Keeping your family active can tax your imagination but it doesn't need to tax your budget. Vacations, museum and zoo visits, movie nights, and craft sessions all have their place in your schedule but lively playtime has the added benefit of being healthy for everyone. The idea is to have fun, keep moving, and spend time together.
With so many opportunities for children to participate in organized sports and events, it's important to allow time for unstructured fun. Perhaps the easiest way to keep your family active is to take them to a playground; walk if possible for a little extra exercise. Teach children to use the equipment safely and encourage them to stretch their skills under your supervision.
Bicycling is a sport that kids and adults can enjoy together most months of the year. Start with short rides with frequent breaks for young children and make sure they understand good biking etiquette and the laws that govern public byways. More towns and cities are constructing bike paths that provide safer family outings for all ages and abilities. Be sure that all bikers wear well-fitting protective head gear.
Kids love to build things and the bigger, the better! Constructing forts is an activity that works indoors or out but outside gives you and your budding architects more scope. Not only does it foster problem-solving skills but it fuels the imagination as well. All the items you need can be found around the house: blankets, chairs, old rugs, leftover plywood, cardboard boxes. If you have a clothesline, you've already got a jumpstart as these make great armatures for draping blankets.
Stage a scavenger hunt for the whole family. You can make your list of common items for players to find from things found within your house and yard or you can enlarge it to encompass the neighborhood. For a neighborhood hunt, alert your neighbors or invite them to join the fun and make it a family competition. Team the youngest players with adults for safety.
Sometimes the simplest pleasures are the best and they are often right outside your door. On a warm day, set up the lawn sprinkler or an inexpensive water slide, get everyone into swimsuits and let the fun begin. Even an effortless activity like this can have a powerful influence on the lives of young children and strengthen family bonds when shared with parents and older siblings.
Swimming lessons are a great way for kids to get healthy exercise and learn how to enjoy water sports safely. But when the lessons are over, get the whole family in the pool together for games like water volleyball or basketball or just unstructured silliness and splashing around. Getting parents and older siblings in the pool, too, will help younger kids develop confidence and safe habits in the water.
Organize a backyard track meet and get the neighborhood involved if you can or plan one in a nearby play park. Use talcum powder to set up race lanes in the grass and place flags at your start and finish lines. Run sack races and three-legged races pairing older and younger participants so that everyone has an equal chance to win. Set up a measuring stick and see who can jump the highest and the farthest. If you have a set of horseshoes, see who can toss them the farthest; use flags to mark everyone's best try.
If building a fort isn't up your child's alley, how about a backyard theater instead? Children love dressing up and pretending, so why not give them the chance to act out their favorite stories? Let everyone, even the youngest actor, get involved in the planning and finding elements for the stage and costumes. Your backdrop can be as unfussy as a blanket hung from a clothesline or a canvas painted with scenery.
Organized games and sports can fill a summer and are important for building teamwork and sportsmanship, but impromptu ball games in the yard or neighborhood can also help build skills and confidence in a less stressful environment and build family relationships at the same time. Rotate positions during the games so that everyone has a chance to expand their abilities.
Give the family a chore that's also fun—a car wash. Pull out all the vehicles—even the little red wagon if it's a bit dusty—grab the hose, and fill buckets with soapy water. Even toddlers can wash the lower panels of a car or the tires. Encourage safe water fights but make sure that everyone gets a turn with the hose! Hand around car towels to buff everything (and everyone!) to a squeaky clean shine.
Walk a nature trail at a local or state park. Have your child spot unusual plants (don't allow them to touch them unless you're sure they're safe and never allow your children to pull up plants or flowers). See what animals you can find and identify. Bring a field guide to birds, binoculars, and a digital camera to record your success. Take along some compact refreshments to keep everyone quiet and focused on the task, but be sure to hang onto all disposables until you get home.