Do you think your son/daughter will talk excitedly about going home for the holidays — maybe introducing a “special” friend to you for the first time or bringing the grandkids over for quality time with the grandparents?
Or… will they be griping about how they could not get out of the family get together obligation, and can’t wait for it to be done with?
20 years from now, you can’t do much to change the situation. If you want to make sure it’s the first scenario, the time to do something about it is now.
Home and Family… by themselves, these have no special draw. It’s the warmth that we associate with these things that make them special. So, this week, let’s focus on some simple family bonding activities. Here is a comprehensive list – pick 2-3 new ways that you can try out with your family right away.
OK, here we go –
1. Eat dinner together as a family.
If there is just one change you can make at this time, you may want to prioritize having dinner together as a family as often as you can. Not only does it help you bond together as a family, as this CNN article reports, there is mounting evidence that kids who eat regular meals with their families do better in school, are more healthy and less likely to smoke, drink or get involved in drugs. Additionally, there is evidence to show that you as the parent can ward off stress by making time for family meals, and while saving money in the process. Here are some resources to help you make family dinner a family habit –
- The Family Dinner Project – the website for the grassroots movement to bring back dinner provides tips to get started, recipes, conversation starters, transformation stories and more.
- Babble.com Top 100 Mom Food Blogs of 2013 – if you need some inspiration to get cookin’ 🙂
- Books about family dinner for the bibliophile in you.
2. Read together.
Get a library card and make it a point to go to the library often to ensure you have a constant supply of books at home. Set aside a few minutes each day as family reading time – where you read for your kids (if they are younger) or the kids read by themselves while you catch up on some books yourself. Here are a few handy book lists to look up what to checkout while at the library, or while ordering books as gifts.
- The New York Times Best Sellers List (all categories)
- Amazon best sellers – parenting & relationships and most wished for self-help books.
- Amazon children’s bookshelf
- 50 Inspiring Children’s Books with a Positive Message – a great list put together by the folks at positivelypositive.com.
3. Travel together.
Vacations are a great way to let go, relax and connect. Here are some great resources to make family vacation a blast –
- Travel tips from real parents for packing, saving money, going on road trips, flying with kids, cruising etc. (Look for articles titled “Tip Sheet”). I love these because some of the tips your find here, you will never find on regular travel websites. Here is a sample –
I was planning for a trip to a nice resort in Arizona and considered doing some grocery shopping when I arrived. I discovered that Safeway has an online site which will deliver. I went online to order basics like diapers, fruit and baby food. I also added some wine for me. -Jayme from Arvada, CO
- Mousesavers.com – a great site with tons of money saving tips if any kind of Disney vacation is in your horizon.
- Tripadvisor – use the search box at the top right to pull up real-person reviews before planning/booking anything (hotels, activities, restaurants etc.)
- AirBnb, Homeaway and vrbo – sites for finding vacation rentals. On a recent NY trip we stayed at a vacation rental since we were a large group — it was very comfortable, convenient, economical (about half of what the hotel rooms would have cost us!) and had a full kitchen!
- How to Plan Your Next Vacation in One Breezy Sitting – A handy list of vacation planning apps by Mashable.com.
- 8 Easy Ways to Save on a Beach Vacation – has great tips for fitting a beach vacation into any budget.
4. Go on picnics/short escapes/camping.
While vacations are a great way to bond with your family, vacations are expensive too 🙂 Besides, there are only so many days you can take off from work to go on a vacation. In between vacations, include picnics, staycations and short camping trips to continue getting short doses of down-time bonding. Here are a few great resources to spark your imagination –
- The Ultimate Picnic Planning Guide – Tips, tools and recipes to plan your next picnic. Note, even though the guide has a lot of promotional links to stuff from their site, I decided to include it here since they provide some great information!
- Public campgrounds and swimming holes finder – two complementary websites with interactive map based search/listing of campgrounds and swimming holes in US and Canada.
- Backyard Campout Checklist – A comprehensive checklist for “Roughing It” in your own backyard 🙂
- Love the idea of camping, but hate the idea of sleeping bags and roughing it out? Try glamping (short for glamorous camping) instead… Seriously??!!! Apparently, there is a whole industry sprouting around the idea of providing a camping experience with all the modern day luxuries you are used to!
- Another fun option is to Go RVing — For those new to the idea, RV is a recreational vehicle that you use for taking road trips and contains all your basic amenities so it doubles as your sleeping quarters when necessary.
5. Plan things together.
Be it vacations, chores or after school activities, make your plans together as a family. Including kids in the planning shares the ownership of whatever you are doing with them, and that lets them enjoy and behave voluntarily. You can use a dry erase board, a notebook or one of these handy hi-tech planners to help you along the way –
- My Job Chart – Free online chore chart and reward system for kids
- Cozi – Free app/website for shared family calendars, shopping lists, todo lists etc.
- Tripit Family Vacation Planner – Free vacation planner for creating and sharing a master itinerary with all your travel details.
