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I had a friend who prepared to shelter in place during Hurricane Irma. He had the basics, and was able to stay safe during the storm with only minor damage to his home’s exterior. The first thing he told me when I was able to get in contact with him again was simply to express how thankful he was to have something to keep him busy during the downtime. He was loathe to use his limited capacity generator for “unnecessary” things like watching movies, but he felt like he absolutely had to, or else he might drive his kids and himself crazy.
Water is essential in an emergency. Food is slightly less essential, but essential nonetheless. But what most people overlooks is the less essential, but yet totally human needs for entertainment, social interaction and togetherness. Finding stuff to do during a power outage or long-term disaster is tough. In a typical outage, you could head to the movie theater, the mall, or a restaurant, but when you’re stuck at home with no electricity, what could you do?
Here are some options for easy ways to keep your family entertained during any kind of power outage or emergency.
Get a bunch of candles, find a good book and a comfortable chair, and go to town. This is the ideal form of entertainment for someone who is stuck alone, but it can be fun for groups too. Having a collection of books at home (note: real, actual books, not ebooks or audiobooks), is something that I consider essential. I always keep at least three or four books that I haven’t read, just in case, and I keep a wide variety of styles in case I find that I just can’t get into a murder mystery or a nonfiction book. Keeping short story collections on hand is also a great alternative to sprawling novels, and a few of the “Chicken Soup” story collections may be a good option for uplifting literature during a frightening time.
You’ll see that the focus of the rest of my list of activities concentrates on games, and that’s for good reason. During a power outage or emergency, your options are going to be strictly limited in terms of what you’ll have access to, both phyiscally and mentally. While I generally believe that books are one of the best forms of entertainment available, if your family is in crisis, they may not have the attention span necessary to invest in a good story. Also, it may be difficult for individuals with poor eyesight to read by candlelight.
For families, finding a set of old Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books is about as fun of a reading activity as you can get. In these novels, you follow a set of characters, read a small portion of their adventure, and then you choose one of a small number of potential paths that they can follow. Narrating this to your youngsters and then guiding the discussion and helping them choose a single action together is a very fun way to pass the time and to build memories. The old 1980’s versions I grew up with are tremendous, but they still make newer versions of these classics, and you can purchase them in sets on Amazon.
Just entertaining adults, or teens who are “too cool” for something like that? Get a “board game” that is really a book called “Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective”. This is a set of two-to-three hour adventures that are similar to the Chose Your Own Adventure books, but much more open-ended. You’ll solve a murder mystery following along with Sherlock’s trainees, and it’s complex enough that you’ll need to take notes and do some serious research into the short passages you’ll read. There are ten cases in this box, and each is really quite a spectacular family night, again with no electricity required, just a pencil, paper, and some serious brain power.
Books are not the only source of some good, old-fashioned togetherness time. Board games appropriate for the age ranges of the people in your family are an essential part of entertainment preparedness. If you’re sick of the traditional Monopoly or Uno games, take a walk down the toy aisles of of a large retailer and get something more advanced if your family could handle it. There are some excellent conversation starters in the form of trivia or social board games, or a more strategic game if you prefer that. Pandemic is a cooperative game that is easy to play, and requires that players work together to find cures for four separate diseases that are taking over the planet. Sherriff of Nottingham is a social game that works like quite a bit like Poker. A good dice rolling game like Can’t Stop or Liar’s Dice provide a lot of tension. Playing the game, in most cases, should be secondary to the social element of getting your family talking and interacting.
What happens when the candles run out? You’ll need to find some activities that you can do without any supplies, and one option you could try are role-playing games. This will not be fun for every group, but it’s hard to imagine another activity you could do for hours on end with nothing but other family members and some imagination. Hard-core Role Playing Games (RPG) like Dungeons & Dragons, Eclipse or Pathfinder, likely require a little more in terms of research, writing and preparation, but there are thousands of free or low cost RPGs that are more suitable to new players. My personal favorite is a free game called “Lady Blackbird” that would be a good place for families to start. An RPG is a less traditional gaming option, but one that can go far beyond what a board game or book can offer, and maybe something that can keep your family going during a tough day spent inside.
Honorable mention activities go to things like Jigsaw puzzles, models, or creative crafting kits, but these are not usually fantastic alternatives. They may be difficult to see, require tools or glues, make a mess, or be a one-time-use only type of situation. It may be a good idea to grab these if you see them at a garage sale, but I’d focus on more permanent assets with long-term benefit.
No matter what you choose, stocking some fun items in with your emergency supplies is a way to handle some of the more human emotional reactions to a crisis situation, and one that should not go ignored in your prepping. Make every situation a learning and bonding experience!