6 games for kids that you can play on FaceTime or Zoom

It’s tricky to have a playdate when you can’t be close enough to actually play.

During the height of coronavirus restrictions, roughly 316 million Americans– nearly 95% of the population – had been ordered to stay inside in order to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Now, even with some states slowly reopening, schools remain closed and gatherings are still banned in most places, and kids are cut off from one another — and bored. They’re also separated from grandparents and other high-risk loved ones because social distancingis one of the few tools available to slow the spread COVID-19. To fill the gap in socialization, some families have turned to video chat services like FaceTime or Zoomto stay in touch. (Though, given some privacy concerns about Zoom, you might want to try something else, like Jitsi Meet.)

While the technology works, there’s the question of what to, you know, doon those calls, especially for young kids. Adults, teens, and older kids may be up for a group Netflix party, but being present over a service like FaceTime is a skill like any other, and it won’t come naturally, especially for kids in pre-K or kindergarten. These younger children won’t have the patience for it, or the conversational skills or attention span to just sit and talk. They’ll also need to understand where the camera is and how to work with it.

Compared to actual playdates, virtual ones need much more hands-on supervision from parents to keep things running smoothly. But they're still a nice break in the day and a fun opportunity to see friends and family. In these times, it’s better than nothing.

To get you started, here are six games that work over FaceTime or Zoom.

1. Rock, Paper, Scissors

It’s a classic for a reason. You count off "rock, paper, scissors, shoot!" (you always choose on "shoot!") and then make one of the three choices with your fingers. Victory is visual: Paper covers rock; rock bashes scissors; scissors cuts paper.

Even preschoolers can get the hang of it, and it needs no special equipment: Kids just have to make sure to keep their hands in front of the camera. They’ll miss out on the tactile satisfaction of bonking their opponent when they win, but it’s good for some laughs.

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2. Yahtzee

This dice game is a little more involved, but the payoff is larger as well. On each turn, a player has three chances to roll five dice into one of the combinations laid out on the scorecard, such as a straight, three of a kind, or a given number like twos. Since you have to commit to taking a score line at the end of each turn, it’s important to be strategic when your attempt at a full house ends with three ones to show for it. Yahtzee is entertaining enough for adults to play and kids who are too young to understand the strategy can play on an adult’s team and still enjoy getting to roll the dice.

Kids can identify which numbers they've rolled and sort the dice into groups. If you don’t have score cards, they’re easy to orderor write yourself. If you don’t have Yahtzee (we didn’t), you can commandeer dice from other games you dohave in order to get five of them.

3. Guess Who

In Guess Who, two players each draw one card from a deck of options. all of which are replicated on a tray for each player. Each player keeps their drawn person a secret and tries to guess the person on their opponent's card by taking turns asking yes/no questions. They use that information to eliminate options, flipping down the people on their tray to keep track.

This success of this game depends on having two of exactly the same set, so if a grandparent has the older version and you have the new one, it won’t work, because the pools of people aren't the same. But if they've got versions that match, kids can quiz each other on the descriptions of their respective characters and eventually try to guess the other's person. If you're trying to impart some homeschool lessons, there are some basic probability concepts lurking in Guess Who as you try to pick characteristics – brown hair, hats, accessories – that will help you eliminate the most options per turn. Just beware that it’s possible to have picked the same person out of the card pile!

4. Battleship

Battleship, the classic game in which you try to sink your opponent’s fleet, is another one that depends on the exchange of information rather than actual pieces. Players arrange plastic ships on a grid board, and take turns calling out coordinates to attempt to torpedo their opponent’s ships. Since you don’t see your opponent’s game board when you're playing in person, having the games set up in different houses doesn’t matter. Like Guess Who, you don’t need to replicate the full setup in both places, and you can mostly play normally.

5. Other board games: Candy Land, Chutes & Ladders

If you’re willing to replicate the game on both sides of the call, you can hack a game of Candy Land or Chutes and Ladders over a FaceTime or Zoom. Someone will need to move the pieces for the remote players, but it’s doable, since you don’t need to trade cards back and forth. Because of this, it will work better for an older kid with some parental help, at which point the child might have aged out of the game anyway. If you want to try it with a younger child, it’s best to do on a FaceTime with another adult, like a grandparent, who can pretend to play from afar.

6. 20 Questionsor some version of Charades

These types of question games don't require any equipment, so they're accessible to almost anyone and can be played with a variety of groups or ages. If you’re going to play with a preschooler or kindergartener, try fencing in the game to make it easier to play. Pick a smaller category of items to choose from, such as animals, instruments, or superheroes. For example, “Guess which animal I’m being?” will work better than full-on charades, in which a person impersonates something they've drawn from a hat. A version of “20 Questions” limited to movies or TV shows the kids watch (or animals again, it’s always animals) will also work and can help them start to understand the concept of using the questions to narrow in on an answer. Let the child go first and model how to play with your questions: “Is it a superhero movie?” “Are there princesses?” and then get more specific as you go.

These are strange and stressful times we’re all living in, and we’re all adjusting as best we can to the “for now” normal. A little prep can help a child enjoy time with a friend, which is something we all need.

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