Throw an Impromptu Party

You may be asking yourself how a party could possibly be free. Well, if it’s the kind of party that’s thrown together using things you already have on hand, and the celebration is just an excuse to have fun, it totally can be!

AN EXCUSE TO CELEBRATE

It doesn’t need to be someone’s birthday to have a party. Make up a reason to celebrate. It’s Tuesday! It’s sunny! It’s raining! Your favorite team won a game! It’s all of your un-birthdays!

Once you’ve decided on a theme, roll with it. Celebrating Tuesday? See how many ways you can incorporate the number “2” in your planning (so you can celebrate Twos-day, get it? Yes, total dad joke! lol). Celebrating the weather? Incorporate suns or raindrops. For winning a game, add sports paraphernalia. For un-birthdays, use any leftover “Happy Birthday” supplies you may have hanging around.

Look around your home and see what you have that can be easily used for the party. Then it’s time to get creative and move on to the next step.

THE DECORATIONS

Decide which room(s) you’ll be using for the party, then go to town making it festive. Unless you’re hoping for the party to be a surprise, get the kids involved in making or finding items to use as decorations. These can be as simple as large pictures that get hung up, banners spelling out the reason for the party (a few sheets of paper taped together to make a long chain), coordinating toys that can be placed strategically around the room, etc. Don’t overthink it – just have fun! (Hint: this step can be helpful in keeping the kids busy while you work on other preparations, such as food!)

Feel free to use up any odds and ends you may have floating around from previous birthdays, etc. You can also make things as simple as cutting up paper into little pieces to make confetti! Keep it colorful and fun, and the kids (and you!) will enjoy themselves.

THE GAMES

What’s a party without activities? You can utilize any family favorite board games or other activities, or more traditional party games, such as musical chairs. Want some inspiration? Here are a few sites with lists to get you started:

Interested in a pinata but worried about the cost? There are ways to make your own! Then you can fill it with goodies you already have at home – put to use those little toys that end up everywhere or small treats you have floating around your kitchen. Or you can even incorporate 2 activities into one, and hide clues for a scavenger hunt inside the pinata instead of treats! Here are some homemade pinata ideas:

THE FOOD

Party food can be simple or elaborate, and the choice is really up to you. The party can be an excuse to make someone’s favorite meal, or it can be an easy way to use up leftovers! A favorite in my family is to set up a buffet with simple appetizer-style foods, so everyone can try a little of everything, and everyone will find something they enjoy (and you don’t have to worry about preparing a full meal). Evaluate what you have on hand and see how you can make it fun. Remember, this is impromptu and free, so don’t plan on going grocery shopping!

Even if the food isn’t exciting, the presentation can be. Mix and match plates, add pops of color to the table, or serve things in an interesting way (maybe serve spaghetti out of mugs? arrange food into shapes on the plate?). If possible, incorporate the theme to make it fun. Celebrating Twos-day? Give everyone 2 of everything on plates. Celebrating a sunny day? Only serve yellow food!

THE GUESTS

Your impromptu party can be just for your family, or you can invite a few friends over to add to the festivities. If you invite guests, just make sure they understand the purpose of the party – no gifts, no over-the-top activities. Just enjoy each other’s company and have fun!

What will your family celebrate?

Create a Challenge

Does your family enjoy games and puzzles? Put together your own using the ideas below!

SCAVENGER HUNTS

The simplest games can often be the most fun, and scavenger hunts certainly fall into this category. You can have your children search for just about anything, and you can make it as easy or challenging as you want. Last month I shared some nature scavenger hunt ideas that can make nature walks and hikes more fun. You can take those same ideas and apply them to inside spaces, as well. Can your child find certain colors? Textures? Shapes?

