A field guide to living an intentional, creative and fun life — with children.

Tag Archives: family activities

Original photo credit: adwriter via Flickr

Relationships don’t have to be complicated.

And yet we make them so.

Children want to know that you love them.

Parents want to know that their children love them back.

What better way to demonstrate your love than by being together. I’m talking casual, easygoing connections. The kind that leave your heart bursting with joy and gratitude.

What better way to do any of that than simple, old-fashioned family time. This is about seeing the ordinary as extraordinary.

That’s what this project is about, you know. Staying awake to what matters most in a human being’s life. Loving and being loved. Embracing family. Restoring faith in humanity. Remembering to give your whole heart and your whole mind to the ones we love most — before it all disappears, whoosh!

To make this kind of impact in a lifetime is a special gift, but it takes practice. Some parents never, ever grasp this concept of showing their love.

Let this not be your fate. Let this not be your child’s fate.

Grab them by their face — big or small — and show them that your eyes are so full of love. Give every bit of your heart today to your child and you will not regret it. The only regret may be that you held back, that you let that special love pale in comparison to other people, places and things.

I asked my village of friends around the world, again, to give me their favorite, ordinary moments as a family. Their words are wise. This is not about traveling to Disney World or Paris. It’s not about spending a ton of money or throwing amazing parties. Their advice is simple: The best moments are when we’re together because simple traditions and rituals are powerful. Those moments are what make make for the best childhood memories. Please add your own ideas in the comments.

10 Easy Ways to Connect as a Family:


“My oldest daughter (age 5) and I love to read chapter books together. At the end of the day, we’ll snuggle together on my bed and read a chapter or two. I love sharing some of the books with her that I loved as a child,” said Terri from Creative Family Fun.

Julie at Creekside Learning said she loves reading to her kids. “I love making different character voices and putting emotion into my voice based on what is going on in the story. I love how captivated my kids are when they are being read to and that books are such a big part of their everyday life.”

Photo Credit: Gracie and Viv via Flickr


Snuggling was actually one of the big themes that came up for this post. Krissy at B-Inspired Mama said her family “loves snuggling up on the couch for family movie night. We get pizza and a movie from the Redbox. It doesn’t cost very much but seems so special to the kids.”

“Snuggling in bed with my daughter before she sleeps and talking about our favorite parts of our day,” said Rebekah Patel at The Golden Gleam.

“I’ve often told my husband that when I think of a truly warm and happy moment, it is the moment that I wake up and see that both of my kids have crawled into bed with us. Once we are all awake and cuddling as a family before we start the day…if I ever have to to my inner happy place now or when I’m older- that’s the memory and feeling I’ll invoke.” Tricia of Critters and Crayons.


MaryAnne at Mama Smiles loves spending time outside with her kids. “I love watching them explore, find an ordinary rock that they find extraordinarily beautiful, and the joy they see in discovering the ‘perfect’ stick!”

“All of us piling in the hammock—a tangle of children’s feet, arms, and legs in all different sizes—and we tell stories,” said Heather at Word Play House. 


“We love going for a walk or heading to the local park! In the summer the kids and I enjoy even just walking around outside the house looking at the plants & gardens to see how they are growing and changing and looking for butterflies. A current favorite at our house is a basketball game in the driveway… I think they like it best because Dad plays :).” Jennifer from Plain Vanilla Mom

“Our family loves walks. We enjoy exploring the neighborhood, the park, a trail, or the woods. Spending time together outside, talking, listening, and taking in nature. It’s the best.” Trisha from Inspiration Laboratories.

Photo Credit: Skyseeker via Flickr


“In this warm weather we love to sit on the old couch on our back balcony in the evenings and watch the sky get dark and the moon get brighter and brighter, watch the birds fly off to their trees for the night, and watch the bats come out. We have an ongoing competition to see who spots the first star, and the second, and so on,” said Jane from Mama Pea Pod.

Katherine of Creative Play House said she loves her family’s snuggles before bed. “Chatting about the day. Just playing; tickles, rolling around, being silly together. I also love cooking dinner while Jake sits on the counter helping, learning how to peel veggies, talking about food and anything else he wants, and watching everything I’m doing.”

Photo Courtesy of Gina at famiglia&seoul


Gina at Famiglia&seoul has found connecting with extended family and old-fashioned play to be a very meaningful connection for her family. “I really want my son to get to know his grandparents and great grandparents. A couple of weeks ago, I asked them what they enjoyed doing outside as a child and some of the answer I got included playing with chalk, bike rides, making mud pies, and jumping rope. So, we decided to try out each one of their favorite memories (with them) to be able to enjoy the simple things in life that were important to them as a child. It is wonderful to see the smiles on my son and my family’s faces when they share these experiences for the first time.”

Danielle at 52 New Experiences said, “I love waiting for the bus with my children. We are the only ones at our bus stop, so we play tag, Simon Says, Mother May I, Red Light Green Light…all the games I used to play as a child!”

Amanda at Dirt and Boogers said, “We horseplay a lot around here. We tickle each other, run around the house, give piggy back rides, and wrestle around on the floor. The giggles are contagious, and we have a great time!

