7 Secrets of Fun Families

5. They fill their lives with sweet surprises

Kids thrive on routines, but it's often the unexpected joys that they truly treasure. These parents know how to catch their gang happily off guard -- and make the kinds of memories that last forever.

  • Keeping Them Guessing: The weekend-afternoon Mystery Trips started when Nikki Price was a girl and her mother would put the kids in the car without telling them where they were going. Now she carries on the tradition with her children, Zachary, age 8, and Rachel, 4, in Plainfield, Illinois. "We'll tell them how they need to dress and if they need to bring anything, but that's it," says Nikki. "The anticipation is a lot of fun, and my husband and I get a kick out of their guesses." A park? The zoo? It's a mystery -- at least until they get there.
  • Breaking the Rules: When it's lights out, it's time to sleep, right? Not if you're the three McKee kids in Katy, Texas. "I get everyone to bed like normal," their mom, Mandy, explains, "then, about ten minutes later, I blast music throughout the house! Everyone gets up, and we go get ice cream with the kids in their pj's. They expect it every summer, but they never know exactly when it's coming."
  • Surprising Others: Wacky stuff is plenty fun at home, but foisting it on an unsuspecting public really ups the ante. For example, Wave Day. You don't know about Wave Day? Oh, right, that's because the Johnson family of Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, made it up. On Wave Day, mom Rebecca, Gwyneth, age 14, and Jessica, 10, wave to every single person they can. "It's amazing to my girls that such a simple act can make a person's day."

6. They find the silver lining.

Fun is really a state of mind, as these look-on-the-bright-side families remind us. With a little creative thinking, they banish disappointment and turn it into delight.

  • A Can-Do Attitude: When a storm kept the Barbee family from the state fair, they decided to bring the fair to them. "I gave everyone an hour to make something to submit as an entry to the Family Fair," says Sonnet, an Idaho Falls, Idaho, mother of four. "We had artwork, a coin collection, homemade cookies, and a flower arrangement, and I awarded prizes to everyone." They competed in a trampoline-trick rodeo and a watermelon-eating contest. "The kids had so much fun that we forgot that we missed out on the real state fair."
  • Let Them Eat Cake (or Pie): When kids get the blues, distraction can be the best remedy. While her husband is away on business, Celi Back mixes it up so that the six kids, ages 9 months to 12, don't miss him as much. They camp out in the yard, make a construction paper "Welcome Home" sign, and, naturally, eat pie for dinner. "Once, we had spaghetti pie, then chocolate pie for dessert, and we ate it all on the floor, picnic-style," says the Tempe, Arizona, mom.

7. They make work feel like play.

These families skip the nagging and tackle household chores with a party spirit. It's got to get done, so it might as well be fun.

  • Sorting It Out: "Laundry party!" It's not your usual call to merrymaking, but that's what Janet Mongilio yells to her family when there's clean wash to be sorted in their Parkersburg, West Virginia, home. "All four of us run to the bedroom, dump the baskets of clothes on the bed, and start sorting them -- and throwing them at each other." (Picture a washday version of a food fight.) Chaos! Mayhem! And, in the end, a neat pile of folded clothes for everyone.
  • Harnessing the Competitive Spirit: When it comes to doing boring tasks, the Button family of Fayetteville, Arkansas, finds that a beat-the-clock contest gets everybody motivated. (Could that be because they've got two boys, ages 9 and 12, in the house?) "We set the timer, and we attempt, as a family, to beat our own time unloading the dishwasher, getting the trash out, or doing any one chore together," explains mom Kristi. The catch: "The dishes have to get put away in the right place and unbroken."
  • Hunting for a Clean Room: To bolster her kids' enthusiasm for tidying up, Carol Vargas of Kennesaw, Georgia, turns it into a rousing scavenger hunt. She hides clues (drawings or objects in small ziplock bags) in the clutter for her cleaning kids to find. The hints help the kids figure out their reward for completing the task. "It could be something as simple as a special lunch of fave foods, a chance to pick a toy out of our prize box, or a visit to the local park."

Originally published in the March 2013 issue of FamilyFun magazine

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