When I first started entertaining my three kids by myself on Saturdays, I thought, “Where do we go? What do I do? Where’s the instruction manual for spending the day just with Dad… and will I need power tools?”
What I learned from listening and watching them, though, is that it’s easy to make the mistake of trying too hard; the trick is taking it easy. We call it “Lazy Dadurday,” a carefree day when all of us — including Dad — are doing just what we want, even when that means doing close to nothing at all.
Below are some tips and very inexpensive ideas and activities for at-work fathers to make the most of their own Dadurdays:
Own the Saturday (or Sunday)
Arrange with your spouse (or ex-spouse) to routinely “own” Saturdays (some or all) to spend alone with the kids, even if you stay at home. Spending time alone with your kids creates a healthy, unique bond between you and them, free to do what only you and they like, and free of others’ expectations. And your partner will likely appreciate the break!
The Cereal Life
Sugary cereals — if reserved for weekends — won’t alarm the dentist but will excite the kids. Kids love picking their own cereals, choosing their own bowls, and pouring their own milk. (I always keep some milk in a cheap plastic syrup dispenser in the refrigerator. It’s much easier for them to hold.)
For kids, nothing’s lazier or more fun than watching a favorite movie in their pajamas. And remember, a film doesn’t have to be new to be new to them. My kids recently enjoyed classics like "E.T.", "Fly Away Home", and "Spy Kids". Scan your TV listings for films on free and pay channels, and save them on your DVR. Watch with them, and feel free to tell your kids if you think it was terrible!
What’s in Store
Some dads love fishing, others NASCAR, others auto care. Me? I enjoy shopping at discount stores… and now so do my kids. We turn regular errand trips into shopping list scavenger hunts, ride the big red carts like sanitation workers, and see how many bottles of my favorite flavored carbonated water they can find and bring back to the cart. All this before we even hit the toy aisle. When we get to the parking lot, I shake up one of the carbonated water bottles really good, and let it rip! They love it!
A Frisbee, a few whiffle balls, a cheap kids’ bat, and a soft soccer ball are all we need to see some major sports action in our local park. We take turns pitching and hitting, playing ultimate Frisbee, and striker-goalie (a four-person version of soccer). Occasionally we’ll have Olympic-style events: the flying disc throw, the long jump, the high-bounce. Mixing up various activities is a good way to keep enthusiasm up and sibling-competition down.
Hunt for Movie Contraband
We go to the movies from time to time, but have just as much fun hitting a supermarket the hour before, loading up on cheap, generic bags of yummy treats, then "sneaking them into the theater" in our pockets and socks. (Movie theater ushers don’t exactly work for the Department of Homeland Security).
I always keep reams of white paper and a tray of magic markers handy for coloring. I also keep a bowl of folded-paper picture-starters like "a flying superhero", "monsters in the closet" and "animal birthday party." (Kids can help create the ideas.) When done, we slip the completed works of art into three-holed clear plastic sheets for safe storage in cheap three-ring binders. They love reviewing their work this way, and it’s much easier than framing.
It may seem like a pain to you, but kids love matching and rolling socks — and they like responsibility. Dump a bunch of unsorted socks and whatever over their heads and let them do the work. My kids also like sorting my multivitamins (they’re old enough to do this without eating them), and the silverware from the dishwasher. I’m still training them to do my taxes.
This is How We Roll
My dad used to have my brother and me find and collect lose change and roll it up, and now I’m doing the same with my kids. Not only do they learn to count and appreciate money, but I also give them a 5% commission — which we go out and spend immediately at the local dollar store.
Give 'Em Shelter
Kids love playing with animals, but they appreciate helping homeless animals even more. With your kids, collect newspapers, old blankets, and canned food from the neighborhood and bring them to a local pet shelter. Petting helps them, too, naturally.
Goodwill is more than a place for donations. The money they raise goes to job-training for people with disabilities, an idea that school kids can easily understand. So, a bags-in-hand trip to Goodwill is fun, free and meaningful. (And the toys are cheap!)
Joel Schwartzberg is a nationally-published personal essayist and author of The 40-Year-Old Version, an award-winning collection of essays about fatherhood. He has three children — a son and twin daughters.