family in the kitchen having breakfast together (family bonding with older kids)

For my busy family, the evenings are full of afterschool activities, practices, homework, showers, then straight to bed. Add in teens and tweens wanting to “hang out” with friends (don’t call it a play date, mom!) and I sometimes go to bed feeling like the last half of the day was a total blur without time to connect or even just have fun with the kids!

Of course, evenings are also busy for me as I drive here, there, and everywhere to coordinate all of the above activities! So low-cost, easy-to-set-up, quick activities are my go-to for “forced family fun” during the week. Here are my five go-to ideas (that work!) for family bonding during busy weeknights: 

1. Go screen free for awhile

Create a screen-free time zone for EVERYONE (including yourself). It may be just the 45 minutes after dinner, but it creates space for us to talk, play with the dog, and maybe even pull out some long-forgotten toys. I read somewhere that it takes 20 minutes for kids to go from bored to entertaining themselves. In my little focus group of three children, it seems to work!

2. Bring a board game to dinner

Stretch out family dinner with an ongoing board game. We recently started Clue during dinner on a Tuesday night, then we picked it back up for the next couple of nights until the game was finished. It gave us something to talk about and helped us linger around the dinner table a little longer for family bonding beyond our meal time. This works with good old fashioned games like Monopoly, Risk, and Settlers of Catan. (Tip! Before buying a new game, check your local library. Our library, the Duxbury Free Library, has these games and more available for checkout with your regular library card.)

3. Play a few “minute to win it” games

Have just five minutes? No problem! Minute-to-win-it-style games are quick and fun, and they typically only require things you already have on hand. A quick Google search can give you ideas, or check out this downloadable idea list from the blog Home and Kind. My kids have really gotten on board with these activities, and typically, even after the games are done, we continue our conversations or play a second round. 

4. Work together

Believe it or not: chores. There may be pushback, but there is no denying the family bonding that can happen when working together to accomplish something. Have the whole family help fold a few baskets of laundry or pick up the yard. The act of doing something together and being able to see the results can end up being fun. To take the sting out of the chores, blast the kids’ favorite music or put an episode of “America’s Funniest Home Videos” on in the background — everyone might end up having fun! 

5. Make the most of that time in the car

An experienced mom once told me, “Always offer to drive.” With a car full of kids, they often forget you’re there, and it can be a wonderful opportunity to catch glimpses of their growing senses of humor or hear them debrief the game with teammates. Other times, the one-on-one moments are priceless — like when a buddy is sitting up front with me and tells me about his crush on an upperclassman! Of course, I can’t always drive, but I treasure the many car chats I’ve been a part of with my kids!