We want to give our kids the world. Yet those wonder years only last so long – and can only contain so much. Every day, each experience, no matter how magical or mundane, fills it up a bit more. Like sand in a beach pail.
You’re probably familiar with a “bucket list” as grownup goals – stuff we must do before we kick the, well, bucket. This got us thinking. What about kids? Sure, in some ways, the bar’s a bit lower: Your offspring doesn’t need to scale the Great Pyramid of Giza or soar over the North Pole (though Disney World is pretty damn cool, if you can swing it). But there’s so much that makes childhood memorable – from the frivolous and fun to the sobering and self-building. And frankly, there are just so many fun things to do with kids in Michigan. If you’re wondering what to do in Detroit today – or looking for fun things to do in southeast Michigan – there’s no loss.
In that spirit, Metro Parent canvassed moms and dads in Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne counties in a quest to find what would make the lists – for their kids. It’s merry and messy and sometimes even mud-caked. Which struck us as just about perfect.
1. Have a no-reason, not-because-they’re-sick, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off-caliber free day off of school.
2. Trick-or-treat without needing a jacket one year, and during a snowstorm another. To prove the Michigan weather stereotype true!
– Aaron Toro, clinical rehab manager and Huron Township dad
3. Soak up the night sky away from the city lights.
4. Get dirty! Splashing in puddles, making mud pies and rolling around in the grass gives kids a fun, carefree feeling.
– Mom Michelle Liabenow RePass of Garden City
5. Break a bone.
6. Correspond with a pen pal from another state or country. (Handwritten letters a plus.)
7. Learn yoga and meditation. Such great tools to help calm the mind!
– Cindy Levine, a yoga teacher in Franklin and mom of four boys
8. Experience something you loved as a kid – whether it’s a Cabbage Patch Kid or an Atari.
9. Get exposure to all sorts of music. I constantly sing and play music for my boy – The Beatles, Neil Young, Elton John, Prince, Chaka Khan, Baby Mozart and Bach. It is a great way to connect to people.
– Mom Natalie Hensel of Ann Arbor
10. Drink rain.
– jessica Care moore, Detroit poet and mom
11. Go to overnight camp. They’ll meet kids from other areas, make friendships that could last a lifetime – and taste life away from home.
12. Care for a pet – especially feeding it. It teaches kids how to be in charge, creates respect and loyalty, and helps them focus.
– Donna J. Zaj, mom and dog trainer at Dog Zone in New Baltimore
13. Learn to swim (without water wings).
14. Go to a Tigers game at Comerica Park. Get there early to hit the Ferris wheel and the carousel before the game; then grab a couple hot dogs and take in all the sights and sounds.
– Dad Zak Walsh of Royal Oak
15. Learn how to sew a button or do small mending.
16. Run amuck playing classic schoolyard games – hopscotch, Red Rover, tag, hide-and-seek, Mother May I?, Red-Light Green-Light, etc.
17. Get involved in charitable giving/volunteering – in a hands-on way. It really helps them identify what “giving” means and develop appreciation for all they have.
– Mom Marybeth Levine, formerly of Canton
18. Visit some other country – or at least be immersed in some other culture. I visited Japan at age 16 as an exchange student, and it changed my life.
– Anne Hooghart of Ypsilanti, Hinoki International School board president and mom
19. See a Broadway show. At least once. The first one Jessica saw was The Lion King in Toronto when she was 6 – and she now has a love for the theater.
– Sandy Hazelton Pianko of Wolverine Lake (mom to Jessica)
21. Make videos. The girls and I have made a bunch, and they remember each one fondly. We did one with my entire family (grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins), and that one will be very special as everyone gets older.
– Jeff Reiter of Huntington Woods, dad and Realtor
22. See a classic movie, like Gone with the Wind.
– Elizabeth Neidbala of Sterling Heights, age 18
23. Visit a science center. Who knows – it may inspire them to be a doctor, engineer, astronaut, chemist or one of many other STEM careers.
– Kerri Budde of Rochester Hills, mom and marketing manager (formerly with the Michigan Science Center in Detroit)
24. Get a taste of art appreciation, creation and history. It gives a wide breadth of insight into humanity (religion, happiness, sadness, anger, joy, love, hate, politics, etc).
– Mom Shelli Gutholm of Royal Oak
25. Learn about their family history or heritage.
26. Know how to let go of things they no longer need in life: outgrown clothes, an old toy or old habits that no longer serve them well.
– Carolyn Anderson-Fermann of Dexter, mom and organizing expert of Simply Organized Life
27. Try a daredevil stunt that lets them free fall – skydiving, zip lining, bungee jumping.
28. Play. Play daily and as fully, unfettered and as freely as one possibly can.
– Mom Ann Stevenson of Clarkston, co-owner of the Vinsetta Garage, Clarkston Union and Union Woodshop restaurants
29. Learn how to give and receive constructive criticism.
30. Go to a rock concert by the time they’re 5. For the shock value. I saw Kiss at Cobo in Detroit when I was about 9. It was badass.