Photo Credit: Familymwr via Flickr


Valerie from  Glittering Muffins said cooking and baking is a favorite “because we all love food and to be able to make it together and see Nico’s excitement when stirring, pouring or cutting is just contagious.”

photo credit: cookie flores via Flickr


“We love to go for ‘dinner drives’. We pack our dinner into foil containers, jump in the car and drive around until we find a spot we like (next to a beach, lake or playground usually). If the weather is nice we open up the rear hatch and sit on cushions in the cargo area together to eat, chat and sometimes watch a movie if we take the portable player with us. The kids particularly like parking near the airport and watching the planes land while they eat!” Carrie at A Little Learning for Two.

Photo Credit: Flashy Soup Can via Flickr


“Hauling all our blankies and pillows to the living room floor on friday nights, making marshmallow popcorn, and giggling our faces off while we try to watch a movie. With 6 kids, it’s not so quiet and we miss most of the movie every time!” Arlee from My Small Potatoes.

“Sundays are family day for us. Everything we do is together as a family and we love it. From the mundane grocery shopping to an afternoon family spa (hot tub) to dinner at grandpa’s house.” Deborah with Learn with Play.


“I enjoy our mealtimes together. Sometimes we sit for a couple of hours talking and eating. It’s not always at dinnertime either, sometimes it’s over pancakes on a Saturday morning. We have some the most memorable and interesting conversations with our 4-year-old because he wants to know more about something or simply because we’re just reminiscing about something from the past,” said Heather at Little Moments to Embrace.

Original Photo Cred: Corsi Photo via Flickr

One of the things I, as a parent who doesn’t watch television, struggle most with is allowing my children to watch television.

I have fond memories of watching TV as a kid.

But, I have stronger memories of playing outside in the woods, building dirt and twig forts and running free, hosting tea parties for all of my dolls, playing school and spending hours recording stories on a cassette recorder.

Which of these memories bring back happier memories?

Not the ones about watching too much TV. Those are barely a blip in my memory bank. But ask me about playing on my grandparent’s 50-acres and I can go on and on.

Children, for lack of knowing any better, will always choose to watch TV or go to the computer unless we teach them to think outside the box. For some people, like The Outlaw Mom, television has definite benefits.

For me, it’s about a balance so I prefer to redirect some of the time. Yet, it’s about saying yes as much as it’s about saying no.

Original Photo Cred: Greg Westfall via Flickr

I’ve asked some parents around the blogosphere to share their favorite strategies to distract children from television and other techno gadgets that seem to be invading our homes and here are some the best they had to offer as well as my own. These moms also have great sites to find many, many activities to do with your children instead of television.

10 Creative ways to Break a TV Habit:

Make it a Family Choice: Take the pledge to really stop using gadgets as an everyday pasttime. Practice during Screen-Free week. Unplug.

Set the Stage: Cathy from the Nurture Store suggests setting up an “Invitation to Play” by having enticing materials to spark play all ready for when a child comes home from school. Maybe teddy bears waiting for a tea party  or some art materials.

Change up their Routine: Do not say a word but leave a surprise for them like Zina from Let’s Lasso the Moon has done by putting art supplies on the kitchen table when they wake up in the morning.

Set Limits: Bernadette from 2 Posh Little Divas gives her children certain times when they can watch TV, but they cannot watch before school when she wants their brains to be quiet and focused before heading out for a day of learning. {In our house, we will say yes to TV only after certain chores are done as a way to get things picked up.}

Let them Choose: Have them make a list of things they think are cooler than TV. Honor their choices and respect them enough to help them happen. We’re big on letting our kids set most of the weekend’s to-do list. Or, they can choose something from their “Think Outside the Box Box.”

Loosen your Grip: The more we push them away from the TV, the more they may want it. Watch yourself and how much power you are giving these gadgets. Let go a bit. Rebekah from The Golden Gleam allows one hour in the middle of the day each day and that works nicely for her family.

Shoot your TV: {Just kidding!} Many people have turned off their TV service and now use only Netflix or Internet TV when they have the time and desire to watch. Jennifer Fischer at The Good Long Road said this works great for her family, which happens to make films for a living.

Play With Them: The most obvious, it seems, but sometimes we need reminded that children learn more from us than any toy or TV show. And, there aer many easy and fun ways to play including 25 Ways to Just Be With Your Child. And, here’s another 15 Ways to Play as a Family.

Use the Technology: Angelique Felix uses YouTube to create videos that are appropriate and timed perfectly for her child. She shared two playlists with me: a 10-minute stories playlist and a 20-minute playlist.

Challenge Them: We have been known to resort to challenges at our house. Friendly competition, really. It always works to say something like, “Let’s see who can … ” and give them a challenge such as who can find the most circles, or who can draw the biggest castle. We’ve also done the Family Farmer’s Market Scavenger Hunt, which incorporated my girls’ gadgets with photography and exercise.

Talk to them: Point out the amazing things there are to do in life and how time is short — too short to sit in front of a television. I say this to my girls all the time. They do not ask to watch TV in the mornings and rarely in the afternoons because they realize that would be time away from more fun things like taking walks, playing and doing art projects. They still like TV, for sure, but they love to play together and as a family even more!

