10 Family-Friendly Summer Activities

Now that the novelty of summer vacation has worn off, moms everywhere are scrambling for new ideas to keep their families entertained. Instead of resorting to putting on another DVD, consider the following ideas. Not only will you get your family moving outside, but you’re guaranteed to create memories for a lifetime.

1. Go on a hike.
Spend some quality time outdoors while burning calories (about 438 calories per hour for adults!). Seek out a nature path near your or search for a path on the National Park Service’s park finder tool.

2. Check out the minors.
Nothing says summer like eating peanuts and watching baseball. If you can’t swing the majors, consider cheering on your local minor league team. Tickets average around $7 for adults and $6 for kids.

3. Host an outdoor art party.
A genius idea for kids of all ages is to throw a painting party, suggests Mariah Leeson, a Dallas-based event stylist and founder of Giggles Galore. She suggests hanging up an old white sheet in the backyard and giving your kids spray bottles filled with a little tempera paint and water -- and letting them whip up a Jackson Pollock-like masterpiece. “We’ve done this every summer for the past five years, and it’s always a hit,” says Leeson. “What kid doesn’t love outdoor messy fun?”

4. Try geocaching.
Treasure hunts meet an outdoor exploration with this practice, where you use a GPS (or your GPS-enabled smartphone) to find treasures or logbooks that other participants have hidden. To get started, visit Geocaching.com.

5. Go swimming.
Whether it’s in a pool or lake, now’s the perfect time to take a refreshing dip. For a change of pace, look up a swimming hole near you.

6. Hold a bike parade.
Invite over friends and neighbors to decorate their bikes and take a loop around the neighborhood with their decked-out cycles.

7. Create a “naturally fun” bucket.
To encourage your little ones to explore the great outdoors, Leeson suggests putting together a bucket full of supplies, such as glue, paint brushes, pie tins, spray bottles and more. “I also include card suggesting activites, like mud pies and rock art, as well as a nature scavenger hunt,” says Leeson. Get a printable sheet of supplies here.

8. Plant a garden.
It’s a win-win scenario: You can put the kids to work, burn off their energy and score fresh veggies in the fall. Summer’s the time to seed basil, cilantro, cabbage and collard greens. Here’s how:

9. Throw a field day.
Whether it’s family versus family or girls against boys, a little friendly competition makes for a whole lot of fun. Have classic games, such as egg-on-spoon, wheelbarrow and a three-legged race, as part of an all-day affair, followed by a barbecue awards ceremony.

10. Go fly a kite. Follow in Benjamin Franklin’s footsteps and fashion your own kite from a wooden stick, paper and string, then let it fly on a summer breeze.

No matter which activity you choose, be sure to bring a camera along to document this one-of-a-kind experience with your family. And don’t forget to tuck a pack of Puffs facial tissues in your purse -- they’re bound to come in handy during those special moments of bonding and laughing till you cry.

5 Innovative Ways to Create a Memory Book

It’s no secret that life moves fast. One day, you’re sending your little one off to his first day of kindergarten, and then, suddenly, he’s leaving for college. To preserve those precious memories, consider putting together a memory book. To find the right kind for your family, match these types to your personality:

1. If you … like to DIY

Try … a classic scrapbook
If you love crafting, go the traditional route with a handmade scrapbook. Pick up a kit from your local craft store, search Pinterest for ideas and start assembling pictures and mementos. Just be sure to keep a box of Puffs facial tissues on hand for when you finish -- it’s impossible to page through those memories without tearing up.

2. If you … always have your smartphone on hand

Try … taking a picture a day
All too often, we have a camera on hand for the big milestones, like graduations and birthdays. But what about the precious little moments, like that soccer game goal or huge smile? Consider a Project Life challenge, where you post an Instagram photo every day of the year. After you’re through, you can publish those candid shots into a book through a company like Blurb.com, Prinstagr.am or Keepsy.com.

3. If you … are short on time

Try … a one-line journal
Many of us start with grand scrapbooking ambitions only to wind up with an empty book and shoebox full of pictures. Sound familiar? Try simplifying your idea: Pick up an empty journal and divvy it up into 12 sections, one for each month. Each month, post one line and a picture, then repeat the following year. Over time, you’ll be able to take an instant walk down memory lane.

4. If you … want to save their schoolwork

Try … an artwork album
Turn a memory book into your children’s personal project: Have them punch holes in construction paper or sized-down poster board. Then string them together into a book with ribbon or yarn and decorate the front. Then paste your child’s creations, whether it’s artwork or stories, within.

5. If you … love taking photos

Try … putting together a hardcover book
Take those quick snapshots into a beautifully bound book. Companies like Pinhole Press and Shutterfly will transform that hodgepodge into a thoughtfully curated album you can treasure forever.

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Host the Best Summer Party of the Year

Summertime’s the season for backyard barbecues and parties. It’s all family fun in the sun, but the planning process can also get stressful. You can still pull off a fabulous event without sacrificing your sanity (or budget!). Here’s how.

