Family, Fun and Free – Custodial Parent’s Tips for Making an Ordinary Day Feel Like Summer Camp

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With the weather warming up and the days getting longer, everyone is eager to get outside. When a couple shares custody of a child, the non-custodial parent often attempts to make up for not seeing the child everyday by taking the child to do activities.  These activities are often costly, such as riding the roller-coasters at Six Flags, sitting in the “Green Seats” at the Cardinals games, or making sand castles during a beach vacation to Florida.  The custodial parent can often feel like the less-fun parent, taking care of the daily needs of the child.  However, creating fun and meaningful memories with your child does not have to be expensive.  There are several activities you can do together that don’t require excessive planning or reservations.
Here are a few ideas that younger children would enjoy. Any of these can be added to a busy day, but will still make for memorable family fun:Bird Feeder
  • Visit a local park for a picnic
  • Make a bird feeder: an old bucket lid and stale bread crumbs make a quick feed and feeder
  • Take a walk around the neighborhood: what signs of spring do you see?  Have your child documents the change of seasons with your smartphone camera.
  • Grab some crayons and draw family pictures
  • Start a family diary:
    • Keep track of events while together—they are quickly forgotten; a diary will be fun to look back upon over the years.
    • Children love hearing stories about when they were babies—share some of your special moments
    • Children love hearing stories about YOU as a child: for an extra bonus, have a grandparent or one of your siblings share a story—they’re always ready to join in the fun!
  • Teach your child a favorite game from your childhood:
    • Hopscotch
    • 4-square
    • Jumprope
  • Blow bubbles: you can either buy the premade bubbles at the store or make your own. Here’s a quick recipe from
    • 2 1/2 quarts water
    • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
    • 1 cup clear liquid dish detergent (not soap for an automatic dishwasher)
    • Food coloring (optional)
    • Instructions:  Slowly mix the water and corn syrup in a large container. Add the liquid dish detergent and lightly stir. Do not over mix or mixture will get too bubbly. The mixture can be easily doubled or tripled. If making colored bubbles, mix in a couple of drops of food coloring. The homemade bubbles can be used immediately or kept for a couple weeks if stored in a covered, airtight container. Baby shampoo can be substituted for the liquid dish soap for no-tears bubbles.
  • Play-dough: here’s another quick recipe that doubles your quality time with children—cooking together in the kitchen and playing with the dough! Collect your favorite cookie cutters and you’re set for an afternoon or evening full of fun and imagination.
    • Playdough fun for kids3 cups flour, sifted
    • 1 1/2 cup salt
    • 6 teaspoons cream of tartar
    • 3 1/4 cup water
    • 3 tablespoons oil
    • Food coloring (she uses the gel)
    • Instructions:  Whisk all the dry ingredients together in a large pot until no lumps remain. Whisk in the wet ingredients (except for the food coloring) and stir until no lumps remain. Cook on high for 3-4 minutes until a dough forms. Separate into several portions and add food coloring, kneading until uniform in color. Store in airtight containers.
Homemade playdough is cheap, non-toxic and lasts a long time! (Since children are always tempted to eat dough, have some favorite snacks handy to distract from the dough). Try a few of these and enjoy your (inexpensive) time together. Schedules may become hectic, especially if children share time between households. Setting aside time for each other helps relax everyone and create smiles, laughter and memories.  Remember, it is not how much money you spend on activities, your children will enjoy spending meaningful time making memories with you.

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