Having a family night may seem like a Norman Rockwell, 1950s, idolized idea, but no matter how times change, staying together and spending time with one another never goes out of style. Though having fun is usually the primary goal, family nights do all sorts of good for you, your spouse and your kids.
It may sound odd — they are your kids after all, so this should go without saying — but family nights help you get to know your kids as they grow into mature people. Your school-aged children are meeting new people, learning new things and growing into themselves. You don’t see them for the bulk of the day, so family nights help you understand how your children area developing their interests, likes and dislikes. Your first-grade child may never have shown any interest in math until school started, and you might not discover that until you make he or she the banker during a game of Monopoly.
Kids aren’t always great about telling parents when they’re interested or good at something or struggling with a skill. With family nights, you have an opportunity to see how your child is learning and developing. If you have a young child struggling with counting, playing a few games of Chutes and Ladders will show this. You can also see how your children operate as team players and how they handle winning — and inevitably losing. Seeing your children just be themselves can help you spot where they need encouragement or a gentle correction.
Family nights can also help blended families get through big changes. If you have stepchildren or you’re bringing your children into a new family, a family night can help you have fun with you, your children and stepchildren get to know each other and bond. Family nights are a good way to get to know your new stepchildren and figure out where you might have common interests.
But at the end of the day, family nights are about being together as a united family and having fun with each other. As any parent with adult children will tell you, kids grow up too fast. If you have young children, it won’t be long until soccer practices and theater camps are filling up their afternoons and summers. As teenagers, you, the parents, will be the last people they want to hang out with, and that’s all just a part of growing up.
When your kids do grow up, though, the funny and fun memories that they have of family nights will be retold every Thanksgiving, birthday and Fourth of July barbeque. The attention of parents is something that can’t be bought, and it’s something kids cherish later as adults, even if they never think about it much as they become teenagers and go off to college or technical school. Instilling these values now will encourage them to do the same with their kids when they have them. In this way, family nights not only help your kids, but they also might help your kids become better parents.
Ready to plan your own family night? Here’s everything you’ll need to plan the perfect family night for your family.
How to set a family night
There’s no one right way to do family night. Each family is different and has different priorities. While you may love playing board games with your kids, other families may prefer video games or even reading a book together.
The bottom line is don’t stress too much on what others are doing. Do what’s best for your family. We recommend these tips:
- Set a weekly or monthly family night: With young kids, family nights may be easier to do weekly — at that age most kids won’t have endless nights of practice. Set a day at the beginning of the week or month to keep everyone aware and up to date.
- Clear your calendar: You cannot be the one to cancel family night unless a true emergency comes up. You and your partner need to set good examples that families are more important than work and any other commitments. If you set your family nights at the beginning of the month, you can make sure all parties know that you will be preoccupied for the night. Setting expectations is the first step to getting bosses, colleagues and other family members to respect boundaries.
- Hype it up: The best way to keep kids interested in family night is to show excited and bring them into that excitement. Family nights aren’t just your average nights. Now is the time to do something special. Get your kids on board with that, and they’ll start to see why these nights are so special.
- Evolve as your kids evolve: Your kids may love board games when they’re young, but as they’ve gotten older they’d rather be outside. Don’t be afraid of change. Family night can always evolve to include whatever games or activities your kids like.
Once you get into the groove of having family nights on a particular day of the week or month, it will feel natural to plan around it. Your kids will plan their schedules around it, and you and your spouse’s coworkers will know that you’re unavailable on those nights. It’s important to set a good example for your kids, so show them the value of family by committing to these nights.
Fun things to do for family night
To keep kids and even teenagers excited — or at least interested, if they’re teenagers — it’s important to rotate activities and balance your time doing fun things you know you all like to do and trying something different. When there’s something new and exciting to look forward to, your kids will stay engaged and look forward to family night.
Remember, these nights are not necessarily about costs or spending a lot of money on an activity. Keep it simple and focus on the time, not the money, spent together.
Here are a few suggestions to keep family night interesting every time.
Do your kids like to try to help when you’re making dinner? Are making holiday cookies one of their favorite activities when December rolls around? Turn cooking and baking into a game that helps your children start building their cooking skills while also making something quite tasty.
