Maximizing Family Time

5 tips for spending more time with loved ones

Now as much as ever, close family ties can make a significant impact on young lives. Constantly emerging technology sometimes limits personal interaction, while many school-age children experience unprecedented stress levels.

Building strong connections with trusted adults can give kids a sense of security and a better foundation for achieving their potential. Make spending time together a priority with these engaging activity ideas that allow the whole family to get in on the fun.

Plan a Movie or Game Night

Kids thrive on routines and clear expectations, so a regular special event like a movie or game night can give them something to anticipate each week. Watching TV at home may not be a novelty, but you can make it an occasion to celebrate by adding special touches like dimming the lights to mimic a theater, pulling out cozy blankets and preparing popcorn or other treats. If you opt for game night instead, keep the enthusiasm strong week after week by creating long-range tournaments or allowing kids to rotate game selection privileges.

Read Together

Sharing books together not only creates an opportunity for bonding, it’s a way to give your child an academic boost outside the classroom. Studies show that daily reading promotes literacy, helps kids build their vocabulary and improves overall academic achievement. Also, the benefits don’t end with elementary-age children.

Parents can connect with older kids through books that carry important lessons about life and relationships. Reading books individually then coming together to discuss them, similar to a book club, can provide the chance for thoughtful talks about difficult topics. For example, “Regretting You,” from bestselling author Colleen Hoover, explores a tumultuous relationship between a mother and her daughter who must turn to one another when a tragedy shatters their lives. Find more information on the novel at

Cook Meals Together

Eating together is a goal for many families, but preparing meals together takes those benefits even further. Engaging kids in meal preparation creates a sense of cooperation and instills pride for a successful project. It’s also a chance to share family traditions and pass on recipes that have traveled through generations.

Enjoy a Craft Day

Kids need the chance to let their imaginations soar, and arts and crafts projects can provide the perfect outlet for creative expression. An art session may be as simple as enlisting everyone’s help to make decorations for an upcoming event. Another thoughtful way to channel all that creative energy: have little artists make cards to deliver to a local senior or retirement community.

Take a Trip

Discovering new places is an exciting way to create shared memories. A trip need not be costly or even far from home. Even a day trip to explore a new community nearby can provide a natural setting for the whole family to connect and form lifelong memories.

No matter what activity you choose, investing in time together strengthens relationships so kids can flourish with the confidence of a support system behind them. (Family Features)

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How to Make the Most Out of Family Time

With a little imagination, you can dream up all kinds of creative, engaging and interactive activities the entire family can enjoy no matter the season.

Whether it’s a night in or on-the-go activities that spark excitement for you and yours, find the way toward fun-filled time together with these six ideas for families to make the most out of every moment.

1. Hit the library. With school in full swing, there are few better ways to build on classroom exercises than reading. From kindergarten to college and picture books to novels, libraries offer entertaining reads for any interest. Beyond books, many libraries offer movie nights, games and more for kids and parents to enjoy together.

2. Create an adventure in your living room. Sometimes weather forces you to stay indoors, so why not bring the outdoors inside. Kids can get a thrill from hosting a campout in the living room. Using an option like the downloadable DQ Camp-In Shadow Puppet Storybook, you can create your own creature-filled forest adventure. Or for a tried and true fun time, let each family member pick a favorite board game, snack and beverage then spend the evening playing for a game night championship.

3. Learn a new skill. Learning together can be a great bonding experience. Not only can you share in the sense of accomplishment of mastering a new skill, but you’ll have a new activity the entire family can enjoy together. The options are nearly endless, from bowling to roller skating to taking a cooking or baking class together and more. Talk together as a family about the new things each person might like to explore then work together to start adding to your abilities. You may even be surprised by the hidden talents you uncover.