They understand that to make memories means connecting with family in meaningfuly ways.

I love that about them.

Original Photo Cred: Abilis via Flickr

Last year, our part of the country had no spring. Literally, we went from winter to summer with nothing but rain in between.

This year, we couldn’t be more grateful for the amazing weather we’ve been having.

To honor this season, I want to make sure that our family enjoys it to the fullest by writing a bucket list, of sorts. Call it whatever you want but it’s a list of things you want to do.

Here’s how to Write your Spring Bucket List.

  • Grab a blanket and throw it on the grass outside.
  • Grab a notebook and pens, crayons and markers.
  • Brainstorm. Doodle. Create a list.
  • Get up. Fold the blanket.
  • Start doing the list.

If you don’t get to everything on your list — and you probably will not — add it to next year’s spring list. Or, better yet, move that item to your summer bucket list.

Here are 10 Ideas for Your Spring Bucket List {to get you started!}.

Plant a Secret Garden: Find a container and fill it with beautiful flowers. Watch them grow. Be amazed. Read the book while you’re at it!

Take a Spring Walk: Look for robins, spring flowers, worms, ants, floating clouds, tree buds. Listen for bees buzzing, flies, birds chirping, and people laughing outside. Smell the fragrances of freshly cut grass, newly bloomed flowers, barbecued dinners wafting through the air.

Go on a Family Hike: Invite another family to go along. Pack a picnic lunch and your best hiking shoes. Enjoy the peace. Enjoy the climb. Enjoy the cool water on your lips at the end.

Create a Backyard Field Guide: Make your own book about the animals, birds and insects that live in or around your house. This could include anything. Even if you live in an urban environment, there are birds, mice and squirrels just waiting to be spotted. Our guide will include a male and female duck couple, a groundhog, a bunny, cardinals and other birds.  And, we even had what looked like a family of stray cats and kittens earlier this spring!

Fly a Kite: If there is wind, let there be a kite flying. It is always great entertainment and, the way we do it, good exercise, too.

Plan a Picnic: You can’t have spring without a nice, sunny picnic. Pack anything your hearts desire. All bets are off with picnic food. Lately, fruit, veggies, cheese and croissants are our faves but we’ve been known to do sandwiches, salads and even picked up fast food to take to the park where we run it all off together. Whatever is easiest works best.

Play Spy Games: Send everyone on a mission as spies. Learn to whisper and tip-toe your way through the grass to spy on one of those great creatures in your backyard. Wear sunglasses. Put on a disguise if you must. What else can you spy on outside?

Walk Barefoot: Walk slowly, mindfully and fully aware through the cool grass. What does the grass feel like between your toes? Encourage the whole family to do it. Wash the grass stains off later …

Hug a Tree: Not to go all tree hugger here, but choose a tree near your home and make it your Family Tree. Decorate it with lovely bird treats. Take a photo of it blooming. Give it a name and extra mulch. Then, follow your Family Tree through the seasons, photographing it along the way, but always treating it with the most love and kindness you can muster.

Enjoy a Spring Dinner: Before spring rushes out the door in a big, fat hurry, throw her a wonderful good-bye dinner. The evening of June 19th, bring out all the best dishes and pick all the best flowers and have a family dinner — yes, on a Tuesday night. Eat only the best seasonal foods you can find. Light a candle for spring goodness. Share your favorite spring memories and be sure to add them all to your memory jars!

Now, tell me what you’re putting on your Spring to-do list. Summer arrives on Wednesday, June 20. Share your thoughts in the comments.

Our intention this week is to be inspired. You can read about other Awesomely Awake intentions here.

Some days we have regular, average, nothing special kinds of days — you know, when you drop the kids off, go to work, pick the kids up and then go home and make dinner and then do homework and then give baths and then read books and go to bed.

Should I say collapse into bed?

You know those days, right?

They are regular. Nothing sparkled. Nothing shined. It was OK — and you had plenty to be grateful for, for sure.

I call them Mondays.

I can’t live that way. I don’t expect my kids to live that way either.

Part of my awake journey is to ensure that each day has a little bling of living in it. We get this one great chance at a lifetime of love and wonder and I believe we have to grab it with a firm grip and not let go.

Because a busy life naturally leads us to disconnect from what matters.

Of course, I have to be reminded of this time and time again, especially when life gets hectic as it has most definitely been lately.

That’s why we love weekends so much and hate Mondays equally. So, a while back I decided there weren’t going to be anymore Mondays in my life. That every day should be as fun as a Saturday. That’s when I started this project.

Lately, I’ve gotten extremely busy again and I can feel myself starting to endure another bout of careaholic burning inside of me. I have had to remind myself that to live an inspired, awake life takes effort and creativity. It takes a lot of deep breathing. It takes a tiny bit of planning. But when we do take the time, the results are magical and full of awe and wonder — as life should be.

Such as tonight when we split two big cupcakes and each shared our best moments of the day. Not perfect moments but things we feel we did better today than days past.

