Ideas for enjoyable and inexpensive family activities

Family expert Dolores Curran says too many families equate spending time together with spending money. A day of downhill skiing or a night at the movies can add up quickly for a family, but there are many more-affordable alternatives.

Mrs. Curran says children most often like places that are free, such as parks , zoos, botanical gardens, or a symphony under the stars. Inexpensive activities mainly require planning and setting aside the time. They can be days at the beach, hikes in the mountains, or visits to state parks.

''Everyone has a place like that to refresh or renew themselves,'' Mrs. Curran says.

Linda Meyer of Cedarburg, Wis., says her family enjoys cross-country skiing together, and they are looking forward to a trip to the Sunbelt. She says her husband enjoys many outdoor activities with their two sons, and they also like to play chess and checkers.

Parents with teen-agers may face a struggle in persuading them to join family activities. Mrs. Curran says the main challenge is to get them out of town without being seen. Once that is accomplished, teens usually enjoy being able to be themselves without peers looking on.

On day trips, she says it's a good idea for families to let individual members do what they like once they get to the destination. Culminating the day with a cookout or trip home is often enough.

Closer to home, parents can encourage teens to participate in family activities by asking that they be present at least part of the time. A family could plan a traditional Sunday afternoon and picnic supper in a nearby park, for example, and the teen and his or her friends could stop by for the meal.

Another way to include teen-agers, Mrs. Curran says, is to plan a volleyball or cookout party to which all invite their friends. Get-togethers with one or two other families that include friends of the teen also work well. This eliminates the problems of teen-agers feeling out of place or complaining, ''There's nothing to do,'' she says. It often helps to let the teen-ager have a say in the organization and planning of these parties.

She believes families should make an effort to plan for an activity together every week or 10 days, rather than waiting for free time. Spontaneous get-togethers can be fun, but a definite event marked on the calendar allows family members to plan their schedules accordingly.

While it's important to reserve time for play, families can also center activities around work that needs to be done in the house or yard, such as remodeling a room or refinishing furniture.

In her own family, Mrs. Curran says, work days include a cleaning-out-the-attic day, a Christmas-card day when everyone helps write or make cards, and car-wash-and-wax days. ''They'll gripe and they'll enjoy,'' she says.

One-on-one time with children is also important, especially in large families. Mrs. Curran says parents of teens should try to get out with them alone now and then for a movie or a meal. Too often, she says, parents spend time alone with their teen-agers only when they want to bring something up.

Linda Meyer says her husband, Jim, likes to take their teen-age son golfing, while she ''thoroughly enjoys'' her son on an intellectual level. She and Andrew like to discuss books they've both been reading. 'The older he gets, the more interesting he gets,'' she says.

Parents also find they need to make time for each other. With four children, Sue Blethen of Bellevue, Wash., says she and her husband, Bob, have learned to recognize when ''we need time for us.''

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