4. Take a weekend road trip. Piling in the car for a weekend of exploration is sure to get everyone’s adventurous spirits soaring. Once you select a destination, get the kids involved in planning the journey, from the sights you’ll see along the way to a variety of activities to pass the time in the car. Work together to organize goodies for hungry bellies on the road and ask kids to help pack their travel bags. Consider keeping simple games in your car, such as a Memory Makers card set, or purchasing albums kids can fill with photos, drawings, journal entries and ticket stubs they collect along the journey.

5. Go out for dessert. To take the end of dinner up a notch, get out of the house and turn dessert into a full-blown experience itself. Create and savor sweet memories with crave-worthy treats that celebrate the tastes of the season, such as the Snickerdoodle Cookie Dough Blizzard Treat from DQ, which blends creamy vanilla soft serve with soft snickerdoodle cookie dough bites sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.

6. Hold a backyard party. Backyard get togethers are the perfect way to reconnect with neighbors, friends and family alike. Set up group activities like a volleyball game to let everyone participate or create a series of stations so kids can explore what interests them most. Activities such as ring toss, treasure or scavenger hunts and sidewalk chalk are simple ways to inspire loads of fun.

Find more activities like these to fuel your family fun at (Family Features)


Seek Outdoor Entertainment for Personal Satisfaction

Making time to enjoy the outdoors is a simple way to boost your physical and mental well-being, no matter your age. Whether you venture out to the porch to watch the sunset or lace up your golf shoes for an afternoon on the course, there are plenty of ways you can take in some fresh air.

Going outside generally results in more physical activity than if you were to stay cooped up inside, and it’s an easy way to socialize and interact with others. It also plays an important part in maintaining your vibrancy.

Get inspired to spend some quality time outside with these ideas:

Take up a hobby. Planting a garden or tending a flower bed is terrific motivation to spend more time outdoors, and you’ll have the bounty of your work to enjoy, as well. Even a box garden designed for a smaller space requires regular care, so you’ll find yourself outdoors on a consistent basis nurturing plants to grow.

Take in a performance. Outdoor theaters offer numerous forms of entertainment from music concerts to plays. Before shopping for tickets, be sure to consider any discounts you might be able to use. For example, AARP members can find discounts on tickets for a wide range of events.

Increase your exercise. Even if you have some physical limits, keeping your muscles stretched helps maintain mobility. That might mean taking a walk or playing a round of golf. You could gather family or neighbors for a game of croquet or just move outdoors to do your daily stretches. Find a way to blend your daily exercise with the chance to get some fresh air for maximum benefits.

Go on a trip. The sights and sounds that go along with exploring somewhere new make it easy to enjoy spending time outside. Be sure to make plans for entertainment while you’re on the road, and rather than driving home in the dark or when you’re tired, consider making a hotel reservation through the AARP Travel Center. You might even consider organizing a weekend getaway with a partner or friend who shares your interest in discovering a new destination.

Enjoy a meal out. Dining al fresco is a treat when the weather cooperates, but you can incorporate a delicious meal as a bonus when you’re out and about even when the weather is less than ideal. You could opt to spend your wait time outdoors, or reward yourself after a walk with a special seafood, Italian or steak dinner. You might even pair the meal with a concert or a show for a truly enjoyable evening away from home.

Get creative when you think about how you’ll make more time to spend outdoors and remember that resources exist to assist with planning and saving money along the way. Learn more at (Family Features)

AARP Services, Inc.

Memorable Family Moments

Educational activities ideal for making memories together

Educational activities and plans that allow kids to flex their brain muscles in fun and creative ways can be ideal ways to spend family time that makes lasting memories.

While children typically gain invaluable knowledge and experience in the classroom, purposeful activities done outside of that setting can help encourage kids to keep learning and make family moments more enjoyable for everyone involved.

From planning trips that celebrate animals and the great outdoors to rainy day activities at home that inspire creative expression, these ideas can produce some family moments worth remembering.

1. Go on a scavenger hunt. From native species of plants, animals and insects to neighborhood landmarks, there are plenty of interesting things that can be found right in your own backyard. Organize a scavenger hunt and work together in teams of family members to search for each item on the list, then do more research on the things you found once you return home. For a real challenge, expand your hunt to the city limits of your hometown and make a day trip of the adventure.

