11 Ideas to Create Meaningful Family Moments
When the whole family is involved in planning fun activities, you'll have more opportunities to experience special moments. "Family glue" is what Pat Tanner Nelson, professor of Human Development & Family Studies at University of Delaware, calls those moments that connect your family and build deep, healthy relationships. "Spending time together as a family takes planning, but it's a good investment," Nelson says. "When children feel close to their parents, they try harder to please them and make them proud, which then makes the whole family stronger." It doesn't have to be complicated—with a little bit of effort, you can turn bonding into a lifetime of funny, sweet stories and lasting memories.
Plant a Family Garden
Encourage everyone to get their hands dirty by digging a patch to plant flowers or vegetables in the backyard. Tuck tender seedlings into the ground and watch them grow and blossom—like your kids are doing every day. As they witness green shoots turn into stunning plants, your whole family will gain a new respect for the natural world, all while learning patience and perseverance as you divvy up the tasks of keeping the garden weed-free, well-watered, and strong. And if someone squeals upon discovering a squirmy garden worm? That's a hilarious family moment for the scrapbook!
Plan a Family Vacation Together
You can set the budget and a suggest geographically convenient location but let your kids research attractions, coordinate travel times, and check the weather forecast. If you live in the Mid-Atlantic, for example, you might suggest Colonial Williamsburg, and your children’s itinerary could include an archaeological dig, meeting farm animals at the Peyton Randolph Yard, viewing 19th-century toys at the Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, and kid-centric tours of the former capital and royal governor’s palace. They'll feel proud, trusted, and independent as they take on a leadership role in the family, and you'll be proud to spend a wonderful day together with the children at the helm.
Conduct Family Interviews
Members of your family's older generations, like grandparents, great-aunts, and great-uncles, have many fascinating stories of growing up in different eras. Have your kids ask them what life was like in yesteryear and use a voice, or video recorder to capture their tales, voices, and expressions. Then turn the microphone around and encourage older family members to take turns interviewing someone, including the kids. By collecting personal anecdotes and memories, you'll have a time capsule of family history. As kids learn about their heritage, they can start thinking about their own legacies. Transcribe the interviews to create a book or digital file of photos for a slideshow to accompany the interviews.
Plan a Family Photoshoot
There's no better way to make and preserve family memories than by planning a family photoshoot. You can schedule a portrait session at a local studio, but to capture those real candid moments that will make you smile when looking back on them, seek out a photographer with a photo-journalistic style who knows how to handle kids during lifestyle shoots. If you're shooting in your neighborhood, pick a spot for the shoot that your family already loves, like a local park or playground.
Another option is to book a photographer while on vacation to capture your family's adventure. That's right: You can get the whole family into a good picture, no selfie stick required! To find a great photographer out of town we suggest using Flytographer's booking service— they work with photographers in more than 250 destinations who can help direct your photoshoot to get real smiles from you and your kids. Book an hour session to capture a family of 4 in two locations in your vacation town. [Use the code Parents25 for $25 off your shoot, Flytographer.com]
Cook (and Eat) a Family Meal
The benefits of eating dinner as family are multifold. Studies show that kids who dine frequently with their parents have improved academic performance, increased self-esteem, and a reduced risk of obesity. Regular dinnertime conversations are also linked with more open communication between kids and parents.
"The more you can get into the habit of really listening to your kids and having these conversations from early ages, the more likely it is that kids are going to talk to their parents in adolescence about issues that are troubling them," says Richard Weissbourd, a Harvard psychologist and the author of The Parents We Mean to Be. Start with a collection of recipes and then assign everyone an age-appropriate job (no knives for toddlers!). Get creative with ingredients and techniques to forge delicious memories.
Take a Family Nature Walk
Getting out into nature offers a special kind of space for enjoying each other's company. Although research hasn't yet pinned down the science behind the benefits of fresh air, "natural settings seem to help calm down children (and everyone)," Nelson says. So as you stroll down a wooded trail, along a shoreline, or even through an urban park, breathe in, let your shoulders relax, and look around at the trees, the birds, the sky, and each other.
Designate a Family "Holiday"
Surprise family members with "holidays" tailored to each personality. Just like birthdays and conventional holidays, pack these days with unique traditions (like a poem written in someone's honor) and special foods. The celebrations can also be clever and unexpected ways to honor each person. When I was a kid, my mother posted a puzzling note on the fridge that said "5 Days until WAHD." The countdown continued...4 days, then 3, then 2, then 1, and finally the surprise was revealed: It was "We Appreciate Holly Day!" The fun of anticipating the mystery and guessing what the letters stood for is something I'll always remember and cherish. The day consisted of my favorite dinner, a fabulous cake, and a poster-size list of all the special things I accomplished at the time, like finishing homework, being kind to my younger sister, and making my bed without being asked.
Host a Family Sports Event
You might not be the type to play family football in the yard like the Kennedys famously did, but having a regular game time is a terrific opportunity to teach lessons about playing by the rules and losing—or winning—gracefully. Think about the sports that would benefit your family dynamic and the interests of all the kids. Does everyone like indoor or outdoors sports? Recreational or extreme sports? Consider trips to the bowling alley, mini golf course, batting cage, or indoor climbing wall. Or try new and unfamiliar sports such as croquet and bocce. Even if no one is a fitness buff, any kind of physical activity, from a simple game of catch to a Frisbee toss to a walk around town, is fun, healthy, and the foundation of teamwork.
Have a Family Movie of the Week
Alternate between "parents pick" and "kids pick" to choose your film—and don't forget to throw in home movies occasionally for a special treat! Set the mood with theme decorations and let movie magic take you away. Then pop some corn, get cozy, and visit favorite old characters or meet new ones as you laugh, cry, learn, and explore together. One family in Texas even hangs lights and makes "Yoda Soda," mixing sparkling soda with lime sherbet for a Star Wars theme night. After the movie, talk about what you've seen, emphasizing any teachable moments that took place.
Start a Family Book Club
Once everyone in the family is old enough to read (or listen to read-aloud stories), take turns choosing a book and then pick one day each month to sit down and talk about it. Think of questions that will make the discussions come alive, and let whoever chose the book lead the conversation. If you're having trouble choosing a title, ask a local librarian or bookstore owner for advice. Extend an invitation to aunts, uncles, cousins, and other family members; if they live out of town, ask them to send thoughts via email or chat with them over FaceTime. Or be inspired by one family in Canada, who took their book club online by creating a blog and inviting family members to respond to questions or post reviews.
Make Family Art
Plan your project, set up the necessary supplies, and let the creative magic happen. Try tracing everyone's hands, filling in the outlines with colorful designs, and framing everyone's prints. Or cut up copies of family photos or mementos to create a group collage or scrapbook. If you want to be bold, paint a mural on the entire wall of a playroom or family room. Displaying your collective artwork is a memorable and lasting tribute for your family.
Holly Lebowitz Rossi is a freelance writer in Arlington, Massachusetts. Her website is hollyrossi.com.