Planning an active family day sounds so simple... in theory. You just pack up the kids, grab the bikes and head to a park, right? Well, maybe. For some families, it really is that simple, but for others? Not so much. When you gather a group of individuals spanning a vast array of ages, personality types and interests, "simple" family days can become a whole lot more complex. Here are a few ideas to make your active family day what it's supposed to be -- fun!
Know your audience
It should come as no surprise that a 4 year old, 10 year old and 16 year old all have different preferences for how to spend family time. Forcing your teenager to do something she doesn't want to do will end up making everyone unhappy, while forcing your preschooler to do an activity she's not physically ready for will end up feeling similarly frustrating. While it's hard to please everyone, especially if your kids span a wide array of ages, do take the time to come up with activities or venues that are easily scaled to interests and ability levels. For instance, look for larger city or county parks that offer playgrounds, sand volleyball courts, swimming pools and splash pads. Agree to spend some time together as a family playing Frisbee or a game of freeze tag, then split up and let your older kids hang out with friends. As long as you're spending some designated time together as a family, it's okay to allow older kids a little bit of freedom.
Take turns or draw for it
When you have kids and parents with lots of different interests, choosing activities can end up turning into a fight. When one child suggests going swimming and another child suggests hiking, you need to know in advance how you're going to break the tie. The easiest way to do this is to designate a "picker" each week who gets to choose the activity or venue for the week. Since everyone will eventually get a turn, there are fewer opportunities for pouting or fights.
If you don't have a regular activity day scheduled, the best way to choose the winning activity is to draw for it. Parents can narrow the options to two or three choices that sound appealing to the group, then each interested party can write their favorite idea on a piece of paper and one of the parents can randomly draw from bowl or hat. The benefit to this method is that kids see that it's random and that no one is being favored... something that's especially important in families with intense sibling rivalry.
Parents have to be flexible by nature, but before heading out for an active day of fun, it's important that you stress to your kids the importancce of flexibility. Things sometimes happen that force plans to change, but that doesn't mean that the day is ruined. Remind kids that swimming pools have to shut down if there's thunder in the area, parks and beaches sometimes close if there's a potential hazard to guests. Even if everything's open and available, you may simply discover that your original plan isn't that fun. Come up with a few backup ideas for how to handle the unexpected and be ready to roll with the punches.
Use what you've got
Whether you're heading to the park, beach or lake, there are lots of fun toys and "gadgets" available for purchase, but you shouldn't feel obligated to buy. Gather up items you already have, like balls and Frisbees, then see what games you can play using only those items and other odds and ends around the house. Grab a few old shirts or towels to use as markers on a field if you want to play soccer or capture the flag. Thick rope is great for tug-of-war. Pennies and nickles are perfect for swimming pool games. The only things you really need to invest in are safety-related items like lifejackets, or quality shoes for hiking and biking.
Think outside the box
Rotating through hiking, biking and swimming is bound to get boring after a while. Show your kids that there's more to being active than the family standard fare by thinking outside the box. Search the internet and be willing to drive a little to try new experiences. Check out a rock climbing gym or a trampoline facility. Head out to the country and saddle up for a trail ride. Enroll in a class on kayaking and plan a family kayak trip for the future. Go to an acrobatic gym for the day and take a class on tumbling or aerial arts. Head to the lake and rent a few paddle boards or paddle boats and cruise the water in a whole new way. Some activities will cost more than others, but many are comparable to the cost of taking your family to the movies. Plus, you can pack your own snacks!
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Set a budget
Set a monthly budget for how much you are able to spend on active family fun, then plan accordingly. This budget should account for everything from admittance fees and equipment to travel and food. Split up the budget however you'd like -- you can choose to splurge one week each month or plan more reasonably priced activities an a regular basis. Either way, this will ensure you don't get surprised by unexpected costs.
Share in the comments -- what's your favorite family activity?