A month ago, I was sitting out on my back porch enjoying the beautiful mid-morning breeze with a cup of coffee. The sun was just beginning to spill its rays over the top of the evergreens along our back fence.
I closed my eyes and let the familiarity of the scents and the warmth of the sun bring back the pleasures of my childhood.
I could hear the giggling as we played ball tag—hopping over fences and dodging the rubber sting of the ball as it went whizzing by.
Back then, neighbors never minded if we made a battleground of our grid of four adjoining backyards.
As the sun disappeared behind a cloud, the images changed to a drizzling, overcast day where we were racing bicycles around the loop of our street. Our driveway, centered on a hill, had been the perfect start and finish line. We’d take off in opposite directions pedaling as fast as our feet could take us when the whistle blew. Flags on the back of the bikes waved, streamers blew from the handlebars and noisemakers clinked along the spokes of the tires as we turned around the corners and disappeared from view.
Opening my eyes, it suddenly dawned on me. My seven year-old daughter spoke to me through a barely open sliding glass door.
She’d been sitting in front of the TV for almost an hour.
Was that the kind of experience I wanted her childhood to be?
Then the question that she’d come to ask me hit me like a ton of bricks. “Mom? What’s a Polaroid?”
That’s when I decided, it was time to bring back my childhood, to give her a childhood she’d only seen on TV.
That’s when I made a list of “The Greats” and we started checking them off. One by one.
1. Polaroid Cameras.
Let’s be honest, there’s nothing better than the instant gratification of watching a Polaroid develop into silly smiles that can be immediately plastered onto the bedroom walls.
2. Family Dinners.
What used to be a nightly event has turned weekly. We need to bring back the family intimacy. Flip a coin or play a game of war to see who does the dishes.
3. Pot Luck Cookies.
Ever had sugar cookies with M&M’s? That’s not crazy enough for a seven year old. How about sugar cookies with a tablespoon of peanut butter, 19 chocolate chips, three pinches of sprinkles, and a peppermint kiss on top. It doesn’t have to be good, but it’s their creation. Who knows? They may create the next best thing since Chocolate Chip.
4. Sidewalk Chalk Games.
Hopscotch, marbles, tic-tac-toe, hangman, treasure maps, body outlines and follow the chalk line mazes. It wasn’t uncommon for the whole driveway to be covered by the end of the afternoon.
5. Flashlight Games.
Ghost in the graveyard, flashlight freeze tag, shadow-hand puppet shows, scavenger hunts, capture the firefly, flashlight charades. I loved flashlight freeze tag—shining the light back on the “statues” always made me laugh.
6. Electrical Outages.
Remember the days when the power would go out during every big storm? The living room suddenly became the safe-haven with flashlights, fireplaces and candles illuminating the room.
Flip off the switches and pull out some board games to play by flickering light. Use the time for quiet reading, teaching the children card games, flashlight games or how to build a fort.
7. Fort Building.
Giant cardboard boxes with duct tape transformed our refrigerator boxes into impermeable castles. It was the perfect place for princesses to be locked away and to let the “boys only club” build sling shots out of our mom’s view. Maybe you prefer more spur of the moment forts? How about using cushions from the couch and love-seat mixed with comforters thrown over the dining room table?
Why do you need to travel? Just use the backyard! Okay, so my brother and I had a long extension cord that ran power out to our tent for the 10inch dial TV, but there was something amazing about an eight and 10 year old escaping from the parent’s roof after dark. Luckily mom was close enough by to bring out the pot luck cookies before calling us in for bed.
9. Dance Parties.
Hang the Christmas lights, turn on the radio, and dress up in costumes. Let your children see your silly side. The Macarena never goes out of style to a five year old.
Roast marshmallows and make s’mores. Retell those stories-past—children love to hear about memories of their younger years. Make it a little more memorable with ghost stories using flashlights for emphasis. I still remember stories that my parents made up. It only took me 18 more years before I could sleep through the night again, but hey, it was memorable!
