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When the whole family is involved in planning fun activities, you’ll have more opportunities to experience special moments. “Family glue” is what Pat Tanner Nelson, professor of Human Development & Family Studies at University of Delaware, calls those moments that connect your family and build deep, healthy relationships. “Spending time together as a family takes planning, but it’s a good investment,” Nelson says. It doesn’t have to be complicated—with a little bit of effort, you can turn bonding into a lifetime of funny, sweet stories and lasting memories.
Plant a Family Garden
Encourage everyone to get their hands dirty by digging a patch to plant flowers or vegetables in the backyard. Tuck tender seedlings into the ground and watch them grow and blossom—like your kids are doing every day. Your whole family will gain a new respect for the natural world, all while learning patience and perseverance as you divvy up the tasks of keeping the garden weed-free, well-watered, and strong.
Conduct Family Interviews
Members of your family’s older generations, like grandparents, great-aunts, and great-uncles, have many fascinating stories of growing up in different eras. Have your kids ask them what life was like in yesteryear and use a voice, or video recorder to capture their unique stories. By collecting personal anecdotes and memories, you’ll have a time capsule of family history. As kids learn about their heritage, they can start thinking about their own legacies. Transcribe the interviews to create a book or digital file of photos for a slideshow to accompany the interviews.
Plan a Family Photo-shoot
There’s no better way to make and preserve family memories than by planning a family photo-shoot. The best way to capture those real candid moments is to seek out a photographer with a photo-journalistic style who knows how to handle kids during lifestyle shoots. Pick a spot for the shoot that your family already loves, like a local park or playground.
Cook (and Eat) a Family Meal
Studies show that kids who dine frequently with their parents have improved academic performance, increased self-esteem, and a reduced risk of obesity. Regular dinnertime conversations are also linked with more open communication between kids and parents.
“The more you can get into the habit of really listening to your kids and having these conversations from early ages, the more likely it is that kids are going to talk to their parents in adolescence about issues that are troubling them,” says Richard Weissbourd, a Harvard psychologist and the author of The Parents We Mean to Be. Start with a collection of recipes and then assign everyone an age-appropriate job. Get creative with ingredients and techniques to forge delicious memories.
Take a Family Nature Walk
Getting out into nature offers a special kind of space for enjoying each other’s company. Although research hasn’t yet pinned down the science behind the benefits of fresh air, “natural settings seem to help calm down children (and everyone),” Nelson says. So, as you stroll down a wooded trail, along a shoreline, or even through an urban park, breathe in, let your shoulders relax, and look around at the trees, the birds, the sky, and each other.
Designate a Family “Holiday”
Surprise family members with “holidays” tailored to each personality. Just like birthdays and conventional holidays, pack these days with unique traditions (like a poem written in someone’s honor) and special foods. The celebrations can also be clever and unexpected ways to honor each person. You can make them their favorite food, take turns talking about your favorite thing about this family member, and even make up fun games or trivia about your family members!
Start a Family Book Club
Once everyone in the family is old enough to read (or listen to read-aloud stories), take turns choosing a book and then pick one day each month to sit down and talk about it. Think of questions that will make the discussions come alive and let whoever chose the book lead the conversation. If you’re having trouble choosing a title, ask a local librarian or bookstore owner for advice. You can even extend an invitation to other family members who live far away by asking them to send thoughts via email or chat with them over FaceTime.
Make Family Art
Plan your project, set up the necessary supplies, and let the creative magic happen. Try tracing everyone’s hands, filling in the outlines with colorful designs, and framing everyone’s prints. Or cut up copies of family photos or mementos to create a group collage or scrapbook. If you want to be bold, paint a mural on the entire wall of a playroom or family room. Displaying your collective artwork is a memorable and lasting tribute for your family.
Holly Lebowitz Rossi