One-on-one focus time – how do you do it with lots of children?

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Spending one-on-one time (focus time) with our children is important, but how do you find time to do it with a large family?

1 to 3 children:

Focus time for us has changed a lot along the way. When I only had a couple of children I had it planned as a set timeslot every day with each child. It’s especially important for the toddler of the family that they have some attention early in the day before popping them into playpen time or other independent play. We would read a story or play with the dolls house, toy cars, Lego or whatever toy was a favourite of the child at the time. This daily filling of their love tank early in the schedule set them up for success with room time and other alone times later in the day while my focus was on other children or tasks. Later in the day I would spend some time with the older children.

4 & 5 children:

Once we had our twins it became too cumbersome to fit one-on-one time into every day so we moved to having an “hour of power” one afternoon a week. Whenever the children asked me to do something with them that I could not accomodate then and there, I would tell them that that was a wonderful idea for our hour of power. We would add it to a running list that we kept so that we didn’t get to the special hour and have no ideas. The kids were happy that it was a delayed “yes” rather than a no and I was able to do it at a time that was suitable for me. The toddlers still had some focus time early in the day on a daily basis.

6 children:

As the older children were getting to an age where playing with toys at home was no longer suitable for focus time, we changed to fortnightly dates with Mummy or Daddy. The babies and toddlers in the family still had their focus time built into the daily routine early in the day and the older 5 were on a rotating schedule to go out on a Saturday for a couple of hours – 1 child per fortnight. Of course there were still plenty of incidental times along the way when we spent time with the children other than these special dates.

Some of the issues that we found with this was that 10 weeks was a long time to wait for the next special date and having these set times seemed to bring with it a sense of ungratefulness and entitlement rather than thankfulness that we were taking the time to do it with them. A lot of talk went into how long it was until the next date, with almost a depression after their turn as they realised how long it would be before they went again. It put a lot of pressure onto us to keep it up and not skip a turn and life tended to get in the way. The dates also needed to be something bigger which often came at a cost financially. We decided that as a long-term strategy it wasn’t working for us or the kids.

The next method we call date cramming. We would take a couple of days and take every child out on a date with either Mummy or Daddy all one after the other. We liked this because everyone got a turn very quickly and the children did not know when we planned to do it – we would just announce it unexpectedly and they were very excited and thankful that it was happening. We took the younger children first and then the older children as they had a better grasp of time and were able to understand that their turn was coming soon. All done and dusted in 2 or 3 days with no drawn-out waiting. We still do this as we find it works well for us – family holidays are a great time to fit it in.

7 children

7 children later we have settled into a very informal system. Except for the toddler, we don’t have it written into our routines (no expectations, no crummy attitudes) but are mindful that it is important to proactively build relationships. It’s different for every child and age. The holiday date cramming is still happening a couple of times a year, with the rest of the alone times balancing out informally in a a whole variety of different ways.

  • Our nearly 2 year old comes into our bedroom as soon as she wakes in the morning for some snuggle and tickle time with Mum and Dad before we start showers.
  • Homeschooling starts after breakfast and provides opportunities for the 4-year-old and our 6-year-old twins to have some individual attention as they have their turn to sit on my lap and do some reading or maths or other subjects I save for this time.
  • Our 8 and 11-year old girls are involved in a church dance group and the 11 year old in a girl’s choir. The trips to and from these events, plus occasional extra rehearsals etc. provide some one-on-one time connected with something that is special to them.

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  • Our 13 year old is up later than every other child and naturally gets lots of informal time with Mum and Dad as we chat while doing dishes, play board games, look something up on the computer or whatever comes up as a topic of interest. He will often accompany one of us if we head out to the shops in the evening or just sit about and chat.
  • Whenever my husband or I run an errand over the weekend we make a point of taking along just one child for some special time – usually the 4 or 6 year olds as they do not have as many other opportunities that naturally crop up without planning.
  • We have started some traditions connected to birthdays such as going camping alone with a parent when they turn 7 or horse-riding when they turn 9.
  • We occasionally have girls/guys day out – when I take all the girls to a special event or Daddy takes all the boys. Our next event will be a winter showcase concert that the girls are looking forward to seeing. While this is not strictly alone, it still gives us opportunities to focus on individuals within the group.
  • Daddy has been hiking with the older 3 children a couple of times in the last year which involves long walks (plenty of time to chat to individual children) and overnight camp-outs before hiking back.
  • Coming up to holiday periods I will sometimes get the children to make a list of all the things they want to do with me alone while we don’t have school work to get through. If something needs to be done like purchasing new sneakers for someone then we will turn that into a date opportunity and the occasional birthday invitation or other special event involving only one child also gives us some time alone. I frequently have a helper work in the kitchen with me to prepare a family meals and there are other times when we sit and simply read a story or work on a project with a child.