You can take things one step further by hiding items for your child to find. Depending on your child’s age, you can leave them only partially hidden, or you can make them ridiculously difficult to find, kind of like an Easter egg hunt. For an added game, you can give your child clues they have to solve to determine an item’s location. To make it more challenging, have these clues written in a secret code. Here are some ideas to help with creating coded messages:

MAKE YOUR OWN ESCAPE ROOM

Escape rooms have been really popular, and you can create your very own escape room in your home. Yes, you can buy kits or purchase a bunch of fancy locks and spy gear, but you can also just use items you already have. Pick a room, determine an objective, then design clues and challenges that the participants have to solve to meet the objective! It can take a bit of time and effort, but it’s worth it for the fun factor. Here are some websites that can give you ideas, tips, and inspiration for creating your own escape room:

SOLVE A MYSTERY

A simpler option to escape rooms, without sacrificing fun, is to create a mystery game. You can use the secret code sites above to design clues, modify some of the escape room ideas, or use some of the other ideas below. Tweens, teens, and adults would enjoy the murder mystery ideas, but they do usually require a larger group of people (6+).

DESIGN YOUR OWN BOARD GAME OR PUZZLE

While the ideas above mostly require the activities to be set up beforehand, for the kids to participate, these ideas can get the kids involved. Have them create their own board game or puzzle!

Creating a puzzle is quite simple. You just need a picture that you can cut up and put back together. For best results, glue the picture onto a piece of light cardboard (like a cereal box) and let dry before cutting. Puzzles can be simple, with the picture cut into strips to be reassembled, or complicated with intricate pieces to fit together.

For a board game the sky’s the limit! Here are some sites to get you started:

What challenges would your family enjoy?

Do More With Less

Studies and experience have shown that having less options when it comes to toys, etc. actually makes kids happier. So have more fun with less!

To learn more about this concept, check out the following articles:

In a nutshell, having too many items can distract and overwhelm kids, so they actually spend less time playing. You can counteract this effect by giving them less options. But that can be easier said than done! The “6 Tips” article above gives you some suggestions on ways to minimize clutter to benefit your kids (and your sanity!). Toy rotations, getting rid of things, and avoiding new purchases are just a few ways to cut back. Here are more ways to have fun with less stuff.

FOCUS ON EXPERIENCES

Instead of relying on stuff to entertain your child, look for ways to encourage more doing. Some suggestions, which I’ve discussed in previous posts, include enjoying nature, playing pretend, and creating. You can also explore the Events calendar and tabs on the website for more ideas. Interacting with others, especially parents and other loved ones, can make positive memories that will last much longer than toys. You can also take the experiences concept one step further, and encourage kids to do things with other people in mind – through volunteering, helping others, and looking for ways to make other people happy.

Get your child involved in coming up with experience ideas. Ask them what they would enjoy doing, if they didn’t have any toys to play with or screens to stare at. Encourage them to think back to happy times. Which memories stand out? Can you incorporate those ideas into new activities and experiences? Have each family member come up with things they would love to try, then take turns implementing them. You may be surprised at what is really meaningful for your child!

ENCOURAGE CREATIVITY

A cluttered space can lead to a cluttered mind – which can inhibit creativity. Instead, clear a space and set out a few things that can encourage creativity. Last time I mentioned creating supply trays. This not only keeps a space neat and tidy but can also help spark ideas, as everything your child needs is at hand. Take things one step further by creating with your child. Suggest a theme or style, and see how each of you interprets the idea. Challenge each other to step out of your comfort zone with something you haven’t tried before, or to make something extremely simple or overly complicated. This can be with arts and crafts supplies, building bricks, or even recipe ingredients! Some ideas:

  • Have a “mystery bag” with supplies that must be used in your creation.
  • Write random words on scraps of paper, then draw one to see the topic.
  • Grab a handful of random items and see what you can create with them.
  • Set a timer and see what you can make in the time limit – the shorter the time, the wackier the creations! (But, also, the more creative and interesting)

CREATE EVENTS

Make the items you have more exciting, and encourage kids to look at them in a different way, by creating “events.” Maybe you implement a weekly game night to use those board games that have been collecting dust. Or challenge your children to create a “party” using as few items as possible – with games, decorations, and projects. Make a backwards day, where everything has to be used in a different way than it was originally intended. (Maybe that dinosaur figure is now a princess? Or that doll’s chair is now a hat?)

Doing more with less is not a new concept, but you can take it to new heights with a little imagination and encouragement. How much fun can you have using as few items as possible?

