Let's face it: Family schedules just aren't what they used to be. Kids trickle in each evening from sports practice, scouts or music lessons. Parents work long hours. Family members eat at different times. Computers, texting and television keep us isolated, even in the hours that we're together. Sound familiar? Well, fret not. We've come up with 10 great ideas to get the family off the couch and spending time with each other.
10: Movie Marathon Night
Set this up once and you've got a whole slew of family movie nights ready to roll. Here's how:
- Create a theme. Is it Western flicks, spy movies, Alfred Hitchcock thrillers, classic musicals or family favorites? Create your tickets -- and a ticket booth -- to fit your theme.
- Build a concession stand. A few pieces of cardboard, a handful of Monopoly money and you're ready to start the night right. "Sell" -- with the game dollars -- popcorn, boxed candy and sodas to your family members (many party supply stores now offer movie theater-style popcorn bags for just a few cents each).
- Add some competition to the mix. Have a quick trivia game or history lesson about some aspects of the movie you'll be seeing. Superhero knowledge, facts about special effects, sketches of your favorite characters, these can all make for a fun intro to the flick that include a bit of education, too.
- Play along. Have everyone chose a character and dress like he or she does in the film.
9: Board Games and Cards
Board and card games are the original interactive entertainment, but instead of playing with a computer, your kids will be engaging with you. The classics are always good choices, but there are new games and updated versions of old ones that give great entertainment value while giving kids' eyes a break from video screens. And there are bonuses: These games mix in some free lessons with the fun. Board games help kids develop strategy (Battleship and Checkers), spelling and vocabulary (Scrabble, Boggle and Bethump'd with Words) and money skills (Monopoly or Payday). Card games such as Cribbage teach math skills, while Euchre, Rook and Spades teach how to work with a partner. And unlike a computer, board and card games are great for camping and when the power goes out.
8: Campfire Cookout
Let everyone show off their scouting skills with a campfire cookout. The first step, of course, is making a crackling campfire. Will you use a teepee or stack configuration? If you've got a Cub Scout or Brownie in your family, have the kid (with adult supervision) build the fire to test his or her skills. While the fire burns down for cooking, everyone can whittle their own stick to make kabobs. Wrap some ears of corn in heavy foil to cook over the coals, and then thread chunks of meat, sweet peppers, onions and pineapple on the sticks to roast.
For dessert, scoop the middle out of bananas and fill the canals with chocolate chips, mini marshmallows, shredded coconut or other morsels to make banana boats -- or stick with the traditional yet always-delicious s'mores.
Wrap up the evening with your favorite campfire songs and ghost stories told by firelight.
7: Arts and Crafts
Take a break from television for some creative family crafting. Spread newspaper or cardboard over the kitchen table and, voilà, you've got a craft room! Pick a project and assemble a kit for everyone. Ideas include:
- Creating birdhouses from recycled material
- Making holiday ornaments
- Decorating aprons, T-shirts or other apparel
- Designing wearable art
Or let each person bring his or her own hobby to the table. You can admire each others' talents and progress, or teach and learn new skills. Just think how much confidence your child will gain from teaching Mom and Dad or his or her siblings how to do something!
6: Formal Night
Nice restaurants are expensive, but you can still enjoy a special night "out" by recreating a restaurant environment at home. Here's how:
- Prepare (or buy) a special meal.
- Set the table with a cloth, nice dishes, candles and a centerpiece.
- Have everyone dress up.
- Play some celebratory music.
Formal nights are fun and exciting. Plus, they're a painless way to teach and practice good social manners and etiquette. Be sure to keep the rest of the schedule clear on formal night; this isn't just a meal. Take the time to linger over the food and the atmosphere and enjoy conversations that engage the whole family. Before the evening ends, give each person a chance to share an accomplishment or goal, and raise a toast to everyone's health and good fortune.
