I saw a beautiful FB post the other day that said it’s a parents job to raise a child who is comfortable enough to leave you (and also that they are a gift on loan, not ours to keep). Okay, so I am liberally paraphrasing it, but the gest was that we, as parents should be helping to make sure our children become successful adults. I’m not talking Harvard grads, but adults who can do their own laundry, cook, get a job, interact with others, and survive and thrive in the world. Whew- it sounds like a tall order, but parents have been doing it forever.
To aid in that confidence-building process here are 21 things you should do with your kids this year, not only to foster some independence and critical thinking skills but also for some family bonding time as well. As parents, we know these kids grow up fast. Don’t let this time slip by unmarked. Check out these 21 ideas. And the best part of all is that most of them are free and frugal!
If you’re short on time, just check out the video. If not- read on!
21 Things You Should Do With Your Kids This Year
Find your nearest trail…and hike it.
Whether you live in the city or out in the wilds, scenic trails crisscross countries around the world. From park walks around ponds to Rocky Mountain vistas to historic sights in Boston and beach walks in Maine, trails are everywhere. If you happen to live near one of the greats- like the Appalachian Trail, you don’t need to block out 6 months of your time. Take it in spurts. Do what you can. Make it a family goal to tackle the trail. If it’s a short trail, get to know it by visiting it through the seasons and take note of the changes.
Go fishing together.
Fishing can mean throwing a pole out from a lakeside, on a wooden dock, concrete city pier, or taking a boat out to deeper waters. You don’t have to get fancy. A cane pole will do (and fishing license for adults). Depending on the fish, bread rolled into tiny balls works just as well for small fish bait. Bring a rag to take your catch off the hook.Whether you practice catch and release sport fishing or grill your catch of the day, this useful skill not only bonds families and makes for some interesting memories. Fishing is a sport (and skill) that is becoming forgotten in the digital world, and purchasing your license and participating in fishing programs aids in wildlife conservation (who knew!) Pass fishing on to your children and don’t let it die out. You can give a child food and he will eat for the day, but teach him (or her!) to fish, and they will eat for a lifetime.
Have a barbeque.
Ah, the smells of meat cooking over an open fire. You’ve smelled it from neighboring yards, at Independence Day and sporting events- and you may have even drooled and looked in envy at the other families enjoying their outdoor feast. Well, it’s time to become one of those families. Chicken, fish, ribs, hamburgers, hot dogs, even lamb chops (yes, I did just say that)- they all taste better grilled. If you don’t have a grill or a place to grill at home, go to a park. Many local parks have grills for visitors to use. Bring your own charcoal (and lighter fluid) or go old school with sticks. Follow the park rules regarding their grills and fires- including cleaning out the grill afterward, and make it a picnic. Give your kids an age-appropriate job to do – like flipping the burgers or making the tea/salad.
The next step up from a barbeque and fishing is the night out under the stars. Take your kids camping. State parks are a great place to pitch a tent and take advantage of wilderness culture, but if you have really young kids, are wilderness wary, or are short of time, camping in your own backyard can be just as fun. Make s’mores, tell (ghost) stories around a campfire, get a book (free when you borrow it from your library) or a star-gazing app and try and point out the constellations.
Get to know your local history.
Every place has history, and it’s good to learn just what went down in your town. This encourages kids to get their inner sleuth on and helps with researching skills. Hit your local library first. Do you have any mom & pop shops around? They are usually good sources of local knowledge. Is your town famous for anything? Or infamous? Stop and read the plaques on statues. Around Halloween, the local papers like to print local ghost stories- read up about them as well. Give your town dimension by learning the history. Your kids may groan at first when you try this (especially teenagers), but later you may hear them boosting to other kids about a homegrown celebrity they found out about.
Test your skills on a bike course.