Life is meant to be lived. That’s why we are here, isn’t it? That’s why we are striving to be Awesomely Awake. That’s why we wanted a family and children, right?

So, let’s take a moment and really brainstorm how to turn a regular day into a spectacular day with very little planning. First, return to that lovely Energy List you made Monday, and the “Think Outside the Box” box list on Wednesday and read them again …

Now, we’re going to write a third list. Write the things you love to do as a family, things that bring laughter, things that bring big smiles to your day; things that give you energy, that make your day as a family shimmer and shine. Write for a long time. Keep adding to this list when new ideas come to you. They will for sure.

Now today, this weekend, next week … start doing those things as often as possible.

Science experiments always brighten a day

Here’s our family’s 9 Ways to Make Any Day Better:

Celebrate — Light a candle for something ordinary and lovely like how you did the crow in yoga or how your child was brave during the school’s fire drill. Put that candle in ice cream, a cookie or even a muffin. Anything at all that’s on hand. Even an Eggo waffle would do! Of course, the best is always a delicious chocolate cupcake.

Get Outside — Days are just better when we get out for fresh air. It’s as simple as that. Even when it’s cold and snowy. Even when it’s cloudy and grey. Even if we just play with sidewalk chalk, being outdoors makes everything better.

Talk Walks — Explore, wonder, live in awe as you walk. Make up stories. Walk in silence. Hold hands. Definitely hold hands.

Read Together — Carve out one hour to just read together. Could be anywhere but make it special and make it an ordeal with blankets and pillows and special snacks. Talk about the books. Stop often and really embrace the questions and comments. Be patient to move on to the next page. Really patient. When you run out of books, tell stories.

Throw a picnic — At the park, on the back patio, in the front yard, in the living room. A blanket and some fun food is all you need. Day better already!

Be silly — Have a night of telling jokes. Or drawing funny pictures. Dance. Play follow the leader and put Dad as the leader. Wear silly clothes.

Go some place new — I only recently added this to the list. We went to a very old-school diner kind of place and it was so nice to experience something so different together. I didn’t realize until that moment that we had been stuck in a routine that avoided some new experienes — all because we were so used to taking care of little children. Now that our girls are older this will certainly be a top energy driver in our family.

Mix up your routine — I like certainty. I like knowing things. If you pick your kids up from school or after care as I do, pack your sneakers and head across town to explore. If your kids go home on the bus, meet them at the bus stop and go for a dice walk. Let the kids make dinner. Skip baths and just play games. Go off schedule. Do anything that allows you to do less than you normally do.

Jadyn with her first Eiffel Tower drawing!

Creative boost — Anytime we use art materials as a family and create something we can be proud of it turns our day into magic. I love when we put a little family art into our day. Make a poster, a banner, special cards for family or church members who have been sick and need a pick-me-up. Or, just go with the flow and create anything.

Please add your favorite family friendly posts to the Kids Co-Op below!! Leave a comment with your link # so I can check out  your posts, in particular. Thanks!

This week we’re talking about inspiration. What drives our creativity? What speaks to us? What keeps us going? Our intention this week is to inspire ourselves, and our children to think differently, be creative and have fun.

This is the gift that keeps on giving, isn’t it? Inspiration not only gets us through a day or a week but gives us a thrill inside as we do it. Inspiration turns an ordinary day into a wowza day.

With children, especially, it can take real creativity to avoid predictable routines and think outside the box. Some parents, ahem, might find that they like it when their children stick to the exact same routine and play — because it is easy.

I find our job as parents a little harder. I want to challenge my kids to think differently and do things differently. Is that sky really blue? Is that box really square?

Really? Nothing to do but watch TV?


On Monday, I suggested that you write your Energy List. Today, I will suggest that you help your children write theirs by creating a THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX box. What motivates them, what makes them happy, what gets them laughing?

Your box or jar or drawer or envelope marked THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX will look differently than ours. We used a Chinese Take Out box with a simple sign. Much like all of our projects, there is no right way to do this and I feel that a family needs to make it their own.

The important, essential, absolute must is that the children be involved with creating the list of ideas that go inside. It’s their box of happy.

Inside this magical box is 40 ideas that our girls came up with on their own — and they also happen to truly promote thinking, learning and creativity. These ideas can be done alone, with a sibling or friend or as a family. Some, I should mention, are just plain fun. I didn’t include the more personal ones they included such as playing with very specific toys.

Next week, I will add my own ideas to their box but more on that next week! For now, here is the list my girls came up with together this past weekend — when the weather was still mostly winter unlike now when it’s mostly spring. And, just as I go through seasons in what inspires me, my children do the same. Since writing this list, I am certain they would add crawl under the forsythia bush as No. 1.

They loved sharing these ideas so much, by the way. Seeing their little minds light up with ideas makes my heart just melt.