2. Hang out with wildlife. Learn about different species of animals, how to help protect them and the importance of eco-friendly everyday practices by visiting a destination like an Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)-accredited zoo or aquarium. You can explore the challenges facing endangered species, discover how community programs are spurring positive change for conservation and learn more at After learning about animals that need help, you can visit for fun kids games, coloring pages and other activities that encourage creativity. Many animal sanctuaries and wildlife recovery centers also have endangered species and offer educational information about them.

3. Visit a national park. Many park ranger programs provide opportunities to interact with the animals that live in the area, as well as information about any endangered animals and how you can help with conservation efforts. While in the park, you can also enjoy a nature hike, have a picnic lunch and view the different species of plants in the region.

4. Enjoy an arts and crafts day. Spending time doing an art project is a hands-on way to help introduce kids to new ideas and ways of learn­ing. Engage the entire family by creating crafts with different subjects of interest. This can help create conversations and opportunities to further explore what your children are interested in.

5. Organize a game day. A play day can be just as fun as it is educational. Choose from a variety of games that can allow players to get extra creative. Options like Pictionary or charades tap into different types of creative skills, which can keep everyone engaged while they’re learning to express themselves effectively in new ways.

Capture Moments That Matter

Make your family’s learning adventures more memorable by encouraging kids to capture their experiences on paper. The practice of communicating on paper can help lock in memories, plus it’s a clever way for kids to practice practical skills in an engaging and productive way.

Adjust these ideas as needed to match the ability level of each child so the whole family can participate.

1. Write about experiences in a journal or diary. For older kids, encourage them to use words to describe their adventures. Ask younger kids to draw a scene or image that captured their attention or excited them the most.

2. Design a diorama about your family’s adventures to display in your home to show extended family and friends. Make it a conversation piece by asking kids to think about an endangered species and depict its living environment. Available in standard, glitter, neon, metallic and pastel colors, tools like Zebra Doodler’z® allow little designers to explore the nearly endless possibilities for color coding, sketching, journaling and embellishing.

3. Take photos to share with friends and family both online and in-person. Get creative with your photo-taking by encouraging kids to think about the story they’ll tell through the images. It might be a series of selfies tackling exciting new activities or documenting a sibling’s first experience at the petting zoo. Another way to capture photographic memories is a photo treasure hunt, where kids have a list of items to search for and photograph during each outing.

4. Create a family calendar to plan your summer activities together. Anticipating upcoming adventures is part of the fun. Let kids help you keep track of what’s coming up and build excitement with a personalized calendar. Make it a work of art by asking kids to draw icons or small images that depict upcoming activities with an option like Zebra’s Sarasa® Fineliner Pens, which are available in 12 vibrant colors.

5. Share experiences on social media. Let friends and family in on the fun by sharing your photos, drawings, dioramas and other creations online. Seeing the positive interaction and praise-filled comments from loved ones can help reinforce the value of creative expression to impressionable young minds.

6. Create scrapbooks to help remember family moments. Keep the pace of life from fading those precious memories by assembling scrapbooks to commemorate family adventures. Make the scrapbook a family affair with everyone contributing their own creations.

Find more ideas for capturing and sharing experiences at (Family Features)


Zebra Pen

4 Stealthy Ways to Keep Your Family Healthy

Living a healthy lifestyle takes effort and diligence, but with common stressors of day-to-day life, health can take a backseat to jobs, social engagements and tempting treats. While adopting more healthful habits may not be top-of-mind for your family, there are some simple and sneaky ways to incorporate them into your family’s routines.

