Your Favorite Family Activities
Maria and her son bake cookies.
My son Max (16 months) loves to cook with me and is constantly in my pots and pans. I also have a 3-month-old, so to give Max a little one-on-one attention, I make special things just with him. Our specialty is oatmeal chocolate chip cookies —Dad's favorite! Before we begin, I set up our recipes with each ingredient in separate cups so he can pour the cups into the bowl. Max also has his own apron and hat, but he always wants me to wear the hat instead. He loves it, and it's a great excuse to make cookies!

Maria of Glen Ellyn, Illinois
Eileen's family celebrates Rooster Day.
Many years ago, when my children were much younger, the summer break seemed to last forever. By August, they were usually looking to me for some form of entertainment. Unfortunately, August doesn't even offer a celebratory holiday, so we created our own—Rooster Day! On Rooster Day, everyone brings a $5 wrapped gift—young and old. We eat chicken (closest thing to a rooster), swim the day away and then open Rooster Day presents, starting from the youngest to oldest.

You just pick a present from the pile and open. We have been celebrating Rooster Day for seven years, and my children are now 13, 14 and 15. Every year, more friends and family hear about Rooster Day, so the party gets larger. We're ready to solicit Hallmark for an official holiday card!

Eileen of Springfield, Pennsylvania
Brittini's family plays Rock Band.
Usually once a week, my family and I sit down and play Rock Band together in the living room. We always act like we are really performing on stage. It's a ton of fun for all of us. My dad even gets involved, which is awesome. Every family should own this game—it's fun for parents and kids. The music is a bunch of great songs from a few decades ago. We even video us playing sometimes. I know that when I'm older, this will be a great memory I will have of my family.

Brittini of Hughson, California
Tameka's husband and daughter have tea time.
My husband has created a special way to get his very own personal time with each child. He has individual "tea time" with each one at least one hour per week. So, everyone gets to have their own personal tea time with Dad every week, during which no one else is allowed in the room…not even Mom! He uses this time to connect with each child, listening and laughing about whatever they desire the conversation to be. Yes, they do it over tea, and the children are always searching for new flavors during our trips to the grocery store!

I am so happy and overwhelmed at the pure excitement and expectancy when it is tea time in our house. No one has tea time on the same night, so no one shares their personal tea time. We have a 13-year-old son and a 7-year-old daughter who both look forward to tea time just as much as the other. Of course, the 7-year-old "girlie-girl" brings her own style to every tea time with Dad! She sets out her finest tea set, silverware and even dessert.

According to my husband, it is absolutely amazing and humbling to see what you can learn about your children, and from your children, in just a little time. Of course, we do all sorts of things as a family, but to the children, I am sure this is one of the most special.

Tameka of Richardson, Texas
Laura's kids play Twister.
I've taught my children the fun of playing in the rain. The most gratifying was last year when they went outside on their own without me. I love this because it's a spontaneous, joyous activity, and the kids love having Mom playing in the rain with them.

We live in Texas where it is too warm for snow, so we have an indoor snowball fight with either crumpled sheets of paper made into snowballs. Or, sometimes this will happen spontaneously when the kids are helping with the laundry and start tossing sock balls. It brings a lot of fun and laughter and a light way to approach chores.

Sometimes there will be family game night, and we take turns picking the game. It could be Twister, Clue or Zingo, and we also like to do fondue. Game night and fondue is a "must do" on New Year's Eve each year.

Laura of The Woodlands, Texas
Rebecca teaches her children about the outdoors.
As a gardening coach and mom of two young boys, I believe that time outside transforms our lives for the better.

Each day, I make a conscious effort to get outside and be active with my kids, and I also let them take the lead in deciding what we do. When the weather was warm, we biked to school, worked in the garden and took daily nature walks. One Friday, when I asked my son, "What is something special that we could do together this weekend?," at his suggestion, we pitched a tent in the backyard and spent two nights in it. Now that the weather is colder, we bundle up for walks to school and play outside, rake leaves or shovel snow.