1. Think of an unusual theme.
People often head out of town on July 4 and Memorial Day, which can drag down attendance. Instead, consider a lesser-known occasion, such as summer solstice (June 21) or the annual Perseids meteor shower (August 12, but the skies should be active on August 10 and 11 too), suggests Melissa Daly, author of 87 Ways to Throw a Killer Party. “Long-lasting twilight and shooting stars do the decorating for you.”

2. Dress up your drinks.
Jazz up pitchers of water with fresh lemon slices and lots of mint. For a fun twist on the classic beer, whip up beer cocktails. “For a great summery drink, start with any light-colored beer and add vodka and pink lemonade,” suggests Daly. Bonus: You’ll save, because you don’t need to buy a number of different mixers.

3. Decorate with color. 
You don’t have to shell out big bucks for festive party décor. Seri Kertzner and Michelle Bachman of Little Miss Party Planner recommend using colorful paper lanterns, which cost $2 to $4 a pop. “String them up, or weigh them down with a rock inside,” suggests Kertzner. She also advises placing fresh basil in jars on your food table. Not only will it look pretty, but the fragrant smell will help to repel bugs.

4. Set out supplies. 
Keep your guests entertained and happy at your soiree by having a few games, like Bocce ball or corn hole, available to play. Also keep buckets of must-haves, like bug spray, sunscreen, napkins and Puffs tissues for makeup touchups.

5. Have your food ready to go. 
All too often, the hostess (you!) winds up in the kitchen all evening long. To enjoy your own festivities, make sure that all of your eats are prepped by the start of the party. “If you’re having a barbecue, have all of your sides set and food grilled and ready to eat when your guests arrive,” suggests Kertzner. (If it’s a hot day, remember to move it inside so that it doesn’t sit out for more than an hour.) Or whip up some gourmet sandwiches (think: grilled veggie sandwiches or smoked mozzarella with chicken on focaccia) to have as a picnic.

You may also want to consider divvying up the responsibilities. Progressive parties -- where guests move from home to home for cocktails, dinner and dessert -- are becoming increasingly popular, says Daly.

6. Do a run-through.
A few days before the actual event, jot down a list of everything that’s needed for the party and how it will run throughout the evening. That way, you’ll have time to compile a music playlist or pick up extra toilet paper in advance. “Being organized will make sure everything goes smoothly,” says Kertzner. “And that you, and all of your guests, will have a wonderful time.”

Family Movie Night: Best 15 Movies of All Time

Family movie nights are one of the most fun and affordable ways to spend time together. But choosing a flick the whole crew agrees on can be a struggle! To the rescue: our list of family-friendly movies sure to pleasure kids and parents alike. So fire up the popcorn-maker, turn down the lights -- and keep a stash of Puffs facial tissues close at hand for tearjerker moments!

THE CLASSIC

Family-friendly Movie No. 1: The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Although there are plenty of remakes, nothing beats the original Judy Garland film. She plays Dorothy, the Oklahoma girl who is swept away in a tornado to a magical land. Joined by a lion, scarecrow and tin man, she heads to Emerald City to meet the wizard who can help her get back home.

Family-friendly Movie No. 2: E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Introduce your kids to your own childhood favorite. In this Steven Spielberg-directed film, a lonely boy befriends an extra-terrestrial accidentally left behind on Earth -- and must outsmart the authorities to help him return to his home planet. The poignant lessons are tissue-worthy.

Family-friendly Movie No. 3: The Princess Bride (1987)

A loving grandfather reads his grandson a classic fairy tale, which features swashbuckling pirates, swordfights and an epic love story. The plot has a little something for everyone!

Family-friendly Movie No. 4: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

Another Roald Dahl story is featured in this iconic movie. After winning a golden ticket, Charlie and his grandfather take a tour of eccentric Mr. Wonka’s chocolate factory. The fantastical factory is a child’s imagination sprung to life.

Family-friendly Movie No. 5 and 6: The Muppet Movie (1979) and The Muppets (2011)

Why not play a double feature with this Jim Henson classic and its modern sequel? In the original, Kermit, Miss Piggy and the gang set off to seek success in Hollywood. The second film picks up after they’ve already gotten famous and disbanded. To save their theater from a greedy oil tycoon, they must reunite and throw a benefit concert.

Family-friendly Movie No. 7: The Lion King (1994)

After the death of his father, a lion cub named Simba is exiled from his pride by his wicked uncle. In young adulthood, Simba comes across what’s left of his pride. Along with his friends, a meerkat and warthog, he must fight to regain his rightful throne.

Family-friendly Movie No. 8: Babe (1995)

Featuring a farm full of adorable animals, this movie focuses on Babe, a pig raised by a sheepdog. Despite skepticism and ridicule, Babe learns how to herd sheep -- and even enters a contest. Your family will cheer during this against-all-odds story!


THE LATEST

Family-friendly Movie No. 9: My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

In 1950s Japan, two sisters and their dad move to the countryside due to their mother’s illness. There, the girls discover that their house and neighborhood is filled with magical creatures. This simple and beautiful story about friendship is a fine pick kids and adults of all ages will love.

Family-friendly Movie No. 10: Up (2009)

In this colorful Pixar movie, a retired balloon salesman ties thousands of balloons to his home and floats off to explore South America -- unknowingly bringing along 8-year-old Russell. This hilariously mismatched duo sets off on a jungle adventure, teaching each other lessons along the way.

