If laughter is the best medicine, then busy, over-scheduled families could use a big shot of humor. Taking a break from the everyday routine to have fun provides a wealth of benefits. Laughing and playing together not only nurtures the family relationship; it boosts the immune system, defuses stress, sparks creativity and creates wonderful memories.
One of the best ways to generate fun with kids is spontaneity, says Chris Edwards of Farmington Hills, a co-founder of the nonprofit Partnership for Dads. The chief meteorologist at WXYZ-TV, Channel 7, Edwards changed careers so he could spend more time with his wife, Christy, and their two kids.
When they least expect it, let kids skip their chores and surprise them with a trip to the movies or a bowling alley. Or switch roles for the day. Parents become the kids and kids become the parents. It’s tons of fun, he says.
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“It’s a pretty cool teaching thing (too), because they begin to see some things from our perspective and vice versa,” says Edwards, who now does science enrichment programs in schools as The Weather Whys Guy. “You can do this at different times of the day – meal prep, bedtime, chores, homework.”
When his children were younger, Edwards would pull them out of their beds without warning in the middle of the night during the mid-August Perseid meteor shower, to sit outdoors and gaze at the shooting stars. Now a family tradition, whether at home or on vacation, the kids watch the falling stars while stretched out on top of the van.
“It’s amazing the conversations you can have when you’re just laying there starring up at the sky,” Edwards say.
The Edwards family loves strolling under the full moon at night. If there’s a fresh coat of snow, the walk becomes a tracking mission as dad sets out ahead of everyone, walking in circles and loops, sometimes ending up in a tree. The kids try to find him.
Random acts of silliness
Chase your children around the house, have a tickle fight, play hide-and-seek. Skip, jump and act goofy. When tension builds, take a dance break, Edwards suggests.
“Sometimes we have this energy. We put the music on, turn it up loudly, move the furniture back and we all dance like lunatics,” he says.
At the Edwards home you don’t have to be a good singer to participate in an Opera Meal or Opera Day. “Have a meal where any words that are expressed are sung, not spoken,” says Edwards, launching into a baritone rendition of “please pass the salt. Or try a “King Henry the Eighth Night,” where good manners are forgotten and everyone dines with gusto.
Pull out a board game, shuffle a deck of cards, roll the dice or just improvise. Playing improvisational games builds teamwork and makes you think on your feet. Local drama instructor Kathy Nellett of Commerce Township has taught improv to adults and kids alike.
“We do an object game where one person walks through an imaginary door and creates what we call a space object in the room, like opening a window,” Nellett explains. “They exit and the next person has to touch that object and add one of their own, like washing their hands. They leave and then the next person has to do the window, the sink and add something else. It’s fun and it’s a good memory game.”
In “Make a Story,” a family member comes up with a title for a story that has never been told before, the sillier the better. Someone starts the story holding a ball and then they throw the ball to someone else who continues, using as many lines as they’d like or just one word. The ball is passed around and the story grows until someone puts an end to the funny family tale.
The Giangrande family of Garden City enjoys simple family activities like bike ride adventures, and going for a drive with the car radio turned up, then stopping for ice cream.
“My kids are never happier than when we say ‘movie night,” says mom Sharon; she and husband Mario have three kids. “We move the coffee table out of the way, put blankets on the floor. It doesn’t cost a dime.”
Mario surfs the web for funny sites that are “safe” for kids, like the animated JibJab. “You can cut and paste your pictures onto these dancing people,” Sharon explains. “We watch them over and over and just crack up.”
So, don’t wait for a trip to Disneyland or a weekend up north to enjoy the lighter side of family life. Read the comics together, fill in a Mad Lib, cook up smiley face pancakes and play the kazoo, today!
This post was originally published in 2010 and has been updated for 2016.