The typical family's daily routine is often so chaotic that it's much too easy to grow apart. Sure, your oldest son might make time to pound on his little brother for a few minutes every day, but true quality time is often a rare luxury.
Here's a little bit of unsolicited but very useful advice: Do your best to make time after the soccer practices, dance lessons and business conferences for family activities that everyone will enjoy.
Although you might not end up swapping your innermost hopes and dreams for the future, you'll almost definitely find out something new about everyone in your brood and make a memory or two to file away for future reminiscence and/or embarrassing recollection.
There's a camping trip out there for even the most pampered person (this author included). If the idea of sleeping on the ground is too much for you, opt instead to rent a rustic cabin or a motor home for your foray into the great outdoors. Those of you who love to rough it can camp the way nature and outdoor super stores intended. Load up the car with a tent, some food and other basic supplies, and hit the campsite of your choice. Your kids will love this opportunity to hike, fish and explore.
Parents of younger children might also seize the opportunity to make the trip educational by pointing out the various wildlife, trees and plants in the area. For that inevitable moment when your teenage daughter complains about the lack of cell phone service, simply make sure you're armed with s'mores fixings for the ultimate camping confection.
Today's parents can't hear it enough: Obesity is a major problem among children and adults. In fact, one-third of adults (that's 17 million people!) in the United States are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The childhood obesity epidemic has also gone through the roof, with more than 17 percent of kids in falling in the obese weight range. Fight this trend as a family by engaging in regular physical activity. No one's saying you have to purchase a bunch of leotards and muscle tees or set up a weight room in your basement. Simply take a few hours each week to have high-energy dance parties in your living room, walk or bike around the neighborhood, or hold relay races in your front yard.
Ambitious athletes can even work up to a goal, like training for parent/child triathlons together. It doesn't matter how you stay active -- just find something everyone is capable of doing, and enjoy it together. Doing so will improve everyone's quality of life, establish lifelong healthy habits and bring your family closer together.
Sure, your teen might cringe at the mention of game night, but odds are that he'll ditch his negative attitude once he's in the throes of a rousing game of Pictionary (just don't make him admit to it in front of his friends). Haul out the family game collection, and take turns letting everyone pick which one to play. Mix up some modern selections, like Scene It, with classic favorites, like Monopoly or Battleship.
Game night is practically guaranteed to bring out everyone's inner kid, so make it a point to serve sugary, decadent snacks, like Twinkies or ice cream sundaes, to keep energy levels high.
Whether you pick up a fancy-pants e-reader, listen to books on tape or check out an old-school paperback from the library, take steps to make reading a regular part of your family's life.
Lose yourselves in an age-appropriate science fiction novel by reading a chapter out loud to your kid at bedtime every night. Or, pick up a copy of your teen's school reading list and read as many of those selections as you can. Talking about the various characters and plot points that you loved or didn't quite understand is an ideal way to bring you closer to your kid and improve his reading level and comprehension at the same time. Take it one step further by making a date to see the movie version on video or in the theater, if there's one available.
It's absurdly easy to get caught up in day-to-day problems. When we're consumed with a million little worries, we forget how good we really have it.
Volunteering as a family is an excellent way to foster a sense of self-worth, help improve the lives of less fortunate families and give back to the community. Whether you make it a weekly, monthly or quarterly event, consider giving each family member the opportunity to choose the cause you support. Your pint-sized daughter might want to help out children her own age by volunteering at the local pediatric hospital, or your teen might prefer to build a house with Habitat for Humanity. Truly ambitious families might choose to forego a traditional vacation in favor of a volunteer-based one, such as a church mission trip to Haiti or other areas devastated by natural disaster. Such eye-opening and rewarding experiences might help your teen stifle his moans about the injustices of driving Uncle Ed's old station wagon.
Every year, the average American family drops big bucks to watch characters like Captain Jack Sparrow and Indiana Jones explore the world. Why not strike out on your own adventure? OK, maybe island-hopping in the Caribbean is a tad ambitious (and expensive), but you can explore local offerings at the very least.
Younger kids in particular enjoy traditional scavenger hunts, which you can hold at the local park or in your very own backyard. Or, snap on Fido's leash and hit an unexplored subdivision during a family walk.