When it's too cold, we "bring the outside in." For example, last week we sprouted seeds on the windowsill, and last night, when it was almost bedtime and too cold outside, I asked my 6-year-old (who was tormenting his younger brother), "What can we do together?" He found some balloons in a craft kit, and after spending 30 minutes figuring out how to blow them up, proceeded to spend an hour with his younger brother playing "volleyball." The balloons made it easy to hit and return to the other, and I was amazed at how active their game of volleyball became. The boys had a tremendous amount of exercise and had a blast!

Being outside allows relationships, creativity and activity to unfold, which leads to a healthy lifestyle and which I believe can reverse the negative effects of past unhealthy choices. The first step is consciously choosing to spend time with your kids away from the distractions that exist for each of us inside the house and look right beyond our doorstep. Sit on the stoop, notice the clouds, share what you like about being outside.

Rebecca of Gainesville, Virginia
Sheila's daughter decorates a cupcake.
At this point in time, winter is starting to seem endless, and Kristina, my daughter, and I are getting tired of the usual indoor activities. Even though she's only 15 months old, I have started to encourage her to help me with some baking. On the weekends, she helps me put the liners in the pan so we can make muffins. She does a great job of taste-testing our wares and keeping an eye on the oven. Just recently, we expanded our baking duties to include cupcake decorating. As you can see, she did an excellent job on her very first attempt!

Sheila of Columbia City, Indiana
Painting inspired by Somewhere over the Rainbow
My children and I like to "paint" songs. We are all very creative and have a great time expressing our feelings on canvas. This is so much fun and is a great way to self-express and relieve stress. Not to mention, it is family time that they will remember always. What we do is take turns picking a song. We choose anything from nursery rhymes to hip-hop songs. Everyone has several paint colors, a canvas or paper, a paper towel and a bunch of paint brushes.

Then, when the song starts, we paint. We paint, as fast as we can, the colors and brush strokes that we feel from the song. We try to cover the whole canvas, but try to let the music guide us. There is no "wrong" way to do this. Even my 2-year-old has a great time. When the song is over, you stop. It is that simple. It is so fun to see what creative expressions of the song end up on each canvas after three minutes. I have included a picture of the painting "Somewhere over the Rainbow."

Aime of Cockeysville, Maryland
Suzy encourages kids to do glue paintings.
I love to have my 9-year-old grandson and his friends come over for an afternoon gathering to do a special project called "glue painting." Each child spreads a special glue on acrylic paper and then adds acrylic paints with objects like sponges, plastic cards, feathers, old toothbrushes, etc. They can be as creative as they like, and it is so easy, relaxing and fun…and you have a colorful piece of abstract art that they can hang in their room when they're done!

If the weather is nice, we might also make a colorful web outside in the yard. The children have balls of yarn that they tie loosely around their waists. Then, they throw the balls to any other child. As the children catch a ball, they pass it round their waists and throw it to somebody else. The process is great fun in itself, but what is remarkable is watching the web develop. Once you have used all the yarn, you pass the loop down and step out of it, then form a circle pulling the web tight. It is hard to believe, but the web is strong enough to hold the weight of a child, and each child gets a turn laying in the center and allowing the rest of the group to support them.

Both of these activities are great for kids and adults too!

After these two activities, the kids love to get into my trunk of old clothes and costumes and play dressup, have a water balloon fight or take turns hitting a piñata filled with candy. We also have a box of questions like, "What person has inspired you the most in your life?" and each child takes a turn selecting a card and answering it.

Suzy of Speedway, Indiana
Charlene and her family go hiking.
Our favorite family activity is hiking. We spend the day together in nature, get lots of exercise and explore new places. Luckily, we live in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, where trails are everywhere. My husband and I even met on a hike on Mount Rainier. Now, many years later, we hike with our son, who is now 6. He loves to hike with us and always is our leader. He even turned down a birthday party with the big blow-up water slides to go hiking.

