zen habits : breathe

30 Simple Family Pleasures

Editor’s note: this is a guest post by mommy blogger Vered DeLeeuw.

Do you remember to have fun every day?

I’m sure you remember to brush your teeth, to eat, and to go to work. I’m confident you have a handwritten or a technology-based to-do list that you carefully go through each day. But if you read this blog, it means you want more from your life. You want to de-stress, to be present, to enjoy the journey instead of rushing through it like a madman.

Having fun with your family, especially the simple kind of fun – the one that doesn’t drain you emotionally and financially, is a wonderful way to relax and enjoy life. And in times of economic uncertainty, it is especially important to enjoy family time that does not involve spending lots of money. Here are 30 ideas for high-quality, low-cost, stress-free family fun.

1. Play together in the snow or in the rain, then go inside for a cup of hot chocolate made with real chocolate and marshmallows.

2. Make a large bowl of popcorn and snuggle in front of the DVD to watch a family movie.

3. Have a picnic. In wintertime, it’s just as fun to have a picnic indoors.

4. Snuggle together in bed on a cold Sunday morning.

5. Go out for a leisurely Sunday brunch. Many restaurants offer great Sunday buffets, and prices these days are more reasonable than ever. Kids often eat free of charge. Although buffets can be challenging if you’re trying to lose weight, or maintain your goal weight, once in a while is probably OK. Since kids usually have very limited choices as far as food goes – they eat what we give them – they really appreciate the selection and choice a buffet offers.

6. Just talk. The older my kids are, the more interesting our conversations become.

7. Try tongue twisters. Last week when we waited forever for the check to arrive at a restaurant, my husband started a tongue twisters game. We laughed so hard, I nearly choked. My favorite tongue twister: “She sells seashells by the seashore.” Repeat three times, FAST!

8. During dinner, ask each family member to tell one good thing and one bad thing that happened to them that day. The good things are obviously fun to share. The “bad things” are a great opportunity for your kids to talk about things that bother them and for you to be more involved in their lives.

9. Create a story together. Each family member gets to add one sentence at a time. These stories can be seriously funny, especially if one of the kids happens to be in a silly mood.

10. Look at a picture album together and tell your kids the stories behind the pictures.

11. Make cookies or cupcakes together and decorate them. Try this fabulous recipe for chewy chocolate chip cookies.

12. Watch old family movies.

13. Visit the library. Browse the children’s books together. Read them a story or two. Listen to Story Time if the library offers it. Browse the grownups’ selection too: it’s good for your kids to see you’re interested in books.

14. Have a family make-your-own-pizza night. Prepare several topping options. Let each child decide what kind of pizza they want. More tips here.

15. Play a board game. I don’t know about you, but my husband and I play to win. We don’t believe in letting the kids win. After all, their friends won’t let them win. The good news (or bad news, depending on your point of view): they often win anyway!

16. Go for a hike. We love to go to a local park that has beautiful redwood trees in addition to a small playground and a shaded picnic area.

17. Go to the museum. If your kids are younger than 5, take them to the children’s museum. If they are older, they can probably handle an hour or two in a “real” museum. A natural history museum is great, but many kids enjoy modern art museums as well. Many museums are free of charge for kids under 12, and many offer free admission for the entire family on monthly “family days.”

18. Go ice-skating.

19. Go to the movies. While going to the movies is not as cheap as it used to be, matinee tickets are usually reasonably priced. It’s entirely possible to find PG-rated movies that are appropriate for elementary school kids yet are fun (or at least not mind-numbingly boring) for the grownups. During winter break we took the kids to see “Marley and Me” and “Bedtime Stories.”

20. Make breakfast foods for dinner, together. It never fails to make the kids happy. We like to make pancakes together. When they’re ready, we decorate them with berries to make fun “faces.” If your kids have milk and fruit with those homemade pancakes, it’s a pretty balanced meal. And if you’re really brave, try making whole-wheat pancakes.

21. Go to the beach. The beaches here in Northern California are cold and windy, even in summertime, and very rocky. But even though they don’t provide the classic beach experience, we love to go tidepooling. We often manage to spot interesting sea creatures and shells.

22. On a warm summer night, it’s fun to go camping in your own backyard and sleep in sleeping bags, under the stars.

23. Jump rope. We do it outside in the yard in summer and inside during the winter. My kids are already experts. I’m still learning, or rather relearning.

24. Make the most of power outages. During a recent power outage, we all sat together in the kitchen. Since we were bored (no technology!) and had to use candlelight to light the kitchen, we used the candles to make s’mores. Seriously. It was one of our best nights ever. More tips for making indoor s’mores here.

25. Exercise together. I exercise at home using a yoga mat. My kids love to watch me exercise and they love even more trying to imitate what I’m doing on our extra mat.

26. Dance together. Play some loud music and go crazy with the moves. Don’t tell anyone, but I love to dance to ABBA music.

27. Bake homemade bread. You can use a bread machine if you have one, or you can knead the dough by hand. This takes time and is great for a winter day when you’re inside anyway. There’s nothing like the smell of bread as it’s baking, and there’s nothing like eating it fresh with homemade butter on top. Try this bread recipe.  To make homemade butter, simply whip heavy cream with a pinch of salt until it turns into butter. Separate it from the remaining liquid (buttermilk) and spread on the freshly baked bread.

28. Write letters to the grandparents. Even if they live nearby, they will love getting letters from their grandchildren. If you join your kids and write a few words too, you will not only set a great example for your kids but will also make your parents very happy.

29. Read a book together. You can read to your child, or she can read to you, or you can simply snuggle together, each of you reading her own book.

30. Watch TV together. TV is not just a convenient babysitter: it can be an opportunity to share an experience with your kids. Once in a while I join my kids when they watch one of their favorite TV shows. They snuggle close to me, and whenever something funny happens on the show, they watch me closely to make sure I get it. When we’re done watching, we talk about what we saw. I often use it as an opportunity to talk about advertising, since there’s so much of it these days aimed at children.

To read more from Vered, see her blog: mommy blogger.

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Barwick



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