Catch fireflies, ladybugs, caterpillars and butterflies. Let the children design their own bug jar. Between the creativity, the hunting under rocks and the collecting, the entertainment should last for a few hours. I once brought home a snake in a butterfly net. My mom wasn’t too thrilled, but I was!
12. Picnics in the Park.
Plan an entire afternoon at the park with a picnic. Play family kickball, Frisbee, or throwing the football. Other than school practice, there isn’t much sport interaction in most families. Make it a team sport and challenge the boys or beat the girls! Use your moldy loaf of bread to feed the ducks and the fish.
13. Card Games.
Go fish, War, Solitaire, Old Maid, Crazy 8’s, Gin Rummy, Uno, Blackjack and Poker using real coins for the pot. The benefit of cards is that they’re small enough to go anywhere.
14. Lemonade Stands.
Go ahead and sell some pot luck cookies! Please, just don’t water down the lemonade!
15. Clouds and Constellations.
How many shapes can two people spot in an hour? Buy a glow in the dark constellation book and find a blanket. See which constellations you can see and make up a story about the image they represent.
16. Ice Cream Sundae Sundays.
This quickly became my favorite day of the week. There’s also room for Taco Tuesdays, Pizza Party Fridays, or Pancake breakfast Saturdays.
17. Nature Walks.
Children love being able to build on an existing collection. Why not interest them in shells, rocks or feathers? Then they can make fairy houses, nests or small boats to float down the storm drains (items from nature only please.)
18. Meet a Local Hero.
Firefighters, Police, Medics, Military, Teachers, or Lifeguards. Introduce children to people who have chosen a career in service. Show them how selfless people can be.
Water fights with hoses, balloons, or wacky spraying sprinklers. Play copy-cat or Simon Says as the sprinkler flows back and forth and around and around.
20. Washing the Cars, Bikes, and Scooters.
Teach those kiddos a bit of responsibility, but let the seriousness end in a water fight.
21. Visiting a Farm.
Whether they raise animals or crops, let children have the freedom to explore how a farm is run. Let them bring home a bushel of apples that they got to pick or let them run after and pet the pigs.
22. Garage Sales.
How far can their dollar allowance really go? Teach them the art of negotiation and secondhand purchases.
23. Planting a Garden.
The lessons of planting, caring for, and harvesting fruits, vegetables, and flowers can be used to help them understand many of life’s difficult lessons.
24. Traveling by Train, Plane, or Go-cart.
Okay, so you’re probably not getting off the track with a go-cart. Teach your children to love traveling. The world is a gigantic, amazing and beautiful adventure. Don’t get stuck in the same city. One day you’ll look back and realize how much of the world you missed out on.
25. Making Collages.
Remember those Polaroid pictures? Let them create a collage with poster board, pictures, magazine clippings and glitter. Oh, the messy glitter! I remember learning exactly what my daughter thought of my job when I asked her to make a collage of me at work. I quickly realized it was time to put the phone down while having family time.
26. Scavenger hunts.
Perfect for birthday parties or evenings where the kids need a little energy expelled.
Design special event cards—birthdays, holidays and get-well cards. Don’t have any reason to make a card? Collect one from your child each week for 10 weeks then take them to the hospital to let the staff hand them out to their patients. This really gives critically ill patients hope and shows your child what caring without expectation really is.
I admit that some days it’s overwhelming working a full-time job or even a part-time job, and trying to properly raise intelligent, morally sound, happy and imaginative children. Which, in all honesty, is why there are only 27 items listed here instead of 30.
Giving our children the gift of imagination and interaction, mixed together with love provides a foundation in life that they will not soon forget. I was very fortunate to have had such an involved and imaginative family.
For this, I will always be grateful…and now, my daughter can be grateful too.
Author: K.B. Lever
Assistant Editor: Ellie Cleary/ Editor: Khara-Jade Warren
Photo: Author’s Own