6. Create family traditions.
Family traditions are a great way to create a ritual that is uniquely yours and has an incredible power to tie the family together. Pull some from your/your partner’s family as you were growing up or create something new. If it’s the latter, here are some great ideas –
- 60+ Family Tradition Ideas – An awesome collection of traditions beautifully categorized as daily/weekly/monthly connection traditions, birthday/wedding traditions, holiday traditions etc. Must read.
- 50 Holiday Traditions – from the folks at Cozi
- 50 Meaningful December Traditions for Families – from Dr. Laura Markham, my favorite parenting expert. These traditions are thoughtfully modified versions of the older traditions to help you raise more empathetic kids and to bond with them more deeply.
- Books about family traditions for the bibliophiles.
7. Create and talk about family stories.
Like family traditions, the stories of each family are unique and not only can they bring the family together, but they can act as a timeless bridge between generations. Make a conscious effort to create your family stories, rich with details about places, people and specific circumstances and repeat them over and over at dinner tables and holiday parties. The stories could be as simple as “I remember the night you were born like it was yesterday…” or “You know your great-grandma actually came to the US on a boat. In those days…” and so on. Here is a great article that shows all the benefits of sharing family stories that go beyond just bonding! Some resources to get you going –
- Keepsake Memory Books – for preserving the memories through the years. On my daughter’s 5th birthday, I got one of these books for each of my parents to fill up and leave as a legacy for my daughter. My sisters liked the idea so much that we’ve decided to photocopy the priceless handwritten pages of these books and get them bound for each of us, and all the other grandkids as well. If grandparents have the energy and time, this is definitely a precious way to preserve memories!
- On preserving family. Here, there, somewhere else. – the poignant article that inspired the above memory book project 🙂
- Record Their Stories, Saving Memories Forever and Storied – smartphone apps for recording audio stories and creating video clips by scanning in associated pictures.
- Create a family time capsule with some of your current stories and pictures and open it in the distant (or not-so-distant) future. Heck, turn it into a family tradition by creating a new capsule each New Year’s Day with the open date set to 5 years down the line and soon you will have one to seal, and one to open each New Year’s Day! Here is a neat pinterest board with time capsule ideas.
8. Scrapbooks and Photobooks!
There are a great compliment to your family traditions, family vacations and family stories — not to mention the good old everyday moments! The key is to make sure that instead of letting the photos stay trapped in your memory card or the hard drive forever, you free them into the “real” world in the form of scrapbook or a photobook. If your kids are old enough, create your scrapbook or photobook together for additional bonding time. I’ve been trying to make at least one photobook for each year of my daughter’s life, and then an additional one if we take a big vacation. And then, on a rainy day or when you/the kids are feeling a little blue, pull out the scrapbooks/photobooks and thumb through them together with tons of “Remember when we…” conversations. Here are some great resources –
- 16 Top Scrapbooking/Cardmaking Inspiration Blogs
- Budget Scrapbooking: 10 Places To Find Free & Inexpensive Scrapbook Supplies – for times you have the scrapbooking bug but don’t want to break the bank to keep it fed!
- Books about scrapbooking for the bibliophiles.
- Shutterfly Photobooks – This is where I get my photobooks from (they run free photobook offers every now and then, and I generally end up paying ~ $9 in shipping cost for each photobook and the quality of their software/end product is quite good). You can get photobooks at a lot of other places as well — from other online sites like snapfish and mypublisher (there’s a nice review of online photo printing services here), corner stores likes cvs and walgreens, to big box stores like walmart, target or even costco.
9. Cook/bake together.
Whenever possible, enlist your kids help in the cooking process. It is a little bit of extra work (OK, a LOT of extra work), especially the cleanup, but the effort is so worth it. Kitchen is the heart of a house and spending time together in the kitchen makes it so much easier to create the kind of mellow memories that last a lifetime. Additionally, cooking with kids has a host of other benefits. They help kids develop a love for cooking and healthy eating habits that last a lifetime. If you take the time to point out the chemistry behind food and the math of measuring out recipes, you can even give them an academic edge. It even helps them learn the value of planning and develop self confidence. Here are some resources to get you started (or to take it to the next level) –
- Food Network – Cooking With Kids – Recipes, tips, awesome pictures, celebrity chef cookoffs…. when you are running low on inspiration, this is where you go to find some!
- Cooking with Kids Board on Pinterest – If pictures from real parents (instead of the perfectly manicured ones from celebrity chefs) is what rocks your boat then this board is for you.
- AllRecipes – Kid Cooking – Kid friendly recipe from one of the biggest recipe site on the planet. Don’t forget to check out the review comments for some amazing modifications for the original recipes, tips and real-life anecdotes.
- Cooking with my kid – A blog by a woman after my own heart!
- Books about cooking with kids for the bibliophiles.
10. Build a family garden.
Whether you have a large backyard, or a window sill full of planters, planning and grooming for a family garden is a great way to bond with the kids. The time you spend together, the opportunities to talk and teach, the joy of growing your own dinner and the million photo ops – need I say more?
- Parents primer for getting started by kidsgardening.org, a resource of the national gardening association. They have a bunch of other resources as well – click on the “family gardening” link at the top.
- How to Teach Kids to Garden – a great starter article.
