I found it hilarious, ironic, heartbreaking, annoying, or stressful–depending on the day–that during quarantine, even though our days looked predictably similar day after day, without fail, my boys would still wake up and ask, “Mom, what are we going to do today?” You have to admire their tireless optimism.
I’m a firm believer that our ultimate job is to make our kids holy, not happy, so I do not worry too much about keeping them entertained 24/7. However, as we head into summer already feeling fatigued from quarantine with many of our plans, camps, and trips canceled or hanging on by a thread, we could all use a little jolt of creativity. Hopefully, at least one of these ideas will help mix up the monotony and provide a joyful answer to the question, “What are we going to do today?”
Fun with Food: Remember when we thought packing lunches five days a week was draining? HA! If we’d only known then what we know now. Those precious mouths have to be fed, so why not make it fun!
- Muffin Tin Monday: This one’s for the littles…put something different in every compartment of a muffin tin.It’s amazing how much better everything tastes when it is presented in a new way!
- Taste Test Tuesday: Pick a category, for example: Oreos, Pringles, or apples, and pick up a variety of flavors on your weekly grocery run. After dinner, or for a snack, conduct a blind taste test. See if you can identify the various flavors, and then have everyone vote on their favorite or rank the different varieties. You might just find a new household favorite!
- Grocery Free For All: Take your kids to the grocery store (or have them help make a list) and just say YES! It is actually so fun to just say “sure” to all the things you would usually not allow. It’s just one week, and when you consider it an event, the extra cost and calories seems justifiable.
- Mystery Menu: This is SO fun and kids of all ages will love it. Create a menu (there are lots of examples on Pinterest) with nine items. Don’t worry about the fork, spoon, and napkin–they each count as an item, too. Create a key with creative names or numbers. Only you know which number equals which food. Your guests blindly select three numbers for each of the three courses but have no idea what they are ordering. For course one, your kiddo might get a vegetable, dessert, and napkin but no utensils while another gets a drink, spoon, and pasta without the sauce. Super silly, but so fun and worth a little extra planning.
- Winner Winner I Got The Star At Dinner!: This one is as simple as it gets. When you are setting the table for dinner, write a “clean up job” (help clear the table, sweep, put away leftovers, etc.) on the bottom of everyone’s plate. One lucky winner gets a star drawn on their plate. They’re the winner, and they get the night off! My boys live for that star and bonus…I get help cleaning up–win/win! (Pro tip: write a sweet note on your husband’s plate.)
- Donut DoorDash: Take your kiddos along for a routine donut run, but pick up a second order for another family. Then take them by and leave them on someone’s front porch as a sweet surprise. Your kids will LOVE being a part of this simple but generous gesture.
Theme Days: On days like these, the intentionality of clearing your calendar, planning something fun, and spending quality time together trumps whatever it is that you are actually doing. There is no right way to do it, and you cannot mess it up, I promise!
- Color and Letter Days: These are perfect for preschoolers and early elementary kiddos. Choose a letter (I suggest starting with the first letter of your child’s name) or a color and plan a day full of activities surrounding that theme. For example, if it’s Red Day, hang red streamers and blow up a few red balloons to set the stage the morning of. Wear all red clothes. Serve red food all day on red plates. Or, go to a restaurant with a red building or red logo. Create a collage cutting out only red items from a magazine. Make red slime or play with red playdough. Send your child to certain rooms of the house to return with a certain number of red items. Go for a drive and look for all the red things you can find. Or create a specific red scavenger hunt. End the night with a red bath using color tablets or a bath bomb while reading Cliford The Big Red Dog.
- Christmas in July: Grab a few decorations from the attic and surprise your kiddos with a Christmas themed day in the middle of summer! You could make snow globes, bake Christmas cookies and make frozen hot chocolate. Play in the “snow” with a shaving cream fight. Draw names and take everyone to Five Below or Dollar Tree to pick out a Secret Santa gift. Then wrap them up and have a gift exchange!
- Family Camp Out: If the weather permits, you can do this in the backyard, but the living room works great, too. Bust out the tent (borrow one from a friend or create one with blankets if need be), sleeping bags, and flashlights. Make hot dogs and smores by the fire or in the microwave. In the summer, we’ve been known to put construction paper flames in the fireplace and roast marshmallows over the stovetop. Have target practice with nerf guns or hide the stuffed animals and go on a bear hunt. This is a great night to play “Would you Rather?”, bust out a book of questions, or discuss everyone’s “high, low, buffalo” of quarantine and summer so far.
- Water Week: Once the summer heat sets in, it is almost impossible to be outside without water! Plan a day or a week full of wacky water fun. For example, launch water balloons or have a water gun competition. You could make balloon targets, or create a sponge relay where you race from one bucket of water with a wet sponge, squeezing the water into another empty bucket, seeing who can fill it up the fastest. Set out the Slip ‘n Slide and turn on the sprinklers. Make boats out of sponges. Play sink or float. Wash the car together. Serve watermelon and goldfish for snacks. The options are endless!
I’ll leave you with three tips that have proven trustworthy to me over the years. FIrst, whatever you are up to, name it and claim it. I’ve found giving something a fun name makes it feel more like an event and therefore more exciting. For example, we look at Christmas lights every year, and when you hand out a ticket and call it “Smith Six Light Up The Night,” it becomes an event.
Second, announce, don’t ask. If I say, “Do you want to walk down to the arboretum?”, the response is lackluster at best (perhaps because I have two teenage boys in the mix). However, if on Tuesday morning I announce, “Tomorrow, we are going on an Arboretum Adventure! (see tip 1) Start thinking about what you want to pack for lunch!”, it’s now a plan, not a proposition, and something to look forward to.
And finally, go ahead and lower your expectations just a bit. Someone will cry (maybe you), siblings will fight, and things will not go as planned. Despite reality showing up rudely uninvited, memories will be made, traditions will be formed, and you will be creating a sense of team, belonging, and family for your favorite people.
By Caryn Smith. Caryn runs a frat house with four boys, ranging from ages 9-14, and has been married to Stacey for almost 20 years. She loves teaching preschool and celebrating ALL things, big and small.