  1. Jump on the bed

  2. Paint Your Nails/Make tattoos

  3. Play spy games

  4. Chase/Tag Outside

  5. Build a Fort

  6. Reading/Buddy Reading

  7. Dance Party

  8. Jump on Daddy

  9. Do each other’s hair

  10. Go outside

  11. Play with favorite toy

  12. Take a Walk

  13. Play games

  14. Hold a scavenger hunt

  15. Play map games

  16. Make Jewelry

  17. Play library

  18. Set up a center

  19. Play in basement

  20. Make your own pizza party

  21. Throw a treasure hunt

  22. Play veterinarian or doctor

  23. Play on the computer

  24. Play bakery

  25. Write!

  26. Set up a pretend office

  27. Play musical instruments

  28. Play pretend police officer

  29. Put on a parade

  30. Play puzzles

  31. Pretend to be a mom and baby

  32. Play school

  33. Explore nature

  34. Draw on the easel

  35. Science experiments

  36. Paint

  37. Sidewalk chalk art

  38. Arts or crafts

  39. Play dress up

  40. Play math games

And, I’m feeling all techno-fancy right now with a gift just for you. You can get a printable version of this list simply by clicking HERE! Please share in the comments any “Thinking Outside the Box” ideas your children mention. Don’t forget to share posts on inspiring play or creativity this Friday in the Kids Co-Op Link Up Party right here.

Kids Co-op

Play means many things to many people. Play can be structured. It can be free, without limits.

It can be adventurous and wild.

It can be structured and simple.

Play can take many shapes.

Loud. Quiet. Outside. In a fort. Under a tree. In the car on the way to school.

What does play mean to your family? How do you play? How does your child play?

What inspires your play and free time now? How about when you were a child?

Below is a lovely little link that I hope you will click on to add your own blog posts that promote wholesome family play and fun. You have already shared so many ideas in the comments of this site. Now it’s your turn.

Unfortunately, you will have to click through on the frog link below to see the links as that is how this kind of link up works on my WordPress blog. Your links will show up on many, many other blogs as well. This is new for me and we’ll learn as we go. Ultimately, if this works, each week we’ll grow bigger and bigger. As long as your posts relate to family fun, you can link to anything you want to show off — whether it be a post directly related to this week’s intention {such as Amaze Yourself & Play} or a great idea of your own. I will, however, show off and promote any posts that are directly related to my weekly intentions.

Whatever you’ve done that you’d like to promote, please link it up right here and start getting your ideas spinning around the Web. I just ask that you leave a link on your blog post back to this site promoting the Weekly Kid’s Co-Op. Let’s hope this works!

Be sure to check out all the great links that are included. And, big thanks to my friend Zina for making this happen.

Have fun and click on the froggy. Don’t forget to leave a comment here to let me know you are participating and what # you are so I can check it out!!

This week’s intentional parenting moment: Life is Your Playground. Play more. Be playful. Get in the game. To read more intentions please go here.

There’s a lot of research on why you should play with your kids.

There’s even more research on why you shouldn’t.

Without getting into the theory of either, Awesomely Awake, as always, will take the middle way, the middle approach.

Play, for us, is about connections and creativity. It’s about finding ways to learn with each other and from each other. We’re about letting the kids do their thing but remain close, and engage often but not in a hovering kind of way. Our community of parents know that freedom for children is essential but understand, too, the importance of being together and connecting as a family.

So, what if you can’t stand playing with your kids? What if playing is boring? What if you don’t know how to play with your kids? What if you’re hardly around and play is hard for you to transition into?

You are in luck. You can engage, be playful and connect with very little effort. I would even argue you can play without really playing, most of the time. In fact, you are probably already doing a ton of play as it is.

{Disclaimer: This list doesn’t mean your day as a parent will be easier. You still have to be the parent, which is hard work.}

Without further ado, here are the 15 Ways to Play as a Family:

PLAY BY ASKING QUESTIONS: Maybe you’re tired. Maybe you’ve had a long day. Maybe the kids didn’t sleep well, again. Whatever the reason, the best way to play is to sit nearby or play alongside just by asking questions. Engage their minds, their spirits. Get them thinking differently. Get them wondering. Ask questions like Who is this you are playing with? What is happening here? Introduce new perspectives to what they are already playing simply by asking them — not telling them.

SET UP IMAGINARY PLAY: At our house, we have{ tried} moved all toys upstairs and left only the favorites {a wooden castle and several princess figurines} and a blank table downstairs where we spend most of our time. Each week I set up what we call a center on the table. The centers are usually an idea that I’ve picked up on from my children’s interests that week. For instance, they were playing restaurant so I set up a table with everything they need to play restaurant including blank paper checks and menus so they could practice writing . We’ve also done libraries, stores, bakeries and, currently, a beauty salon. You don’t need anything fancy or new for these centers. You can look around your house and find things that fit a theme and use those. It’s better that way. Your job here is to let them guide you as either a customer, if they wish. Otherwise, grab a chair and watch.

BE THE MEAN GUY: I know this is kind of funny but when I really don’t feel like playing but I want to play anyway, I try to be the meanest or silliest or most outrageous character I can think of so that it makes the biggest impact. Sometimes, I’m the wicked step-mother making them clean the castle. {this works!} Sometimes I’m the picky customer at the pretend shop. Sometimes I’m the bad monster fighting the castle. All of these allow for modeling and practicing cruel or mean behavior they may encounter in real life anyway so it’s a learning moment as well.

