two, writing instructor, magazine fact-checker, freelance magazine writer, and an award-winning author. Her articles and personal essays about parenting have appeared in American Baby Magazine, Time Out New York Kids, and on Her fiction books include Me, My Elf and I (Puffin/Speak, 2009) and two adult novels (published by Downtown Press/Pocket Books) Eliot’s Banana and Luscious Lemon. She lives, works, and plays in a crooked house in Brooklyn, New York with her husband and their two children.

I wrote Play These Games as a follow-up to my first craft book Make These Toys because I believe that all kids are natural-born game players. Ask them to pick up their socks, and they’ll whine and cry and act like you demanded them to move boulders. But turn it into a game (who can do it the fastest), and you’ll see socks in drawers in no time.

Playing games is the perfect antidote for boredom. We all do it. Whether it’s logging on to computer Solitaire instead of working or folding a paper football during a droning lecture or mounting a family board game on a rainy Saturday, games are part of our lives and probably have been since the first cave kid threw a rock and her brother tried to throw one farther. Not all games need to be competitive, though. The cooperative kind can be just as fun (not to mention edifying).

Though you’ll find aisles and aisles of games at toy stores—from card games and board games to computer games on handheld gadgets, computers, and home entertainment systems—you can get all the benefits of a good game with everyday objects hanging around your house. If you involve kids in making the games or set them loose and let them try it themselves, they’ll be more invested in playing and just might have more fun.

A good game is one that is easy to learn but hard to master. In Play these games you’ll find some games that are competitive, others that are cooperative. There are games for large groups, duos, and a few that can be played alone. Some of these games are reinterpretations of old favorites (such as Friends and Family Go Fish or a felt version of Tic-Tac-Toe), while others are mini versions of arcade super stars (like Shuffle Button, Micro Golf, and the pinball machine). Some I might have even made up (like Hoop Jousting and the Progressive Photo Scavenger Hunt), but that’s not to say someone else hasn’t made up something similar somewhere along the line.

What I find most wonderful about making and playing games at home with my kids are the hidden benefits.

1. Brain Development :: When you look closely at games you’ll start to see that most of them involve solving a problem—whether it’s how to get that tiny ball into a hole 30 feet away or guessing a book title from your sister’s crazy arm flapping—your brain is engaged in some heavy-duty thinking. And with active games, your body is working as well. Great educators have realized that games are an excellent way to engage children in learning, but don’t tell the kids. Just present them with games and let them figure that out on their own.

2. Socialization :: Any game that involves more than one person involves socializing, whether it’s cooperating during a scavenger hunt or competing to see who can get the most balls in a basket. Playing games with kids teaches team work, the consequences of cheating, and how to be good sports whether they win or lose. It’s not hard to see how those skills make it into the daily lives of kids in the classroom, on play dates, and later in life in the workplace. But like all things we hope to teach our children, learning to cooperate or to compete without being a jerk takes practice. Humans aren’t naturally good at losing, so there will be tears, yelling, and cheating, and maybe somebody will even knock over the board, but that’s okay. The point is, playing games within the family allows kids a safe place to practice getting along, following rules, and learning how to be graceful in defeat. So when your kids deserve a technical foul for the fits they’re pitching over a game, call it quits for then, but definitely come back to more games later. If you do that enough you’ll start to see more mature players coming to the table.

3. Saving Money :: Ask most kids to name a game and they’ll talk about something on a screen. I have no problem with video games. In fact I like them. But like most things that kids love, I figure some boundaries are in order, such as making sure computer games are age appropriate — and setting time limits. However, video games and the systems we play them on are expensive! Making games out of paper cups and Ping Pong balls is cheap . . . and I’ll be the first to admit that I like saving a buck. Even more, I like engaging my kids in new and different experiences. So maybe we’ll play computer games one day, but the next, we’ll make a homemade pinball machine out of a box we found on the street corner.

4. Fun! Fun! Fun! :: And finally, let’s not forget the biggest, most important reason for playing games with kids: It’s a rocking good time! I think of my own childhood playing neighbourhood games of Cops and Robbers or Freeze Tag in our backyard with the fireflies or cozy winter nights around board games with my parents or bonding with my grandmother when she taught us to play Hearts. Gaming defines an important part of childhood and the memories of those times will last. So, turn off the TV, unplug the Wii, and start gathering supplies because it’s time to play!