Family-friendly Movie No. 11: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (2009)

Fling Lockwood thinks he’s a genius, except none of his inventions tend to work. When his town falls into an economic crisis, he is sure his latest invention -- a machine that turns water into food -- will save the day. But when it starts to rain burgers and chicken nuggets that cover the city, plans start to go awry. This animated revenge-of-the-nerds feature inspired by the beloved children’s book is bound to capture the hearts of your kids.

Family-friendly Movie No. 12: Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Director Wes Anderson and actors Meryl Streep and George Clooney turn this Roald Dahl story into a wickedly clever film. After stealing chickens, Mr. Fox must help save his community from the farmers’ wrath.

Family-friendly Movie No. 13: Tangled (2010)

Rapunzel has joined the Disney stable of princesses. But instead of the passive damsel we grew up knowing, she’s a curious, spirited, young lass that wields a mean frying pan. This is a gorgeously animated, magical film sure not to disappoint.

Family-friendly Movie No. 14: Brave (2012)

Set in the Scottish Highlands, this animated film tells the story of Merida, a spirited princess who defies tradition and her mother’s wishes. In the process, she unknowingly puts her mother under a witch’s spell. A skilled archer, Merida, must save the day. In the process, she learns a lot about herself and her relationship with her mom. 

Family-friendly Movie No. 15: A Monster in Paris (2013)

In this animated adventure taking place in 1910 France, a science experiment turns a flea into a 7-foot-tall monster. The flea is sweet and gentle and teaches kids the importance of not judging people based on their looks. 

How Dads Keep Kids Healthy

It's no surprise that positive parenting affects a child's health and happiness. Countless studies have shown powerful benefits of dad's participation in children's development: Kids of highly involved fathers score better on cognitive tests at 6 months of age, are better problem-solvers as toddlers and have higher IQs by age 3. In school, they get more A’s and perform better on standardized tests. There's an emotional benefit too: These children report feeling less anxious and depressed, and they're more social and empathetic.

But did you know that kids with involved dads are physically healthier too? Studies have shown that kids who live with active, involved fathers are:

  • Less likely to suffer a physical accident
  • Six times less likely to visit the emergency room
  • Up to two times less likely to suffer from asthma
  • More likely to be active -- and four times less likely to be obese by the age of 18 -- than kids with inactive, obese dads

And there are benefits for dad too: Fathers who engage with their kids are more likely to feel more satisfied and empathetic with others, as well as less stressed.

Young kids require lots of attention and love, especially when they're sick. So every day, both mom and dad should make 10 minutes of one-on-one time with their kids a priority. Here are a few smart ways dads can get involved in kids' lives:

Be the chauffeur. There's no easier time for undivided catch-up time with your kids than when you're driving home from school or swim practice. It can become important bonding time during which kids open up about what's going on in their lives. Just make sure to ban cell phones to create an opportunity for meaningful conversation.

Get your hands dirty. Do a little yard work together! Your kids will love mucking around in the mud, and you'll get a helping hand digging up the flowerbeds, raking leaves or scavenging sticks for the fireplace.

Build something. Whether it's a living room fort or a kitchen science experiment, start a project together. While having fun, you'll also create precious memories together: According to Harvard University, the more senses you use, the more involved your brain will be in making a memory (which means your kids are likely to remember the experience).

Experiment in the kitchen. You don't have to be a master chef to cook with your kids. For your next weekend brunch or dinner, mix up boxed pancake batter with blueberries, or concoct an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink sandwich together. (Making a mess is the fun part, anyway!)

Read to them. Reading is essential to your child's mental development: As early as the 1960s, studies showed that kids with fathers who regularly read to them were more likely to score better in many important cognitive skill categories -- especially vocab -- than children whose fathers did not. So start at an early age, and do it often.

Tell stories together. Boost your kid's creative juices by telling a story and letting your kid fill in the parts. Play off of each other and, above all, have fun! Research shows that when toddlers chat with their dads, they tend to be more inquisitive and even use a larger vocabulary than when they're talking with moms.

Make a coloring book. If your kid's stuck in bed or if it's a dreary day, make it a bit brighter by sketching the outline of a person or place and asking your kids to fill in the details. If you have a younger kid, draw a full image and give her the crayons to fill your mutual masterpiece.

Share your passion. Whether it's walking your kid through a golf swing or simply explaining why the sky is blue, make sure to discuss the things you love with your kids. They might occasionally roll their eyes ("Dad's at it again!"), but they won't forget those impromptu lessons.

Hug them. Kids need physical attention -- and not just from mom. Snuggle, show affection, love them -- especially when your little one is stuck sick in bed (and all her friends are outside playing).

Moms, encourage dads to get involved. Studies show that when moms are supportive of their spouse’s parenting, men are more likely to be involved and feel more responsible for their kids' well-being. Plus, there’s nothing better than sitting back and watching your family grow closer together. So keep a camera and a box of Puffs tissues at hand and prepare for moving experiences.

-- As told to Colleen Canney, editor and writer