MOVE THINGS AROUND: I get most inspired to play during a massive cleaning and rearranging effort in any room. This could be their bedrooms, their playroom or a living room. Whenever we look at a room from a new perspective, all of our minds just start going crazy with possibilities. Usually, I clean and find a few things we all were missing and then we all just feel renewed and reenergized to play together.

FOLLOW THEIR LEAD: When my girls were little, I gave them things to do. I do much less of that now and rather follow their directions of what they want to do. This fosters their independence and creativity. During play time, if they ask me to play Cat in the Hat, that’s what we’ll do. If they want to paint, we’ll paint. If they want to go outside, I go outside. I do surprise them rather often with fun things I’ve planned as well. They still love it — they still value my ideas as well.

BE OPEN TO PLAY: The biggest hurdle parents face with playing with their children is their inability to want to stop what they are doing to play. Funny, isn’t it? I mean, we are not happy when our children get upset with us when we tear them away to do adult things but there we go getting upset when we are torn torn from our adult things to do their childish things. Ironic, yes? Be open to play at certain times in the day or evenings. Allow your mind time to transition. Say to your child, give me five minutes and in that time prepare your mind to play. I mean really play. {See above}.

FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU LOVE: Ask me and I’ll know what I love to play and what I hate to play. Imaginary play is hard for me these days. I’ll do it, but it’s not my favorite. However, doing art, building forts or blocks, setting up special activities, learning activities that are fun, science experiements — all things I love to do. Be open and tell your child the things you love to do but also be willing to try new things and model that sometimes we do have to do things we don’t like in life.

DON’T PLAY: There are so many ways to engage and connect that are fun. Cooking. Baking. Even cleaning together can be fun. Taking rides. Chasing each other. Tickling. Snuggling. Games. What else are you doing? Take notice and be proud!! Get more great ideas on how to sneak in family time here.

BE PLAYFUL ALL THE TIME: If you are being fun and playful throughout the day, then you are playing. Juggle apples at breakfast and drop them. Tell jokes. Make your kids laugh. If it’s hard for your child to meet your eyes or laugh with you, then you need to lighten up. The most important thing you can do for your child is look them in the eyes and tell them they are amazing, that they have good ideas and that you see them. If that’s all you can do today, it’s enough. You are doing enough.

JUST BE THERE: There’s a little ol’ post on this site called 25 Ways to Just Be with Your Children where you can get a lot more ideas, too.

MOVE ROOMS: Mix it up. If you are bored in the living room, move to the dining room and throw a blanket over the table and make a quick fort. Hide in it. Sleep in it. Do what you need to do to be a part of the action.

ASK THEM TO PERFORM: Ask your kids to show you something they’ve learned in gym class, soccer practice, dance class, preschool, or in our case, yoga class. Ask them to show you a thing or two. Encourage them to demonstrate and perform. No need to praise with anything more than a smile or laughter. Praise them for being brave to demonstrate. Join in on the fun. Show them a move or two. {Don’t hurt yourself!}

MAKING MORNINGS FUN: There’s nothing worse than a hectic, grouchy, stress-filled morning of rushing around. Play music. Dance. Tell stories on the way to the bus stop or in the car on the way to school. Search for pink skies, signs of spring, things in the landscape that have changed. Engage their minds in something other than rush, rush, rush. Get playful and I promise the mornings will get easier. They will enjoy getting out of bed. They will skip off to school with a smile. Of course, you still have to keep them on task but stress playtime, too. In our house, the sooner you are ready for school the more time there is for play.

BE SILLY: Simply being silly is the funniest kind of play. Awesomely Awake Dad works a lot but when he’s home, he’s {usually} found making the kids laugh by doing the weirdest things. This is his kind of play and it works. Why just this week he was trying to get dressed and kept putting his clothes on wrong. I thought the girls were going to die of laughter. Make funny faces. Tell silly, far-out stories that just don’t make sense. These are the things our kids love the most about our days — you can just tell. If you have teenagers, I imagine this sort of thing is only appropriate when in the comfort of your own home and no one else is around. That’s cool, too. But they need light moments just as much as the younger children – perhaps more!

DO NOTHING TOGETHER: I have said this a million times and the more I’m on Pinterest these days the more I have to say it again and again. It’s perfectly fine to do nothing with your kids. Just hanging out. It’s great to do less. Great things come from boredom. It’s OK to not teach your kids something today. It’s OK to do what comes naturally for your family to relax, de-stress and recharge. Sometimes — well, often! — we all need that. It’s OK. Our family’s best moments happen piled on the couch together after dinner, giggling.

There you have it. Another list of my inner most secrets. What are your playful tips? How do you inspire yourself to play? How do you stop to just have fun? On Friday, I’m going to host my first blog link up party so come prepared to link up and share your own amazing playful family posts. Till then …

I love family art days. When our family gets together at the dining room table to do art together, my heart swells with pride. It’s perhaps one of my Top 10 family moments each year.

Fortunately and unfortunately we had time to throw together Family Art this past weekend.

