The Cure for the Family Summer Doldrums: Catholic Family Fun by Sarah Reinhard

Right now the wind may have gone out of your summer sails and family time together may be more about feudin’ and fightin’ than enjoying each others’ company.

I’ve got the solution. How about trying:

  • Unbirthday Party
  • Mystery Food Night
  • Backyard Circus
  • Silly Story Hour

Catholic Family Fun is a guide families can use for having a great time together, often using supplies from around the house or just plain imagination. Sarah Reinhard has a variety of ingenious ways to have fun in an old fashioned way that doesn’t seem “old fashioned.” The headings alone point you in the right direction. Who can resist Silly Things to Do Together, Story Starters, or Outdoor Adventures?

Each activity has a several variations, starters to help you get going, faith angles, and a way to “make it yours.” There must be over a hundred possibilities when you consider all the alternatives. Some of these are activities that we did with our children when they were little but many of the variations are new to me. I’d have loved this book as an idea generator for a way to grow closer to the kids.

In keeping with the faith theme, the sections Faith with Fun, Ways to Serve, Saints to Celebrate and Praying Together are all just as fun and ingenious as the rest of the book. Somehow I never thought of doing the housework together while singing the Divine Mercy chaplet but just thinking about the house ringing with that song is one that makes me smile.

Although it is Catholic Family Fun, you could easily give it to families who don’t care about the Catholic angle. Fun is fun no matter what a family does or doesn’t believe. In the faith areas, many of the service ideas, for example, work just as well for any faith orientation with a bit of creative tweaking.

Just reading this book cast my memory back to sleepovers our girls would have when the big event was a musical show. The kids planned, costumed, and scripted it using Disney soundtracks. The next morning, all the parents got a show. Nothing we bought them could have given the fun and excitement they had from those evenings. This book is full of similar ways of “making” your own good times.

Full disclosure: when this book showed up in the mail, I immediately began thinking of which young mother of my acquaintance would be the recipient. Certainly, I planned on reading a few sample chapters at best. Therefore, this book’s best testimony is that a third of the way into it, I was wishing I’d had it when my children were small and planning to tuck it away thinking “grandchildren someday.”

Families with small children or grandchildren need this book. Period. If I had the cash, I’d keep a supply on hand to distribute to my many friends with small children. This could not only save their sanity but give them the reputation as the most fun mom on the block.

I will leave you with this lengthy excerpt because it makes the point about what a treasure this book is much better than I can. I chose this because I could easily imagine how much fun my husband and the kids would have had planning a course and then coming up with other variations. It shows how flexibility and creativity are the order of the day so that you can get on with having the fun.

Obstacle Course

Prep: High 2-4 hours
Duration: Less than 1 hour
Cost: Medium

My adult love of obstacle courses began recently, when a friend whose house is a frequent landing place for us suggested using an obstacle course setup to teach some math concepts. Watching our then-preschoolers laughing, and then observing how they started playing and modifying on their own, I was hooked.

I began to see the backyard as a canvas. Add some simple ingredients—a hula hoop, some lawn chairs, a folding table, a sawhorse, some PVC pipe, a ball or two, a baby pool, and anything that strikes your fancy from the house or garage. Spend a little time arranging, and voila! An obstacle course!

You may not have a large backyard—or even any backyard—but a room in your house, cleared out, could just as easily host your obstacle course. For that matter, you can build a miniature obstacle course on your kitchen table and race marbles or small objects through it.

Here are some of my ideas for obstacle courses. Let them spark your imagination—and be sure to get input from your family. You may find that creating and building the course if part of the fun!

1. The Whole Body Challenge: This is the full-blown backyard version of the idea. Gather your materials and dedicate an evening to devising and building an obstacle course. These tasks could be part of your family fun agenda.

a. Materials you could use: lawn chairs, buckets, small balls (plastic or foam), beach ball, sports balls (soccer, basketball), PVC pipe, baby pool, folding table, backyard play structures, rope, hula hoops, cardboard boxes, bandanas (for blindfolds), safety cones (overturned buckets, old tires, laundry baskets, or large cardboard boxes can serve the same purpose).

b. A few obstacle ideas to get things started:

  • Balance beam: lay a length of or a plank (wood or cardboard) along the  ground. The object is to walk along it.
  • Ball toss: place a bucket a distance away from a pile of balls. Toss the balls into the bucket. Bonus for doing it blind-folded.
  • Crawl: line up a row of chairs (or a long bench) and crawl underneath it.
  • Kicking weave: Put safety cones (or overturned buckets) in a row, with a beach or soccer ball at the end. Weave among them, kicking the ball.
  • Repetition on the play set: find a way to use the different parts of your backyard play set. Go up and down the slide three times or swing five times back and forth. Try the same course backward—either facing backward or doing things in the opposite order.

2. Tabletop obstacle course …


3. Croquet with a twist …

Faith Angle

  1. Life Obstacles …
  2. Old Testament obstacle course: Build an obstacle course around an Old Testament Bible story. For example, you could use a sandbox for a desert and have a wading pool nearby for a sea, and then have everyone sprint to escape the Egyptians (reference Exodus 14). You could build a maze—life size using cardboard or smaller using toilet paper rolls—for the 40 years the Israelites spent wandering in the desert, winding up with a feast in the “Holy Land.”
  3. Saint Obstacles …
Make It Yours
  • Make it a race to the finish! Use a stopwatch to time the participants as they go through the courses.
  •  Pair up into teams. Have one team build the course and the other team go through it. who built the harder course? Who completed it faster?
  • Relays are always a fun way to change things up. Give each team a stick to serve as a baton; if the baton drops, the team has to start over.

About Julie Davis

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