Friday, November 03, 2023

Play Together this Thanksgiving!

Family Activity Ideas from Laura Haver

Game #1: Smile Contest
Duration: 5+ minutes

A couple years ago when people were just starting to get together again in person for the holidays, I began thinking about a fun, easy way to help others connect as many had been a little out of practice. I couldn't think of an easier way than smiling.

How to Play: Have two players stand face to face. Then on the count of three, have each player smile at each other and look into each other’s eyes. The first person to laugh, look away or stop smiling is out. You can play your Smile Contest as a one-time challenge or a mini tournament. You can play it last man standing style or, as always, you can set it up however you’d like. Whatever way you choose, I do recommend that you keep the focus centered around smiling, laughing and connecting (rather than on competing).

In addition to smiling, I also like how this game gets people to look directly at each other. Like smiling, eye contact is another great skill that people of all ages can use to build connection and rapport. And with all the distractions these days, I love creating fun games where players can practice and build these valuable skills, often without even noticing it, as they play.

Game #2: Thanksgiving Journal
Duration: 10+ minutes

This activity has been a family favorite since before my boys could even write. I love how it is an annual record of all the things we are most grateful for. Not only does it get everyone thinking about what they are currently grateful for, it also becomes fun to look back on old entries. It’s also cool as the actual journal itself then becomes a precious keepsake, as it documents a slice of your family’s history, hand-written by each person.

How to Play: Get a new journal (or some paper) and invite each person at your gathering to write down one or more things they’ve been grateful for over the past year. To keep it playful, people can write (and read) as little or as much as they’d like. You can also use it as a way to open up conversations on gratitude. Ideally, I recommend dedicating a new journal as your annual Thanksgiving Journal. Of course, feel free to use whatever you've got. For example, if you don't have a journal, you can use paper and save them in a folder, or you can each write on small slips of paper and store them in a mason jar. The key is to look for things that you are grateful for, write them down and share about it together.

On Thanksgiving Day, I place our Thanksgiving Journal on the coffee table. Since we’ve been doing it for years, everyone leisurely fills in their entries throughout the day. When the kids were younger though, I would ask them what they were grateful for and then I'd fill it in for them. They could also draw in their own pictures. Now everyone thinks it’s a kick to go back and look at their funny drawings and see how their handwriting changed over the years! Once the holiday is over, I store our journal with our decorations as it's a handy way to keep track of it and it helps me remember to pull it out in time each year.

Interested in more fun activities and games for your family this holiday season? Check out my new book, Play Together: Games & Activities for the Whole Family to Boost Creativity, Connection & Mindfulnessfor over 60 screen-free, entertaining and educational games. Visit to learn more. Wishing you and yours a playful and smile-filled holiday season!

About the Author

Laura Haver 
is a play, happiness and communication expert, author, speaker and life design coach. She has helped hundreds of individuals and families to experience more play, growth and inspiration in their lives. Laura is the founder of Author Moms (a community that connects, supports and inspires fellow writing moms) and Alchemy of Fun (a community for busy women who want to bring more fun, fulfillment and magic into their lives). She has been featured on the Today Show, CBS, Fox and more. She has over 25 years coaching experience in leadership, life design and tennis (for both children and adults). Laura lives in San Diego with her husband and two sons. Visit for more information.

Praise for Play Together

“...a gift for families looking to add more joy and connection to their lives.” —Marci Shimoff, New York Times bestselling author

“ inspired collection of games, harnessing the power of play to help families have more fun while also building important life skills.” —Matt Weinstein, founder of Playfair, Inc., bestselling author and dubbed “The Master of Playfulness” by PEOPLE Magazine

“...a must for any parent looking for more meaningful and joyful connections with the children in their lives.” —Kasey Mathews, transformational life coach and author ofPreemie: Lessons in Love, Life and Motherhood
“...a must-have book for any adult wanting to nourish one of the greatest gifts of childhood—play.” —Cheryl Peterson, Ph.D., instructor and author of IDEAS andBecause of 4
“ exciting and inspiring book that is a fantastic tool, guiding adults to think outside the box about how we engage in quality fun with our kids.” —Erica Spiegelman, counselor and author of Rewired and The Rewired Life
“I love that Play Together focuses on simple activities with materials you likely already have at home, and that the activities don't require a ton of adult preparation.” —Alanna Gallo, founder of Play. Learn. Thrive.

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