5 at-home family activities for school nights

That most sage and greatest of all Chicagoans, Ferris Bueller, once said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you might miss it.” Six years ago today, my daughter Viva was born. And today she’s a Kindergartener. She reads. She writes. She seethes with resentment over the world around her just like an adult. And with her in school all day and my wife and I at work, the windows for spending time with her before she’s off catching planes and paying bills are getting smaller. 

Weekends are precious and there’s very little time during the week between coming home and going to sleep. Of course, every Chicago parent packs the weekends to the rafters, but how do we continue to spend quality time with our kid on school nights … before we miss childhood altogether? Here are five suggestions for activities you can do inside of an hour between dinner and bedtime (or school and dinner), so when your child is speaking at your funeral they can recount something you used to do together:

Planned rowdiness

Kids have to focus and analyze and synthesize and process, process, process all day at school. You have to do it for several minutes a day at work between checking Facebook. There’s a distinct possibility your brains will be tired at night but your bodies won’t be. Get the sillies out for 20 minutes to an hour with some large motor insanity. That’s wrestling and racing and pony rides and monster and tag and climbing the nearest climbable thing and jumping off of stuff. There’s nothing like a little aimless amateur parkour to stir up some pure joy (and tire everybody out). Order Alexa to kick out the jams and have a dance party before it’s back to the gluestick mines for your little one.

Build something

Doesn’t matter what. A puzzle. A blanket fort. A mise en scéne of dolls or action figures in their dream house, princess castle or terror drome. Legos, tinker toys, erector sets, Lincoln logs, tin-foil balls. Doesn’t matter what, just do some quick engineering and bring out your parent/child maker spirit.

Cook 

You have to eat anyway, and cooking has so many benefits to your brain and your child’s brain — it’s artistic, it’s cultural, it’s scientific, it’s nutritional, and perhaps best of all, it’s tactile. You smoosh stuff, you mix stuff, you cut stuff. It’s as scalable and can be as challenging or simple as you and your child can handle. You can make a boxed brownie mix with a preschooler in just the right amount of time for their attention span, or you can sashimi a tuna steak with your little Iron Chef. Allez cuisine!

Games

Cheap, easy, boxed, and already broken down by age and timeframe by the good folks at Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers, games are a great way to bring a family together to learn just how vicious and petty each of you can truly be. Feed marbles to hippos, gentrify Marvin Gardens, or remove water on the knee for a thousand dollar fee. Soon you’ll be screaming at each other and ready for the night to be over, but you might enjoy some of the time beforehand.

Screen time togetherness

Yes, yes, screentime is the devil. TV and tablets make your brain run out of your ear onto your pillow at night and turns us all into angry consumerist zombies who pour Mountain Dew on crops and then wonder why they die. It’s true. HOWEVER, gathering around an idiot box can also be a time for a family to unwind and share an experience, like when mid-Americans gathered around the radio to panic over fake aliens with Orson Welles, or around the cathode ray tube to learn not to hide in old refrigerators with Soleil Moon Frye. Viva, the Professor and I like to lounge in front of a flat screen and download some “Food Truck Road Race” so we can spend the better part of an hour watching frustrated cooks try to park. You’re going to get dumber in front of a screen anyway, you might as well do it as a family.

Quick and easy, those are five categories of bonding activities you can knock out between the daily grind and the nighttime shut down rituals. And when the weekend comes, you can make like Ferris and take a day or two off.

Follow Matt at The Paternity Test Comedy Podcast.

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