Keeping love languages in mind is very important when thinking through focus time. The older children wanted help making Jedi capes to use for their home movies so this was a good opportunity to tackle a small project together – acts of service children all happy! A quick trip to the local shopping centre for some new socks has the “gift” child showing the world and overflowing with joy. Piggy backing my “physical touch” boy to bed and taking 5 minutes to tickle and cuddle before lights out each night fills his love talk. The “quality time” kids need just that – time and lots of it. They are the hardest to fit it and the ones we have to most proactively work to accomodate.

So yes, our children are not going on amazing Princess date with Daddy every weekend or heading out to expensive all day experiences with Mummy every other week, but they are well loved. I think we need to take a step back from the pressure to heap money and experiences on our children and ask ourselves what they need. Perhaps you just need to go and play a game of Monopoly or fix the toy you’ve been promising to get to. Filling their love tanks and letting them know they are special and loved is what its all about for us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fruitimals – a stay at home family night activity for all ages

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Building strong family relationships is vital (read why here) and one of the vehicles we use to do this in our family is by having regular family nights. These “nights” are at any time of the day and simply involve spending time together as a family doing something that we enjoy; building memories and strengthening our ties with each other.

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One of the activities on our “family fun spot” last week was fruitimals. It is a new one to add to our mega list of 101 stay at home family night ideas and comes from our good friends the Clarks. (Thanks Mrs Clark!)

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It’s very simple and great for all ages. All you need is a selection of fruit and veg (plus cheese, nuts and seeds if you have them) and a couple of toothpicks and wooden skewers. Use them to create weird and wonderful animals, patterns and sculptures (fruit + animals = fruitimals) before gobbling them up for a super healthy lunch. Wholesome family fun with the added bonus of being good for them too. A great way to get fussy eaters to eat their veg!

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It can be a competition to see who can be the most creative, or have complicated design rules that must be followed (e.g.. must include at least 3 veg, 2 fruit and 3 different colours, be a pattern with at least 3 components, be a sculpture that will support the weight of another fruitimal ….. etc.)

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The little people can participate or not as they desire and the hungry ones eat as they go. Limiting toothpicks meant they had to eat one creation before they could make another.

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This is the second time we have done this and straight away the kids were asking if we can do it again. It could even work well for a kid’s birthday party activity with a few treat items thrown in to make it party food.

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Family night ideas – Family fun spot

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Depending on your personality, it can be easy to become too focussed on the mountain of tasks that surround us as Mothers (especially when you are homeschooling many children) to the detriment of our relationships with those children. With 6 children and a newborn in our house, life can get busy and with night feeds keeping me slightly sleep deprived it is easy to let all the fun leach out of life. Relationships take the back seat and jobs take priority.

In order to keep this somewhat in check we endeavour to keep our family “nights” going. Too often though we don’t get around to arranging anything and fall back on the old standby of movie nights. Despite having a very long list of ideas, I just wasn’t getting around to planning any of them. Introducing a family fun spot has addressed this issue for us. It gives us a place to write our family activities and keeps us accountable to actually getting around to doing some of them!

So how does it work?

The children write ideas of things they would like to do in a suggestions spot and Mummy and Daddy transfer appropriate ones onto the “coming soon” space on our whiteboard (adding our own as well) until we are ready to do them. We then transfer a couple at a time to the “fun spot” when we know they will be slotted in sometime in the very near future. We avoid giving a specific time as to when they will happen as a newborn can be unpredictable and we don’t want to make plans that keep needing to be changed and disappointing and frustrating the children. We simply wait for a good opportunity and announce the event as we are ready to go ahead. Once we have been there, done that, the idea is erased and a new one added in its place.

It gives the children something to look forward to with anticipation – a little sparkle in their day. It keeps them in front of me too so I can’t forget and am forced to plan the upcoming events – the children are very quick to point it out if there is nothing written in the family fun spot! The added bonus is that we do some of these type of things as part of our everyday life anyway and our children have it so good that they take them for granted, barely noticing the fun stuff that we do with and for them. Writing activities we were just going to do “because” on the family fun spot helps them to notice the good things we are already doing.

For more info on family nights (the why’s and a great list of ideas) see this post.

Silver Boxes – Words of life

The concept of silver boxes comes from a book I read recently by Florence Littauer, itself titled “Silver Boxes.” The positive, uplifting and loving words we say to those around us are like giving them a pretty silver box. Each time we use these powerful, positive words to speak life to our children it’s like placing another silver box onto their pile.

As I read I was reminded again of how powerful our words are and how careful we must be to guard our tongue. We have the ability to build others up or tear them down with only our words, to brighten a day and encourage someone or to make them feel flat and down. Our spouse and children are the first we should be considering when we use our words, but how often do we turn on the cheer for the person at the door or on the phone when moments before we have been barking and growling at the ones around us that we love the most?