Does your park have a bicycle skills course? Many places are now adding ramps and even jumps to their parks to encourage the youth to get outside. Start with the simple obstacles and work your way up. Don’t have a bike? Sometimes you can rent them at shops near the courses, but if you can’t, or are looking for a more frugal option, try the exercise courses in the parks. You’ll find trails with exercise equipment or stations at them that tell you to do ten chin ups, sit ups, balance across a beam, etc. Take the whole family and make it an exercise challenge.
Build the perfect campfire…and roast marshmallows.
We have had many campfire flops- wet wood, too much smoke, no fire at all. In fact, it wasn’t until my sister married a former Boy Scout leader that we learned how to make the perfect campfire (thank you, John!). So start smart- teach yourself and your children this extremely useful skill. The folks at REI have some expert advice and even videos on how to build a campfire. Some important things to remember- if there’s a fire ban in your area, save it for another time, same goes for being too windy. Don’t have a backyard? Check out your local state or national park for a campout. Some allow fires, and always in their designated areas, others do not. Be sure to ask first. Then break out the marshmallows for a campfire roast!
Grow your own vegetables.
Growing your own veggies is another useful skill for people of all ages. This also helps kids to know where their food comes from. You can visit a local picking farm for ideas of what grows in your area, or peruse the local garden store. Have a lush lawn you couldn’t bear to dig up, vegetable growing would go against HOA rules, or live in an apartment? No problem. You can always start small- a plant pot in a sunny window. Have your children decide what they would like to grow- or take a family vote. Tomatoes work well as a starter plant and the kids can pick the produce when they are ripe. A pot of prolific bush beans makes a great first plant too. Start small and expand from there.
Take a walk at night with flashlights.
It is human instinct to be afraid of the night our ancestors feared the nocturnal carnivores that roamed looking for food in the dark. And even in some places today, that’s a good instinct to have. However, there’s a world of wonder that opens up once the sun sets.
If you live in the country, you are pretty much set- moonlight country walks over open pastures are amazing. If you live close to civilization, use an overnight trip to a state or national park for your night wanders- bring a flashlight and pay attention! Many people have walked off of cliffs in parks in daylight- it’s always good to see what’s ahead of you.
In the summer nights, you may see fireflies. In the south by the swamps, you can shine a light on the water and see the shining eyes of all the alligators (yeah, stay back from that water!) Watch out for bears. Listen to the night sounds. Feel the evening dew. It’s like the upside down, without the demi-Gorgan. Your kids will never forget it.
Have a family tournament.
Whether it’s bowling, frisbee, soccer, or kick the can, get a family sport that everyone loves and have a tournament. Winner gets an ice cream sundae. Not the sporty types? Darts (for older kids), board games, gamer challenges, or even flip the bottle till it stands upright all make good family competitions too. The real goal is to get everyone together. If you can make it a weekly event- even better- just get playing together as a family.
Have a day at the beach.
Beaches bring out the best in people- and a family day at the beach is a memory your kids will treasure. Dig in the sand. Build sandcastles. Have a picnic, or just hunt for seashells. Find your nearest beach and plan a family day. Invite friends and other families along as well. The more the merrier. Just don’t forget the sunscreen!
Learn how to read the weather and get to know when a storm is coming.
Are storm clouds rolling in? Er- maybe. Sure you can just download a weather app, but getting the 411 on the changes before a storm is not only handy when you’re out in the wilds- without phone service, but just a neat skill. It may even save a life, like noticing when warm air begins to mix with cool wind, creating the perfect tornado conditions.
Memrise has a good cloud course on their app to help you put a name to those unique formations in the sky- you may start to notice where some of the words in Harry Potter came from too (cough cough- “Nimbus”). And the weather channel can help you “read clouds like a meteorologist.” Those old-school rhymes: ‘red in the morning, sailor’s warning’ and ‘red at night, sailor’s delight’ still seem to hold true, no matter who tries to debunk those old wives- er, sailor’s sayings.
Make a family preparation emergency plan.
