Time Is What Matters To Kids

Mustering up enough energy to get through another evening takes everything most parents have. So when a child zealously asks to have us join them in a game of Candy Land or a colouring session on the livingroom floor, they are usually greeted with a reluctant groan.

We accommodate their ceaseless requests with the enthusiasm of an overfed cat, only to find that when it is over, we actually had fun. A lot of fun.

In so doing, we learned about the neighbour kid's "really neat" electronic race car, the new frog at the daycare, and that Susie likes it when we sing together in the car. It is family fun at its best, and it doesn't cost a penny.

For many families, the cost of outside entertainment for such things as bowling, going to a movie or out for dinner, is simply not an option. The question of finding affordable, quality ideas for creating family-time is a major one.

Attention Is Best

"What a child really likes best is time and attention," says Marguerite Kelly, author of The Mother's Almanac II.

"They create a sense of security that enables them to rise to the challenges of the world."

Children don't care if we take them to Disneyland, or down to the river for a walk. What matters is that we share a piece of ourselves, hold hands, laugh a little, even cry a little if that's what the moment dictates.

"Every day is another day of love, a deeper investment for parent and child," says Kelly. "Some play must be shared. Whether it's a game of checkers or a walk in the woods, or cheering for your favorite team on TV, it makes your child know he or she is important to you."

Affordable Family Activities

Some affordable activities that can be shared as a family include:

    * bicycling
    * hiking
    * canoeing
    * tobogganing
    * softball
    * football, or
    * soccer.

Rainy Day Activities

    * board or card games
    * puzzles
    * putting together a family scrap book or video
    * cooking
    * working on crafts
    * story hour
    * even lazing in front of the fire just talking, make for cheap but rewarding family fun.

Other Family Fun Activities

    * bird-watching
    * gardening
    * going to the local farmer's market
    * arm wrestling
    * attending local free outdoor shows and festivals
    * visiting museums
    * or arranging tours of local businesses such as candy factories, printing plants, silversmiths, and so on.

Spontaneity and silliness add a whole other dimension to family fun. Fooling around together, playing tag, or making silly faces has a charm all her own. Just as we love to tickle a baby to hear its unresistable giggle, tickling and roughhousing with other children puts us on their level, creating a buddy system unmatched by other forms of play.

As for planning family time, the best advice is to keep it simple. The fewer the plans, the more enjoyable it will be for everyone.

In a nutshell, "Families that play together really do stay together," says Kelly. "No one wants to miss the good times.