What is fun for the whole family?

One of the realities of having five children is that, most likely, there will be a wide spread of ages between them.

There are upsides to this; I’m happy not to have to supervise the older children constantly when I’m dealing with the baby. There are also challenges, one of which is finding activities that are fun for the whole family.

To be sure, this is kind of a rare thing anyway, no matter the kids’ ages. Longtime readers have already heard about my calculation, on one whine-filled hike, about the odds of universal joy. If each of four children is happy 75 percent of the time, and happiness is an independent event, then the odds of all four children being happy simultaneously is only 31.6 percent. Now that I’ve got five kids the odds are down to 23.7 percent. Not good!

Add the age gap and the proposition is even more complicated. With a handful of pre-teens, we’re looking for something they deem tolerable that will be safe and appropriate for a high-energy 5-year-old, and to which we can bring an occasionally fussy baby. That’s a tall order, especially if we’re looking for something the adults won’t hate.

However, there are some activities that truly are fun for the whole family. The Auto Show a few weeks ago fit the bill. And this Saturday, we found similar universal joy in the butterfly exhibit at the Philadelphia Horticultural Society’s annual Flower Show.

We became members a few years ago so we could go early (the show gets mobbed; crowds lower the odds of happiness more). The baby dozed in the carrier the whole time. The big four kids kept dipping their Q-tips in nectar and then patiently waiting for the monarchs and blue morpho butterflies to land on them. We spent an hour in there admiring the beauty. Butterflies are truly one of nature’s gratuitous gifts; I don’t know why the earth features creatures with bright blue and orange wings, but I am so glad it does. There was one moment of butterfly exhibit unhappiness — the 10-year-old declared himself bored — but that got rescued by giving him access to the Seek app on my husband’s phone so he could hold up the phone to a monarch and learn that…yep! It was a monarch.

This might be more challenging next year when we have a toddler, but hopefully he’ll be fascinated by butterflies too. The 12-year-old shows no signs of losing interest!

What activities have you found to be fun for the whole family? I’d add the indoor pool at the YMCA (with waterslides!) to the list…

11 thoughts on “What is fun for the whole family?

  1. Granted, I only have two kids and they are close in age (3 and 5), but everyone always has a lot of fun bowling. It’s pretty inexpensive overall and lots of fun when the weather outside is lousy. We also have a lot of fun going to the local parks and playing kickball, soccer, baseball, or tennis on the “big kid” fields. I usually get a surprising amount of exercise and we all have fun. I’d love to hear everyone else’s ideas! I am finding it more difficult to plan weekend activities…the kids aren’t exactly cool with just tagging along with us on whatever we want to do anymore!

    1. @Sara – we joined all the zoos/museums/aquariums/etc. in our area, partly because it’s nice to go for just an hour and then quit. If we were paying for admission each time we’d feel compelled to stay, but short trips can be fun for kids of different ages because no one gets burned out on it. My husband took the (big) kids to Dave and Busters and Legoland (the little one) last weekend and they all enjoyed it. Arcades tend to be great for kids, they just tend to be hell on earth for their parents (unless you’re really into games).

  2. Having just returned from a week of vacation with our 4 children ages 12-4 we are feeling this acutely right now. Hiking made everyone pretty happy (especially in the warm AZ sunshine, since we are New Yorkers) as did an outing that included mini-golf, go-carts and ice cream. The Zoo still holds everyone’s interest at least for awhile. But yesterday the Harlem Wizards played out elementary school’s teachers in the school gym and really only the 4 and 7 yos were engaged.

    We do divide and conquer a fair amount. On this last trip we took the older two (one of whom is Frank Lloyd Wright obsessed) to Taliesin West. It was great and I look forward to sharing it with the younger kids when they are a bit older.

    1. Mine are 6, 12, and 14. They all love going to the pool, going out to eat, or going to a movie. They like anything that is expensive for me haha.

      1. @Sarah – yeah, we have found that live shows (Disney on Ice, Jurassic World experience) can be fun for all of them but also…not cheap! Especially for lots of kids.

    2. @Gillian – we wind up dividing and conquering a lot by necessity with the infant. My husband takes the big four and since I’m the only one who’s lactating, I wind up with the baby.

      (I love that you have a child who is obsessed with Frank Lloyd Wright!)

  3. We have 4 boys ages 8, 10, 11, and 13. I tell people what I traded off in the beginning (4 kids younger than kindergarten age for 6 months) is now we have four close in age boys, so it is easier to find things they all enjoy. We have also lived in 5 different places in the last 10 years, so exploring new places helps find things to do.

    Even with closely spaced kids, my husband and I often notice that 1 of the 4 isn’t happy with what we do most of the time. Three love to go to stick and puck at the ice rink, 3 love to play basketball, 3 love to swim, 3 love LEGO, etc. I am much better at ignoring whichever one isn’t happy about an activity, but it really bugs my husband. Last weekend we bowled and one kid wasn’t happy with his score. He was pouting (but in a way that could be ignored). I ignored it and enjoyed myself. My husband said it would be a long time until he went bowling with the kids again.

    1. @Jessica – I think that with four kids one needs to learn to ignore the unhappy one, knowing that the unhappiness will likely shift around and everyone will experience it and bliss in time. Otherwise, you’d never do anything — or the three kids who like bowling won’t get to bowl again. No one person should get a total veto!

  4. I’ve been thinking about this a lot since we had the problem this weekend of beautiful weather (in Wisconsin!) but no way to agree on a family activity to enjoy it all together. We ended up doing an activity while leaving the oldest two at home which was fine, but not always my ideal. Swimming is always a hit with everyone and we join a neighborhood pool every summer for this. We can also use this as a go-to on vacations and find new places to explore, making sure they have swimming options. We have six kids, all of whom claim to hate hiking. Geocaching is really fun and it can often involve a hike too. As others have mentioned, snacks go a long way. I recommend buying the key fobs at Wendy’s for free frostys all year! We are also thinking of making a general list of “places to explore” as a family and assigning each kid a turn in picking the destination and activity for the day, within a budget. Our kids also suggested bringing a volleyball or basketball to play after a hike. We’ve found it often helps to invite other families along too, especially if they have similar-aged kids. But yes, not everything is fun for everyone all the time. I think that’s a good lesson for kids to be reminded of.

  5. The library can be fun for all of us, and it’s one I enjoy too. The 2 year old runs around, 4 year old is on the computer, I pick up my holds and read while keeping an eye on them. And it’s free! Win-win-win

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