No one wants to think about bad things happening, but after millions of families had to evacuate their homes prior to Hurricane Irma hitting Florida, having an emergency plan doesn’t seem so crazy anymore. Have a family talk- over dinner works well, with an evacuation plan- who goes where- and what to do with the family dog. An in case of fire plan. And (heaven forbid) an if-something-goes-down-in-school plan. Yes. Address all of it.
Make a place to meet up. Create a safe word for everyone in case they are in trouble and need help. Safe places, safe words and some emergency supplies in stock-whatever works best for your family. Don’t get caught out unprepared – it doesn’t necessarily make you a prepper, just sensible & smart. And the more together your family is, the less chaotic it will be when everyone already knows what to do.
Skip stones in creeks or play in streams.
You don’t have to spend a fortune to make happy memories with your family. Take time from your busy schedule to do some of the simpler things in life. Find a creek- or a lake and skip stones across the surface. See how far everyone can do it. Take your shoes and socks off and wade in a shallow stream (watch out for slippery rocks), or chase waves along the beach. De-stress and unwind in nature and make some happy memories with your kids.
Go swimming and explore the underwater world.
Not everybody has the advantage of enjoying Florida’s natural springs for their underwater explorations, but if you don a mask, even in a swimming pool, the underwater world becomes a neat and mysterious place, with the shadows and sunlight, other swimmers and aquatic life.
Change your perspective and view the world from the underside (not to be confused with the upside-down, of course).
Learn how to identify animal tracks.
This will take going to somewhere with dirt- be it your backyard, a park, beach, or even local playground. You can get a book from the library or an app on your phone to help you identify the tracks you find. Don’t stop at animal tracks- get your kids to identify different shoes- show sizes- golf cart/bicycle/car/truck tracks- take tracking to the urban or suburban level, beyond the deer, dog, raccoon, and wildcat. Is this a necessary skill? Not really, unless you plan on becoming a Survivor contestant, living in the wild, or are trying to figure out what animal is opening your trash bins, but it’s a free and frugal way to connect with your kids and get them and you, to feel like Sherlock Holmes (or a CSI specialist).
Check out your local art.
Art is everywhere- from commissioned statues in city squares, urban paintings on building exteriors, to kitschy window displays and shop signs. You need not even step into a gallery or museum (though you could) to enjoy your local art. Take a walking tour of your town or any town your visiting- and check out the local art. Don’t be afraid to take family selfies in front of it too. That’s art making art. Art appreciation recorded for life.
Create a family soup recipe.
Sure, every couple has their ‘song,’ but every family should have its dish- and soup is an easy way to get your kids involved in the cooking. It can be a traditional soup, a fusion of tastes and cultures, or something made from one thing everyone likes. And yes, it will take some tweaking until it tastes just right, but when everyone agrees- that’s your family soup!
Bring your family soup to potlucks, family reunions, and parties. Make it for the day after Christmas or New Year’s Eve. Own that soup. Make it a tradition that your kids will pass on to their kids and so on- a legacy dish.
Have a family kayaking adventure and explore a new place.
Okay- so we had to sneak this in- because kayaking is awesome! Go kayaking, canoeing, test your balance skills on a stand-up paddleboard, or just take a boat- just get out there with the whole family, whether it’s a guided tour or a solo-family trip, and explore a new waterway- have an outdoor family adventure.
Stop to watch the sunset…often.
Saving the best for last- cultures around the world stop to watch the sunset, gathering on temple steps, on front porches, and urban rooftops. It’s the greatest show on the planet- and proof that you’ve made it through another day. Stop and get outside or get to a window and watch the beauty. Take a family walk during sunset. Press that pause button on everyone’s life and watch the sunset together…and do it often. 365 days. How many sunsets will you see this year?
Help your kids to become self-confident individuals. Foster self-confidence, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. Grow as a family. 21 Things. One Year. Are you up for the challenge?
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