10 Ways To Have More Fun With Your Kids
Think back: What are your best childhood memories? If you’re like most people, your answer probably includes hours spent having fun with your family. Maybe it was playing cards with your grandma, racing Matchbox cars with your brother, or playing tennis with your dad. Possibly, it was something as simple as going for a walk with your mom and stopping at the playground for 30 minutes.
Now think about how much time you spend having fun with your own children. Don’t feel bad if the answer won’t win you a Parent of the Year award — between work and school and just keeping the kids alive, finding time to have fun isn’t a top priority for most parents. But many child psychology experts suggest that it should be.
“Play is both a catalyst and context for learning,” Dr. Ann Barbour, a professor of early childhood education at California State University, Los Angeles, writes in her advice column for PBS’s online parenting site. “Through play, children make sense of their experiences, and express their ideas and emotions. Play helps them develop and practice skills underlying success in school and beyond: self-control, working memory, cognitive flexibility, persistence, and following rules among others. Playing with others also helps children build relationships.”
Of course, playing with your 4-year-old is going to look a lot different than having fun with your 17-year-old, but the idea is the same — you are teaching your children that taking time to enjoy life, to laugh a little and to have fun is just as important as studying all night for that math test or keeping their room tidy and organized. And, in the process, you’re helping your kids (and yourself) shake away life’s stresses and create some good, long-lasting childhood memories.
Below are 10 easy, low-cost ways to have more fun with your kids, no matter what their age:
Toddlers & Preschoolers (Ages 2-4)
Take a color walk: Little kids love to go outside, but taking a quick walk around the block with a curious 3-year-old who wants to stop and examine each and every leaf/rock/insect on the ground can take half the day. Here’s a creative way to get outside, take a walk and be back before midnight — before you start your walk, determine which color is the color of the day. Let’s say you pick the color red. (Don’t pick green. Just trust me on this one.) You and your child must find all of the red things along your walk. When you get home, you can go about your adult tasks while he or she draws three of the red things you discovered on your color walk.
Have a dance party: The beauty of toddlers and preschoolers is that they are totally shameless when it comes to shaking their groove thing or belting out songs. They don’t care who’s watching. In fact, they’ll probably dance faster and sing louder as their audience increases. Only have 20 minutes in between making dinner and helping your older kids get their homework finished? Throw on some good tunes — They Might Be Giants and Captain Bogg & Salty are excellent choices as the kids love the music and parents won’t want to rip their eardrums out after hearing that song for the thousandth time — clear a space in the living room and shake it like a Polaroid picture. Be loud. Be wiggly. Giggle a lot. And every now and then, pick your kid up and dance like there’s no tomorrow. Bonus: You just got an extra cardio workout!
Build your own bear (or unicatypus): Judging from the financial success of the Build-a-Bear franchise, there must be something magical, especially for preschoolers, about watching a floppy animal shell come to life with a bit of fluffy stuffing and a plastic heart. Don’t have the time or money to hit up the closest Build-a-Bear Workshop? Recreate it at home! Prepare for this activity a few days in advance by taking your child to a thrift shop and looking for a few stuffed animals that don’t have mystery stains on their fur. Take them home, wash those suckers until you’re sure they aren’t infested with something bad and then rip ’em open at the seams. Oh, yeah, you may want to buy some wool batting to re-stuff your animals. Let your child decide what their new creation is going to be. Maybe she’ll want to simply re-stuff a bear or a dog, but maybe she’ll go wild and want to put a cat’s head with a unicorn horn on a platypus body — thus creating the mythical Unicatypus. If you want to be even more low-tech, you can sew your own creations using felt, like these awesome creatures.
School-Aged (Ages 6-9)
Let them lead: This is the perfect thing to do with your kids on a weekend day, when you’re not feeling rushed and the rules are simple — they lead, you follow, but you must leave the house and no driving allowed. Depending on where you live, this could be a walk to the park and a few hours of swing and slide time or maybe a trip to the zoo via public transportation. The kids get to decide the itinerary. One parent who recently tried this reported that his 6-year-old daughter wanted to walk around their neighborhood in Portland, Oregon, and just wander through the shops. They walked for three hours, ate lunch at a local pizza parlor, found a comic book shop, listened to street musicians for a while and found a nearby paint-your-own ceramics shop, where they each painted a gnome for the family’s garden.
