Victoria is a stay-at-home mom, author, educator, and blogger at Healthy at Home. She currently lives in Colorado with her family.
You don't have to spend a great deal of money in order to make great memories with your kids. Kids value one-on-one time, focused attention, laughter, honest listening, creativity, and when their parents are willing to get in on the game instead of watching from the sidelines. It really doesn't matter what you do, as long as you are 100% there with them in the middle of the action, that's what makes the best memories.
But where do you go to find great activities to do as a family? Everything costs a lot of money no matter where you go. You can only go to the park so many times and all of the great kids activities are expensive. All of the families around you seem to be going on vacation together all the time, but that's just not possible for everyone and you don't want to miss out on giving your kids those great memories.
I completely understand. We are there with you. But the good news is that you don't have to go on fancy vacations, or take your kids to all of the latest and greatest activities around to make great memories. In fact, you don't have to spend a dime if you don't want. There are tons of great activities that you can do together at home or nearby that will give your kids memories they will cherish forever.
In fact, some of the most stuff we've done together have been off the wall extremely creative activities. Check some of these out!
Building a Marble Run
Using some simple paper towel and toilet paper rolls, some painters tape and some cheap marbles, not only can you have a great deal of fun learning how to make this work, but it's the experience of a lifetime. You could make it go up and down one wall in your home or make it go all over the house. As long as you're having fun together, that's all that matters.
Putting Puzzles Together
This is a favorite in our house. The best ones are the puzzles that are so big that everyone has to get involved. When the puzzle finally comes together and you get to see the big picture, there's something very satisfying about having worked together to accomplish it.
Even when your kids are little they can handle bigger stories. As long as you are always reading together, they will come to understand the different parts of the story, be able to handle bigger and bigger stories over time and come to enjoy them just like you or me. When we read stories together, especially if they are chapter books, we all get excited together, or sad together, or scared together and the whole family gets to really experience the stories.
For a while there we were collecting milk cartons, orange juice jugs, and small boxes. Some days just called for pulling them all out and trying to build huge towers out of them. Mind you, these aren't Lego towers, but life-sized ones prepared to host full-scale battles and pretend stories.
Kicking a Ball
This may mean just kicking it outside together, but we actually dedicated one room in the house where we allowed our son to kick the ball. It is a HUGE ball. Yes, we have pictures and crosses on the wall and vases around the room, and a ceramic turtle has gone down during play, but boy do we have fun. And we have a good supply of industrial glue in our house.
I don't know of any kid who doesn't enjoy being chased around the house or around the backyard. There's something about the full attention and direct interaction that kids really enjoy. Make it a fun game of tag, keep away or something else, but chase them around the house.
Young kids, especially boys, have something inside of them that likes to challenge others. Who is faster? Who is taller? My toddler will even stand on a chair and outstretch his arms to be as big as daddy. Very similar to chase, they like to run with you. Race them around the yard, or time them and let them race themselves.
Boy did my little one enjoy doing a project like this with his daddy. The fact that they were doing something together and he got to help was fascinating to him. Our children simply enjoy working with us side by side and aren't that particular about what it is that we are doing. My husband recently started some seeds inside in preparation for our garden in the backyard. Seeds are like 50 cents to $1 at the grocery store. They filled up some spare tubs we had around the house (you could always use boxes) with dirt and had a quick lesson in seeds and plants. My son wakes up every morning asking to care for his seeds with daddy. It doesn't have to be planting seeds, but do projects together so your kid can be like mommy or be like daddy.
Making Shadow Puppets
Oh, this is another favorite. Pull out a flashlight or two when it gets dark at night. Sit in bed as a family and try to see who can make the best shadow puppet. Whose shadow looks the most like a giraffe or a monkey? Or who can make the best monster? This is especially great when trying to dispel fears of the dark.
Going on a Hunt
This could be as simple as pretending to "hunt" for an animal in the house or backyard. Hiding all of their socks throughout the house and the first kid to match all of their socks wins, or even hiding fun treats for them to find. My son likes to hunt for animals in the backyard, bring them to me to "eat" and then tell me what they taste like. These animals can be a variety of colors as well, like "Please find me a purple antelope."
Cooking together can be as simple as letting them help you make breakfast, lunch, and dinner, or you can make it special by making cookies or brownies together, making specific snacks like dried fruit in the oven or veggie chips. Kids love to be involved and, one bonus to this is when they help you cook something they are much more likely to eat it.
Playing with Swords/Dolls
We got lucky and found 99 cent pool noodles at the store one day. We bought one, cut it in half and those are our swords. If you get hit, it doesn't hurt and they sure are fun to play with. But you could also use just about anything like paper towel rolls or even sticks. The name of the game, however, is laying down rules about where not to hit people while playing this game.
Have a pretend camera? Perfect. Take turns posing for pictures. You can dress up or act silly. Even better, let your kid really take pictures with your phone or camera. You can take turns and you'll love the result. You'll have great pictures to cherish your moments with them by, and you may even get some surprisingly good pictures of yourself or your family out of it.
Pulling Your Child Around the House
So we collected free boxes for a time to help us go through our house and donate items to a local shelter. One of those boxes had low sides on it and our child hopped in and wanted to be pulled around. So we tied some spare twine to one side and it made a fantastic sled on our wood floors. He ended up using it to taking turns with his friends pulling each other around.
Building a Fort
If you haven't already done this, forts can be built using just about anything. Sticks and wood in the backyard, sheets and a table and chairs in the kitchen, the couch cushions in the living room and even your bed pillows make a great fort. Make it fun and join them in trying to build better and better forts. You can then read stories, eat snacks, or play games in the fort with them.