– Brett Dowdican of Chesterfield Township, hair stylist and dad of two
31. Indulge in unstructured, no-TV time where they have the chance to use their unique imaginations and create fantasy worlds and fun games by themselves.
– Frances Todd of Bloomfield Hills, mom and WeeHands baby sign language teacher
32. Eat hometown grub like Better Made chips, Mexicantown taqueria tacos, Hamtramck paczki and Faygo pop (not soda!).
33. Go camping. Not in a campground with hundreds of people, campers with TVs and hot showers. I’m talking about wilderness – no electricity, no other people. Just you, your kids and nature at its very finest. And there’s no place better than here in Michigan.
– Leila Freijy, lawyer and mom in Oakland Township
34. Jump into one of the Great Lakes (brrr). A classic among fun things to do with kids in Michigan!
35. Explore a cave.
36. Go to a drive-in theater. Preferably one with the original sound speakers (i.e., the Ford Drive-In in Dearborn).
37. Plant something and tend to it, watching it grow.
38. Shake hands with a favorite celebrity. It’s a thrill – yet kids learn they’re just people, too.
39. Experience unconditional love.
– Shelley Sherman Dube of Farmington Hills, mom of four
40. Build a tree fort.
– Joe Gall of Royal Oak, photographer and dad
41. Learn how to be responsible on social media, from guarding their private info to being respectful to themselves and others.
42. Give up something you really like for a week. Or month.
43. Learn to cook or bake something they love to eat. The kitchen is the heart of the home – and, besides nourishment, provides important lessons.
– Mom Annie Lehmann of West Bloomfield
44. Wear a costume when it’s not Halloween.
45. Work hard to earn enough money to buy something they love (like their first two-wheel bike).
– Mary C. Craft of Davisburg, child life specialist, mom of three grown sons
46. Do something crazy or “risky” with their appearance, whether it’s letting them get whatever haircut they pick – or scribbling on their shoes.
47. Play an instrument.
48. Drive a stick shift.
49. Experience wonder – whether it’s believing in fairies, watching a beautiful sunrise or discovering new creatures in their backyard. Something that they can stand there, wide-eyed, and simply say, “Wow!”
– Mom Jennifer Lavender-Schott of Ferndale
50. Learn how to read a mechanical clock – with minute and hour hands. Don’t rely on digital clocks being at your disposal.
51. Go to work with mom or dad – a real day at work – so they develop a sense of what it means. Visit a college campus for the same reason.
– Kim Enders, mom in Shelby Township
52. Get knocked around a wave pool.
53. Take an Amtrak trip – to Chicago, Texas, Washington, D.C., California (or just Royal Oak to Ann Arbor). My kids loved the freedom of moving around on the train. When they were smaller, they met many kids they could play with in the lounge car. The conductors treated the kids like royalty and put down their beds at night, made sure they had juice and joked with them.
– Peggy Miller-Zelinko of Oxford, mom of four
54. Visit a farm to milk a cow or goat, see food being pulled from the ground – or, if possible, witness an animal giving birth.
55. Create something original out of Legos.
– Sarah Jacobs of Franklin, mom of three daughters who runs The Robot Garage in Birmingham, Grosse Pointe Park and Rochester Hills
56. Learn to listen – really listen – to others.
57. Have a picnic lunch out in nature.
58. Take a bike “tour,” whether around your neighborhood, along a shoreline or through a city.
59. Go ice skating outside (Campus Martius in Detroit is a prime choice).
60. Have a treasure hunt with, and for, your kids. It was one of my favorite memories with my own dad, and my kids still talk about how much fun they had (on theirs).
– Mom Chantel Maloney of Ferndale (and Metro Parent’s operations manager)
61. See the Grand Canyon (and have dinner at Phantom Ranch, at the bottom of it!).
– Krista Orr of Plymouth, mom of two boys
62. Climb a tree.
63. Drive down Woodward Avenue from Pontiac to downtown Detroit to have an appreciation of the history of the city and the cultural diversity of the community.
– Jack Elder, physician from Bloomfield Township and dad to five grown kids
64. Dig through an estate sale, garage sale or antique or salvage shop. You never know what you can find, repurpose – or barter over.
65. Travel, travel, travel. Especially to the National Parks! We’ve been to the Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Mammoth Cave, Mesa Verde, Petrified Forest and Washington, D.C. Along with the usual beachy Florida vacations (a must). It’s a beautiful country out there – go and see it.