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Formal certificates, stamps and other small tokens are a tangible form of silver boxes. Try to link them to character rather than just ability. One child can memorise and recite a poem in a few minutes while another has to apply themselves diligently for weeks. Praise the effort, not only the skill.

Deserved praise is one of the special ways we can give our children silver boxes. Again, focus on praising character rather than skill. When your child completes a puzzle, commend their focus, concentration, perseverance and effort in doing so, rather than just the act of completion. Otherwise the message becomes “You must be successful to earn my praise,” when it should be more along the lines of “If you work hard and try your best it is a commendable virtue.”

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If we praise a child for being a “good reader” for example, the sibling who is not gifted in this area cannot be praised for the same. However, every child can practise diligently, work responsibly, learn sight words with perseverance, be attentive to your teaching and refuse to give up. Praise them for these character traits even as they struggle with learning the skill.

Avoid over-praising. For many of us, giving too little praise is more of a problem, however make sure that the praise you do give is deserved. Do not go into raptures over mediocre efforts and achievements. Look for achievements that come after hard work and effort. Again, linking praise to character means you can give copious amounts of praise that is deserved, rather than false flattery. If your child has done a sloppy job of cleaning their room but you want to encourage them in their efforts, comment specifically on something they have done well. Do not say “Your room looks great!” when clearly it does not. Try, “Well done for showing initiative and responsibility in remembering to tidy up this morning without Mummy having to remind you.”

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Teach siblings the power of words. Encourage them to give each other silver boxes. Do not allow them to be harsh, critical or unkind to each other.

Praise plates are a great way of giving silver boxes in the form of written encouragement. They help those of us who need to remember to be intentional about praising the good things our children are and do, rather than always focussing on the negative. For a full description, see here.

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Giving children chores is a great way to teach them character, responsibility and a sense of achievement. Don’t forget to be thankful for the work they do and let them know how much you appreciate their efforts. A child will often go the extra mile with pleasure after you have noticed the effort they put into doing a task.

Each year on our children’s birthdays my husband and I both write them a letter. Throughout the year, as the children achieve milestones, learn something new, lose a tooth or make a funny statement we make a note of it on our calendar. Anything that we want to remember is quickly jotted down right as it happens so we don’t forget it. As their birthdays come around, we use these calendar notes to write our letters. They are full of love and positive memories for the children to treasure – another way to give silver boxes. Read more about them here.

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My children love to have me take photographs of things they have created. It shows that I value their work, especially if I use the photo in a bog post for all the world to see!!

Mummy and Daddy dates are a great forum for silver boxes of quality time and uplifting words. We don’t do them all the time, but when we do, the children remember them as highlights. We keep the outings simple; breakfast at McDonald’s, a trip to the local op shop, a play at Jungle Gym or an icecream run once everyone else is in bed. Especially if there has been some conflict in our relationship, a “date” outside of the home removes all the conflict points. You are not expecting anything from them, you are doing something they love to do, no-one else is there to compete with and they have your full attention. Make sure you use the time to speak some uplifting words and tell them how much you like to spend time with them.

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If your child is always showing you something, pointing out what they have done and generally seeking after your praise, consider whether this may be their love language. If you withhold it from them their love tank will become empty and they will behave in ways you do not enjoy, just to get attention from you. Far better to supply deserved positive words than to be dealing with a child who is “needy” in this area.

Some people require more silver boxes than others. Those who’s love language is words of encouragement need to hear those positive words. Some of us can give or take them, but others cannot feel loved without those verbal expressions of love, acceptance and praise. Negative words also cut more deeply for children to whom words of affirmation is their primary love language. Be aware too, that unkind, harsh or negative words can tear down that pile of silver boxes much more quickly than it was built up.

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An unthoughtful comment about a child’s appearance may be remembered for the rest of their life and knocks down many other positive silver boxes they may have been given in the same area. I can still remember a comment a primary school teacher made about my toes!

When you are having a bad day, take a deep breath and look around for something you can praise for. Catch that child doing anything positive and start to give some words of appreciation and encouragement. Even the tiniest silver box can turn the day around. A good rule of thumb is 3 positive comments for every correction you need to give. It’s harder than it sounds but so worth it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Relationships; joyful or difficult, they all need the 5 A’s

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Some time back I was privileged to hear Alma Wakefield of Elijah Ministries address the ladies at family camp. She reminded us of the importance of the “5 A’s” in our interactions with others.

