Reinventing Family Night

A family of six gathered around a coffee table and smiling.

Between school, work and countless individual interests that pull families in all directions, it can be difficult to find ideas that draw everyone together for some quality family time.

Instead of firing up the DVD player this weekend, why not use your family nights as a chance to be intentional about building and strengthening connections with your kids and spouse? By using your evenings to have fun together, you can promote a sense of belonging, create positive memories and encourage communication.

Whether your family likes to create, play, eat — or all of the above — we have family-night activities for everyone to participate in and enjoy.

So pick a day, trade screen time for play time, and have some fun with your family!

Learn Together: Read Around the World

For families that love to read, discover and imagine

Best for: ages 3 to 8

What You'll need: storybook, map or globe

How it works: When an actual trip around the world isn't an option — probably most of the time — read around the world instead. Select a story that takes place in a different country, and read it as a family (example: Heidi, which is set in Switzerland). After reading the story, help your children locate the country on a globe or map. Maps that show topographical details such as mountains are helpful, as are pictures of the country's landscapes or cityscapes. Imagine together what it would be like to live there.

Discuss a few fun facts about the country. Gather these ahead of time for younger kids, while encouraging older children to participate in the fact-finding. Trivia questions that relate to the story (such as "How many cows or goats live in Switzerland?") can encourage fun conversation and lead to follow-up questions like "How much milk do you think they produce every day?" or "What can you do with all this milk?"

Finish the evening by making a snack or dessert from this country.

Mom says: "When we learned that Switzerland has the highest chocolate consumption in the world, we decided we would have hot chocolate with our reading journey. No marshmallows, though, because that's something the Swiss would never do!"

—Franziska Macur

Eat Together: Kitchen Creativity

For families that like a challenge and like to eat

Best for: ages 8 and up

What You'll need: Two picnic baskets or boxes, timer, food, creativity and an appetite

How it works: Much like a popular cooking show, discover what the chefs in your family can create when given a basket of random ingredients.

Split up into two teams and assign a different meal course to each. Every player adds an ingredient to the other team's basket, keeping in mind what course the item will be used to make. (Example: No soy sauce for dessert.) Set a timer for 30 minutes, and get to work! Teams must use all of the items in their baskets to create yummy dishes. Other ingredients may be used, too, if needed.

The whole family judges the dishes on presentation and taste and confirms that all the ingredients were used. Bon appétit!

Mom says: "This activity allows our tweens to unplug the electronics and enjoy one another — and good food. And we've found a hidden talent in our 11-year-old: He's a great cook!"

—Merissa Ramantanin 

Remember Together: Family Yearbook

For families that don't want special memories to get lost in the busyness of everyday living

Best for: ages 3 to 8

What You'll need: A roll of easel or butcher paper, masking tape, art supplies, scissors, three-hole punch and a binder

How it works: Spread paper across a table, securing with tape, and place art supplies within reach of everyone. Draw "frames" all over the paper, no larger than the size of the binder. Invite your family to fill the frames with artwork that represents favorite memories from the past few months. To get them started, ask questions: What family event did you enjoy most? What was the funniest thing that happened? Something you learned? Something you don't want to forget?

When the artwork is finished, label all of the memories with quotes from the kids. Cut around each frame, punch holes along the left side and put them into your "Family Yearbook" binder. Repeat this throughout the year, adding new memories to the yearbook each time.

Mom says: "We all get inspired doing art together. And what's better than getting a quote from your 3- or 5-year-old to accompany those pictures?"

—Nicki Bishop

Create Together: DIY Night

For families that love to work creatively together — and bond over hammers and paint

Best for: ages 5 and up

What You'll need: Supplies will depend on the project you select, but imagination is essential!

How it works: Nothing fosters togetherness like a good old-fashioned do-it-yourself project. As a family, brainstorm project ideas, encouraging kids to voice their suggestions. Select a project that fits your budget and abilities, then work together to gather supplies and make it happen.

Here are a few kid-friendly DIY ideas to consider (instructions can easily be found on the Internet): Build a bean-bag toss game, complete with homemade bean bags. Plant a window box. Create a fishbowl terrarium. Transform a wall with chalkboard paint. Construct a sandbox. Create a family lending library. Make a tepee. Turn an old bookshelf into a dollhouse. The possibilities are endless!

Mom says: "Our DIY nights are often the highlight of my month. I love spending time creating the things my kids care about — even if it means getting my hands a little bit dirty."

—Erin MacPherson

This article appeared in the October/November 2013 issue of Thriving Family magazine. If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. Get it delivered to your home by subscribing for a gift of any amount.

Copyright © 2013 by individual authors. Used by permission.

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