You can always check out the local mountains or lake if you dream of exploring on a slightly larger scale. Whatever setting and activity you choose, let your kids be part of the preparation process. Even little guys can help make trail mix or pack the cooler for the excursion.
You're probably surrounded by a cultural mecca of museums, theaters and art galleries. Why do you only take advantage of these offerings when you're hosting out-of-town guests?
The next time you're tempted to spend a rainy Saturday on the couch watching a "Jersey Shore" marathon, set a better example for your family by planning a visit to one of the many attractions your city has to offer.
Little kids love puppet shows, plays, the circus and child-friendly museums. You can appeal to your teen's budding musical or dance interest by visiting the ballet or symphony. If none of those options strikes a chord with your kid, consider springing for prime seats to a concert featuring one of the rare bands that appeal to all generations, like the Rolling Stones or Aerosmith. Be sure to temporarily fade into the background if he bumps into his friends, though. You might be considered cool for landing the box seats, but there's nothing quite as uncool as introducing your parents to the prettiest and most popular girl in class.
For small kids in particular, it doesn't take much to turn an ordinary living room into a makeshift playground. A few sheets draped strategically around armchairs and couches can quickly morph furniture into a fabulous indoor fort perfect for your whole family.
Split up into teams and compete by seeing who can build the best castle out of blocks or who can fashion the most realist animals from modeling clay. Everyone is sure to get a good laugh out of playing dress-up with your old clothes from the '80s, although some of them might look frighteningly similar to current fashion trends. Your kids will certainly appreciate the chance to catch a glimpse of the rarely seen extra-silly sides of their usually serious parents.
Many families are so wary of pesticide exposure that they're turning to homegrown fruits, veggies and herbs instead of picking them up at the grocery store.
However, gardens don't just grow themselves. Even if you have a serious green thumb, it takes a lot of planning, work and maintenance to yield a successful backyard crop.
Since most children are naturally inclined to play in the dirt, take advantage of it by working alongside them in a family garden. Little ones can plant seeds or pull weeds, while older children can help you harvest, fertilize and keep plants watered on a daily basis. Maybe having a hand in growing the veggies will inspire your picky eater to try a few for a change. A parent can dream, right?
Sometime around middle school, science experiments become fundamentally uncool. While your kids are still in the single digits, have fun with science!
Younger kids get a serious kick out of learning basic scientific principles, like magnetic attraction and repulsion, how mold forms (you can perform this experiment with ancient spaghetti leftovers, by the way) and why baking soda and vinegar combine to form homemade volcanoes.
Surf the Web for a ton of great ideas for easy, at-home experiments utilizing everyday household items. Have you got tons of leftover Halloween or Valentine's Day candy? Teach your kids about dissolution by putting candy hearts in water, or show them what happens when a Skittle is submerged (the "S" floats to the top!). Finding alternatives to scarfing down all that extra sugary stuff will benefit your minds and your waistlines simultaneously, plus you'll be spending old-fashioned quality time with your family.
HowStuffWorks learns about the free-range parenting philosophy and talks to the movement's founder Lenore Skenazy.
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- Atlas Heelan, Charis. "Volunteer Vacations, Family Style." Frommer's. Feb. 2, 2009. (Dec. 14, 2010). http://www.frommers.com/articles/5784.html
- Candy Experiments. (Dec. 14, 2010). http://www.candyexperiments.com/
- "Family Road Trips." Travelocity. (Dec. 14, 2010). http://www.travelocity.com/TravelForGood/cn-trips.html
- Lee, Denise. "Bedtime Routines: How to Get Back on School Time." Parents. 2008 - 2009. (Dec. 14, 2010). http://www.parents.com/kids/education/back-to-school/setting-a-back-to-school-bedtime-routine/
- "Obesity. Halting the Epidemic by Making Health Easier: At a Glance 2010." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2010. (Dec. 14, 2010).http://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/AAG/obesity.htm
- "Take a Hike! 8 Family-Friendly Tips." Parents. 2010. (Dec. 14, 2010). http://www.parents.com/fun/activities/outdoor/child-outdoor-activities/