Last week, Fleur asked in the comments about making family memories on a budget.
Our girls are little right now and it doesn't need to be an enormous production for them to have fun (in fact, I've noticed that Ella in particular seems to be more stressed by big holidays like Christmas and Easter, and she enjoys more low-key family experiences more than all-out celebrations), and I don't want to do really big productions very often, but I do like doing family things together.
Here are ten that have been big hits in our house:
We did movie nights over the summer, but our girls go to bed so early (7 p.m.) that it's hard to squeeze in dinner and a movie without keeping them up way too late. Instead, we've started doing movie mornings on some Saturday mornings. Our only television is in our room, so we all snuggle in our bed in our pajamas, eat a non-messy breakfast (yogurt, like these Yoplait Greek 100s, is a big hit), and watch a movie together. There's no stress about the girls getting to bed on time and it starts the day off on a fun note.
Visit the Pet Store
We don't live particularly near a zoo (it's about an hour or more away, I think), but we've always been reasonably near a Petsmart or Petco and going there is basically heaven for my girls. I try not to look too closely at some of the animals because. . .yuck.
Taste Test Dessert Night
We don't have dessert most nights (my dad grew up in a home where they had dessert every single night, but my dad doesn't really love dessert and we rarely had dessert growing up. Our family is somewhere between the two), but one of our favorites is a taste testing night. Like our Pi Parties where you get to try a tiny sliver of a dozen or so different pies, we like to pick out a couple of different flavors of some dessert and then all compare. It's easiest with ice cream because you can get tiny little containers of them for a buck or so apiece (these Ben & Jerry cups were $1.29 each and there is a coupon for them too!) and the girls love picking out their own flavors and then sampling all of them. Plus, Bart introduced Ella to the idea of voting a few months ago and now she loves having the whole family vote.
For some reason, eating lunch or dinner somewhere that ISN'T the kitchen table is a thousand times more exciting. I don't do really elaborate picnics, but we pack some peanut butter sandwiches, string cheese, apple slices, water bottles and some chips (we basically only have chips on picnics, so they feel extra special to me. Also, Cheetos always remind me of being pregnant with Ella because they were the thing I craved most. Aside from Cinnamon Toast Crunch, which I probably ate 25 boxes of in nine months). We go to a nearby park (or just in the backyard), spread out a blanket, and enjoy a meal without the regular distractions of home.
Parking Lot Bike Riding
Last year, we discovered that our girls thought going to ride their bikes and scooters in an empty parking lot was basically the best thing ever. With all that space, they would probably stay forever if we let them. They like zipping along the parking lines, making circles around the handicapped signs and parking barriers, and burning off tons of energy. Church parking lots on a weekday or Saturday morning are particularly nice and empty.
I'm reading a book about Amish parenting right now and it mentioned how important it is for families to have other people in their homes as models of good adults and families for your own children. We try to have people over a lot, but recently I've discovered how much I like having a few moms and their children over for lunch on a weekday. It breaks up the sameness of stay-at-home mom life, the kids play, the moms visit, and then everyone has a simple lunch (last time, I did grilled cheese and tomato soup, and someone brought some fruit. No need to be fancy).
Right after Star was born, we started setting aside an hour every week or so where we'd all gather in the family room and read. We rotate between reading our own books and reading aloud to the girls, and it's been really fun and a nice way to get through a little more of my never-ending to-read list.
Music in the Park
Most cities, even small ones, tend to have free outdoor concerts in the summer and I love taking the girls to things like this. We might take along a picnic or grab something along the way, and it's so delightful to just be together as a family, hear some fun music, and eat some tasty food. This is reminding me to look up what's going on in Durham coming up soon; I'm a huge fan of keeping track of what your city offers for family - most places have a lot going on.
Our older girls are just getting to the stage where they can handle walking on their own for more than about five minutes at a time. Just before Star was born, we went to a nearby state park and hiked around for an hour or so. It was along a lake, so we stopped frequently to throw rocks in the water (which I think they could have done for hours at a time) and they also gathered all sorts of little pinecones, rocks, and other objects. It was free, we could stay as long or as short of a time as we wanted, and everyone came home and took a great nap afterward.
We live in a neighborhood where people really get out and about, so in the early evenings, we really like to sit on the driveway and meet our neighbors (and, in Ella's case, pet every single dog that comes by. Ani, on the other hand, is terrified of dogs). We often bring out the chalk from the chalkboard in the playroom and let the girls make masterpieces on the driveway or play hangman or tic-tac-toe. Sometimes, we take our dinner plates out and eat on the driveway, which I think is fun, and Bart thinks is a little bit low-class.
And if you have other suggestions for easy and cheap family activities for little kids, I'd be delighted to hear them!
P.S. You can print off a coupon for $5 on General Mills Snacks here. And enter to win $15 to try them out yourself below.
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