If your family is like the average family today, life revolves around demanding jobs, shuttling kids to school, homework, sports practice, dance class, volunteering and more. Before you know it, life becomes a whirlwind of to-do lists and obligations. Yet within the craziness of life, we still need to carve out dedicated family time — time to slow down and bond. Going on vacation is a great way to reconnect, but for many families it's not always feasible due to scheduling and finances. The good news is that quality family time does not have to mean packing suitcases, clearing a week from your calendar, or spending a lot of money. It can be pulled together with a few things from around the house or an afternoon trip near your home.
Here are eight ideas for quality family time that will create a lifetime of memories:
—SPRING/SUMMER FAMILY FUN. Spring and summer are the perfect time to be outside. Plan a bike trip or a hike and have a picnic at a local park. Many local venues like the zoo or botanical gardens offer "free pass" days in the spring and summer. Take the family to an amusement or water park to break up summertime doldrums. Try going to local museums or historical points of interest. If you live near a lake or ocean, pack up the volleyball net and go to the beach.
—FAMILY GAME & MOVIE NIGHT. When was the last time your family busted out Sorry, UNO or Candy Land? Family game night is a lot of fun and is a totally "unplugged" activity. Change it up a bit and swap out game night for family movie night. Pick a good family movie from Netflix or Redbox, or introduce your kids to one of your favorites from youth. As a family, take turns picking the game or movie. Pop some popcorn, make ice cream sundaes or hot chocolate and snuggle up for a night in.
—THE FAMILY GARDEN. A family garden offers so many benefits. It brings the whole family together to accomplish a united goal and creates a project that lasts from spring to fall. You'll be surprised at how much your kids love to garden (what kid doesn't love to play in the dirt?). All you need is a small space in your yard, a few basic gardening tools, seeds and water. Don't worry, novices are encouraged — no green thumb is required! Not sure where to start? Sit down as a family to plan out the garden. Let each family member pick something they'd like to grow — and go to the library and do some online research together to figure out how and when to plant each item. Your kids will learn first-hand how their food is grown and you'll probably notice them eating more fresh fruit and vegetables when they've had a part in growing them. Seeing a garden go from seeds to harvest is a wonderful thing!
—THE CRAFTY FAMILY. Crafting can be a lot of fun for the whole family! Get together and vote on a project. If you need some inspiration, browse Pinterest for ideas. Give a piece of furniture a makeover with some paint and Modge Podge, use canvases to create art for the family room wall or work together to make handmade gifts for grandparents. You can also create a challenge by only using items from around the house or making robots or cars from items in the recycling bin. It doesn't matter what you make, just work together to create something unique and have fun doing it.
—THE FAMILY OLYMPICS. Got a WII or Xbox Kinect? Maybe a ping pong table or Twister? It's time for Family Olympics! Organize several different games that family members can compete in from Xbox bowling to charades. You can even create teams if your family is big enough. Invite another family over for a family vs. family competition or kids vs. parents. And don't forget to take lots of pictures to document your Olympic achievements!
—COOKING UP FAMILY MEMORIES. The kitchen is typically the hub of the home, so organize a family dinner party. Put on some music, give everyone a job (younger children can wash vegetables and add ingredients to the bowl) and make cooking the meal a family event. You can put your own spin on dinner by choosing a theme such as "potluck" where everyone selects their own recipe and the family cooks it together or an "around the world" theme where you choose a country and make recipes from that country. Compiling recipes and making a family cookbook with photos of your family meals is also a wonderful gift to give to your children.
—WELCOME TO CAMP FAMILY. You don't have to be a Boy Scout or have the outdoor survival skills of Bear Grylls to be a camper. Camping can be a very basic adventure that your kids are guaranteed to enjoy. The best part is that it completely removes you from your typical day-to-day life. An overflowing laundry pile can't beckon you as easily from the lake! Find a state park or lake near your home. A camp spot is typically under $20. Borrow a tent or pick up a used one from Craigslist. Plan a couple of meals you can cook over the grill or campfire (like hot dogs, scrambled eggs, popcorn, etc.). Pack up your car with sleeping bags, flash lights and bug spray. And don't forget your best "back to nature" attitude.
—TAKE A FAMILY STAYCATION. Treat it like a real vacation. Make a big deal out of it! In fact, a short trip can be a lot less stressful for the whole family, especially younger children. Is there a place near your home you've always wanted to visit? Or a historical spot with an opportunity for learning? Or maybe book a night in a local hotel with a pool and enjoy a night away with the kids. It doesn't have to be over-the-top, just a change of scenery with some fun and relaxation for everyone.
In the end, just remember it doesn't really matter what activities you plan for your family as long as you're making time for "togetherness." You don't need a lot of money or time away to have fun. The bills will wait, the laundry will get done eventually, and don't forget to put down your iPhone. Take the time to have fun and enjoy your kids!
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