Use Your Imagination

Thinking creatively comes naturally to many children, whether it’s through making up new play scenarios or seeing things from a different point of view. Encourage this creative thinking through fun, imaginative play and exploration.

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JUST PLAY PRETEND

Playing pretend can take on many forms. Ordinary objects can become magical, children can become anything from doctors to firefighters to puppies, and a room can be transformed into just about anywhere. Gather some random objects and turn them into something else. You can ask your child what he thinks they are, or make suggestions yourself. Then turn those new objects into a scenario for pretend play. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • A paper towel tube can be turned into a sword – now the brave knight must find and slay the dragon!
  • A piece of paper can be rolled into a cone, taped, then placed on your head to become a hat – are you a princess in need of rescuing? Maybe it’s a birthday hat?
  • A towel can be wrapped around an arm and then tied behind a neck to become a sling – now your child must become a doctor and give you a checkup to make sure it’s ok.
  • That same towel can be turned into a cape – superhero to the rescue! Who needs saving?
  • A pencil can become a magic wand – perhaps your child is now a fairy flitting through the forest? Or a magician performing on stage?

See what else your child can gather and turn into extraordinary objects. To encourage ongoing or repeat pretend play, consider putting together boxes or setting aside areas in your home for different scenarios. For example, my daughter wants to be a vet, so I gathered band-aids, bandage wraps, cotton swabs, etc. so she could be a doctor to her stuffed animals. Another favorite is to take empty food packages, such as boxes of cereal or pasta, taping them closed, and setting them up to create a “store.”

MAKE SUPPLY SETS

For impromptu creativity any time, put together some supply sets using items around the house or items you’ve accumulated through your collecting. You can store each set in a shoebox or other container to make it easy to grab and go. Anything can be used, so don’t worry if you don’t have a specific item or supply. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Art supplies – gather paper, scissors, crayons, glue, glitter, pipe cleaners, etc. to encourage creating.
  • Tinker supplies – gather rubber bands, paper clips, corks, clothespins, cotton swabs, craft sticks, etc. Add some scissors and glue or tape.
  • Building supplies – gather whatever building materials you have, whether that’s LEGOs, tinker toys, wooden blocks, or recycled items.
  • Dress-up supplies – gather assorted clothing items, scarves, hats, costume jewelry, etc. Be sure to add any masks, wands, etc. that your child may have made in school or during pretend play.
  • Book-making supplies – blank or lined paper, writing utensils (pens, pencils, markers, etc.), writing prompts, stapler for putting pages together

Just having the items together and easily accessible can encourage children to be creative.

MAKE UP STORIES

Look around and pick an object, then make up a story with your child. That teddy bear is sad because his best friend moved away. But he doesn’t know that a new friend is coming to play with him! Who can be his new friend? What are they going to do together? This activity can be great when enjoying nature, too. Fallen logs, animal burrows, and streams can be great sources of inspiration. Or do some old-fashioned creativity by lying on your backs and looking for shapes in the clouds.



How else can you encourage your child to use her imagination?

Become a Collector

No one wants random items cluttering up their home, but collecting the right items can actually bring joy – during the collecting and whenever the collection is viewed.

CREATIVE COLLECTING

Toys and art supplies don’t need to be expensive. In fact, you can collect items that would normally be thrown away and turn them into all kinds of amazing creations. Websites abound that invite you to turn trash into treasure, or you can just put a pile in front of your child and see what they do! Some favorite items to hold onto are:

  • Cardboard tubes (toilet paper, paper towel, gift wrap, aluminum foil, etc.)
  • Egg cartons
  • Plastic bottles (soda, water, seltzer, ketchup, pancake syrup, etc.)
  • Jars or containers (especially if the labels come off! pasta sauce, jelly, frosting, etc.)
  • Clamshell containers (from fruit, baked goods, etc.)
  • Empty cardboard food packages (if clean – great for closing up for a pretend “store”)

Make sure they’re clean, then just throw it all in a large box or container and tuck it out of sight when not in use. These items can be used in art projects or pretend play, and the only limit is your child’s imagination!