Camping in the Backyard
If you haven't gone camping in the backyard yet, you're missing out. You can toss pillows and sheets, sleeping bags, or even a mattress outside and sleep under the stars. To really make it great, add s'mores, hot chocolate and take turns telling stories.
Playing Music with Pots and Pans
Anything in the house can make a great activity if you have enough imagination. Pull out all of the pots, pans, plastic tubs and wooden spoons and have fun playing music in the kitchen. Have even more fun by adding different amounts of water to each of them and keep on playing (but in the backyard).
Going on a Bike Ride
It's always exciting to do activities as a family. Maybe you have some great trails around where you can ride bikes together. Or just out to the park and back would work. No bike? We don't have them either, but you could walk with them out to the park and watch them ride bikes around.
Playing in Water
Water play can be a blast. If you don't have a sand and water table around, try making your own. Maybe put rice in one container and water in another and play outside with various cups, funnels, spoons and other measurement items. This can create more fun than you would imagine for hours on end.
Putting on a Play
Come up with a great story together or pick one from a book you like to read together. Figure out who in the family will play each of the parts, dress up if possible and act out a story. It's the things we do together that create positive emotions that make the best memories.
Playing in the Mud
Talk about positive emotions. What better way to have fun than getting dirty? When it rains outside is one of the best times for this. Go out in some clothes you don't mind getting wet and muddy and splash, look up at the sky with your mouth open, run your hands and feet through the puddles and have fun. You might have more fun than you expect.
Running Through the Sprinklers
This kind of goes with playing in the rain and mud but with the added bonus of racing or chasing each other. My husband likes to challenge my son to run all the way around the yard and back without getting wet. Though, getting wet is my little one's favorite part. They run under the sprinklers, around the sprinklers and even through them during different challenges.
Going on an Easter Egg Hunt
Easter egg hunts last half the year at our house. At Easter time we go to as many of the hunts in the community as we can find, and then those same eggs get hidden in the yard and around the inside of the house over and over for months on end even after the events have come and gone. Then, in preparation for Easter the next year, the Easter eggs come out again to get hidden and found again and again.
Playing with a Long Piece of Fabric
Oh wow. This one was fun. Somewhere my little one found a seriously long piece of fabric in our house and he carries it up and down the stairs, throws it over the balcony and tries to pull you up, pretends to climb it from the bottom, ties it to stuff that he pulls around the house, and we play tug of war and chase with it. There's no end to the creativity around here.
Playing Board Games
There are tons of great board games for kids of all ages available on the market. If you pick the right ones, your kids can learn some really exciting information. And if you don't want to purchase them consider birthday or Christmas presents from others. Otherwise, modify some of the board games you already have by letting your little ones make up the rules.
Playing With Styrofoam
So whenever you buy something new in the mail, there's a pretty good chance that it will come with styrofoam peanuts or styrofoam blocks inside. These can keep a family playing for hours. Will it make a big mess? Of course, but that's why they make brooms and vacuum cleaners. Consider asking for boxes and styrofoam from friends and family from when they purchase new items.
Play with Bubbles
Oh man. You'd be surprised how excited you can get a kid with some bubbles and a few bubble wands, or even a cheap bubble machine. When my parents visited shortly after the birth of our second child, they brought a bubble machine with them and he still can't get enough of it today. I advise however that you learn how to make bubbles yourself at home with dish soap, shampoo, or whatever.
Get creative, learn some new songs together, learn some songs in different languages, sing songs that make you laugh. You can even make songs up together. My toddler loves The Wheels on the Bus, Row Row Row Your Boat, and anything about boats or ships. Find what they love and sing it for them.
This one is all about being silly together. Whether you're dancing to a song you're singing together or some music you're playing, be silly. Swing them around in circles, exaggerate all of your dance moves, and jump around to the music. All of these activities are about making memories, having fun and laughing together.
Painting with Watercolors
Watercolors are like 99 cents at Walmart if you're worried about cost, or you can make them yourself at home for no cost at all. You don't even need paper, just the concrete of the driveway or an old piece of wood for a couple ideas.
With little boys at home, roughhousing is inevitable and I even love it. Tackling my toddler and trying to lick him is one of our favorite games to play when it's just the two of us. Believe me, he gets me back big time, but this is a great source of laughter for us.
Tickling Each Other
Like roughhousing, this is all about having fun together. I chase him and try to catch him so I can tickle him, or heck I just pretend to tickle him to get him to laugh sometimes. Anything loud and rowdy is right up his alley. So anything I can do to get his heart rate up gets him going.
Some of these ideas are going to sound ridiculous, and I think that's the point. We tried to make fun moments out of what we had to work with at the moment. Making memories isn't about having lots of money, or even about leaving the house. It's about having fun and laughing together whatever you are doing.
Did some of these make a huge mess? Absolutely. Did things break at times? Of course, but that's why we have some serious glue on hand. These moments you have with your children are few and far between. One day they will be older with their own families making memories. Give them something fun to remember and pass down to their kids.
I think the saying goes, kids won't remember the great TV episode of their favorite show, they will, however, remember the times that you laughed and had fun together. Right this moment my older son and his father are in the backyard chasing each other around with the garden hose getting soaking wet. I can hear them laughing all the way upstairs. Have more moments like these with your kids and make some fantastic memories for all of you.
© 2018 Victoria Van Ness
Victoria Van Ness (author) from Fountain, CO on July 13, 2018: