Planning a staycation this year? We’ve got a lineup of fun and inexpensive activities for the whole family in the form of things that are sure to make memories and teach your kids new skills along the way.
These simple and low-cost activities promote bonding and offer families a chance to refresh and recharge by getting out of the usual routine of work, school, and extracurricular activities.
Ideally, you’ll want to think about your child’s age and interests and involve him or her in the planning. One-on-one time doing things with your kiddos is something they’ll remember for a lifetime, but also remember to build in free time for everyone’s sake. As we’ve talked about previously, it’s actually healthy and important for children to have unstructured play time and to experience boredom. Include a mix of planned activities and downtime and you’ll strike the right balance and create an epic staycation they’ll be talking about for years to come.
1. Backyard Campout
Kids love the adventure of camping, and the security of knowing they’re close to home is a bonus. Let them think through the packing list (tent, camp chairs, sleeping bag, flashlight, etc.) and encourage them to help with as much of the campsite setup as possible. Learning to pitch a tent, build a campfire, and search for constellations are great skills that build confidence in the hearts of young explorers.
2. Day Hike
Hiking is great for nearly all ages, though you’ll have to adjust your expectations a bit depending on the age of your child. When they’re really young you can carry them in a pack, but they may still tire easily, as they likely will in the independent but short-legged toddler and preschool years. Younger kids will probably find plenty of thrill in hiking a paved Greenways trail, while elementary and older will start to enjoy more adventurous trails. No matter their age, make sure you’re prepared for the great outdoors and take a backpack loaded with sunscreen, bug spray, tissues, sunglasses, and of course plenty of water and snacks. Seriously don’t forget the snacks. Kids love snacks.
3. Scavenger Hunt
Ah, the scavenger hunt. Classic fun, and great for indoors or out, depending on the weather. You can create the list OR make it even more fun and let your kids brainstorm with you. If you have an early reader/writer in your crew they’ll love writing out the items themselves and checking things off for the family. It’s a very official job, after all, made better with a clipboard or small notepad and pencil. Possible items for inclusion on the list are people, places, or things that can be found around the house, your yard, or a nature trail.
4. Explore Your City
Often there are fun things to do around the area we live in, we just don’t take the time to step outside of our daily routine long enough to explore them! Consider historic sites or buildings, museums, or landmarks that tourists in your area would be sure to hit. If you’re drawing a blank, try searching your city on TripAdvisor to see things from a fresh perspective.
5. Pool Day
Even if you don’t live in an area where it’s warm enough to enjoy an outdoor lake, beach, or pool, you can still make plans to visit a local indoor water park! Pack a few toys, towels and snacks (by now you’ve probably noticed we’re serious about snacks around here) and make an afternoon of it.
6. Unstructured Quiet Time
Picture the ideal vacation day spent lounging around a pool or on the beach without any distractions. Now try to recreate that feeling at home. Try a technology-free day or afternoon for the whole family. Pick up that book or magazine you’ve been interested in reading but just haven’t found the time to enjoy. Encourage your kids to do the same. This is a great time to break out their Busy Board or Imagination Box and let them do their own thing while you do yours.
7. Movie Night
Let the kids help choose the movie and pop the popcorn. You can also put them in charge of making sure everyone has a blanket and a cozy spot to enjoy the movie. They’ll love having jobs to do and you’ll enjoy the time together.
8. Board Games
Board games are a great option for family time. You can typically find things that will interest kids as young as two, and are fun for adults, too.
Options like The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel Game!, and Shelby’s Snack Shack Game are fun and teach things like colors and counting to younger kids. Another popular preschool board game is Richard Scarry’s Busytown Eye Found It, which teaches cooperative play and encourages teamwork, promotes attention to detail, and reinforces object identification and matching skills. Who knew kids could learn so much from family game night?! Connect 4 or Jenga are great classics suitable for ages 6 and up, that teach skill and strategy. For kids 8 and up, Stratego is a fun capture-the-flag type game of strategy, and Uno Flip is a fun, slightly more challenging version of the classic favorite.
9. Yard Cleanup/Gardening
Getting your kids involved in household chores teaches responsibility and hard work and taking time to celebrate and reflect on a job well-done will pay dividends.
If the weather cooperates, spend an afternoon outside doing yard cleanup together, perhaps picking up sticks and sweeping the sidewalk. Let your kids help choose seasonally appropriate flowers or vegetables to plant and water with their own kid-sized garden gloves, shovel, and watering can. No yard of your own? See if you can find a community garden or an elderly family member who would enjoy the help. Then enjoy an impromptu picnic dinner or campfire while admiring your work and celebrating the season.
10. Yard Games
Whether you purchase something or make up your own backyard games, the kids will have a blast. This 3-in-1 set with a low net is designed with younger kids in mind, and even if the kids can’t handle the ball or birdie yet you can try letting them hit balloons around with the badminton rackets. Bean bag toss, Ladder Toss, or Wooden Dice also look like fun options.
Let the kids help pack up sandwiches and fresh fruit, or pick up some takeout, and go have a picnic at a nearby park. You may want to pack a blanket or camp chairs in case the picnic tables are all taken (#prepareddad) and throw in a football or bubbles for something fun to do after you eat. Another perk of the park is that you can let the kids burn off some energy on the playground equipment or go on a walk.
12. Build a Fort
Remember building a fort as a kid? Whether you’re talking blankets, sheets, pillows and chairs in the living room, or a more permanent outdoor structure this is sure to be a hit. Not only do they get to help build the fort, they’ll have hours of fun playing in it.
13. Cook Together
Teach your kid how to make simple, age-appropriate food items together. Even toddlers can help dump simple ingredients into a bowl to mix up muffins or make a smoothie. Preschoolers love to help make peanut butter sandwiches, bake bread, put toppings on pizza, and cut a banana into slices with a butter knife. Elementary-aged kids will love having a bit more independence in the kitchen and learning more advanced recipes. Make breakfast sandwiches, parfaits, or a colorful salad – there’s a chance they’ll try something new or different if they get to help make it.
14. Dance Party
It doesn’t take much time to have fun and make lasting memories. Turn on some tunes and bust out your best dance moves – the giggles are sure to ensue, and you’ll get some exercise at the same time. For even more fun, you can create a family “staycation” playlist, and everyone adds their favorite songs.
15. Play Catch
Get outside! If your kids are young you can introduce them to playing catch, kicking around the soccer ball, or throwing a frisbee. A classic playground ball makes for hours of entertainment, whether kicking, tossing, or bouncing. If your kids are already involved with a structured sports team, let them just goof around and try something new, rather than turning this into an official practice session. It is vacation after all! Time for free and unstructured play is valuable.
16. Visit the Library
Check out a local library together. Not only can you find books by a favorite author or on a topic your kid is really into (turtles, police cars, a historic figure, another country, etc.), but many libraries often have toys, puzzles, iPads, and/or other activities for kids to explore.
17. Stage a Photo Shoot
Do you have a budding photographer in the house? Show them how to use your phone or a camera (do they still make those separate from a phone!?) – oh yes, we found a digital camera for toddlers here or an instant print one for your preteens here – and let them take some photos of family members, their toys, or interesting things around the yard. It’s even more fun if you can print some of the photos out to hang in their room.
18. Get Ice Cream
This is a fun and easy treat for the whole family, whether you head to the grocery store to pick out ice cream and toppings to make sundaes together at home, or you head out to your favorite local diner or fro yo shop.
19. Check Out an Aquarium or Zoo
Kids love checking out animals and you can get some exercise while walking to see everything. For little kids remember to load up the stroller and water and snacks, and you’ll want sunscreen on everyone if you’ll be outside at the zoo.
20. Arts & Crafts
Pick up some basic art supplies from your local discount or dollar store and let the kids have fun. Crayons, markers, pipe cleaners, pom poms, popsicle sticks, stick glue and some construction paper and you’re golden for toddler through elementary-aged kids. If you’re feeling adventurous and really want to light up their world you can introduce glitter and paint into the mix. Pro tip: Put down a plastic tablecloth before they go crazy with any glue, glitter, or paint for easier cleanup.
