16 amazing family games to play at home for free


After what seems like the longest winter in living memory, our eagerly anticipated English summer brings plenty of things to be cheerful about. There’s the World Cup, the first BBQ of the season, and the unfailing optimism that this year will finally be the year that we get the heat wave that’s been promised since 1982.

It also brings its own unique set of punishments. Nothing is comparable to the sheer disappointment that we feel upon checking the weather forecast after the first few promising days of May. And lest we forget the hayfever. We’re basically one packet of Clarityn away from being a majority shareholder in Boots and yet we’ve still had to resign ourselves to resembling Snuffaluffagus until at least September.

And, of course, there’s the dreaded school holidays. There is no fate worse than that of a parent trying to amuse bored children all summer long. Like miniature ancient Roman Emperors, they demand to be entertained at all times. And should we fail in our endeavours? Well, let’s just say Emperors have been known to show more empathy.

But fear not parental plebeians, for this year is different. Whether you’re looking for rainy day distractions suitable for indoors, or activities that will keep them occupied in the garden for hours, we have you covered this summer.

We’ve listed 16 games you can play at home for free. And yes, most of them are energy burners. You’re welcome.

1. Obstacle Course

What you’ll need

Everyday household items like chairs, books, tennis balls, buckets, potatoes, and a timer on your phone or watch.

How to play

Set up an indoor obstacle course using your assorted items. Obstacles could include:

  • Walking from one end of the room to the other while balancing a book on their head – if it drops, they start again.

  • Crawling under a row of chairs. For bigger kids, line the chairs up in pairs and drape a sheet over the top and have them tunnel underneath.

  • Throw three tennis balls/rolled up socks into a bucket from a distance (make sure your breakables are out of the way!)

  • Hop on one foot ten times while balancing a potato on a spoon – if it drops, start from the beginning.

  • Make sure you time your kids and when they’ve completed the course, ask them if they want to try and beat their time. They will exhaust themselves trying.

2. Lawn Bowls

What you’ll need

If you have a sunny day, a garden, and a lawn bowls set to hand, you’ll get hours of entertainment out of them. No set? No problem! You can DIY your own makeshift lawn bowls using some tennis, cricket, or even footballs that you have lying around the house. You’ll need a mat too. A welcome mat will do the job or fold a towel to mark the standing spot.

How to play

  • Set the mat up at one of the garden – this is where everyone will bowl from.

  • Pick one of the more obvious balls to be the “jack”. This will be the ball that is rolled down the centre of the garden first and the idea is to get the rest of the balls as close as possible to it.

  • Next, take a ball in your preferred hand and step forward with your opposite foot.

  • Take a small back swing and roll the ball along the ground. The aim of the game is to try and get your ball as close to the jack as possible.

  • You can use your ball to try and knock other players balls out of the way.

  • The winner is the person who gets their ball closest to the jack.

3. Supermarket Shop

What you’ll need

Food items from your kitchen, colouring pencils, paper, a bag for life (teach ‘em while they’re young) and some coins.

How to play

This is another game that you can easily DIY and there is lots of time to be spent preparing to “open”.

  • Ask your child to name their shop and then get them to make a shop front sign using the colouring pencils and paper (that’s a good half hour there alone!)

  • Give them some food items that won’t get be grubbied by small hands – tins, jars, packets, and cereal boxes are all great options for this game. Bananas, potatoes and onions are hardy picks from the fruit and veg family that should be able to withstand a pretend shop or two.

  • Get your child to set up their shop and create labels. If they’re too young to spell, ask them to draw the items instead, and set prices.

  • For extra authenticity, wrap a spare cereal box in tinfoil to be used as a barcode scanner or weighing scales.

  • Shop til you drop, restock, and do it all over again (and try not to baulk when they charge you 3 million pounds for a tin of beans).


4. Great British Bake Off

What you’ll need

Standard baking ingredients, baking equipment (weighing scales, measuring cups, whisk, bowls) food colouring, and sweets or fruit for decoration.

How to play

If you want to turn this into a series, we suggest spraying a whisk with gold paint and creating a trophy that the winner can hold onto until the next week. It adds to the sense of occasion!