  1. Affirmation (showing value in a person)
  2. Appreciation (thankfulness)
  3. Affection (Love languages)
  4. Acceptance (Things you can’t change)
  5. Authenticity (Our relationship with God is our priority)

As we come into the Christmas period, it is a good reminder for all of our relationships. Is there a difficult relationship that you dread renewing at this time of year? Difficult relationships need the 5 A’s.

Is there a particular child who is getting under your skin? Children need the 5 A’s.

Have you been making your marriage relationship a priority? Husbands need the 5 A’s.

All relationships need the 5 A’s. Give yourself a relationship check-up to see if you need to spend a little more time on the 5 A’s.

other posts you may find helpful:

Stay at home date-night ideas

101 Family night ideas

The 3 times rule for husbands

Where do your children find their identity?

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We have recently returned from a Growing Families Australia family camp. It was a fun-filled weekend, with activities for the kids, time for fellowship with other like-minded families and sessions for the parents with Norm Wakefield from Elijah Ministries. Norm is a gifted communicator and presented a series of powerful messages for parents (Fathers in particular) across the weekend.

His message on finding our identity is one that we should all be aware of. To find out where we get our identity from, he asks 5 pointed questions:

  1. Who is your power source?
  2. To whom do you look for happiness?
  3. To whom are you connected/belong to?
  4. Who do you imitate in order to connect?
  5. Who is your God?

Is the answer to these questions your husband? wife? friends? children? yourself? God?

What about if we ask ourselves the same questions, but this time with our children in mind. Who are they looking to for their identity? Is it their peers? workmates? boyfriend or girlfriend? themselves? us as their parents? God?

Norm points out that whoever offers the most hope of happiness and identity will have their heart. Whoever has their heart has the most influence. Parents, if you don’t offer your children the most hope and point them to finding God as the only true source of identity, your children will look elsewhere for it.

Scary thought isn’t it? Who has your children’s hearts?

If you would like to know more about how to keep your children’s hearts, I  recommend reading “Family Driven Faith” by Voddie Baucham and “Keeping Our Children’s Hearts” by Terri Maxwell. Taking a Christian parenting class would also be a wise step in the right direction.

Praise plates, character and love languages

We occasionally use reward systems to boost the tone of interaction between siblings and reinforce good character. While our marble jar and treasure tree were an enjoyable way to focus on building positive family identity, they do come with a reward and as such I do not always use them. I do not want the children to get the impression (however subtle) that it is only worth displaying good character if there is something in it for them.

We have just reinstated our praise plate system which we have used and loved in the past. The children have in fact asked for it more than once. It is very simple to set up. Each family member uses one and a half paper plates to make and decorate a pocket (see photo above) using art and craft materials. A bunch of paper slips are cut up and left handy with some coloured pens and we are ready to go. Whenever I or one of the children notice another family member displaying positive character in any way, they write it down on a slip and pop it into that person’s praise plate.

The focus is on character rather than physical attributes and they are not allowed to write them for themselves or point out their own sterling qualities! Some examples are: G showed hospitality today when she greeted Mrs Smith with a lovely welcoming smile and hello. B showed kindness today when he tied his brother’s shoe laces for him. C was very helpful to Mummy and served our family by preparing a delicious salad for lunch. S showed initiative by putting away her ironing before she was asked to do it. The possibilities are endless and the children get better at writing their own as they hear more and more examples.

Older children write their comment and the younger children draw a picture and dictate their praise comment to be written underneath.

Occasionally when there are a few minutes spare before dinner or at an opportune time, all the children are instructed to sit down and complete at least one slip for every other person in the family. This insures nobody is left out and gives me a wonderful way to use those spare moments before a meal is served. My husband and I also take the time to write out several slips for each child and each other and slip them in the praise plates.

This great character chart helps us think of different qualities we want to commend and recognise and prompts us as we think of what we can write. Catching our children doing the right thing is such an encouragement to them.

On Sundays after lunch we stay at the table together and read each person’s praise slips out loud for all to appreciate. This is a wonderful way to fill love tanks and particularly speaks to those children who have words of affirmation as their primary or secondary love language. If you have never come across the idea of love languages, I strongly suggest reading Gary Chapman’s book “The 5 Love Languages.” The 5 Love Languages website is also helpful, with diagnostic tests to determine the love language or your children, spouse or yourself. If you are someone who finds it difficult to speak encouraging words consistently, or tend to be critical with your words, this is an excellent way of ensuring that those ‘building up’ words are heard by your children.

Other posts you may find helpful:

Sizzlers and grace

Spoiled walls – bickering and sibling conflict

Sibling relationships

Sizzlers and grace.

Our treasure tree after a day or two. (It is now quite well covered, but as we had cut up a LOT of leaves, it is by no means full.)

We are going out to dinner in a restaurant tonight. It is the culmination of our treasure tree character reward system. No, the tree is not full, but after reading “Give Them Grace” by Elyse Fitzpatrick we have decided to implement one of her suggestions. She mentioned marble jars and other reward systems and suggested that occasionally we should simply fill them up and have the reward as an act of grace towards our children.