21. Volunteer Together
No matter the age of your kids, it’s rewarding to find ways to volunteer together. It doesn’t have to be a major project, either, though those are great too. Whether introducing them to the concept of donating toys or books that they no longer use, putting canned food items in a bag and taking them by a food pantry, or picking up trash (pack the gloves!) at a park, you’re teaching them the importance of serving and caring for others without any expectation of something in return. As they get older you can look into volunteering at the local Humane Society, Habitat for Humanity, or any other number of local nonprofits.
The Bottom Line:
In the end, no matter how you choose to spend your time, the important thing is that you’re together. Making memories doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. Involve your kids in the planning, watch their wheels start turning, and know that smiles and excited giggles are not far behind.
Now go have some fun and remember we’d love to see pictures of your adventures on Facebook or Instagram!
In closing, if you click through and order any of these games or gadgets from Amazon, Good Dads will earn from qualifying purchases (at no extra cost to you) and that helps us keep the lights on. Thanks for your support - today and always!
Stephanie Grandestaff is a wife and mother, and enjoys handling all aspects of marketing and media for Good Dads.
Toddlers and preschoolers have seemingly boundless energy, and sometimes it’s hard to think of new things to keep them not only occupied but also learning along the way, especially when you can’t get outside to play.
We’re happy to report we have two awesome indoor activities that can grow with your child, enhance their creativity and problem-solving skills, and don’t cost much at all. In fact, you probably already have many of these items laying around your house.
First up is the Busy Board.
We introduced a Busy Board when our daughter was 18-months-old, and she found it interesting throughout toddlerhood. The board encourages imaginative play and fine motor skill development and is especially great for energetic toddlers during winter months, rainy days, or the heat of summer – okay, basically any time you can’t get outside.
Busy Boards can be made with old odds and ends hanging around in junk drawers or the garage from past remodels, or you and your child could make a trip to the hardware store to pick up a few items. Some stores will even cut the plywood to size for you if you don’t have access to a saw. You may also be able to find things at the dollar store if you’re on a tight budget.
A typical Busy Board is a board covered with things to keep little hands -- you guessed it -- busy. Just secure 6-10 items to a piece of plywood and you’re on your way to a few minutes of freedom (wish we could say it will be more, but let’s be honest, 10-15 minutes is a pretty sweet victory for those short attention spans!).
Here are some ideas to get you started on your Busy Board, but really use whatever you have access to, and they’ll love it:
Now, we know you’re a good dad so we don’t need to remind you to use common sense and be nearby while your child is playing with their busy board. You know toddlers are prone to tripping or tugging on things, so you’ll need to secure the board upright in some manner to reduce the likelihood of it tipping over onto your child, poking out their eye, etc. Also make sure there are no sharp edges exposed in the form of screws, plywood edges, and the like. I know, I know, it sounds like we’re taking all the fun out of it, but you want to make this a positive experience for everyone involved.
Now on to the second option for encouraging creative play and learning in your kids. This one is great for toddler-to-preschool age kids (2—3+) and is even less expensive (read: free) and easier to put together than the Busy Board.
Hello, Imagination Box.
This idea was inspired by the Daniel Tiger show, which our daughter loves. In the show, Daniel and his friends have a cardboard box that they pretend is a rocket ship. We decided to put together a plastic storage box full of odds and ends so our daughter could have open-ended play.
Examples of Imagination Box items –
Just put your collection of items inside the plastic storage box and you’re ready to go.
When you first introduce this “Imagination Box” idea to your kid, you need to make it fun and special, and you’ll probably have to jump in and “show” them how to use it. So, grab a scarf and hang it over two chairs and say you’re going in your doghouse, and come out barking. Grab a paper plate and explain you’re going to drive to the park or fly your spaceship to another planet.
After your demo, what happens with the objects is up to the child, not the adult, and the activity is completely open-ended. The role of the adult is to sit back and watch, facilitating if the child wants it, maybe adding a few suggestions and finding ways to extend the child’s thinking even further.
Your kid might ask you what something is. This is when you need to remember one of two rules for imagination time… 1) Try to remember not to name the object!! Instead say, “it can be anything you want it to be,” or “I wonder what that is?” 2) Try not to correct or interrupt their play (unless it’s dangerous, of course. Use this time to talk about why we never wrap things around our necks, for example) but otherwise just go along with their line of thinking, asking questions like, “I wonder what I do with this?”