Consider these stealthy tips to sneak more healthy habits into your family’s lifestyle. For more information about creating healthy habits for your pet as well, visit

  1. Take a Day Trip – Take your family – and your dog – on a visit to a local farmers’ market to take advantage of in-season finds, like fresh, colorful fruits and vegetables. They might think it’s just a fun excursion, but it can actually be an engaging and educational activity that exposes them to the vibrancy and flavor of in-season fruits and vegetables and the nutrients they can add to their diets.

  1. Incorporate Sneaky Snacks – Get creative with everyday snacks to find healthy additions and alternatives. Try adding veggies in your family’s smoothies, such as spinach or carrots, or toast up some granola with honey to cure a sweet and crunchy craving. Don’t forget to include your furry friends in snack time. Treats like GREENIES Dental Chews are enjoyable snacks that can help your pup improve his or her oral care without even knowing it. Pets think they’re just enjoying a tasty treat, but they’re also cleaning their teeth, helping to maintain healthy gums and freshening breath. As an added bonus, they’ll get vitamins and nutrients to support a healthy lifestyle.

  1. Have Fun with Your Meals – Get your family members involved in the kitchen to help prepare nutritious meals and introduce them to good-for-you flavors and recipes. A meal-prepping session can help teach them to enjoy and appreciate healthy ingredients, while learning the process of preparing a healthful meal.While your family interprets the meal as a fun activity, you can reinforce the importance of being conscious of what you’re putting in your body.

  1. Stay Active – Find outdoor activities that you and your family (pets included) can enjoy for regular exercise. Walking your furry friend, playing catch or checking out a new park are easy ways to spend quality time with the family, while sneaking exercise into your day. Plus, bringing your pet along can help him or her expel energy for better behavior at home. (Family Features)

Photos courtesy of Fotolia

Mars Petcare

It’s Time to Learn More About Your Loved Ones

With days of family picnics, vacations and reunions in the rearview mirror, it’s easy to move full steam ahead into the busy fall season and forget to make time for meaningful conversations with family members.

You may think you know your relatives well, but having meaningful, intergenerational conversations and asking questions about what matters most to them can deepen your relationships. Taking time to get to know your loved ones better can allow you to walk away from these conversations with memories and stories to cherish forever.

If you’re unsure where to begin, the Funeral and Memorial Information Council (FAMIC) created the “Have the Talk of a Lifetime” initiative, which offers families the resources to facilitate conversations that can be remembered for years to come. Having these conversations can be difficult and hard to start, but the Have a Talk of a Lifetime Workbook takes away some of the stress and guides you through a step-by-step process of communicating with your loved ones.

The workbook includes conversation starters and room to document the memories shared. A few thought-provoking questions include:

  • Describe your greatest accomplishment. What makes it so special to you?
  • How would you describe yourself as a child? What is your best memory of your childhood?
  • Who has been the most important or influential person in your life? Can you tell me more about him or her? What did you learn from him or her?
  • How would you like people to remember you? What words do you hope will be used to describe you and your life?

Take advantage of the time you have to answer some of these questions with your loved ones, which can provide moments to cherish and life advice.

For more information on the campaign, visit (Familly Features)


Funeral and Memorial Information Council

5 Ways to Make Mealtime Meaningful

Coming together for a shared meal is a simple, yet important way for family members to bond and create memories with one another. There’s no better time than right now to bring everyone together around the dinner table – including your four-legged friends – for a delicious meal.

These tips can help make mealtime even more meaningful for everyone. For more information about sharing mealtime moments with your pet, visit .

Photo courtesy of Fotolia

  • Get Everyone Involved. Have the family help with preparing the meal. Pick a recipe everyone can help make, such as build-your-own pizzas or taco bowls, to make dinner both a bonding activity and a rewarding experience when you get to eat your own creation.

Photo courtesy of Fotolia

  • Don’t Forget Your Furry Friend. Schedule the same mealtime for the whole family, including your pets. Your dog can enjoy sharing in the family experience, and with his own food bowl, he’ll be gobbling his meal up, making it less tempting to beg for human food.