5: Reading Night
Reading aloud isn't just for little kids. Older kids enjoy this time together, too. Cuddle up on the sofa and read a great story aloud. Let your inner actor out, using different voices and pacing to build tension. The idea is for parents to read to their kids, but if your children have a dramatic streak, offer up the honors to them for a section or two. Some recommendations include:
- The "Little House" books by Laura Ingalls Wilder
- The "Alex Rider" series by Anthony Horowitz
- "Quest for a Maid" by Frances Mary Hendry (great for practicing your Scottish accent)
- "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien
- "Where the Red Fern Grows" by Wilson Rawls
- "Alice in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll
These selections will appeal to both boys and girls and will keep kids of all ages -- and parents -- engaged.
4: Trivia Night
If you pool the collective knowledge of your family members, you'll find a wide variety of subject matter experts. Why not put this collection of smarts to work for fun and prizes? Many restaurants and coffee shops in towns of all sizes host team trivia nights on a weekly basis. For a moderate food or drink purchase, you can pit your family's minds against other teams. So come up with a catchy name for your group and head out to a local trivia challenge to match wits with other collectors of facts. You'll have a ton of fun working together as a team, and you might even win a prize.
3: Experience the Night
The night isn't a quiet place. Bring some lawn chairs out in the yard and gather your family as the sun goes down. Listen to the different animals -- birds, bugs, bats and amphibians -- that liven up the dark. Using a nature guide for your area, see how many different critters you can identify by sight or sound. When it gets totally dark, turn on a porch light and stand back as moths flock to it. Use a digital camera to capture images of the different types of flying bugs that show up. Then use The University of Georgia's Discover Life tool to identify your moths. The mapping feature will let you see where else around the world they live.
If your family gets really engrossed in night life, consider pitching a tent for a backyard campout.
2: Make a Home Movie
Whether your entertainment tastes trend toward drama or comedy, you're likely to get both in the making of a home movie. Give your kids some options: They can act out skits, show off skills, do a comedy routine, sing dance or showcase other talents. Let them make costumes and props for their appearances. Give everyone a chance to have a turn or two in front of and behind the camera as actor, videographer and director.
When the film is a wrap, roll out a red carpet for the stars to walk on as they parade into the premier viewing of their blockbuster movie. Don't forget to have some "bubbly" (sparkling cider) and hors d'oeuvres to snack on between laughs.
1: Cooking Competition
This fun family activity has some practical aspects: It gets dinner on the table and builds cooking skills for the whole family. To get started, assign or have everyone choose a meal element (salad, main dish, bread, sides, or appetizers). The person in charge of the dish has complete control over preparing (parents can still supervise young kids) and serving it. Have the family judge the appearance and taste of each food. At the end of the meal, award prizes for best presentation, best effort, most creative, most likely to be requested again or other fun categories. Then you can move to the main event: the bake-off!
For this part of the evening, prepare a box cake mix and divide the batter between family members. Everyone adds their own secret ingredients to their portion. Bake the enhanced cakes in mini cake pans or a muffin pan. After the cakes cool, hold a decorating party. Offer up frosting, tubes of icing, fruit, nuts and candy toppings. If you're using white frosting, put out some food coloring, too. Vote on which cake looks best and which tastes best.
Family fun nights help bond the family together and build happy memories that last. Give these 10 a try, and in the process, create a few of your own variations for having fun with the Mom, Dad, Sister and Brother.
Lots More Information
- 10 Campfire Cooking Favorites
- 10 Family Bonding Activities
- How to Care for Home Movies
- How to Make a Recycled Bird House
- How to Set Up a Backyard Campout
- Wearable Art Crafts for Kids
- Boyse, Kyla, RN. "Reading, Literacy and Your Child." YourChild Development & Behavior Resources. University of Michigan Health System. October 2010. (Dec. 29, 2011) http://www.med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics/reading.htm
- Shedd, Meagan K. and Nell K. Duke. "The Power of Planning: Developing Effective Read-Alouds." Beyond the Journal. National Association for the Education of Young Children. November 2008. (Dec. 29, 2011) http://www.naeyc.org/files/yc/file/200811/BTJReadingAloud.pdf
- Symonds, William C. "Hasbro Has Kids Hopping." Bloomberg Businessweek. Aug. 15, 2005. (Dec. 27, 2011) http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/05_33/b3947119.htm