We have been a very intentional recently about the message of grace and how we present the gospel to the children since reading her book. We have focussed more often on how our good works, right living and good character (being a “good” person) cannot earn our way to heaven or gain God’s forgiveness. We have discussed how we will never measure up to the perfect standard that God expects from us.

Of course, the message does not stop there. When we are finally able to admit our sin and see our need for a saviour, we can turn to Jesus and through His death on the cross, bearing the sin of us all, we can repent, receive forgiveness and be made holy in God’s sight.

We presented the children with the treasure tree chart and asked them what they were requires to do to earn their reward.  (Fill the tree with leaves by displaying acts of Godly character.) We asked if they had earned that reward – did they deserve it? As the tree is far from full, they could only say that they didn’t. By this stage, the older children were beaming as they had already guessed what was coming. We then announced that we would be taking them to Sizzlers as a demonstration of grace to remind them to think about the amazing free gift of salvation that they have available to them through Jesus, despite the fact that they haven’t earned it and don’t deserve it.

Who knows whether they will remember this in time to come, or if it will make any difference to their spiritual walk in the long run, but we will all have a wonderful family night out together and who knows what lasting impact it may have?

Spoiled walls – bickering and sibling conflict

Bickering and nitpicking between siblings – it wears me down and spoils my day. I know they love each other, but some days the love is just not shining through. We all need long-term strategies that seek to address the underlying character issues in our children and must be constantly working on relationship building, loving God and each other and following the biblical mandates regarding speech, tone, building each other up and the like. There are times though, that a well-directed consequence is called for. I need consequences that I can consistently apply whether I am busy or not, repeat over and over, don’t require a heap of supervision and most of all, are effective in addressing the issue.

I recently sat the children down and had a little chat about the unkind speech that was being heard between them. We discussed how that made them feel, what we wanted our family to be like, read some relevant bible verses and then I made up my own little mini metaphor. I asked them to picture a freshly painted wall. How nice and crisp and fresh it looked and how pleasing it was to look at. I then asked them to picture the same wall with dirty fingerprints and food splashes all over it. We talked about how the dirt spoiled the wall in the same way that the unkind words spoiled their friendships.

I let that sink in for a moment or two before informing them that from now on, at the first sign of unkind speech or bickering, the offending child would be given a spray bottle and cleaning cloth to wash down a section of wall. As they cleaned, they can think about “washing” the dirt out of their relationship by replacing their unkind words with words that build others up.

It’s an instant consequence and is easy to enforce. The bickering siblings are separated for a while (which usually helps in itself) and something useful is getting done at the same time. I love it! The only problem is that the clean wall sections make the rest of the wall look even worse… Oh well, I’m sure there will be plenty more occasions that wall cleaning is called for.

Other posts you may like:

101 (mostly) stay at home family night ideas

Dog and Bone newspaper hockey championships.


We are about to start another family night. Tonight the plan is for each family member to make their own pizza following a rousing game of Dog and Bone newspaper hockey, with perhaps a sock wrestle afterwards, depending on the state of the troops.

Family night for us is actually in the late afternoon so that we can do all our special things and still get the kids into bed at the usual time. It feels later than it is because we have done so much together before bedtime rolls around.

We have family night as part of a deliberate strategy to build family identity, foster unity and strengthen family ties. The old adage that “the family that plays together stays together” still applies and both quality and quantity time are important. With that in mind, here are lots of ideas to get you started.