  • Give your little bakers an easy recipe to follow – cupcake recipes are usually fairly simple to follow.

  • Tell them there will be extra points for creative decoration and theme.

  • Give them a 2 hour time limit.

  • Put the kettle on.

  • Once time is up, the kids bring their baked goods to the judges table without mum or dad seeing.

  • Cupcakes must be judged on taste and decoration alone (read: you cannot choose your favourite child).

  • Winning baker wins title of Bake Off Champion of the Week and the much coveted golden whisk.

5. Word Puzzles

What you’ll need

Nothing but some imagination.

How to play

Start with the letter A and make your way through the whole alphabet. Ask your kids to name a boys name , girls name place, food, football club, city etc. It can literally go on for hours.


6. Wall Ball

What you’ll need

A wall, a tennis ball, some chalk and maybe some gloves.

How to play

  • Player one bounces the tennis ball once and then hits it towards the wall

  • Player two must let the ball bounce once and then hit it back against the wall before it bounces a second time.

  • Player one repeats this action. And so on and so forth.

  • The first person to miss the ball, let it bounce more than once, or who fails to hit the wall, loses that round. Best of 20 wins.

  • Up the ante by drawing a chalk line on the wall and creating a rule where the ball cannot hit the wall below that line.

7. Indoor Bowling

What you’ll need

Some empty plastic bottles or toilet roll holders, a ball, some paint or markers for decoration.

How to play

Another game that can use up plenty of time through preparation. Get your kids to decorate the “pins” before you play.

  • Set up the pins at one end of the hall or garden. If outside, half fill with water to add some weight.

  • Using a tennis ball or football try and knock down as many pins as you can in one go.

  • Want to add some education to the game? Paint numbers on the pins and task your kids with adding up the numbers on the ones they knock over.

8. Fort Building

What you’ll need

Chairs, sheets, old blankets, cushions, torches, lamps, books, fairy lights, etc.

How to play

Fort building is one of the best things about being a kid. And if you’re a grown-up with time on your hands and desire to escape reality, it can also be the best thing about being an adult.

  • Grab a couple of dining chairs, face them outwards, and drape a sheet over the top. Place the books on top of the sheet on the chairs to prevent your roof from caving in. Structural integrity is very important!

  • Line the inside of your fort with blankets, pillows, and if you can spare them, a couple of sofa cushions.

  • Add some fairy lights, lamps, or torches, to create cosy lighting.

  • Bring snacks, books, and an iPad, into the fort and never leave.

  • Most important rule: don’t let anyone enter the fort unless they know the password.

9. Bingo

What you’ll need

A printer, some paper, scissors, stickers or some markers and prizes (chocolate is always a popular choice).

How to play

Bingo isn’t just for old ladies and drag queens y’know! Bingo is a great rainy day activity and it can be used to help kids learn new numbers, words, shapes or colours. You can download a standard bingo template here or use this one by fiverealmoms.com to make a customised bingo card.

  • Print off the bingo cards and a list of the numbers/words you are planning to use and get a older child to cut them up

  • Explain the rules (found here)

  • Ensure everyone has a marker or set of stickers, a sheet in front of them and designate someone to be the caller. Now, you’re all set. Eyes down!

10. Charades

What you’ll need

A sense of imagination and no shame. And possibly ear plugs. This one gets noisy. Paper and pens come in handy too.

How to play

Charades is a parlour game as old as time itself. Although only usually wheeled out at Christmas to stop Grandad from falling asleep, it’s also a pretty good time filler for when kids are bored and a great way to encourage some dramatic flare.

  • You can either play in teams or do a free for all where one person charades and everyone tries to guess (more chaotic but more fun)

  • Write down ideas to act out on blank pieces of paper.

  • Throw the ideas into a hat and have each child/team pick a piece of paper.

  • Flip a coin to decide who goes first and set a timer for 60 seconds.

  • If someone guesses correctly within the timeframe, they and the person acting out the idea are awarded 1 point each. If no-one guesses, no points are given.

  • Once all the ideas have been used up, tally the scores and announce the winner.