Build something cool: Whether it’s as simple as a pillow fort or as complicated as a two-story tree house, building with your school-aged kids is fun, creative and helps them get in touch with their inner engineers. Building birdhouses is popular with older elementary students. One parent who tried this says she and her son now spend hours trying to identify the various types of birds that have come to dine and socialize at the three birdhouses they built for their eastern Pennsylvania backyard.
Go old school: This is the perfect age for teaching your kids all about the games and activities you enjoyed as a child. Get a piece of string and teach them how to make Jacob’s Ladder or the Cat’s Cradle. Don’t remember? Here’s a primer. Or how about a good, old-fashioned game of hopscotch? All it takes is a couple rocks and a piece of chalk. Oh, and some awesome balance skills. Can’t remember the rules for that one, either? Here you go. Other options include: Card games such as Go Fish, War and Crazy Eights; classic board games like Chutes and Ladders, Parcheesi and Monopoly; shooting marbles, playing pick-up sticks and playing hide-and-go-seek. Just keep it simple and the joy of these old-school games will help you feel like a kid again.
’Tweens (Ages 10-12)
From market to table: Cooking with your pre-teen kid can be fun and instructional, but to really have a good time, take it a couple steps further. Start the adventure with a trip to the library. Let your ’tween peruse the various cookbooks and pick out appetizer, main course and dessert recipes. Then head to the market with your pre-teen and let them pick out the best produce and ingredients for your meal. Once you’ve gathered your ingredients, set the mood by putting on music that you both enjoy. If you enjoy a glass of wine while you’re cooking, pour a glass of bubbly water with juice into a wine glass for your pre-teen. Don a couple cooking aprons and work together to make the family’s meal. If you have younger kids, they can help out by setting the table and grabbing ingredients from the fridge. While you’re cooking, talk about your favorite meals growing up and ask your ’tween which meals they remember from their not-so-distant childhood. You may even want to make this shared-meal a weekly ritual.
Have a spa day: This one isn’t just for girls and it doesn’t mean spending a fortune at a real spa. Pre-teens are figuring out their bodies and dealing with hormonal changes and starting to care about how they look, so this is a perfect time to teach them how to care for their skin and hair and nails at home — and have fun doing it. Some ideas for spa day: Fill two big bowls with warm-to-hot water, Epsom salts and an invigorating herb like fresh rosemary or a soothing herb like lavender. Put on face masks (here are some suggestions for DIY face masks from Whole Living magazine), sit down with your favorite magazines or books, play soothing music and soak your feet for about 15 minutes. Try reflexology, pedicures, manicures or hair masks. Remember that boys need to feel good about their bodies, too, and that they can use a little pampering just as much as the girls. Here are a few “manly” recipes for your spa day:
Teens (Ages 13-18)
Travel together: The teen years are an ideal time to introduce your child to the wonders of the world — or just your home state. Start small, with a weekend road trip to a destination less than 50 miles from home. Maybe make this a monthly event and take turns picking the day-trip spot. Or, go a bit bolder and plan a 3-day getaway with your teen to a nearby big city or (if you live in a big city) to an outdoor wonderland. One parent who takes regular trips with her two teenaged daughters says she plans month in advance and uses sites like Airbnb.com, where she can rent an entire apartment or home for half the cost of a regular hotel. Planning your trip months in advance also helps build excitement for your teenager. Lonely Planet, the go-to travel guide for adventurous travelers, recommends that parents traveling with teens force their children to leave the electronic gadgets at home, and don’t push too much adventure into one trip.
Learn a new skill: Your baby is on the threshold of becoming an adult, so why not help them pick up a few new skills before they leave the nest? In fact, why not learn something new together? Sit down with your teen and make a list of 10 things you each would like to learn. Anything goes — from archery to scuba diving to learning to tango. Then, see if any of your items are the same or even sort-of-kind-of similar. Finding a class you can afford, that is offered at a convenient time and location, and that you and your teen can agree on may be tough. If you can’t come to a consensus, maybe you can take one for the team and go with your teen’s suggestion. (Unless it’s a skill best left to the under-30 crowd like Parkour or skateboarding. Then you’d better just flip a coin.)
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