Are you determined to make 2019 the best year yet for your family? Turns out you don’t have to spend a ton of money or an inordinate amount of time planning. We’ve got some expert advice on 10 simple shifts to help you up the family fun in 2019.
1. Focus on the little things
Fun doesn’t have to be a big trip or even the focus of a whole day. “When all is said and done, kids don’t remember us for all the stuff we do for them or our fabulous carpooling abilities. It’s the simple, fun, little things that they recall — the spontaneous card game, cloud glazing, laughing on the couch, and just plain enjoying each other. That’s what creates the lifetime memories,” says Michele Borba, Ed.D., parenting expert and author of two dozen books, including “UnSelfie.”
2. Don’t force it
Fun shouldn’t be another thing to cross off your already too long to-do list. That takes the enjoyment level down more than a few notches. “I try to avoid family fun because I think we’re doing too much already. I want to have fun doing the things we’re already doing,” says KJ Dell’Antonia, author of “How to be a Happier Parent: Raising a Family, Having a Life, and Loving (Almost) Every Minute.”
3. Establish a family tradition
“Things you do every year are fun,” says Dell’Antonia. Her family participates in the same 5K every year and it’s something that they all look forward to doing. “It’s enjoyable to have events you always do. Even if the thing itself isn’t an ideal event or super fun, the tradition that goes into it is fun.”
4. Play with your food
“Mealtime is, by definition, part of the daily life to-do list. If we can make mealtime fun, we’re bringing fun into real life,” says Elena Marre, founder of The Kids’ Table cooking school in Chicago.
A family cooking class can be an easy and entertaining way to start making food fun, in part because they handle a lot of the prep and the clean-up, but it can also start a new family approach toward food. Not only is the class itself entertaining for all participants, but, Marre says, “the bonus is that you’re learning something together that you can take home with you to create another cooking experience at home.”
5. Be a hometown tourist
Colleen Kelly, host of the PBS show “Family Travel with Colleen Kelly,” says that when she asks someone about the local tourist attractions in their hometown, they haven’t done them. Don’t wait for out-of-town relatives to visit — go check them out now with your immediate family. You’ll probably find you have even more fun when you’re not obligated to do them based on Uncle Bob’s timeframe or Aunt Mary’s interests.
6. Leave space to breathe
Chances are you have a busy schedule. Packing it even tighter with more things just because they are fun is not a good strategy, says Dell’Antonia.
Saying no to a fun activity is hard, but trying to do it all is even harder. “Don’t try to mush too many things in, and don’t put too many fun activities into an afternoon when there isn’t room,” she says, adding, “Nothing kills fun faster than rushing to try to get from one fun activity to another. Then it becomes all about transition, traveling, and rushing, not enjoying.”
Dell’Antonia says that a side benefit of not cramming the schedule is that you can be open to unexpected plans and changing things up.
7. Scope out a new neighborhood
While routine is good, sometimes switching it up can be just the thing your family needs. Going somewhere new together can be a fun adventure, but you don’t have to go far or for long. An afternoon in a new neighborhood can be fun for everyone, and a great educational opportunity, too.
“In Chicago, for example, we are blessed to have so many amazing and culturally diverse neighborhoods. From Chinatown to Greektown and even the German-enriched Lincoln Square, you can experience a vast array of foods, cultures, and activities,” says Kelly. She suggests exploring exotic local shops and “expanding your kids’ palates by trying some authentic cuisine.”
8. Sleep in
The world seems more enjoyable and fun when you’re not exhausted. Keep that in mind when selecting activities for your family. “Fun that involves getting up early or kids missing nap is often not all that fun,” cautions Dell’Antonia.
Research by the American Psychological Association found that failure to get enough sleep increases levels of stress hormones and is linked to problems with mood and relationships. In short, getting sufficient sleep makes us happier. It’s a lot easier to find the fun when you’re not exhausted.
9. Share funny stories
Chances are that your kids are very funny, and it’s quite likely that their peers are, too. Tap into that in the year ahead. “You don’t need a big box of tricks, just interact and let everyone be themselves and talk about their day. Have everyone share something funny that happened,” suggests Marre. They may not have stories the first few times you ask, but if you share some and make it clear you love laughing at the humorous parts of everyday life, chances are they’ll be on the lookout for something funny to share next time.
10. Embrace the errors
Keeping a sense of humor about yourself and your circumstances can go a long way toward making life more fun. “You don’t have to be having fun to laugh,” says Dell’Antonia. Often, it’s the things that don’t go according to plan that lead to the family stories that you tell and laugh at time and time again.
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Shannan Younger is a writer living in the western suburbs of Chicago with her husband and teen daughter. Originally from Ohio, she received her undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Notre Dame. Her essays have been published in several anthologies and her work has been featured on a wide range of websites, from the Erma Bombeck Humor Writers Workshop to the BBC. She also blogs about parenting at Between Us Parents.
Shannan is the Illinois Champion Leader for [email protected], a campaign of the United Nations Foundation that supports vaccination efforts in developing countries to ensure life-saving vaccines reach the hardest to reach children. “Vaccines are one of the most effective ways to save the lives of children in developing countries and I’d love nothing more than to see diseases eradicated,” Shannan says. “We are so close to getting rid of polio for good!”