11. Pictionary

What you’ll need

A whiteboard, blackboard or large drawing pad, some pencils or pens, slips of paper for ideas and a bowl or hat to hold them.

How to play

This is best played with 4 or more players so it can be a great to pull out when your kids have their friends over and they’re complaining of being boooooooored.

  • Come up with some ideas of what to draw and write them on slips of paper (make sure you make them age appropriate - for small children, favourite TV characters or nouns like flower are usually simple to illustrate)

  • Once you have all your ideas, fold up the pieces of paper and pop them into the bowl/hat and divide players into two teams

  • Each player on the team takes a turn picking an idea from the bowl and silently drawing it on the board - give a timeframe to guess (30-60 seconds)

  • If their team guesses the word before the time runs out they get a point. Keep going until all ideas are used up and tally the points.

12. Balloon Keepy Uppy

What you’ll need

A balloon and a competitive nature.

How to play

One of the most simple and frustrating games ever invented. I’ve seen grown adults at parties descend into chaos over this one.

  • Can be played indoors or outdoors.

  • Blow up a balloon (don’t use helium - not human breath will suffice!) and get the kids to bat it from one person to another. The object of the game is to never let the balloon touch the ground. The person who drops the balloon loses.

  • Play to best of 10 and watch them exhaust themselves as they run around after the rogue balloon. Worth putting breakables away if playing indoors.

  • Increase the difficulty level for older kids by only allowing them to use their weakest hand to bat or no hands at all.

13. Scavenger Hunt

What you’ll need

A piece of paper, a pen, and a bag for carrying the loot.

How to play

This is a great rainy day activity, although it can also extend outdoors if weather is permitting.

  • Create a list of items that they can find around the house. Keep them occupied for longer by including specifics eg. a pair of green socks, a book with a flower on the cover, or even have them help with annoying chores by getting them find the matching lids to tupperware containers.

  • If it’s only one child playing, set a time limit and see how much they can gather in their allocated time. If it’s two or more, let them compete against each other and see who can collect their items the fastest.

14. Countdown – The Home Version (not quite as badass as Street Countdown)

What you’ll need

Two players, some A5 pieces of paper with individual letters on them (x 3 times alphabet is usually good), blank pieces of paper, pens and a timer (and possibly a dictionary!)

How to play

This one is better for teenagers, older kids, or children who are learning spelling

  • Write out each letter of the alphabet 3 times on the individual pieces of paper

  • Separate into two piles of vowels and consonants

  • Shuffle each pile and set them on the table facing down

  • Take turns picking 9 x letters (a mix from each pile) and laying them out on the table

  • Allow 30 seconds for the players to come up with longest word they can using the letter provided. The player with the longest word, wins the same amount of points as there are letters in the word.


15. Fill Your Bucket

What you’ll need

Some empty buckets, some paper or styrofoam cups, a scissors, and a marker to draw a limit line.

How to play

A great garden game for a sunny afternoon and the water can be used for the plants afterwards. Everyone wins!

  • If playing with one child, set them a time limit. If playing with two or more, set them in competition against each other to fill their bucket first.

  • Set two empty buckets up at the end of the garden and draw a line halfway to the top.

  • At the other end of the garden, fill two buckets with water.

  • Pierce the cups on the bottom with the scissors so there is a small hole in each.

  • Give each child a cup and get them to fill with water from the bucket. They must then race to the empty bucket and the first child to fill to the halfway line, wins.

16. Bonus Car Game: Maintain The Mint

What you’ll need

A packet of polo mints and the ability to feel no guilt when duping your children.

How to play

My parents were pretty savvy when it came to car trips and our incessant bickering/chattering. So, in an attempt to give themselves a few minutes of peace, they would set us up against each other and see who could suck a polo mint the longest while on long car journeys. “Alright, let’s see who can maintain the mint! What? Only 17 minutes?! Here, have another one and see if you can beat that record!” I’m ashamed to say that it took us years to realise what they were doing.

This article was written by Niamh Linehan, whose work has been published by the likes of Slack, Hootsuite, Deliveroo, The Independent, and Business Insider.

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