Disconnecting to Connect

Published on March 15, 2020 - Updated on April 23, 2020

Turning Necessary Downtime Into Productive Playtime

I grew up in a family that prioritizes games during our time together. Blessed with a home away from home designed to put housework aside (the orange curtains went unchanged from the ’70s through 2015), we descended on the house and nestled in with the shared vision of putting the pressures of life aside and spending quality time together. My parents and grandparents nurtured healthy competition and laughter, always, but especially during our time in Vermont. 

Somehow, my dad was the only one who “knew” how to adjust the settings on the ancient tv so we could catch the game. In truth, we just accepted that the tv was only available for very specific reasons: football games, The Olympics, SNL and an occasional episode of David Letterman. Using the internet was frowned upon, (it remained dial-up for as long as that was even possible), and our phones were constantly searching for service, so we only powered up en route to the slopes. 

Every minute we weren’t hiking, skiing, sledding or building forts, we were playing games, and NOT the electronic variety. Card games, board games, dart games, puzzles - you name it. We had two card tables set up at all times. Once the wood was stocked, bags were unpacked and groceries put away, someone would start a puzzle with the hope that together we could complete it by the end of the trip. 

Around that time you’d hear the sound of cards shuffling, and like moths to a flame one by one the seats would fill at the second table and we’d have a four-person game of solitaire underway. Others joined in on the puzzle, played darts, backgammon or any number of other games on the wall of shelves. Games were such a part of our daily experience that they were visible and easily accessible rather than tucked out of sight, and even the neatest of us wasn’t bothered in the least.

Since disconnecting is so much more difficult to get away within recent years, I often long for that house and it’s unique culture. My goal has always been to establish similar memories of unplugging for our own children. As our society leans toward sanctioned social distancing as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the perpetual optimism my family teases me about enables me to hope that at least the downtime encourages us to further establish this value system in our own households.

By design, we are a family on the go! Being out and moving are top priorities for us, and while I don’t expect to stop hiking and wandering in nature, life calls for fewer scheduled engagements in the coming weeks and potentially months. Hopefully, we can use this time wisely, participate in more free play instead of more screen time, and create a new normal in our homes. Perhaps before too long the sound of a deck of cards shuffling will bring us like moths to the flame once again. 

My number one suggestion to get your children to consider games before screens is to start them early, especially with cards. Playing cards serves so many educational purposes, counting, sorting, strategy, but also, they will graduate to higher level games earlier (the ones you’ll enjoy more). No matter what age they start though, it will be rewarding fun. Also, with early exposure to a love for games, they may develop lifelong outlets for brain stimulation and socialization.

In our home, people were constantly introducing new games, and while some caught on, we knew pretty quickly which ones wouldn’t stick.  We’ve narrowed it down to those with the highest average playtime by age group and here they are, so GET PLAYING!!!


Ages 3 - 6

  • Go Fish
  • Crazy Eights
  • Old Maid
  • Memory (preselect a set of matches based on age)
  • Spot It Jr!

Card Games Littles.jpg

Ages 7-11

Uno 2.jpg

Ages 12+

  • Hearts
  • Spades
  • Rummy
  • Poker
  • Bridge

Board Games

Ages 3 - 6


Ages 7-11

Lite Brite 2.jpg

Ages 12+


Please check out the blog for more inspiration from a list of March Weeknight Meals, Convenient Washington DC Cherry Blossom Stroller Runs, or declutter your home with 100 Things: A Rewarding And Fun Family Activity.

Take a moment to explore suggestions from the happyly team aboutKeeping Kids Active while Protecting Them, Yourself and the Community from the Coronavirus as well as our Daily Schedule For Pre-School and Grade School. As always, we welcome your family's highlights! Tag us on Instagram @gethappyly!

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Thoughtfully captured by:
Randi Banks
Randi (Betts) Banks grew up in New York and graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. She moved to Washington, D.C. more than thirteen years ago with her husband, Eaghmon, and they love to explore the area and seek out adventure, now with their two young children along for the ride. Growing up right near the beach, they are happiest when on or near the water, so exploring the rivers, lakes, and streams in the greater DC area is a favorite pastime for their family. In addition to serving as one of the Washington, DC area ambassadors, Randi is also the Editor in Chief and Co-founder of happyly.
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