I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I spend too much time on my phone. This is a problem for a myriad of reasons, but the most important one is that time spent on my phone is time not spent actively engaged with my kids. I have three little girls, and while they also enjoy screen time (And if I’m honest, I also enjoy Bluey), what they really want is time with Katie and me. They want attention, engagement, and to feel like they’re heard.
Certainly everyday can’t be a day trip to the Baltimore Aquarium where the tickets and gift shop require taking out a second mortgage, so we’ve found some quick, easy ways to engage the kids that allow us all to have fun and give our phones a rest.
1. Kids’ Charades
All kids want to play games, the problem is that we don’t always have two hours to set aside for a round of Sorry!. We recently picked up this charades kids’ set, and they love it. Our littlest can’t read yet, but each card has a picture she can act out. My girls love to perform for us: dance shows, gymnastics shows, puppet shows, concerts, you name it. This allows kids to perform, practice literacy, and you can play for an hour or fifteen minutes while dinner is in the oven.
2. Kindness Rocks
One of my friends owns a publishing company called Creo En Ti Media. They print bilingual books and give them to underprivileged kids all over the world. One of their books is about a family walking through a park, finding kindness rocks and deciding to make some of their own. Well I had to try this, and yeah, it’s a win. This promotes creativity and empathy while also getting your kids outside.
Grab a bag of river rocks and a set of acrylic paint pens. The kids can use the pens to paint cute pictures on the rocks and write encouraging messages. Take a walk through the park, and the kids can choose where to leave the rocks for other kids to find them.
There are three reasons this is a kick-ass activity. 1. You get to walk around the park instead of sitting on a bench, watching your kids play on the playground. 2. The kids enjoy hiding the rocks just as much as painting them. 3. Acrylic paint pens require zero cleanup…yeah, you heard me.
3. Donation Celebration
Every Christmas Katie and I say the same thing: Where the hell are we going to put all of these new toys? So we’ve started a new tradition that alleviates that angst. Around Thanksgiving time, each kid gets a trash bag to fill with toys that they haven’t played with the last few months. We set a timer for ten minutes and cut em’ loose. They don’t have to donate any toy that they want to keep, but they can’t have an empty bag at the end of the ten minutes.
When the ten minutes is up, we put the bags in the car and take them to SalVal for donation. I don’t know about you, but if I don’t take donate items to the donation center right away, the bag will sit in the back of my car for no less than four months.
This teaches my kids that 1. It’s good to donate to charity. 2. We shouldn’t keep things we don’t use just for the sake of keeping them. Attachment to possessions isn’t healthy. 3. Clutter helps no one.
4. Three Marker Challenge
This is so simple, and I’ve yet to meet a kid who doesn’t love it.
- One kid picks a subject e.g. cheetah, racecar, unicorn, ninja, etc.
- Find a free coloring page (literally just Google “cheetah coloring page free”).
- Print one of the same image for each kid.
- Put a set of markers in a basket, box, or cup.
- Each kid picks out three markers behind their back. Whatever three colors they get, they have to keep.
- Each kid colors in their picture with only the three markers they chose.
- Parents judge whose drawing is the best.
- Different kid picks the subject for the next round.
- If you participate in the challenge, color outside the lines a bit. Your kids need to see that you’re not perfect either.
Kids love milkshakes. Dads love milkshakes. And milkshakes are cheap. Once a month, take your kids out for a milkshake. This is a great time to check in and see how they’re doing. How’s school? Are you getting along with your friends? Are you being kind to others? Is anyone picking on you? How am I doing as dad? Do you need anything more or less from me? Do you know how much I love you?
These are important questions for you to ask your kid, and more potently, these are the questions that show your kid that it’s safe to talk to you. I realize that for some dads, these are difficult conversations to have, but plant these seeds of vulnerability and trust now, so when your kid is older and gets into a pickle, you’re the first one they call.
By the way, make this a special trip between just you and the kids; your partner can stay at home for a few minutes of quiet or go run an errand…by themselves…without the kids.
Bonus Idea: Treasure Hunt
Ok, this isn’t quick, but it’s easily the most fun my kids have ever had around the house.
- Go to Declan’s Mining Co. and order a mining bucket. Tell no one.
- Go to any thrift shop and find a cool old box (I found one at Goodwill for $4).
- Put the mining rocks with some sand and half dollars into the cool old box.
- When the kids go to bed, bury the box in the backyard.
- Make a treasure map (burn the edges, paint it with tea and let it dry, then draw cool pictures on it. X marks the spot. I even put a wax seal on mine), and stash it in the attic, the basement, that old crawl space, wherever.
- Give it a week for the ground to settle and then find the map by “accident.” Hey, I was just up in the attic and found this old paper scrolled up with a seal. What could it be?
- Go on a treasure hunt, and dig up the most sensational treasure your kids have ever seen. Let the kids split the treasure (youngest gets to pick first).
- Swear your kids to secrecy: We can’t have a bunch of treasure hunters coming to snoop around our property.
- Accept your Dad-of-the-Year Award.