Photo courtesy of Fotolia

  • Put the Phones Down. Establish a no-devices-at-the-dinner-table policy to encourage kids and adults alike to talk, engage and bond with each other. This quality time spent in the company of family can build stronger relationships and cherished memories for years to come.

  • Dine on Similar Dishes. Allow your four-legged friend to share in your dining experience by serving him dinners similar to those your family eats. For example, when you whip up a savory chicken with apples, barley and spinach, your dog can enjoy the same flavors in his bowl, thanks to the CESAR® SIMPLY CRAFTED™ line of mealtime enhancers for dogs.

Photo courtesy of Fotolia

  • Opt for Healthy Options. Help keep everyone’s energy levels up by working plenty of fruits, vegetables and quality proteins into your family’s diet. Ingredients like carrots, pumpkin and green beans are also great for your pup, so look for a dog food option that includes ingredients like these to share your healthy eating lifestyle with your pet. (Family Features)


Tips to Get Family Photos You Want to Keep Forever

Give the Gift that Ages Gracefully

Photography courtesy of Mark Garber Photography

Photography courtesy of Mark Garber Photography

If you’re like most people, images of your family are probably languishing on your smartphone or tucked away in the closet on an old computer. If you take a break from the selfies and invest in the time to hire a professional photographer, you’ll end up with beautiful family portraits that capture and preserve the love, affection and expressions that are unique to your family. These photographs are your gift to yourself, your children and generations to come.

Here are some tips from Professional Photographers of America (PPA) on how to get memorable family photos that stand the test of time.

Choose a Style that Reflects Your Family

Sounds obvious? Not that simple. Think about your family’s unique personality, then find a photographer who has experience taking pictures similar to what you would like to display in your home. What environment brings out your family’s unique personality? Is it a park, a beach, an urban setting? Maybe it’s as simple as your own living room or backyard. Find your family’s photo style by taking the quiz at

Begin with the End in Mind

Before your photo session, think about and discuss where and how your photos will be displayed in your home, and think about the story you want to tell. Do you have a tall, skinny spot above your fireplace for a single, iconic image of your family? Or do you have a large wall where you want to start a family gallery? Perhaps you’d like a coffee table album? Whether you want to dress up a large wall or you want a collection of images, your photographer will know which type of session will give you the images you’ll be proud to display in your home.

Dress for Success

These printed photos will be around for a long time. In 20 years, you’ll want your photos to create warm feelings and happy memories of your loved ones — without the cringing and giggling over dated styles. The goal of any fine portrait is to direct the viewer’s eye to the face in the portrait. So when choosing outfits, pick simple, solid colors and classic, timeless styles rather than hot trends and busy patterns.

Use Props and Pets

If you have an accessory that helps express your family’s unique personality, add it. If your preschooler won’t go anywhere without his superhero cape, let him wear it. Shared hobbies and interests can go in here too. If you’re a family of readers, having everyone pose with their favorite book can add a personal touch. And, of course, including your family pet is a great way to show the special bond you have with your dog or cat and capture the spirit and beauty of your furry pal forever.

Relax and Go with the Flow

Part of having your portraits created is the “experience” of the session. Yet, all too often, parents get worked up when their child isn’t looking at the photographer or smiling “right.” This causes anxiety in the child and robs the photographer of good opportunities for candid portraits. So before the shoot, rest well and come well fed. You’ll want to be in the best possible mood as it helps set the tone for your family. Once on set, relax, smile, and have fun. Seasoned family portrait photographers know how to make you and your children feel comfortable so they can capture the love, affection and expressions that are unique to your family.

Hire a Pro

Everyone is taking pictures these days, and just about anyone clicking a shutter may be lucky enough to land a good shot once in a while. You will be much happier with your photos, though, if you choose a photographer who can consistently produce great images. A professional photographer will have the artistic skills, technical training and experience taking the kind of photos you want. Plus, they will be able to provide you with printing options that will withstand the hardship of time and won’t fade like most home-printed photos.

To find a family portrait photographer in your area, visit