To say that one of my girls was under the weather would be an understatement. It was the kind of illness that leaves you worried around the clock. The result was not only the cancelling of a very big trip but the inability to really do anything at all but sit and soothe.

In the middle of it all, I really wanted to do something fun and special to cheer us all up, especially the sick girl. First we wrote her little notes, which were fine but not enough. By the third day, notes just weren’t going to cut it.

And then I remembered a project I had been planning to do: A Family Banner. You can take this project in many directions, but we wanted it to be so simple that everyone could do it, even a very sick little girl. My amazing friend Jena sparked the concept of this project in me when she commented on my Wonder Board post about how she has conversations with her daughters about how to describe their family.

I love how this project requires a little thought, conversation and planning. I love how it gets us all thinking about what family means. I love that it’s artistic but also very meaningful to us. I love that it hangs just so under our family photos that mean so much to us as well.

Again, I emphasize that I love creative projects that are easy, accessible and practical. I feel this falls into that category perfectly. Anyone can do this with very simple materials and effort.

All you need to do this project is the following:

  • Colored Paper of your choice
  • White or lighter color paper of your choice
  • Yarn, string or some other hanging material
  • Hole punch
  • Art supplies — whatever you have on hand.

First I cut the papers to fit to a nice rectangle size. I actually used two colors of the background paper and a nice light gray.

And then, while everyone was sitting around — well, that’s all we did — I asked questions about what it means to be family such as what does family mean, family stands for ___ ? or what is our family like? For our girls, who are 6, it took a little effort to get this conversation started but once it did, their ideas were overflowing. These were some of their answers:

Family is cool

Family is sweet

Family is caring

Family takes care of each other

I added a few of my own as well …

Our family is beautiful

Family is forever.

We took turns writing those saying on each flag and then decorating those flags.

And then, the magical part, came when we each created our own Name flag for the banner. We wrote our names — I wrote my many names such as Mama, Mommy, Shawn, Writer, etc. — and then we gave them flair with collage!

We had a ton of fun with this part of the banner.

Our banner now hangs lovingly in our family room where we can all see it every day. It’s a nice happy reminder of what really matters each day — even when things really don’t go our way. A wonderful reminder that the four of us are always here for each other when the going gets tough.

Lovely image by Vivienne McMaster. Click image to learn more about Vivienne.

You’re at a restaurant. The wait appears neverending. Of course, naturally, your whole family takes out their gadgets — not to find the menu, or the reviews, or how to get to the next destination — but to surf or play games.

You know, anything but talk to each other. Anything but wait. Anything but do nothing. Anything but sit in silence. Anything but …

Or, you’re at home and everyone is bored to tears so you grab your iPhone and your son grabs his Nintendo DS and your daughter grabs her LeapPad and your husband grabs his iPad.

Now everyone feels better. Now no one has to look at each other. Now no one has to try and get along.

{I’m not really talking about YOU by the way.}

I’d love to remember just how I “met” Rachel Stafford. One thing led to another and I ended up on her blog, Hands Free Mama. Immediately, I fired off a comment or an email to her saying that I thought we might have a few things in common. She agreed. We’ve become fast Virtual friends.

Rachel and I take slightly different approaches to saying basically the same thing: We only get one precious life to be with our family so let’s not waste it. Rachel’s mission is to provide people with the inspiration, motivation, and tools to let go of daily distraction so they can grasp the moments in life that matter and live more meaningfully.

In this Awesomely Awake world, we appreciate that we will be distracted with life’s many amazing, wonderful things but that we must make a very clear intention every single day to put the Live in Living first and foremost so that we can teach our children how to really, really live fully during their one, wild precious life. It’s about moderation, really. But isn’t everything?

Another fab image from Vivienne McMaster. Click image to find her!

Rachel agreed to an interview here and I’d like to highlight what I learned from her interview by using her words to create a list of how to TRY to lead a distraction-free life:

DESIGNATE MEDIA TIME: Rachel says, “I have approximately seven hours each day when my family is not home. Those are the hours I write and work online. I also utilize time in the evening to work once my family goes to bed. I will be honest, I seldom “get done” everything I want to do in a day, but that is a pressure I have learned to let go of – the pressure to “do it all,” which almost cost me everything I hold dear.”

BAKE TOGETHER: This tradition started when my oldest child was two-years-old and she helped make her own birthday cake. I was amazed at how much she could do to help, and before we knew it, she was even cracking eggs! Our baking tradition has evolved into our family’s favorite way to express kindness and appreciation to people in our lives. Every holiday, we make goodies to package up and give to others as a way of saying “thank you.” We include people inside our inner circle of family and friends, but we also strive to include people who provide services in our lives like the trash collectors and mail carrier.

GET OFF THE SIDELINES: I have gone from watching my children play to being part of the action. In the past eighteen months, I have done things that I haven’t done in decades. My kids delight in seeing me ride a scooter, slide down a grassy hill on a cardboard box, do a cannon ball into the pool with goggles on, climb a mountain of dirt, and pet a snake. I have never seen my kids laugh and smile as much as they do when I step into their world.