Sometimes it’s fun to play with them, otherwise (likely as they get older, maybe closer to age 4), they’ll sometimes play by themselves and you can just smile in from the next room as you see them talking and completely entranced in their own little world.
When our daughter’s done playing, we work together to pack things back in the box and put it away in a closet. In our house we don’t leave it out all the time, that way it’s special and fun when we do bring it out to play. We periodically add new odds and ends and get rid of junky old stuff.
Of course with either activity you want to keep in mind safety with respect to your child’s age and abilities, and avoid including any choking hazards on your busy board or in your imagination box.
Introducing your child to opportunities for creative play is truly a gift that keeps giving. You're setting them up for future success because they're learning to experiment, discover and solve problems in imaginative and playful ways.
Now go have some fun and remember we’d love to see pictures of your creations on Facebook or Instagram!
Stephanie Grandestaff is a wife and mother, and enjoys handling all aspects of marketing and media for Good Dads.
“Because I want to.”
This was my toddler son’s response to my question about why he had chosen to pee down the heating vent next to the toilet. It wasn’t very reassuring to me, but I’m certain it made a lot of sense to his almost-three-year-old way of thinking.
Toddlers are like that. In just a little over a year they’ve become much more mobile and the world is an exciting place. Because they are not capable of reasoning like an adult, they often try things just to see what will happen, e.g., emptying a container of bath powder into the bathtub just to enjoy the clouds they create in the process. One toddler I know climbed up on a chair to reach a container of Vaseline at a time when his parents thought he was sleeping. He saturated his hair and his brother’s for the sheer joy of smearing the viscose material. Another tried flushing a jump rope down the toilet, only to create a plumbing nightmare for his father.
“This parenting class isn’t working,” the dad exclaimed at the next workshop session, reciting his plumbing woes.
I had to tell him a parenting class isn’t intended to prevent two- and three-year-olds from being inquisitive. A parenting class is intended to help parents know what is normal and how they might respond to their child’s behavior.
Simply put, it’s normal for a toddler to explore her world and be experimental. It’s also normal for them to have very little understanding of the danger they may face or the consequences of their actions. This is why children in this age group require such close supervision. They are capable of creating a lot of trouble for themselves and their parents. They also are curious about many, many things and they like to imitate what they see their parents doing.
This imitative, creative, independent behavior led to an interesting early morning experience for one dad I know. Awakening from a deep sleep he staggered into the kitchen for his morning cup of coffee only to discover his three-year-old son, Ethan, preceded him by half an hour or so. Ethan had opened the freezer, removed a carton of strawberry ice cream, selected a spoon, and trundled off to the bedroom of his twin 15-month-old brothers. The three of them had enjoyed almost the entire contents of the ice cream carton when their dad came upon the scene. The family’s dog was finishing off what remained in the carton on the floor as Ethan proclaimed, “Look Daddy, I fed my brothers ice cream.”
When a parent is faced with a plugged toilet, urine in the heating vent, or a bedroom swathed in strawberry ice cream, it is understandably a frustrating experience. No one likes to clean up a mess and toddlers can create some pretty big messes. At the same time, this behavior is a normal developmental phase. It is part of a child’s cognitive development and is mostly easily avoided by close supervision—though it is definitely not possible to watch them all the time.
It’s important to remember that your child is not deliberately trying to create chaos or make you angry. She is learning. It is entirely appropriate for you, as the parent, to set limits and explain that certain behaviors are not acceptable, e.g. helping one’s self to ice cream without prior permission. Nonetheless, don’t be surprised by new opportunities to teach your young one what is and is not appropriate. Although they can be exasperating some days, they look to you for love and security. Even though it can appear “no” is their favorite word, what you think of them and how you respond really matters. If you learn to have realistic expectations about this stage of your child’s life, you can save yourself a lot of hassle and enjoy your young one in the process.
For more great insights and tips be sure to subscribe to our Good Dads Podcast, and check out this four-part mini-series with three Springfield, MO dads talking about the realities of their toddlers pooping, eating, sleeping, and saying "no!"
Dr. Jennifer Baker is the Founder and Executive Director of Good Dads. She is the wife of one, mother of two and grandmother of eight. She may be reached for question or comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.