THEMED MEMENTOS

As you travel the state in search of fun activities, pick up a memento of each place. These can be natural items, such as a small stone or shell, or simple man-made items such as business cards or pens. Find a way to display your collection as a reminder of places you’ve been (a simple, clear vase works well). Memories will come flooding back every time you see it. You can even turn your collected items into a craft project, such as a picture frame or collage, or you can put them together in a shadowbox or scrapbook.

THEMED PICTURES

While you’re travelling around, you can also challenge your family to add to the fun! Then be sure to take pictures to commemorate the experiences. Some challenge examples:

  • Take your picture in front of every natural waterfall in the state.
  • See how many different playgrounds your child can swing at – and take a picture at each one.
  • Have your family match their outfits (by color or a particular article of clothing).
  • Bring a favorite toy or stuffed animal with you, and take pictures of that toy in new situations (an old friend does this, and his stuffed basketball has met some pretty famous people!)
  • Look for a particular something at each place. Maybe an interesting shadow, or a unique leaf. Make it the same something at each place for an enchanting collection.
  • Find interesting backgrounds and add your family. For extra fun (depending on your family’s personalities), you can opt to challenge them to be as silly as possible, as serious as possible (no smiling!), or see how much they can “ruin” the shot.

Once you’ve collected several pictures, start an album on Facebook, put them into a digital photo frame that rotates the pictures, or print them out and hang them on your wall. You’ll smile when you see them – and they may motivate you to go even further!

Sky’s the limit! What will you collect?

Open Your Eyes

Sometimes the greatest fun can be had when we look at things in a different way. Whether we’re searching for something or changing our perspective, opening our eyes can show us new beauty and spark our imaginations.

START WITH A SCAVENGER HUNT

Challenge your family to be more observant with a scavenger hunt! Here are some ideas both in and out of your home:

PLAY THE UP CLOSE GAME

Have you ever seen something really magnified? It can be hard to figure out what it is. Try this with your family. Take a picture of something really really close up, so you can only see part of the item. Then challenge them to guess what it is! This game can be lots of fun with family and friends who don’t live with you, too.

USE YOUR IMAGINATION

Find new uses for household items. Perhaps that paper towel tube is now a sword, and you’re a knight defending his kingdom! Maybe that towel is really a cape, and you’re a superhero flying overhead. Challenge your family to come up with the most creative, interesting uses for items around your home. Then use them to roleplay a fun story together.

MAKE SOMETHING WITHOUT INSTRUCTIONS

Gather a bunch of creating supplies. These can be recycled items, nature items, craft supplies, or building blocks – anything you have on hand that could be used to make something. Then make something! The idea, however, is to not have any kind of instructions or plans when you start building. Just see where the creative process takes you. To make it more of a challenge (and encourage less planning), set a timer. What can you build in 10 minutes? 5 minutes? 1 minute??

Once you’ve created your items, explain what they are to each other. You’d be amazed what simple items can become!

Enjoy the Great Outdoors

Ah, spring! Warmer weather, sunny days (sometimes, anyway!), and animals out of hibernation. Many times it feels like we’ve been hibernating, too, waiting for happier days to arrive and the pandemic to end. Fortunately with spring come more opportunities to get outside, get active, and enjoy the world around us.

Start a Garden

As the weather warms up, now is the perfect time to get a garden started. To keep things free, use these tips:

Take a Walk, Snag a Book

In addition to town libraries, Little Free Libraries have popped up in even greater quantities since the pandemic began. Take a walk in your neighborhood or other nearby areas and stop at one of these boxes. They are filled with free books to share. Take a book to add to your reading pile or add extra books from your own collection to the little library to share! To find a Little Free Library in your area (or an area you’d like to visit), head to their website. As an added bonus, you’ll be getting some exercise and enjoying the fresh air!

Enjoy an Event

As new events are added to the calendar, there seems to be a trend: activities are moving away from virtual and back to in-person. While most of these events are limited to outdoor options, it will be nice to see people in real life, rather than on a screen. To check out the latest additions, head to the Events calendar. Be sure to follow all mask and social distancing guidelines as indicated.

Head Outside

Don’t forget that the classics still apply: take a hike, head to a playground, or go for a walk. Enjoy the great outdoors and have fun with nature! Check out the tabs above for more ideas.