For more kids craft, creative ideas and activities go to the Action Pack website

Guest blogger: se7en + 1

Hi Whip-up Readers, we are so happy to be visiting you all today!!! We are a family with se7en + 1 kids and we hail from sunny South Africa.

We are going on an epic road trip later this year… and my kids have been packing and planning for weeks. They have heaps of ideas for the hours in the car and we thought we would put together a tin can of games. We had been saving this biscuit tin since Christmas, just waiting for the perfect opportunity.

You are going to need:

  • Sheets of card cut to the size of your tin lid.
  • Contact paper.
  • We have been collecting those magnets that you get on the back of fridge flyers, they are really easy to cut with kitchen scissors.
  • Markers, paints, whatever for decorating.
  • Buttons and other necessary inspiration for game pieces.
  • So here we go se7en + 1 games in a tin can.

Checkers: We used an eraser stamp to make our board and then buttons for game pieces. We glued our game board to a piece of colorful card and slipped a piece of flat fridge magnet between the layers of card. Then we stuck a sheet of protective contact paper onto the board. We snipped a strip of magnet into small pieces and glued a small magnet to each button. Our game is ready to play and no pieces will go flying about the car because they all stick to the tin lid.

Snakes and Ladders: Make another board using an eraser stamp… we also snipped some ladders from card and some small plastic snakes. We glued teeny tiny magnets to the snakes and ladders and we were almost good to go. We just needed a dice, and I saw this brilliant idea for (a travel dice on Pinterest) this week: pop your dice in a small transparent box, shake away and place on the table… no dashing after the dice!!!

Paper Dolls: My daughters love paper dolls, so we made a couple using this (very quick paper doll tutorial), covered them in contact paper and popped a magnet onto the back of the pieces… and paper dolls are good to go.

The Dot to Dot Game: Pop a sheet of graph paper on to a piece of card and mark a dot at each corner of each box on the paper. Pop a magnet between the paper sheets and then cover in contact paper. Using fridge whiteboard pens, they come with little magnets on them… you can now play the box-dot game. Each player has a color and takes turns to mark a line between two dots at the end of the game. The person with the most closed boxes at the end of the game wins.

Scrabble or any number of word games: You can find printable (scrabble pieces for free right here). Print out your sheet of scrabble letters, cover them in a sheet of contact paper and pop a magnet onto the back of each piece. We popped some graph paper onto a piece of colored card and our game was good to go.

A Mini Road Trip: We just painted a road onto a piece of card and laminated it. We stuck a magnet onto the base of the car, so that it grips but not too tightly, and it can’t go flying and get lost. Part of the appeal for our youngest, who is the biggest fan of the mini-road trip, loved that their was a little box just big enough to store his car in.

A Tangram Game: A quick online search will give any number of printable tangrams. We made our tangram pieces and then stuck some puzzles onto the card… some were easy and some were hard!

Doodle Cards: My kids like freedom and they insisted on a couple of blank cards… So I covered a couple of plain sheets of card in contact paper and they are good for doodling with the fridge markers. And a few packets of stickers will add to the fun because they can be peeled and restuck only about a million times on a laminated sheet of card.

And that’s our can of games…

Here it is packed and ready to go: With plenty of room for some of our favorite card games and pipe cleaners… because seriously what is a road trip without pipe cleaners!

Thanks again for the chance to visit!


For more kids craft, creative ideas and activities go to the Action Pack website

Pick up sticks is a fun game for kids – why not make your own sticks – here’s how.

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For more kids craft, creative ideas and activities go to the Action Pack website

love the alphabet fridge magnets – kids do too – here how to make a cute plush version.

felt alphabet magnet


For more kids craft, creative ideas and activities go to the Action Pack website

pencil toppers
bat finger puppet
bunny hat and costume
recycled glove softie
cute amigurumi
racing snail [image shown]
fabric apple
fabric bird cage
paper fortune cookies
hedgehog softie
knitted winged heart tattoo
fly a kite
fabric beach ball
fabric house
toadstool baby rattle
apple cosy
felt strawberries
rock babies
pumpkin bears
safety cones
molly monkey pattern
teeny tiny knitted toys
itty bitty oddity
knitted star
paper doll templates
five stones game
soft acorn
camilla’s creatures
cashmere bunny