10 Ways to Make Family Fun Night a Reality
Most Wednesdays my kids eat pancakes for dinner. Why, you ask?
1. No one complains.
2. Pancakes are easy.
3. Wednesday is family night.
One night a week, we put aside chores and activities and have fun together. Apparently we aren’t alone. Families all over the Triangle carry out similar family time traditions.
Angeles Vargas of Apex says she and her husband started a family night two years ago. The five Vargas kids range in age from 2 to 14. Sometimes they watch a movie, play basketball or even jam on instruments.
“Family night reminds us how much we need each other’s company,” Vargas says. “We need to laugh at the same things and share experiences, which become memories.”
J.W. and Melissa Hilliard of Raleigh also share a regular family night with their boys, ages 5 and 8. To accommodate their busy schedules, J.W. says, they keep things low key with pizza and a board game. But there’s a lot more going on under the surface.
“Family night communicates our values,” Hilliard says. “We value each other. We value fun. Our lives are so busy. Our schedules would just fill and fill without set-apart family time.”
A full schedule is a reality for many families. However, families who regularly take time to make fun memories together see big dividends, says Toqui Kennedy, a psychologist with N.C. Family & Parent Consultants in Raleigh.
“Fun is important to creating and sustaining familial bonds,” Kennedy says. “Fun experiences create feelings of connectedness, which is one component to having an emotionally safe environment.” Kennedy adds that regular family time works on several levels. It also creates organic opportunities for face-to-face communication and can be used to set common goals. This is true in our family, as well. Sometimes it’s difficult to talk to the kids about more serious topics, like stranger safety or bullying. Enter family night, where the TV is turned off, friends have gone home and our boys expect interaction with us. We keep the focus on fun, but have found they’re more receptive to a discussion on family night.
Making It Happen
Interested in starting your own family time tradition, but not sure how to bridge the gap between reality and your best intentions? One way is to keep things simple. Kennedy recommends brief activities for younger children, like going for ice cream. Older kids and teens can participate in a volunteer project, hike or cook a special dinner.
Hilliard says it helps to schedule family night on the calendar. He also advises parents against sweating the details. “Instead of looking for the perfect everything—time, place, activity—just start with a movie or game.”
Remember that connection, not perfection, is the goal. If you miss a night, don’t call it quits. Pick up where you left off the next week. Don’t worry if your family night isn’t Facebook-worthy. Do what works best for your clan. And if you start to run out of ideas for family night, ask for your children’s input and follow their lead. Kids are experts on fun.
The end result of all this togetherness?
“Now the kids are the ones asking, ‘What are we doing for family night?’” Vargas says. “It’s great. You come to value what you invest time in, and we value each other more.”
Here are 10 zero-prep ways your family can experience fun together.
1. Plan a family dance party. Create a family playlist and make like “Parenthood’s” Braverman family.
2. Do a time hop. Get out the baby photo albums, laptops and home videos. Kids love to watch themselves and relive memories. Invite a grandparent to join you with extended family photos. There’s nothing funnier than seeing Uncle Jack’s circa 1970 sideburns.
3. Get puzzled. Bored of board games? Pick a puzzle and complete it as a team.
4. Trace Zentangles. We’ve found Zentangles to be a great activity for those nights when we want to have a talk with the kids. It keeps hands busy and minds alert. No artistic skills necessary. Start with a piece of paper and something to draw with. Trace a series of overlapping shapes (think Venn diagrams). Now design every section with a different pattern or color. Voila! Your own art gallery. If you still don’t get it, search ‘zentangles’ online for ideas.
5. Play video games. Have a serious gamer in your house? Grab a remote. Kids love teaching parents for a change. There are also plenty of games that encourage physical activity.
6. Include Fido. Unleash the hermit crabs. Use the laser pointer to entertain the cat. Have a guinea pig race. You get the idea.
7. Read a book. Pile up the pillows and put on the pajamas. Read a novel out loud, listen to a digital book recording, or bring home a variety of picture books from the library to share.
8. Create art together. Dig out all of those random, leftover bits from craft and school projects and make something new and unexpected. Let them use … glitter. When it’s time to clean up, everyone chips in. No leaving Mom or Dad holding the trash bag.
9. Go on a scavenger hunt. Write down a list of common items on scraps of paper (either indoors or outdoors). Set a timer. Whoever finds the most items before the buzzer goes off wins. Play as individuals or as teams.
10. Snazz up snack time. Get the kids involved and make food the main event. Try popcorn with mix-ins, pretzels made from ready-made pizza dough, ice cream sundaes or apple nachos — thin apple slices drizzled with microwaved peanut butter and topped with chocolate chips.
Christa Hogan is a local freelance writer and mom to three boys.