Between birthday parties, ballet lessons and soccer games, the typical family weekend is jam packed no matter where you happen to live. But sometimes you’re lucky to get a breather from your obligations and need something carefree and different to do with kids on a Sunday afternoon. Here’s our favorite list of fun (and practically free!) activities to enjoy with little ones. Boredom, meet your match!
1. Go on a walking adventure.
Fresh air and outdoor time is a winning combination no matter what your age. Go on a family hike, visit a local garden or park, or play pedestrian tourist in your own town. The idea is to put the brakes on car dependence — if your neighborhood is conducive to that, of course — and explore entirely on foot. You can make it engaging for little ones by playing games like I Spy as you walk. Turn it into a multi-sensory experience by focusing on the sounds of chirping birds or crunching leaves underfoot, the smell of burning fireplaces, the colors of cars and front doors, etc. Have your little ones look for interesting bugs, rocks, or leaves. You never know – a simple walk could be the catalyst for new interests or starting a collection of their own.
2. Volunteer as a family.
Kids are never too young for a lesson in philanthropy. Volunteering is a fantastic way to open their eyes, hearts and minds to populations in need. Just one afternoon of volunteering can show little ones how far an act of kindness and generosity can go. Joining a beach or neighborhood cleanup effort is a great way to introduce the concept of volunteering to kids. Spending quality time at a senior center delivering baked goods or singing songs is another. Making get well cards for children in hospitals and even helping an elderly neighbor shop for groceries also count. It doesn’t have to be complicated to be effective – for the recipient as well as your kids. Check out a site like VolunteerMatch.org to find opportunities for volunteering in your area.
3. Grow a garden.
Whether you have a large backyard, a small balcony or access to a community garden, one thing’s for sure – kids LOVE getting their hands dirty. A parent-approved excuse to do so? Yes, please! Planting a garden with kids is an ongoing lesson in patience, science, and caring for living things. Cater to their little green thumbs by planting fruits and vegetables, then baking or cooking something with your eventual bounty (zucchini bread, anyone?). It’s a great way to get picky eaters to be more receptive to trying new things as well. Fruits and veggies not your thing? Tend to a plant or flower garden instead. Kids love taking care of and talking to plants, checking in on their growth, and watering them a little each day. Mine even go so far as to name ours — we currently have a beautiful fiddle leaf fig named Bob in our living room!
4. Show them where you met.
Little ones sometimes have trouble grasping the concept of Mom and Dad’s existence before they joined the parenthood club. Bring this concept to life and take them on a literal trip down memory lane. Show them the exact spot where you met or had your first date with your spouse. Talk about all the things you loved doing together (but assure them you love being their parents even more!). Kids enjoy hearing stories about “where it all began” and this helps them see you in a new light — as individuals who are more than just Mom and Dad.
5. Cash in a free museum day.
Many museums offer free admission days at least once a month. And there are plenty of local science centers, art galleries and planetariums that are already free to the public (you may have to pay for parking, for example, but not admission). Scope out your local arts and education scene and plan a low-cost yet highly valuable day of learning for your family. If you have a membership to one museum or botanical garden, chances are it unlocks entry to sister properties, too.
6. Visit a local animal shelter.
One of the best ways to build empathy in kids and improve everyone’s mood is spending quality time with animals. Plan a sweet visit with the rescues at your local animal shelter for a fun and cuddly afternoon (even if you already have pets at home). Be sure to confirm that each animal is comfortable with children before asking to pet or play with it. The shelter is also a wonderful place to volunteer, depending on the ages of your kids. We can’t promise you won’t be tempted to come home with a new furry family member, but we CAN promise that you’ll all feel fulfilled after giving some lonely dogs and cats some love.
7. Make a card for a relative who lives far away.
A handwritten piece of mail can be the highlight of a loved one’s day, especially one who greatly misses those adorable kids of yours. Using a folded piece of construction paper, have your little ones get creative and make a card to send to a faraway family member. If they’re too young to write, they can draw pictures and decorate the card with glitter or stickers; older kids might want to write a heartfelt note, too. If you can, print a few photos to include in the envelope, then seal it with a kiss and send it with lots of love.
8. Fly a kite.
The simplest pleasures in life are often those that bring the most joy. Case in point: the good old-fashioned kite. We brought a couple of kites along on a recent beach vacation and were blown away by the number of teenage resort workers who remarked that they’d never flown one in their lives. Do yourself a favor and pick up an affordable kite from a sporting goods store and watch your child’s eyes light up when it takes flight at the park, in your backyard, on the beach — or anywhere you can find open space.
9. Tour a local fire station.
Is your child obsessed with fire trucks and completely in awe of what firefighters can do? Many kids love firemen without knowing what they look like in full firefighting gear, which can be scary. Lots of neighborhood fire stations offer educational service days or open houses at various times of the year, but you can call your local station and schedule a private tour as well. Ask them to gear up and be sure to bring some homemade goodies for your local heroes too. A visit to the fire station may end up sparking a lifelong interest in community and service for your kids.
10. Have yourselves a Yes Day.
This super special weekend declaration should be reserved for special occasions like birthdays or as a reward for exceptionally good behavior. Basically, the kids get to decide how the day will unfold (within reason). All-morning hide and seek marathon with Mom and Dad? Yes. Ice cream for lunch? Sure. You get the idea. Set some ground rules first, like a fixed amount you’re willing to spend on admission or transportation costs, and then hand over the reins. Say YES to creating magical childhood memories!
Ready to tackle this weekend bucket list or feeling inspired with ideas of your own? Have fun and remember to leave room for unstructured, self-directed play time, too – it’s more important than you think.