- Gardening with kids – a neat pinterest board with an awesome collection of tips, crafts and tutorials.
- Books about gardening with kids for the bibliophiles.
11. Volunteer together –
Research shows that volunteering can increase happiness, decrease depression and help you live longer. So why not make volunteering a part of everyday life for the whole family? Not only will everyone gain from the positive benefits of volunteering, but it is a great way to spend time together with the family in a very meaningful way. Here are some resources for more information –
- PBSKids Family Guide to Volunteering – A great starter resource guide.
- Kids Care Clubs Projects – Kids Care works with elementary and middle school children to instil a spirit of volunteering at an early age. The link above provides an index of some of their projects to give you some ideas for projects you can try with your kids, or start in their schools.
- DoSomething.Org – If you have kids in the 13 – 25 year range, this is a great site to look through together to help your kids find a cause they can help with. Participating in some of the campaigns allows your child to enter for a chance to win a scholarship as well!
- Some great ideas from the writers at parents magazine – here and here.
12. Become nature enthusiasts together
It’s time to ditch the screens, big and small, and enjoy the great outdoors — together. Here are some great ideas for becoming nature enthusiasts together…
- Raise a Nature Lover – Great ideas for the whole family to get outside and enjoy mother nature and the great opportunities she provides to bond.
- Project Noah – a fun mobile app for your smartphone to encourage your kids to spot, explore and document wildlife sightings.
- Start an Ant Farm at home!
- Create a backyard wildlife (mostly birds and butterflies) habitat – some handy guides here, here and here.
13. Have scheduled family movie nights
Ah, the joy of cuddling up to a nice little movie. Here are a few good family movie lists in case you are worried about running out of options –
- The top 50 movies to watch as a family
- 20 Best Movies for Families
- Top 50 Family Movies of All Time
- And a neat article about making family movie night even more fun!
14. Have scheduled family game days/nights
Bundle up the kids and take them for a round of mini-golf or bowling; or break out the board games – the key is to put it on schedule and doing it consistently. Some ideas –
- Kids Bowl Free – An initiative where a many bowling centers allow registered kids to 2 free games of bowling every day, all summer long!
- Free outdoor sports activities in your local area – here are some guides from the prior years for New York City, Massachusetts, Portland and Austin for example.
- Best Board Games for Kids age 3-8 – we have several of these games and love them. Another great addition to this list is the educational Sum Swamp game which we all like too.
- Another great list of games from a homeschooler.
- A list of unique and fun board games for older kids (ages 8+).
15. Be scientists together
This is one more of the 2-for-1 deals where you get to spend some quality time with your kids while they learn something educational. Here are some great lists of science experiments you can do from home –
- Science is Fun list of home experiments
- Science Kids list of science experiments
- Science Bob’s list of science experiments
- Physics experiments that you can do at home
- While I wouldn’t recommend rushing out to buy science kits with so many great projects possible with what’s available around the house (plus a few inexpensive ingredients), here is a list of science based toys if you are looking for a meaningful and educational birthday gift.
16. Be entrepreneurs together.
Set up a lemonade stand, engage their help in putting together a garage sale, sell handmade crafts, put up a cup cake stand, you get the idea! Whichever activity you choose provides you a great way to talk about sticky topics like money, goal setting, planning, pricing and a host of other entrepreneurial lessons that last for life. Some great resources to get you started –
- Build your own lemonade stand that is sturdy, comes apart for easy storage and doubles as a science fair stand or a puppet show theater — its a DIY project that facilitates science projects, entertainment project and an entrepreneurial project. How cool is that? 🙂
- Garage Sale With Kids–Is It Worth The Trouble? — The short answer is an emphatic “yes”, but you have to read the article to see why a mom who normally doesn’t like hosting garage sales liked hosting this one.
- Beware – local laws may not permit you to have a lemonade stand/bake sale – so be sure to know the rules for your local area first!
17. Other Miscellaneous Activities
- Learn a new skill together (art classes, pottery, cooking classes, yoga etc.)
- Attend religious and cultural gatherings together
- Share common goals and dreams and do something about it. You could for example kick off a campaign to be healthy together and try to incorporate many of the activities mentioned above in the context of this common goal.
- Unconditional and spontaneous “I Love You”s and hugs
- Random acts of kindness
- Feel good routines (snuggle times on weekend morning, paint each other’s nails, say goodbye and greet family members each day with a smile, etc.)
- Build something together (Lego projects, DIY projects etc.)
- Paint your kids room to their liking (inspired by Randy Paush’s Last Lecture)
- Root for your favorite team together – take them to watch a game live if you get a chance and can afford it.
- Do regular everyday chores together (eg. after-dinner cleanup, yardwork, etc.)
- Go fishing!
The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents
Take the next 2 minutes to make a quick inventory of how many different activities you do as a family that helps strengthen your family bond. If some of the things you do are not listed here, or you have suggestions of your favorite resources, do leave a comment below.
The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents
Pick 2-3 activities from the list above that are interesting to you and your family, but you do not do right now. And over the course of the next few weeks, make an intentional effort to try it out!
All pictures are from Fotolia.