  • dark hide and seek A variation on traditional hide and seek which is also lots of fun. Wait until the sun goes down and turn off all the lights in the house. Players move in pairs of one older and one younger family member which reassures those little ones who don’t like being alone in the dark. Hiders use torches to find their place to hide before switching them off, with older family members helping their younger partner to find a hiding place before hiding themselves.  Seeker pairs find by feel and peering about in the dark. It allows a wider variety of hiding places simply because in the dark you can be more exposed and still remain undiscovered. Works well as “Sardines” also – see further down the list for an explanation.
  • photo albums Children are fascinated by photos of themselves and love re-living family memories together. They also enjoy seeing their parents as children and hearing stories about them growing up. My children regularly ask us to tell them about our childhood and ask all sorts of questions about other family members too. Having a new baby and watching me photograph all his milestones prompts a heap of questions about themselves as babies and it is fun to go back through the albums I have created for each child to show them their own special milestones and events.
  • family shields Another way to build family identity is to create shields, banners and flags with mottos, goals, creeds and values that you want to cultivate and uphold as a family. There are lots of examples on the web and instructions on how to do these with ideas and examples of the kids of things you may like to include.
  • sleep-outs Whether it be in the back yard in a tent or cubby house or indoors in the loungeroom, a sleep-over is always heaps of fun. Combine it with fun food, story telling and games or any other family night ideas and you will have a memorable time together.
  • toast marshmallows It’s rare for us to have the opportunity, but a campfire cook-out is always very special, especially for boys! Toast marshmallow, roast damper and potatoes or BBQ over the camp fire for a great evening. Whether it be the real deal, combined with camping out, or simply an evening in the backyard with a gas burner, sitting about the fire is a great way to bring the family together.
  • late library run Once at the library, everyone heads off to find picture books that interest them and meet back together for a shared reading time. Older children can read their picture book to the family and choose a chapter book or two to take home for themselves. If you are game enough, the whole family can go in their PJ’s for some extra fun. The kids will love it and won’t be able to stop giggling at Mum and Dad in their pyjamas too. (Neither will the public, but I dare you to do it anyway!)
  • Duplo charades See here for instructions and ideas.
  • board games and card games Play in teams with older and younger pairs; younger children count squares, move counters and hold the cards while older family members deal with the strategy side of the game.
  •  dog and bone/newspaper hockey Split into 2 teams. Traditionally numbers are allocated so that a given pair (ie. number 1 from each team) comes to the middle when their number is called, however we play that a name from each team is called so that uneven ability matches can be evened out and uneven numbers of team members are not a problem. Each pair races to the middle (we crawl because we play in a combined space), grabs their newspaper bat and hits the ball towards their team goals while the other person attempts to do the same. See photo at top of article.
  • icecream run 50 cent cones from drive through at McDonalds are a bargain for us. Grab one each and head to a beach or somewhere with a view to eat them.
  • trampoline star-gazing On a clear night, take sleeping bags, pillows and blankets onto the tramp to watch the stars and find as many constellations, satellites, aeroplanes or falling stars as you can. Take some kind of treat to snack on while you do it and be prepared for littlies to be jumping all over you while you do it. Perhaps combine this with a good sock wrestle. (See below.)
  • sock wrestling Every family member puts on socks (the longer the better, but only one pair allowed!) The simple rules are that the last person left wearing a sock wins. You may like to confine the wrestling to a certain place or make it a fast paced, wide-ranging game that moves throughout the house. Ground-rules are necessary and older children must be taught how to look after the little ones and how to make it fun for them ie. NOT removing both their socks in the first 3 seconds of the game or handling them too roughly. We like to sock wrestle on the trampoline and Mum and Dad both enjoy the tussle. With little kids, we pretty much wrestle each other while they gang up on us to try to get our socks. It’s harder than you think but lots of fun. You can play that once you have no socks you are out of the game but we let the children continue regardless.
  • giant icecream Sundays Provide a stack of yummy ingredients and everyone helps to create one large masterpiece. All dig in with spoons to the same dish to enjoy the creation once complete. A large serving tray or similar works well.
  • feeling rich? Visit the local ice-skating or roller-skating rink, theme park, miniature golf, bowling, indoor playground centre or other attractions in your city.
  • fish and chips at the beach Summer is perfect for a fish and chip dinner and sandcastle competition or even a dip. If the budget is tight, take tomato sauce, mayo, and a loaf of fresh bread from home and just get a bulk lot of chips for chip buddies.
  • progressive dinner Follow clues to track down the entrée and enjoy it wherever you find it. More clues lead you to the main in a different part of the house and still more to an interesting location where dessert is waiting.
  • museums Museums are usually free and can be interesting. Find out what is on first and choose a couple of sections to visit that will appeal to the children. Don’t drag them through every single display and insist on reading every plaque or they will hate museums for ever! Many museums have sections especially designed for children and some even have hands-on displays and activities to do. Find out what they usually do for school class visits and ask for an activity pack or whatever they usually supply to the students.
  • sardines Another variation on hide-and-seek. One person hides and everyone searches. As each seeker finds the hider, they must join them in their hiding place until everyone is squashed in like sardines. The trick is not to hop in the hiding place when others are watching, but to wait until you are alone to join the hider.
  •  hiking/nature walks Head to the country, local lake or river or anywhere scenic for a nature walk. Take a kite, football, quoits, bocce or any other outdoor games to enjoy together. Enjoy a picnic along the way and perhaps have the children create their own trail mix to take with them before you leave home.
  • pick fruit or berries together Visit a fruit orchard or berry farm and pick tonnes of luscious fruit for jams or just to enjoy fresh off the tree. Have fun cooking it up into treats when you get home.
  • bake-off Choose you favourite biscuit and/or cake recipes and hold a bake-off. Pair older and younger participants. Take some of the delicious cakes and cookies to neighbours, visit someone who is sick in hospital or spend time visiting a retirement home.
  • art and craft night Find some simple craft activities the whole family can enjoy. Things that require mess and/or effort that you wouldn’t normally get around to. There are unlimited ideas available on the net.
  • make birthday, Christmas or special occasion gifts and cards
  • catch a bus or train to an area you don’t usually visit. Perhaps go to a cafe and let the children choose a special drink or snack.
  • indoor picnic or backyard picnic. Under the kitchen table, in the cubby, under or on the trampoline, in a sheet tent, at the local park, beach, bush area etc.
  • Go on a neighbourhood walk. See how many different kinds of plants and flowers you can identify. Prepare a list of items to spot along the way. Perhaps the kids can ride bikes while Mum and Dad walk.
  • tub of icecream  Swing past the supermarket for a tub of icecream. (Don’t forget the spoons.) Take it to the local park and let everyone grab a spoon and go for it. If you want to be more civilized, buy a pack of cones as well.
  • backwards dinner Start with dessert and work backwards. Tip: Don’t prepare a large main meal or entrée. Chances are the kids won’t get that far!
  • movie night Make caramel popcorn or another suitable movie style treat. Set up a snack stand and “sell” the treats and drinks for Monopoly money. Roll out the red carpet (bath mats, towels, sheet etc) and make pretend tickets for the kids to distribute. Darken the room and have ushers seat guests by torch-light. Set out doonas, pillows, beanbags and cushions. We watch very little TV on a day-to-day basis so a movie night is something special for the kids.
  • make your own pizza. Roll out the dough and top it with sauce. Set out a selection of toppings and let the kids choose their own. Don’t forget to make a dessert pizza too.

