Family Nights

Family Nights

In uncertain economic times with families often too overscheduled to get together for quality bonding and relaxing time, staying home a night each week can bring some much needed down time, create family memories and, increasingly important, reduce the typical over-the-top entertainment budgets most families seem to have.

Though not a new concept, weekly or bi-weekly family nights have fallen by the wayside in recent years with the onslaught of electronic gadgets, text messaging and web identities. For far less than a single $8 movie ticket, family nights can introduce games, puzzles and family-friendly movies kids and parents will likely start looking forward to.

Whether parents and kids are acting out a game of charades, working a 1,000-piece puzzle or enjoying some "bowling" on a Nintendo Wii, Scheffel's Toy Store owner Linda Graham says she's seen an increase in the number of families seeking a "back to basics" approach to time at home.

"It's called turning off the electronic babysitters and start talking with each other and laughing with each other and discovering each other," says Graham.

Opting for a more traditional — and refreshingly non-electronic — rendition of family night, board games are an obvious crowd pleaser, from traditional options like "Scrabble" and "Battleship" to more modern favorites like "Cranium," "Apples to Apples" or "Pokémon."

At her Jacksonville store, which specializes in specialty toys not necessarily adorning shelves at the corner big box, Graham says smaller specialty stores offer harder-to-find childhood favorites and games that are less likely to be pitched each night on blaring commercials.

Her personal favorites for quality and creativity, Graham says, are Ravensburger games and puzzles. For board games, Ravensburger's "Labyrinth," is appealing to a range of ages, from about 10 on up. The game accommodates two to four players who work their way through a maze using various strategies.

"Mexican Train," a domino game for kids as young as kindergarten age, is popular when grandparents are in on family gaming sessions.

For puzzles, laser printed, laser cut versions hold up better than drug store puzzles.

"Usually anywhere from 500 to 1000 piece is most popular for the 10 and older crowd," notes Graham.

"If there are some younger and some older, they even have puzzles that are 380 piece with three different size puzzle pieces so you can have the little guys working on the bigger pieces and the older family members trying the smaller more difficult pieces," she adds.

While electronic games too often take up children's attention, parents can find educational or fitness-based games and get in on the action to relate on a kid's level and encourage fitness.

Nintendo's popular Wii, released last year, encourages physical activity and interaction between players with games like bowling, tennis and boot camp.

Another option, Hasbro's "Family Game Night" brings traditional favorites, like Connect Four, Yahtzee and Battleship to the Wii and Sony's Playstation 2.

Another low-key option, trade a pricey night at the movie theater — with $8 tickets and $7 popcorn — for cheaper popcorn, more comfortable seating and a chance to watch a family movie wearing warm PJs with your feet propped where you please.

With an ever-increasing array of movie options, movies can be found inexpensively with online downloads via pay-per-view options doing away with the need to even leave home for a flick.

Though seemingly intended as collectibles, Astral Games owner Aaron Hassell says families often enjoy card games like Pokémon.

"Pokémon is the best family card game out there. Most kids collect them but you actually can play the card game," he says.

"We hold a league night and there's quite a following. We have 5-year-olds up to 45-year-olds."

Most importantly, find something rated for a range of ages, pop some popcorn and brew some hot chocolate and coffee. It's not so much the games or activities on family night, Graham says, but simply the act of getting together to hang out and be together.

"Know the dynamics of your family, pick age-appropriate stuff and have a ball with your family," she says.

"It's a lot of fun and the options are endless."

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