JUST TALK: When my oldest daughter was three, she asked for “talk time” at the conclusion of her bedtime routine one night.  We have continued “talk time” nightly for the last five years. During this sacred ten-minute period, I get to hear what is on my child’s heart and mind. She shares everything from what happened at school to what she wants to be when she grows up. She asks questions about everything from what she was like as a baby to what would happen if I die.

PLAY TOGETHER: One summer we did a simple science experiments together. We ended up inviting a few neighbors over for the weekly science lesson, and it became quickly became the highlight of each week. I used a book I discovered on clearance in the back of a craft store entitled, The Ultimate Book of Kid Concoctions. The ingredients were often things I had around the house and the steps were easy.  What I most enjoyed was hearing the children “hypothesize” about the expected outcome of the experiment and then watching their faces as the results unfolded – pure excitement, wonder, and delight! Who knew creating foamy paint, peanutty play dough, fruity lip gloss, and a crystal rock garden would lead to laughter, connection, memory making, and learning?

GIVE BACK: Our family is passionate about helping children in poverty situations. For the past four years, my family has helped me conduct a community-wide event where children in our neighborhood learn about what it means to live in poverty and fill empty shoeboxes with needed items. The shoeboxes are sent to children in impoverished countries through an organization called Operation Christmas Child. Each year my family seeks to educate more children in our community and touch more children with a shoebox gift than the year before. My daughters hope to surpass last year’s community total with a new goal of 500 lovingly filled shoeboxes for children in poverty. Luckily, my daughters are “planners extraordinaire” just like their mama and have already begun brainstorming ways to create more filled boxes.

Learn more about Rachel’s journey to grasp what matters on her blog www.handsfreemama.com or through “The Hands Free Revolution” on Facebook.

Learn more about Vivienne McMaster and the photography courses she teaches online here.

Rachel with her two lovelies

My own image of my children on their Leap Pads the first day they received them.

It’s not easy being a parent. No matter if you work outside the home, inside the home. No matter if you have one, two, three or fifteen children. No matter if you have a small house in a big city or a big house in a small city. No matter if you have money or very little money.

Raising children is hard work — at least it is if you are doing it right.

It’s really no wonder parents are spending more time than ever checking in on Facebook, smart phones, or doing project after project after project. It helps to have something to do rather than sit around and dwell on all the stuff we want to be able to do or used to be able to do but no longer can. This self-medicating with social media is harmful — as Rachel at Hands Free Mama has said so eloquently this week on her blog.

And yet our children don’t care how fancy we are as parents, or how many messages we get in an hour about our blog. The smaller they are the more they need us. The bigger they are, the more they need us. Sometimes, the more they need us, the more we want to slink away and find some blanket to crawl under. But it doesn’t have to feel that way.

Breaks for parents are absolutely essential. Absolutely.

There is a time and place for media and screens and technology. And there is a time and place for NO media and NO screens. It’s about being conscious, as a parent and a human being, about when and how we are turning to the computer or TV for simply boredom or laziness or seriously trying to avoid our lives.

To truly be awake to this life — these fleeting 18 years — we have but one choice to make each day: embrace our blessings and honor those around us. Practicing mindful choices each day is something that we have to model for our children or else they, too, will end up staring at screens all too much in their own life (like that picture above!).

There are many ways that you can just be with your children that are not hard work, that are not challenging or tiresome. By just being there, you may discover that your child will reach out to you simply because you are suddenly available. The magic in this list is that it’s just simply being together for a solid half hour or so but it offers up the most beneficial memories we can offer to children. Here are some of our family’s favorites:

  1. Turn off the TV/computer/phones for one hour. (In our house, we limit daily screen time to a total of one hour except on movie nights).
  2. Have a work hour — they do homework and you work on a hobby like art or reading while sitting at the same table.
  3. Just listen to music. At our house, we call this a dance party.
  4. Light a candle for your children — one each.
  5. Surprise them with a celebration for trying hard on a test or homework and eat store bought cookies and milk.
  6. Sit on the couch while they play and read magazines. They will sit next to you eventually and ask, “Whatcha reading?”
  7. Grab two balls and challenge everyone to find something fun to do with them outside.
  8. Snuggle under a blanket or put a puzzle together.
  9. Whip up a nice bowl of ice cream and laugh while you eat it.
  10. Watch TV with them if they insist on watching.
  11. Ask them open-ended questions about their day.
  12. Tell them something surprising about your day.
  13. Draw together, taking turns adding new lines on the same paper.
  14. Take a drive, taking turns picking the direction and sitting in silence as the unfamiliar landscape passes you by.
  15. Look at their baby photos.
  16. Tell them a funny story from their younger days.
  17. Tell them a funny story from your own childhood.
  18. In fact, tell them any story you can think of telling.
  19. Ask them to teach you how to do something. This is big. Very big.
  20. Ask them questions about their favorite things.
  21. Help them clean their room or the basement or the garage. Whatever. Lend a hand.
  22. Ask them for help with a problem.
  23. Hold a family meeting to just catch up.
  24. Announce that there will be no cleaning for just one day.
  25. Give them a coupon for a hug to use anytime they need it.

What kinds of things do you like to do with our family to just relax and be together with little expectations?

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