Every Saturday is set aside for a family outing at our house. But now that both children are in grade school all day, I'm back as a full-time teacher, so there are occasional times when my husband and I must spend Saturday cleaning and catching up on pressing business demands.
We make this day ''Family Party.'' Instead of being in the way, our kids are ''included in,'' and we all look forward to a special time together.
Bobby and Mary like being told, ''Go see what's in the mailbox,'' and finding an invitation that reads: ''Family Party tonight. You are invited. See Mom for how to get ready.''
Instead of plunging right into the drudgery jobs, I like to clean the dining room first. The children are each given chore lists, but normal cleaning tasks are interspersed with plans to make decorations for the party. It's best to keep the work lists as short as possible and let the festivity preparations provide a break after some of the routine assignments have been finished.
After their rooms are cleaned, art projects are started. While crayons, paper , and paste occupy the youngsters, my husband and I are free to accomplish our household tasks.
Amusements for the day will include making place mats, decorations for the walls, name cards, and a centerpiece. I like to offer these projects one at a time at one-hour intervals.
Since the dining room was cleaned first, art work can be placed and the table set as soon as each piece of child art is ready. We set the table with our best dishes and glassware. You'd be surprised how well youngsters can help by polishing the silver!
By taking just 10 minutes every hour to supervise, we parents are able to work pretty steadily, and the children participate in their own helping way, thus strengthening the family unit.
As dinner time finally draws near, we all dress in our very best. Although the meal must be special, it need not be costly or involved. I serve the same type of food as always but ''fancy it up'' by using stemmed glasses for a juice appetizer before we begin. Serving as many small courses as possible, each with separate plates and at a leisurely pace, also helps. Candlelight makes anything a party, and ice cream becomes a delight by adding topping or a cherry, again in a stemmed glass.
It's hard to overdo it with kids - the fancier the better. In fact, by using the maximum variety of serving dishes and silverware, children are receiving excellent training for elegant parties or restaurant experiences in the future.
If the day will be especially busy, try a ''Sleepytime Party.'' Preparations are identical, but substitute paper plates and plastic forks. Cleanup will be simplified by just sweeping the contents of the table into garbage bags.
Then instead of dressing up for dinner, everyone bathes and puts on pajamas. We call it ''Upside-down Night.'' After eating, we read a story while cuddled on the couch, and bedtime comes early.
Children have to learn that sometimes work must take precedence over play, but the lesson can be taught lovingly and sweetly.