Fathers may affectionately refer to their sons as the "apples of their eye" or "chips off the old block." Indeed, fathers are often the primary leaders for showing boys how to grow into well-rounded, successful men. Yet being an effective guide requires time and effort. In this modern world of computers and video games, it's more important than ever for dads to keep close ties with their sons, at any age.
Fathers and sons may share many common interests, which can make it easier to come up with activities that both will enjoy. At the same time, when planning a father-son afternoon, it's important to choose things that offer opportunities for communication and shared learning. Cater to a son's interests while keeping in mind the skills you can impart. Engaging in meaningful father-son activities can go a long way to promote a boy's self-confidence and character development.
Fire up the grill and teach your son the fine art of outdoor cooking. An adolescent son may steer clear of baking, but what guy doesn't like to cook over an open flame? First, take your son along to the grocery store and show him how to pick out the perfect steak -- or whatever type of meat he prefers. At home, share tips on prepping and spicing the cut to bring out the flavor. Then, teach him how to tell when the grill is ready is for food, as well as how to tell when everything is cooked.
For bonus points, whip up a side of mashed potatoes and greens to go with the sizzling steak. Or pass along your super-secret barbecue sauce recipe. You don't have to be limited to meat, either. Accessories such as a pizza stone and fish basket allow you to cook a wider variety of food on the grill.
What better way to spend time with your son than by traveling to a new place -- or simply driving around for a while. It doesn't have to be very far or expensive. Choose your favorite car music and snacks, and just get in the car and drive! Each season of the year brings new opportunities for exploration or activities, both indoor and out. Get out an atlas (don't rely solely on your GPS to get you from place to place) for a great opportunity to teach your son about reading maps and figuring out roads. You'll be amazed at how many meaningful conversations can occur when it's just you and your boy in the car!
Reading with your kids is one of the most important things you can share. Studies have shown that children who are read to from a young age do better in school overall, even in math. Reading also helps boost boys' imaginations and creativity. Not only are you bringing an infinite number of stories to life, you're also showing your son the importance of literacy and sharing language with one another.
You may have started reading to your son since before birth, or found a new love for books as he got older.
Whatever the case, it's never too late to start. You don't have to spend money, either. Visit your local library together to find books on any number of topics your son might have an interest in, whether it be dinosaurs, music, trucks or sports. You may even find new interests through books together. For older boys, try looking at newspapers or magazines together. Learning about current events as kids grow older is vital to them developing into well-informed, concerned adults.
Since kids spend a lot of time indoors these days, how about venturing outside? Take your son on a hike or bike ride along a nature trail. Or if you have more time on your hands, consider a weekend camping trip. Some outdoor adventure stores offer equipment rentals if you don't already own a tent and supplies. Out in nature, you can show your son how to fish, build a fire, read a compass and other essential survival skills.
Trapped in a concrete jungle? You can still have an outdoor adventure with your son, despite the urban setting. Set up a citywide scavenger hunt for him and show him how to navigate with street maps. A trip to the park for flying a kite or a radio-controlled airplane may also appeal to younger boys. Even a short ride on the subway or bus can be a great adventure in itself for younger kids. It's a great way to open their eyes to the diversity of people and their general surroundings.
Boys might start out playing with Matchbox cars, graduate to radio-controlled trucks and then move on to the real deal. If your son shows an interest in automobiles and mechanics, why not show him around the family car's engine?
Get out your vehicle's manual as a visual aid, and teach him about the different parts beneath the hood and how they work together. If you can, elevate the car for a peek at what's on the underside of the automobile, too. Educating your son on how to change a tire and check the oil and transmission fluid levels and other basic car care techniques will be useful throughout his life.
Bonding outside doesn't necessarily mean throwing a ball around or riding bikes. Planting a garden requires a lot of time and effort, and it can take up an entire weekend, if necessary. Gardening is also a great planning experience, since you have to decide which fruits, veggies, herbs and flowers you want to grow in your yard. In addition to the importance of simply bonding, gardening with children offers many other benefits, including promoting cooperative learning, developing responsibility through keeping the garden alive, encouraging healthy eating, learning about the environment and boosting self-esteem with a job well done.
A small construction project is one way you can literally build a stronger relationship with your son. For younger boys, choose a simple item to build, such as a birdhouse. Although hammering might not be a safe for tykes, they can still help you measure wood and paint the final product. Preteens and adolescents may be more interested in things like model planes, soapbox cars or tree houses, and many hardware and home improvement stores offer weekend building workshops for both parents and children.
A mini construction project can demonstrate the value of planning, concentration and attention to detail in work. Collaborating on it also underscores the importance of teamwork.
Want to know a sure-fire way to get to know your son better? Interview him! You can ask serious questions, such as what is he most proud of in his life or what he might be afraid of. You can ask his favorite ice cream flavor at the moment or his favorite book. Or, you can get really silly and ask something like what animal would he most like to bring to school, or, if he could be any kind of toy, what would he be and why. Then, have your son ask you the same questions back.
Asking your child questions helps him realize your interest in him, and it'll allow him to open up to you and help him feel more comfortable expressing himself. Make it an annual, or even quarterly, event and see how his answers change over time. You may also be surprised at how he may want to ask you questions back, sparking his interest in you and the world around him.
Probably the most quintessential father-son activity is attending a sporting event. Cheering on a team together and watching the exciting play-by-play action makes for a prime bonding experience. If going to a professional sports game isn't feasible, you and your son can still experience a little healthy competition. Just a few ideas for sports-related activities include:
- Take your son to a local minor league team practice session for an insider's look at the sporting life.
- Watch the big game at home and go all out with burgers, chips and dip and soda.
- Challenge your son to an afternoon tournament of his favorite sports video game. Up the ante with a fun prize for whoever wins. For instance, if your son wins, he gets a few days off from chores; if you win, your son has to wash your car.
The importance of teaching kids about helping others starts by example. There are many volunteer opportunities in your neighborhood, at any time of the year. You don't have to wait until Thanksgiving or Christmas to help sort supplies at a food pantry, clean up a park or help repair a house for a family in need. Talk to your son about what might interest him, and sign up for an opportunity you can share together. You can spend as little as one morning a month volunteering, or you may discover you want to offer more time if you find a local organization to actively support.
Remember, creating a special bond is about putting time and effort into father-son activities, and the simplest times are often the most memorable.
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- Children and Nature Network. "Benefits of Gardening for Children." Feb. 2009. (Dec. 29, 2011) http://www.childrenandnature.org/news/detail/fact_sheet_summarizes_benefits_of_gardening_for_children
- Do Something. (Dec. 29, 2011) http://www.dosomething.org
- National Education Association. "Facts About Children's Literacy." (Dec. 30, 2011) http://www.nea.org/grants/13662.htm
- National Gardening Association. "USDA Hardiness Zone Finder." (Dec. 29, 2011) http://www.garden.org/zipzone
- Volunteer Match. (Dec. 29, 2011) http://www.volunteermatch.org