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How to Play Charades

Unplugging the Kids...

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Tom playing Charades
Scott/skippy/flickr.com Creative Commons License

Looking for fun ways to keep your kids from getting bored on family trips? For starters, introduce your kids to classic car games such as I Spy, I'm Going on a Picnic and The Name Game. There are also many fabulous travel toys and activities that are portable and easy to take along on your trips.

Here's a fun option if you're at a lakeside cottage or a cabin in the snow and you want a fun unplugged group game.

How to Play Charades
This game is ideal for family get-togethers: a "Charades Party" at Christmastime, for example, can include every generation of the family. Keep the rules simple when you play with kids! With a bit of help, even kids as young as three can play.

Equipment: all that's needed is a watch or clock that counts seconds, although competitive types will want a real stopwatch.

Rules and Tips
Basically, the game of Charades is pantomime: acting out a word or phrase without speaking. For example, "football" could be broken down into "foot" and "ball." "Softball" might be more interesting.

Charades can be played with any type of word or phrase, but with kids you may find that movie titles work best. Most kids are familiar with many simple movie titles such as Sleeping Beauty or The Lion King. And even the youngest can act out Pinocchio!

Usually Charades is played by two competing teams in a race against time. On each turn, a single player acts out a phrase in front of his/her team-mates, and a stopwatch is used to track the time, with a maximum of two (or three) minutes for each turn. The team with the least amount of total minutes and seconds wins. When playing with young kids, however, you might want to skip the stopwatch and the competitive element.

Getting Started
There are variations of how to play, but here's one format:

  • Divide into teams, and move into separate rooms.
  • Think of a bunch of titles to be acted out, and write each title on a separate slip of paper.
  • These slips of paper will be given to the opposite team.
  • Write a player's name on each slip of paper, and make sure that young kids get easy titles to act out.
When pantomiming:
  • First, indicate to your team whether you're going to mime the title of a movie, book, or TV show (see below).
  • Next, indicate how many words are in the title by holding up that number of fingers.
  • Next, indicate which word you want to start acting; hold up three fingers for "Third Word", and so on.
Then: start acting silly!

Tricks of the Trade
  • To indicate a movie, pretend to crank an old-fashioned movie camera. To indicate a book, pretend to be reading. For a TV show, draw a square in the air to represent a television screen.
  • To divide the word into syllables: lay down x number of fingers on your forearm (where x is the number of syllables.) To begin acting out the first syllable, lay down one finger on your arm and proceed. Repeat for the next syllable, or jump to the third or fourth syllable, laying down the right number of fingers each time.
  • When someone calls out a correct word: point at that person and nod your head to indicate "yes!" Traditionally, the actor touches his/her nose, meaning "on the nose", but you need to make sure that all players understand that gesture!
  • "Sounds like": cup your hand around your ear.
  • "Little word": bring your thumb and index fingers close together. The people guessing should now call out every little word that comes to mind ("on", "in", "the", "and," etc.) until you gesticulate wildly to indicate the right word.
  • "Longer version of the word": pretend to stretch an elastic band.
  • "Shorter version of the word": chop with your hand.
  • "Close, keep guessing!": frantically wave hands to keep the guesses coming.
  • "Whole phrase at once": sweep your arms in a big circle to indicate "whole thing."
  • Past tense: wave your hand downwards behind your back.
A few Charades Tips
Often, in the hubbub as a team calls out its guesses, someone does say the correct word but the actor doesn't notice. So speak your guesses loudly, clearly, and repeatedly.

Some players use additional gestures; for example, there's a way to indicate a letter of the alphabet. Just make sure that everyone playing understands these less-known gestures! (See many more gestures.)

The Good Old Days
Charades reportedly dates back to 16th century France and was later taken up in England, though in early days its form was different, and more like a riddle or conundrum. (See some examples from Jane Austen's novels.) Ah well, people surely had more time to be erudite and witty, back then.

Still, it's nice to participate in a fine old tradition of Parlor Games. No doubt Scrooge and the Cratchits played charades at Christmastime, once Ebenezer's heart was saved.
Related Video
How to Play Charades

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