Afterschool Family Fun

That ringing school bell means something else, too: the opportunity for a great family afternoon or evening. Afterschool hours don’t have to be spent solely on homework and TV. Make memories, instead! Meet the challenges and opportunities of the academic year with gusto by spending some time enjoying one another after the school day ends.

1. Get active. If your kids aren’t involved in sports teams – or even if they are – investigate ways that your family can exercise together. Bike rides, nature hikes or joining the YMCA can be great ways to get fit and spend time as a family. Come spring and early fall, it seems the pools and beaches are deserted. That makes it a super time to make swimming a regular part of your week.

2. Prep and enjoy dinner together. Pick one night in your weekly schedule to have supper as a crew. Let your children help you choose the menu (appetizer, main dish, dessert), shop for ingredients and prepare the meal. (Hint: Check out the MetroParent.com Crumbs blog and our Recipes for some tasty ideas!) Teach the kids the proper way to set the table, how to serve a nice meal and eating etiquette. Create a list of conversation topics in advance, so that you’re not stuck with the inevitable answer to, "How was school?" ("Fine," of course).

3. Get everyone on ‘board.’ Reorganize your game cupboard and find the long-lost board games you forgot you owned. Or check out something new. Blokus, Mancala and Rush Hour are great ones to exercise problem solving, logic and thinking skills. If physical games are more your style, a good old-fashioned game of Twister will certainly make your kids laugh when they see mom or dad trying to get in funky positions. Or how about a classic card game, anyone? Take a stroll through the games at your local store and see what strikes your fancy.

4. Catch a show. Scope out a bargain theater in southeast Michigan (yes, there are still a few around!). Granted, you’ll probably see a second-run flick past its release date – but the experience is quite a fun throwback experience, often in a smaller setting. Or expand your family’s horizons and take in a play, ballet or concert.

5. Spend the afternoon at the museum. Art, science, history, children’s imagination – all can be explored at a museum. Research what’s available within an hour’s drive of home and discover new places and things. Many museums offer reduced rates certain days of the month, so call ahead or check the museum’s website. (Hint: Check our Calendar or latest Going Places guide for some great ideas!)

6. Park it. Whenever there’s a break in the weather (or snow build-up), enjoy a simple afternoon at a nearby park. Swing on the monkey bars or take a hike together. Once things warm up, try your hand at flying a kite, skipping rocks on a lake – and just being a kid with your kids.

7. Explore the outdoors. Check out the local nature center arboretum or botanical gardens. As the seasons change, kids can explore the outdoors. Take pictures and collect specimens (with permission from the park, please). Create a display of the leaves, cones, flowers and bugs that you find. Browse the web so you can identify and label your collection. Find a way to exhibit your kid’s collection at home, such as on a shelf or wall.

8. Talk with the animals. Zoos, aquariums and petting farms are great places to visit after school. Check the Detroit Zoo website, for instance, for fun information about the critters you’ll see.

9. Check out some great books. Don’t leave library visits just for summer! Make visiting the library a regular stop in your week. Many branches offer homework help – plus you’ll find loads of family library activities in metro Detroit and Ann Arbor, featuring games from chess to creative surprises cooked up by clever staffers. Ask the children’s or young adult librarian for his or her lists of recommended books. Consider reading the same book as your child and discuss it as you go along.

10. Serve someone in need. What better family activity than to help others? Chances are you don’t need to look farther than your own block to find someone to care for – the elderly, new moms, families with loved ones serving overseas. Does your church or synagogue have a ministry to benefit the community? See if you can participate. Contact the local Meals on Wheels to see if your family can sign up to make deliveries. Homeless shelters, food pantries, soup kitchens, children’s hospitals and nursing homes are also great places to volunteer your time and resources.

Think about the things your family likes to do and you’re sure to find a way to serve.

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