Family. The word no longer conjures up the picture of mom and dad and 2.3 children. A family today might consist of any combination of mom, dad, grandparents, and children or even aunts, uncles, and children.

The American family today has greatly changed as far as composition. What has not changed, however, is the need for family to communicate and to spend time together. This is particularly important in light of the fact that many parents and/or caregivers must work in order to support the family.

This often means that there is much less time available to spend with the children. While I hate to use the term, it is appropriately descriptive: Spending “quality” time as a family is crucial. With that in mind, here is my “Ultimate Guide to Family Entertainment.”

Guide #1: Eat dinner as a family. Whether it is at home, out on a picnic, at a fast food place, or a sit down restaurant; the place doesn’t matter. What does matter is spending time as a family unit. Now you might think that eating together isn’t really family entertainment.

If you think that, then you aren’t doing it right. My husband and I love having dinner with our children and our grandson or even with our extended family which might include our in-laws and other members of their family. It is great fun! We get to catch up with what everyone else is doing. My son-in-law shares stories of his latest hunting or fishing trip. My grandson revs up his comedic talents. It is definitely one of our favorite things to do! Cost: A little time and attention.

Guide #2: Go to a movie or rent and watch one at home. My husband and I love to take our grandson to the movie. He loves it! But he is also just as happy coming over to watch a movie with “Nana and Papa” (or with his parents as well). He just seems to like spending time with us. Now granted he is only three and he may grow out of that at some point.

But as a parent and/or grandparent you need to take advantage of every opportunity you have to spend time together as a family for as long as you can. Cost: You can rent a movie for between $1.99 to $3.99. Most movie theaters have special pricing for children and for special features like matinees as well as for seniors. A lot also depends upon what you choose to eat at the theater (e.g., popcorn, drinks, or more substantial food). An average is probably $10 per person.

Guide #3: Go to the park. I know it sounds simplistic but part of the problem is that, as Americans, we have gotten away from the simple pleasures in life. It is time to reclaim them. We are lucky here in Virginia that we have a wonderful little park called “Bluebird Gap Farm.” It is a kind of combination park and mini farm.

They have cows, horses, deer, rabbits, and a few birds (mostly chickens and a couple of peacocks) in one area of the property and a park on the other side. Most of the kids I know can spend hours and hours there. My grandson loves it. We talk to , pet, and feed every animal and then go and swing or go down the slide. Sometimes we take a picnic dinner and spend the day. In the summer, the farm also has special activities for kids like “Story Time.” It’s a lot of fun and there is no cost involved except for what we choose to bring to eat or drink and, of course, the time.

Guide #4: Go bowling. Yes, bowling alleys still exist. And there is still nothing quite as much fun as making a complete fool out of yourself trying to throw a ball down an alley to knock down a few pins. A lot of bowling alleys have bumper pads to help small children when they are learning to bowl.

Some also have parties with special lighting, band or DJ music, special food, and the like. Again, it is just another opportunity to bond as family; to do something as a unit. Cost: This will depend on your specific area. Most bowling alleys run family specials of some kind. An average would probably be around $8 per person.

Guide #5: Go to the theater. A lot of areas have little theater programs with different kinds of plays scheduled throughout the year. Usually there are one or two that are suitable to attend as a family. One of ours in this area does at least one fairytale or children’s tale each year and another family-oriented play. Cost: Varies per area as well as per play. An average cost per person would likely be between $12 and $15.

Guide #6: Play a game. My husband and I always played games with our kids. Monopoly, Payday, Trivia; we had them all and played them all. Sunday afternoon was family game time. We’d fix some popcorn and pour some sodas and duke it out. It was fun and our children learned a lot from the trivia games. Cost: Just a little bit of time and attention.

Guide #7: Watch television together. Most parents are concerned about the television shows that their children watch. The best way to control that is to be a part of what they watch. Choose one or two shows that everyone in the family can enjoy and watch them together. My husband and I even like to watch reality or sports shows with are adult children. We get to spend time with them and share something that all of us enjoy. Cost: Just a little bit of time.

Guide #8: Go to a sporting event. If you have younger kids or grandchildren, maybe you can go to an event that they are a part of. Our grandson is too young to play a sport but he absolutely loves going to football games with his dad and his “Papa.” He may not understand everything that is going on in the game but he doesn’t care. He’s eating his favorite food – – hot dogs – – and sitting on his dad’s lap. To him it is heaven. Cost: Usually minimal; about $1 to $7 per person, depending upon the event.

Guide #9:

family minigolfPlay miniature golf. I know that there aren’t too many left but there are still a few. My grandson loves miniature golf. He’s even gotten a hole in one a couple of times. Again, it isn’t “what” he is doing so much as the fact that he is doing something with us. You will find that as you spend more time with your children and/or grandchildren, they will actually begin to “crave” spending more time with you; assuming you are having fun, of course. Cost: Average about $5 per person.

Guide #10: Go to a museum. We took our grandson to his very first museum at age two. It was the “Virginia Living Museum”. They had an exhibit on dinosaurs that roared and moved. Our grandson wanted to go back every week and, of course, it had to be with us. Once that exhibit was finished, we took him to the “Virginia Air and Space Museum”.

He was a little overwhelmed by the sheer size of the place, but he loved walking through the airplanes and getting in the simulated astronaut capsules. Consequently, because of museums he seems to love history. We hope this year to take him to Yorktown or Williamsburg or Jamestown and keep feeding his love for history. We have a good time; he has a good time, and everyone learns something new. Cost: It depends upon the museum but it probably averages about $10 per person.

None of the suggestions aren’t anything new. However, sometimes we just have to be reminded that being a part of a family is important. Families should do as much as they can together. That keeps the relationship strong and growing and, after all, that is what family is all about.


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