We work in downtown Seattle weekdays, but on the weekends, we hit the trails. There is just something that feels very good [about] spending the day in the silence of the forest, splashing in a mountain lake or just taking in the views from a mountaintop. Nature recharges us, bonds us and fills us with joy. Did I mention it is almost free too? Just an annual trail pass, gas to the trail head, packed lunch, a good pair of hiking boots, and we are good to go.

Charlene of Bothell, Washington

Rebecca's family prepares for the water fight.
Even if Utah has the "greatest snow on earth," the summer months are scorching, dry and intense. The weather, coupled with the stress of summer activities, has the potential for a less-than-festive familial mood. My family has found a tonic for the sun and schedules—a traditional Fourth of July water fight. This communal drenching is the cathartic balm, as well as an exuberant celebration of kinship, joy and physical expression. The event includes everyone from my youngest niece to my ailing father. Everyone participates; no one is left out. This tradition began with my Grandmother Clegg. Every Fourth, she would organize her legions of grandchildren in this ritual. Gleefully, she would supply multicolored water pistols, plastic buckets and impossibly long water hoses. Her whoops and cheers would rally us on to imagined aquatic victory!

My mother now continues this tradition—not only with her grandchildren, but her grown children as well. Mom's enthusiasm for the activity is just as vibrant and free as any child. I'd describe myself as the most reserved of my parents' children. Yet, within the safety of my family's tradition, I've been able been able to temporarily abandon my inhibitions. Within this context of mass drenching, I am free to join in a celebration of giddy laughter, physicality and deep trust. My large family trusts each other enough to create a water fight that is less about combativeness and more about unity.

Rebecca of Logan, Utah
Pam's grandson with a big catch
Sixteen years ago, we visited some friends at their new home in Stansbury Park, Utah. We immediately fell in love with the area. Where else in Utah could you find homes built around a lake and golf course? There was an open house on the lake, and we decided to be "looky loos" and walk through. We loved the house and on the way home had a family meeting to decide if our teenagers would be willing to move. It was decided if they could fish out our back door and have room to ride the four wheelers, it would be worth it. I remember telling my husband, "This is going to be a great place for grandkids to come to."

Through the years we fished a lot, especially when company came over and we had barbecues. Thirteen years later, our first grandson arrived. He has been fishing, catching frogs, going in the paddle boat and loving this place since he could walk. He is totally obsessed with fishing and catches big bass, bluegills and carp all by himself. When my daughter asked him what he wanted to do for his third birthday party, which is in April, he said, "Have a big bass fishing party at Papa and Grammy's." We feel really blessed to have moved here and have these opportunities for our kids and grandkids. It brings out the kid in all of us to catch frogs, fish and be outside enjoying nature.

Pam of Stansbury Park, Utah
Winners of the annual cannonball contest
After a summer of family coming over to swim in our pool, we have an annual cannonball contest. It's held the second weekend of August. It started out as a joke but has grown each year. We have a sign-up board and had different categories by age/gender…sometimes we'll have a special category that only one person can fit in just so we guarantee them a win. The first year we went to Walmart and got silly gifts, but we have kicked up our game and now give engraved metals and a trophy for the overall champ. Family and friends come each year, and they bring a snack and we have a great time. I forgot we have judges with score paddles, and one judge keeps tally and declares the winners. We have such a good time.

Sarah of Topeka, Kansas
Barbara and her sons
We are climbing the high points of every county in the state of New York—all 62 of them! We collect rocks at each point, as [my husband] is a geologist, and also take a photo of our twin sons, now 16. It has taken us more than five years, but we are at the point of getting it done soon. All we need is one more—Brooklyn, New York!

At first, when we proposed this quest to the boys, they were not happy. They said that we didn't do this to the girls. I said, we aren't doing it to you, we are doing it with you! They now have risen to the challenge and, frankly, leave us in the dust.

Barbara of Blauvelt, New York

More ways to bond with your children.