When my children were in elementary school, our finances were tight but our need for fun family outings was high. We came up with the concept of “Fun Fridays” with a simple premise: if kids and parents did a good job meeting their responsibilities during the week, we would set aside several hours plus a modest budget to do something fun together most weekends. It was a great way to bond while exploring unique sites and supporting local businesses around our home.
Here are some of the things we did:
We’ve all seen them when we’re out driving around: a giant fork stuck at a “fork” in the road, an over-sized pretzel factory sign and a unique building or structure. But did you know there are websites dedicated to such oddities across the country? Our favorite is Roadside America, an online guide to offbeat attractions. Search by category, enter a location or use the map view. You’ll get pins for quirky options plus details like addresses, photos, reviews and tips.
On more then one occasion, we’ve mapped out a course, grabbed water bottles and some snacks and headed out to see what we can find. Our favorites are probably the hand-carved gnomes that pop up in different yards and businesses across our county. Bonus: besides for the cost of gas, this activity is usually free!
Geocaching is a modern twist on a scavenger hunt. You do need either a hand-held GPS device or a phone that can work the same. Using coordinates found on websites like Geocaching.com, you track down a hidden “cache” and can leave a note that you found it. Some caches include small treasures for young visitors — make sure you bring along a few trinkets to add to the stash if you want to take something away. That’s really the only cost to this outing, and we scored tiny novelty erasers, for example, at our local dollar store.
Our family has tracked down caches on rural roadsides, urban parking lots and local memorials. Most are coded from easy to hard, and my elementary-age daughter was triumphant in discovering that, though she was the youngest and smallest of us, she was able to find the most caches on her own. It really is fun for all ages!
My kids love all things animals, so a sunny afternoon was a great opportunity to visit a petting zoo. A simple web search should turn up an option near you.
We visited the Oley Turnpike Dairy, which involved a pretty drive through the Berks County countryside. There is a minimal ($1/person) fee to enter the petting zoo, which features lots of farm animals with a few exotics mixed in. For an additional fee, you can purchase feed for the critters. There isn’t a lot of shade, so make sure you dress for the weather, and set aside time and a little extra cash for an ice cream treat before you head home.
For hours and updates on the Oley Dairy, visit their Facebook page.
This idea is one of my personal favorites. We are fortunate to live in an area with lots of local farms and orchards, and fall remains a great time to find locally-sourced goodies. By visiting a farmer’s market, you support a local farmer and also expand your culinary horizons and encourage your children to try something new. We tried different varieties of apples, unique mushrooms and lots of vegetables we weren’t sure how to pronounce or cook. (Bonus: you can have a cooking adventure once you get home.)
When we go to the farmer’s market, each person is assigned a budget (even $5 will do) and encouraged to find a food that is new to him or her. My kids unknowingly picked up some great skills during farmer’s market outings: from simple courtesy (please and thank you!) to counting out change to being bold enough to ask a friendly vendor some questions about a new product. And they were always willing to taste the things we brought home.
These are just a few ideas you could try this fall. I’d also encourage exploring local trails and parks near your home, where fresh air and wide-open spaces make social distancing easy. You can explore local history at museums near you (don’t be afraid to try out small ones!) or simply visit your public library where you can find books, movies and even free passes to some local attractions. In short, having fun as a family this fall is a safe and budget-friendly way to spend some time together.
Even though my kids are now teens, they have fond memories of our outings. They may not remember all the specific things we did, but they do remember their parents taking time to put down devices and work responsibilities to enjoy time as a family. In fact, they still ask for outings like this either one-on-one with a parent or even (gasp!) with a sibling. It makes me happy to see we managed to forge family bonds in such a simple way.
Fast forward to the days of COVID-19, and I imagine families are struggling to break out of a “bunker” mentality and find fun but safe ways to do something with each other. I hope these ideas are ones you can use or, at the very least, inspire you to try something new. I encourage you to plan a “Fun Friday” (or whatever day works) with your loved ones.
For more tips on how to build family bonds and invest in your children, check out our free parenting classes which include variety of online class topics! Contact us for more information.