You can either do this together as a family or split off into two teams. If you’re baking together, choose a recipe that’s easy to follow but has multiple steps. Cookies are an easy choice, as there will be plenty of leftovers, but you could also try making pies and cakes together. Make it a little personal and choose recipes that have significance within your family, such as your mom’s favorite cookie recipe. Sharing these traditions ensure they will be passed on to the next generation.
You can also have a bake-off and divide into two teams. Compete to bake the gooiest chocolate chip cookies or come up with the most creative cake decorations. These is a great way to teach your children how to work together, how to show good sportsmanship and how to formulate a good plan.
When you’ve baked and eaten your fill for the night, get everyone to pitch in and help clean up. This takes the cleaning work off you and teaches your children to be responsible for their own messes.
Get your family active
When you’re busy between work and getting the kids fed at night, it’s hard to squeeze in time for exercise. But keeping your family active is important, and it helps them commit to fitness as they get older, even if that means jogging instead of playing a sport.
Even if you don’t have a basketball hoop above your garage, you have plenty of ways to get your kids moving. Try some of these ideas:
- Go on an evening bike ride: Plan a route with your children ahead of time and pick a fun location to bike to, such as a playground or ice cream shop. Grab helmets and teach your kids how to navigate their bikes in light traffic. For younger kids, stick to quiet streets, even if that makes the route a little longer. You or your spouse should be in the front and the other should bring up the rear to you always have your children in sight.
- Play badminton in the backyard: You may not have enough room for a baseball diamond, but you can easily set up space for badminton. Badminton requires rackets and a birdie, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be competitive. Try seeing how long you and your family can keep the birdie up in the air.
- Take a family walk: Want to tire out your kids and your dog at the same time? Gather everyone together and go for a family walk around the neighborhood. Have your kids navigate to a place, such as their school, and then lead the way back. It’s a fun way to teach them directions.
Getting active together makes exercising feel less like a chore and more of something to be enjoyed. Your kids may never be star athletes, but they’ll come to view exercising as something to be done regularly to keep them feeling good.
Move on from boring board games
The classic board games are classic for a reason to be sure, but after so many years of Monopoly, Clue and Life, they can all feel a little monotonous. Luckily, board games seem to be having a moment with makers coming out with new games that are both fun and creative.
While your kids may be too young for raunchy games like Cards Against Humanity, you can still find modern board games that keep kids entertained and won’t bore adults. Here are a few we love:
Exploding Kittens card game: This family-friendly card game sets your family up for plenty of laughs with its hilarious artwork and quick gameplay. The object is simple: don’t let the kittens explode.
Betrayal at House on the Hill: Want to impress your teens? This spooky game dares players to enter the house on the hill and discover monsters and deadly secrets. Gameplay lasts for about an hour, and because there are so many different scenarios, your game will be different every time — which means your teens won’t be bored either.
Pandemic: Not every game is about beating the other players or teams. Pandemic places everyone together on the same team, and that means everyone must work together to survive. Four diseases have broken out across the world, and it’s up to your team to find cures before the pandemics overwhelm populations. It’s an all-or-nothing game, so if you don’t work together, you won’t survive.
Telestrations: Remember playing Telephone when you were a kid? Telestrations takes the classic game of Telephone to the next level and almost guarantees tons of laughs. Your family will put their drawing skills to the test as they try to draw out words and then pass their pads for the next person to guess what they drew. The result is a fun game that doesn’t take long to play, but will definitely be a crowd favorite.
Oregon Trail: You probably remember playing this computer game when you were in school, but not it’s become a card game with a simple premise: set out from Independence, Missouri and reach Wilmette Valley, Oregon. Sounds easy, right? Not so fast. In this card game, players must work together to help their wagon train make it safely to Oregon, facing snake bites, diseases and extreme cold, not to mention plenty of rivers to ford. Reaching Oregon will become a source of pride for families.
No matter what kind of activity you choose, your family night should be about making memories and spending quality time with each other. As Ferris Bueller tells us, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
What are your favorite family night activities? What gets your kids excited family night? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!