  • puzzle night Choose some difficult and some easy puzzles to work on as a family. For the younger kids, hide puzzle pieces around the room and have them search until they have completed the puzzle. Perhaps have a race against the grown-ups or older children to see who can complete theirs first.
  • watch home videos Most of us take home videos from time to time so sit down and enjoy watching them together. Kids love to see themselves on TV.
  • make home movies Sing songs, perform plays, read radio dramas, record favourite stories to make your own read-along audio tapes complete with sound effects, record video “letters” to friends or family who live a distance away, write scripts and act them out or try scripted funny home movies.
  • press flowers Go for a nature walk to collect flowers and sprigs of attractive leaves to press in home-made flower presses or in the pages of telephone books. A couple of weeks later, use them to make home-made cards for friends and family. Make sure children get permission before taking flowers from neighbours’ plants or trees.
  • Hold a gingerbread man decorating competition. Pre-make the dough and provide rolling pins, cutters, cutting boards, knives, toothpicks and the like. Lay out the icing and toppings for everyone to decorate to their heart’s content. Have several categories for winners (most interesting, most colourful, neatest, most appetising etc.) so that everyone can have a prize (eating the gingerbread man of course!)
  • obstacle course Use household items and equipment to set up an indoor or outdoor obstacle course and run time trials. Place time handicaps on older participants or have them do it running backwards etc.
  • old-fashioned games night Go bobbing for apples, play jacks, hopscotch and other traditional games.
  • scavenger hunt Collect all of the items on a written or pictorial list as quickly as possible.
  • treasure hunt Follow clues to get to the location for the next clue or look up bible verses to provide answers to questions that must be complete before the next clue is handed out. Don’t forget to have a “prize” at the end; perhaps a special snack to share together.
  • neighbourhood trivia hunt Spread out around the local area in teams with an older child or adult leading each one. Go to various locations to answer trivia questions once they arrive at the designated place. For example, “What colour is the letter box at number 10 James St?” or “How many trees are there in Mrs Jones’ front garden?”
  • playdough Pictionary Use suitable cards from Pictionary or create your own. One member from each team looks at the card and both race to create the object using playdough. The first team to guess what it is wins a point. Be sure to match abilities of team representatives for each round as evenly as possible.
  • visit the confectionary and chocolate isle at the local supermarket and let the children have the chocolate or lolly of their choice. When children are not regularly eating this kind of food it’s a big deal to do something like this. This can also be done in the lunchbox snack area with all those pre-packaged processed lunchbox snacks that I never buy my kids!
  • tower or castle building competition Use Duplo, Lego or whatever construction materials you have at home with a time limit for construction to take place.
  • Visit the local Bunnings, McDonalds or Ikea playground. Have a cone or sausage sizzle while you are there.
  • shopping centre adventure Ride on one of the merry-go-rounds you usually say no to before going into the supermarket and letting the kids choose items for lunch at the park afterwards (fresh rolls, packet of biscuits, snack cheese, sliced sandwich meat, yoghurt tub, mini chip packets or whatever takes their fancy and fits within your parameters.) Don’t forget to grab a cheap packet of  plastic spoons for those yoghurt pots – it’s very difficult to scoop out chocolate Yogo with your hands. (And yes, I am speaking from experience!)
  • $2 dollar shop Go to the local discount variety store and give each child $2 to spend.
  • op shopping Visit the local recycling boutique or secondhand store and give each child $3 to spend. The catch is, they lucky dip the name of a sibling or family member first and must choose something for them, rather than themselves. Supervision is required here for the younger ones. While my 4 year old daughter was sure my 8 year old son would LOVE a pair of pink sparkly shoes, I was not so convinced.
  • google playgrounds and parks in your city and visit one you have never been to before. We were introduced to a new one recently that was just 10 minutes from our house that we didn’t know was there and it was great!
