Marc Collopy – Sometimes, fun just happens. A neighbor unexpectedly pops by to invite you to an old-fashioned cookout, or a dreary day takes an exciting turn when you pull out your childhood Risk board game and introduce the kids to some competitive play.
These moments are unscripted and fantastic but happen sporadically. If you wait for them to happen, you’re missing opportunities to incorporate some planned fun into your life.
Skeptical? Don’t be. Planning fun is an exercise in togetherness, not to mention the opportunity to get and stay healthier as a family unit. We all know constant movement — not including sliding fingers across a smartphone or tablet screen — precipitates all-around wellness. When physical activities happen under the auspices of planned (and enjoyable) family time, the results can be magical.
Here are four activities to enjoy with your family that also provide health benefits in ways your kids will never realize:
Let your kids walk the family dog
There are boring walks, and then there are walks with the dog: These provide an inherent sense of purpose kids will almost always prefer. Allowing your kids to take safe walks in public with Fido lets them take responsibility while still enjoying themselves. It’s important for kids to feel trusted, and giving them the leash is a great way to achieve that.
Consider adding a little adventure to the mix by selecting new trails or parks to explore. Also, mix in some fun conversation, play the “I Spy” game, launch a scavenger hunt, or eat a healthy snack once a predetermined milestone has been achieved.
Get involved in community activities
Events within the community — whether it’s a cul-de-sac block party, a festival, a parade, or a library event — often involve plenty of outdoor activities with lots of movement! They’re perfect for inspiring a child’s imagination (while masking the exercise they’re getting: That’s a win-win). Plus, community events let your kids get to know their neighbors, as well as create long-lasting connections to their hometown.
Play sports with the family
When it comes to bonding with your family, friendly competition can’t be beat. Plus, it keeps the family fit. It doesn’t matter what you choose to do — soccer, baseball, basketball, Ultimate Frisbee, or tag — you’re doing it as a family, and you’re having fun in the process.
Explore different arrangements of engagement for you and your children: Try kids versus parents or boys versus girls, or as parents, play with one hand behind your back to level the playing field. Incorporate prizes to keep engagement high. Allow the winning team to choose dinner while the losing team cleans dishes — just have fun with it!
Go on field trips
Communities are typically good about offering fun ways to stay active. Consider scheduling a monthly field trip around the area, whether it’s visiting the bowling alley, the roller rink, a climbing gym, or a trampoline park. Explore the local zoo, take a tour of the city, or go horseback riding. Ask your children to come up with more fun ideas and jot them down on pieces of paper. Once a month, pull a random piece from a hat and see where it takes you.
And while some of the benefits of these activities are obvious, others are a bit more inconspicuous (but still just as beneficial).
The general household mood improves
Grumpy Guses are suddenly Smiley Sams. Don’t make a big deal out of this phenomenon, but do continue your fun activities to keep the momentum going. As everyone gets more exercise and feels less tethered to their devices, they’ll experience psychological benefits. Improved confidence, better stress management abilities, improved healthy coping skills, and increased social skills are just some of the upshots of planned fun.
Kids’ brain power increases
Did you know that between birth and the college years, our brains develop by 75 percent? Mental and physical play, practice, and interactions are essential to build cognitive acumen. When you introduce fun into kids’ lives, you heighten their brains’ capacities to foster deeper, more complex neural net connections.
Parents can be a little silly
Most of the time, moms and dads are the rule makers, the disciplinarians. Having fun during family time that’s focused on doing things as a team — and not focused on the television or internet — puts parents in a new light. Kids get to see their folks react to different circumstances, and the rewards are tremendous.
Sure, unplanned fun can be amazing, but planned fun always wins in terms of ease, convenience, and outcomes. Every day is an opportunity to integrate play into daily activities. Soon, you’ll be challenging each other to see who can take out the garbage fastest or invent a homemade duster to tidy the knickknacks. And that’s plain fun.
Marc Collopy is co-founder and executive vice president of sales of Rockin' Jump, a trampoline park franchise dedicated to combining exercise and fun in a safe, clean, family-friendly environment. Rockin’ Jump currently has 45 locations nationwide, with an additional 80 under construction.