Weather outside too daunting to leave the house? No problem! Forget the video games. Throw a summertime party—an afternoon chockfull of games that you can create without a trip to the store, from things you’ve got hiding in your cupboards. It’s time for summer fun in the dead of winter!
Kick off your event by slipping an official invitation under everyone’s bedroom door. Then turn the heat up and invite everyone to slide into t-shirts and flip-flops.
Nothing chases the blues away like a trip to the amusement park. Bring the fun home with easy do-it-yourself versions of some boardwalk favorites. Cluster some empty bottles together in a small box, grab some bangle bracelets, and give everyone a chance to Ring the Bottle. (To sneak in some learning, tape numbers on the tops of each bottle and for each round, give kids a number target. They'll need to add, subtract, or multiply the numbers on the bottles they "ring" to determine if they've won!) Or set up empty garbage bins, tape a line on the floor with masking tape, and let kids try Basketball Free Throw. Don’t forget to print out carnival tickets redeemable for future prizes, whether it’s a physical prize like a toy, or an event like a pizza party or trip to the movies.
Ready for another game? Set up some indoor bowling! Gather ten empty water bottles from your recycling bins and line them up in your hallway for an instant bowling alley. Keeping score helps kids work their math skills on the fly. And bowling gives kids an excuse to work on gross motor skills and coordination.
Looking for more gross motor action? Dig out a pair of pantyhose and two metal hangers left over from the dry cleaners. Bend each hanger into the shape of a racket, slide the hose carefully over it, and then secure with duct tape. Roll up a pair of socks into a ball and you’ve got an instant game similar to badminton… don’t let the sock hit the floor! Not only does this give kids more practice with large muscle coordination, but it forces them to completely focus on one thing—something today's kids, who excel at multitasking, rarely practice.
Now that you’ve gotten out some of that excess energy, it’s time for some concentration, and practice with fine motor skills. Working the small muscles in their hands helps kids become more comfortable with handwriting… a dying skill in this day and age. A game of tabletop shuffleboard makes practice fun. Tape down a triangle on your kitchen table and divide it with tape into three sections—the tip is worth 50 points, the middle is worth 25, and the bottom is worth 10. Give everyone a set of four quarters or bottle tops and let them take turns trying to score on the board.
Once the games are done, break for some lemonade and summer snacks. Whether it’s hotdogs, popcorn, or cookies, lay down a picnic blanket and eat on the living room floor. And if the phone rings, let it. You can’t get away from it all unless you pretend to be away from it all. Make today an excuse to slow down, make eye contact, laugh together, and connect. Even better, make it the first of many family days like this…and let your kids plan the next one!
Want more tips on how to connect with your kids? Here are five resolutions to make this year:
Be in the moment.
When we’re preoccupied with the past or worried about the future, we may be physically there with our children, but we’re mentally absent. Children don’t need us to be fully available all the time, but they do need our full attention on a regular basis. When you interact with your kids, don’t nod at your child’s latest art masterpiece as you talk on the cell phone, or listen to his concerns with half an ear. Try this: set the kitchen timer for 10 minutes of undivided attention every day—it may not seem like a lot, but you’ll be amazed at how hard it is to commit to that fully. Work from there.
When you respond to your child, do so “mindfully” and try to be just as sensitive and enthusiastic each time. For example, don’t jump up right away to help your child pack his backpack one time, and other times finish reading your newspaper first. Research tells us that children who have inconsistent parenting grow up uncertain that they can depend upon the adult in their life, because sometimes they are dealt with compassionately and sometimes the adult is not there in the moment of need. They grow up anxious and insecure. Try this: eat dinner as a family every night together. Studies show that kids who eat every night with their parents perform better in school, and in life as a whole.
Enjoy your child.
Sure, it may sound obvious, but with all the pressures of life, sometimes fun falls by the wayside. Enjoying your child and sharing the awe of discovering what it means to be a person in a wondrous world helps her develop a positive sense of self. So slow down and take your child in. Add some playfulness back to your life together—it may seem strained at first, but it will grow more natural. Try this: make a “date” with your kids, whether it’s a game night, a surprise adventure, or a trip to the movies, put it on the calendar and stick to it.
The way we communicate with our children has a profound impact on how they develop. It can be incredibly difficult when you’re tired, hungry, disappointed, or angry, to communicate at your best… But our ability to have sensitive, reciprocal communication nurtures a child’s sense of security, and nonverbal messages of eye contact, facial expression, tone of voice, posture, and the timing and intensity of response often reveal more than words. Clue in to your children’s body language and try to treat them with compassion. And rather than lecture, listen. Try this: make each member of the family a “mailbox” out of a shoebox, and place it by their bedroom door. When you think of it, slip in a note—something funny that happened at work that day that you forgot to tell them, or an official invitation to grab a burger over the weekend... Anything goes!
Let your child take charge.
You planned the first family night. Let your child plan the next one. Start a new tradition—monthly, weekly, whatever you can honestly commit to doing. Kids this age are just learning to plan things independently, and this is a fun way to help them spread their wings.