  • charades Play in teams and dress-up in costumes and props from around the house.
  • bike rides Bike riding is always fun. Use tag-alongs, baby seats or toddler trailers for the littlies and take the bikes, scooters or skateboards to the local bike path, unused basketball or netball courts or just for a cycle around the local neighbourhood.
  • wet weather exploring Don wet weather gear, get out the gumboots and go for a rain walk, jumping in as many puddles as you can find along the way.
  • karaoke/Australian idol Rehearse and perform for a family concert. Organise a ticket booth and snack bar as for movie night. Video proceedings for a laugh later.
  • surprise lunch For those whose children are at school, a surprise pick up and special lunch at a nearby park or take-away venue will be a memorable treat. Collect Dad from work in his lunch hour and “kidnap” your school children. (With the teacher’s knowledge of course!)
  • breakfast dates Head out early before church or school for a family breakfast together. This also works well for one-on-one dates with Dad or Mum.
  • dress up Choose from the dress-up box or Mum and Dad’s wardrobe if you’re game. The kids will love it, especially the shoes. There’s just something about shoes! Have a photo session with everyone in crazy attire, followed by a disco dance session to boppy music with a couple of rounds of musical bobs and musical statues.
  • talent quest and family orchestra or marching band Singing, playing instruments, acting, skits, reciting a poem and telling jokes are all suitable for the talent quest. Finish off with a family orchestra – everyone grabs a percussion instrument and plays along to lively music while marching about the house.
  • cooperative drawing Cover the table with a huge roll of paper and everyone draws. Try blindfold drawing. Everyone closes their eyes to draw a picture and has a laugh at the results.
  • pamper night Give everyone face masks (yes, even Dad!), paint nails, give the girl’s “up do’s,” spike up the boys’ hair and get dressed-up in fancy clothes. Take family photos now that everyone looks so nice and go out somewhere to take advantage of everyone looking so good. The photos could be serious (set up lighting, use a tripod) or silly (weird clothes, expressions and poses.)
  • teddy bear’s picnic or tea party All stuffed animals and dolls must be dressed for the occasion. Make invitations and menus. Cook some tiny food treats to share.
  • tapas night Serve authentic Spanish tapas or just little plates of nibblies. We put out heaps and heaps of tiny plates from every tea set we own with 7 of everything on each plate – one per person. 7 strawberries, 7 meatballs, 7 apricots, 7 grapes,  7 finger sandwiches and on and on. Ours was just regular food but after you’ve eaten one block of cheese, 1 cherry tomato, 1 mini muffin and so on, it makes for quite a meal.
  • outdoor movie nights Check local guides over summer for sessions and go all out with a fancy picnic. Don’t forget the chairs and blankets – even on summer nights these events can get chilly.
  • beanbag wars (See here for instructions.)
  • spy missions  (I’ll post on this separately another day)
  • story telling Combine this with a sleep-over, star-gazing or other family night idea. Take turns adding one sentence at a time to the story. Play “Fortunately/Unfortunately” where each person adds on a small section of the story at a time, alternating between fortunately and unfortunately. (1st person: We were driving along in the car when unfortunately the tire blew. 2nd person: Fortunately we had a jack in the boot. 3rd person: Unfortunately the spare tyre was missing.)
  • ping-pong (table tennis), badminton or tennis championships Play round robin style games where everyone gets a go and rotation is fairly fast.
  • junk modelling Collect boxes, tubes, containers and decorative bibs and bobs of all kinds. Use them to create sculptures and amazing creations as a family. (If the creations are suitable, the children may like to keep them in their rooms for a few weeks to play with eg. castles, 10 story building etc.)
  • nobody’s birthday party Complete with cakes, party food and party games. Choose gifts and donate to a charity organisation.
  • puppet shows Set up pairs of chairs with sheets draped across as makeshift theatres. Use old socks, paper bags, bottles, wooden spoons or other simple items to make puppets. Use your puppets to rehearse and put on a puppet show for each other.

Well, there you have it; please share your ideas via a comment below – its always nice to glean a new idea from someone else!