– Paula Messner, mom of two in Royal Oak, also of kid-music rock band Miss Paula and the Candy Bandits
66. Experience the uninterrupted vista of 100,000-plus people at a U-M home (football) game. It does give you a sense of how big human life is.
– Daniel Madaj of Ann Arbor, dad of two grown kids
67. Learn how to tie a necktie. It’s imperative for boys and can come in handy for girls, too, when they grow up.
68. Create art in a large, open area with all white walls (or big sheets of paper tacked up) with paint in all colors imaginable. Go to town!
– Andrea Eckert of Ferndale, artist and mom of two
69. Go to an amusement park. Definitely ride a roller coaster.
70. Beat on a drum set till their heart’s content. Without mom telling you it’s too loud!
– Jason Gittinger, pro drummer, Royal Oak dad and founder of The Detroit School of Rock and Pop Music
71. Take ballroom – or some type of “couples” – dance lessons. Super handy for formal events of all shapes and sizes.
72. Get treated like royalty in a blowout birthday party they’ll never forget.
73. Craft anything (noodle art, button jewelry, newspaper hat, clothespin critters) without critique. (Hint: Visit the Family Activities section at MetroParent.com for loads of ideas.)
74. Take a 2.94-mile tour of Detroit by way of the People Mover, popping out to discover art at the boarding stations along the way.
76. Make – and lose – a friend.
77. Write a story or song.
78. Go to an old-school roller skating rink.
– Pamela Jamieson of Grosse Pointe, mom of two
79. Build a fire. Preferably with bramble and matches.
80. Experience a power outage in the evening during a summer thunderstorm – complete with candlelit board games and flashlights.
– Suzy Cody of Macomb Township, derby girl, aero engineer and mom
81. Have a “moment” on stage, wherein the prep work of rehearsal, team building, memorization and other elements of creativity come to fruition in that fearful moment of performance in front of your peers and others.
– Ben Hubbard of Ann Arbor, dad of grown twin boys (one was involved with the Ann Arbor Young Actors Guild)
82. Go on a boat trip. Bring bait-and-tackle and fish – or latch gear onto the back for a water-skiing/tubing ride.
83. Accept – and execute – a dare, double-dare or, best of all, triple-dog dare.
84. Experience one unplugged weekend. Take away all the cell phones, video games and the television. Spend time with your kids walking along the beach or through the woods, looking for birds, gazing at the stars. Once your kids get over the initial withdrawal, they will discover a whole new world.
– Denise Semion of Plymouth Township, mom of two adult kids (and now-retired long-time communications manager at Huron-Clinton Metroparks in southeast Michigan)
85. Sell lemonade to your neighbors.
86. Learn that manners are more than “please” and “thank you,” but the way you treat people.
87. Have a spontaneous dance party at home. Those make for great family memories and plenty of laughs.
– Erika Bonet-Bonk of Chesterfield Township, mom and hula dancer
88. Bask in quiet time. It allows them to get centered and better hear their inner voice with clarity.
– Janet Mullings, OB-GYN with St. John Providence in metro Detroit and mom of two
89. Take a road trip with car games like “I Spy” or finding the letters of the alphabet along the way by way of billboards, license plates, road side restaurant signs, etc. – and sing-alongs. The whole experience of packing for the trip and looking at a map for major landmarks is a fun way to travel.
– Sandra van Meek, mom in Birmingham
90. Learn to give a sincere compliment when it strikes you and how to receive one with grace and humility.
91. Want something but not get it.
92. Have an experience with death – whether a person or pet, direct or indirect. With guidance, it can teach kids about the cycle of life and healing.
93. Fail. It’s through failing that you know what success means – and that there are things that are more important than some of these dreams we have or goals we set. It’s humbling.
– Eric Herman of Livonia, psychologist with Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit and dad
94. Visit Mackinac Island, complete with a horse-drawn carriage tour, a hike up the Fort Mackinac ramp and, of course, fudge. It’s one of the great fun things to do with kids in Michigan.
95. Enjoy a fall weekend working outdoors raking leaves with their parents. Hauling leaves into a pile. Jumping and rolling in the leaves and popping out again, with bits of broken foliage and pine needles stuck to their hair.
– Lauren Larabell-Martinak, Commerce Township mom of three
96. Grasp basic geography. Know the names and locations of major countries and continents. Bonus: Master the capitals of all 50 states here at home.
97. Learn to accept when someone doesn’t like you. Focus on those who do, instead.
96. Learn how to be part of a team, whether it is sports or another activity.
– Mom Stacey Verkeyn of Pleasant Ridge
99. Blow something up in a science experiment.
– Jennie Sue, mom in Oakland County
100. Stay up all night and watch the sunrise.
101. Take photos. Your point of view and reference as a child is so different from an adult.
– Mom Suzanne M. Fawaz of Dearborn
This post was originally published in 2013 and has been updated for 2016.