The Ultimate Guide to TV-Free, Family-Building Activities

“You can’t beat something with nothing.”Gary North

We all know that plopping the family down in front of the TV every night is not the best choice of family-building activites. But what other options do we have?

How can we try to lead our families in tv-free activities without alarms going off, screams of treason ringing through the home, and a possible mutiny on our hands? Because that’s exactly what we’ll get if we try to rip away the source of everyone’s regular evening stimulation without replacing it with something better. Especially if it’s been a long-standing family tradition. Old traditions are hard to break; and new ones are a pain to start.

We don’t want to be known as the dad or husband who sucked all the fun out of the home.

Then again, maybe we’re the ones with the problem, and just can’t seem to quit watching those all-inspiring re-runs of Walker, Texas Ranger; or following every game, highlight reel, and commentary on our favorite sports team.

The US national average of 4-5hrs per day of TV is a substantial foe to go up against. And having lived in Asia for over 12 years, I know for a fact that it’s not an epidemic limited to the western world.  If we’re going to take on the world-wide juggernaut of “every-night-is-family-TV-night,” and hope to succeed, then:

We’ve got to be strategic in our battle plan.

What Are Our Options?

Option 1:

Sure, you can go cold turkey- unplug the TV, and toss it out the nearest open window. Or hide it in the attic, basement, or garage. But unless your family’s TV-watching is at addictive levels this might not be the wisest choice of action. Your family deserves an explanation of your new conviction, and someday that TV (a tool) actually might come in handy.

Option 2:

If we want to increase our chances of successfully transforming family-time into something that builds up the family, then we have to replace what we’ve been doing with something even better.

Think of it this way- you are like Indiana Jones, the TV is the idol, and the bag of sand is actually your bag of awesome TV-free family activities.

But instead of grabbing the TV and running for your life, you’re going to strategically place the other activities in front of your family and let them see that these family-building activities are actually made of gold.

Hold it Right There!

Now I know, some of you are thinking- “Hey Stephen, you’re using a movie analogy to bring the point home that we should stop watching TV. Pfwah!! Isn’t that a bit hypocritical?”

Listen, I’m not saying that ALL TV watching is bad or equal to idolatry- some of it can be quite good, but I think the problem is that most families watch far too much TV.

The problem with watching lots of TV is that it’s hard to consistently filter it, and avoid having your conscience violated. Not to mention the often-overlooked opportunity cost of what TV does to your sensibilities, and what your family is missing out on by not doing things together.

I think we need to tip the scales the other way with more family-inclusive, productive activities. Agreed? Great!

And after doing some of these family-strengthening activities for awhile you all will begin to see the following:

  • That being and doing things together with your family is enjoyable and rewarding.
  • That your family is growing closer together, more united, stronger, and happier.
  • Your home will feel more peaceful and less chaotic.
  • The neighbor kids might start popping up more often to see all the cool stuff you’re doing with your family.

So without further ado, here is my ultimate list of 8 great family-building, family-strengthening activities (in no particular order) that you can lead your family in, starting today! Enjoy!

#1 Read Out-Loud to the Family

Here are some general suggestions on reading out-loud to your family:

  1. Pick a book that would be interesting for most family members.
  2. Bust out your family’s favorite snacks and drinks, and make story time, party time! They’ll love you for this!
  3. Have everyone find a comfortable spot to sit in, in the living room or in a bed room.
  4. Allow for family members to draw, knit, or make crafts while listening, if they want. Their hands will be busy but their minds will be more focused on your reading. Counterintuitive, I know, but it works!
  5. Read the story with varying emotion, inflection (punctuating certain words), and rhythm.
  6. Read from a wide variety of genres. You’ll eventually have a pretty good idea about what’s best for your family.
  7. Allow for questions and discussion of the text. Discussion will create some golden moments that really bond you together with your family.
  8. Make a reading list so that you’ll have something lined up when you finish your current book.

This activity will help increase the family’s communication skills as they discuss what’s being read; increase vocabulary as they hear new words; and increase imagination as their minds conjure up images of what’s being read. Reading on a Kindle has the added benefit of having a built-in dictionary for conveniently looking-up new words. I use this feature all the time when I’m reading on my Kindle! It’s great!

#2 Go on a Walk, Hike, or Bike-Ride

Regardless if you live in the city or in the countryside, going on a walk, hike, or bike-ride as a family is a win-win for everyone. The benefits include:

  1. Exercise for the whole family!
  2. Going on a stroll through the neighborhood actually gives you a chance to meet your neighbors!
  3. Going on a nature-walk, hike, or bike-ride gives you a chance to apply Deut. 6:5-7 and talk about God, His word, and His creation. Try to ask your children questions about what they see, how they’re feeling, and how God relates to it all.
  4. Sometimes teens don’t like talking face-to-face with parents. Going on a walk gives you a less-confrontational opportunity to talk with each other, because you’re all facing in the direction that you’re walking. This is a strategic way to get them to open up!

If you live in a dangerous or unpleasant part of town, consider driving to a safe park, or somewhere farther away.

#3 Make Something Together

There are a million things you can create in the home, garage, or backyard. There is nothing better than using your God-given time to be productive and creative. It makes everyone feel good when their time, energy, and creativity is translated into something they can see and feel, use, or even eat!

  • Make Crafts: Paper Airplanes, Scrapbooks, Origami.
  • Build Something: Check out for some cool paid-for project ideas.
  • Science Projects: Make learning fun! Check out this Website.
  • Wood Projects: Start small and work your way up. Here is a good place to Start.
  • Cook in the Kitchen: Jamie Oliver knows his stuff, check out his family snack ideas HERE!

#4 Performance Night

There are so many things that could be performed for the rest of the family. If you have the performer/s standing in front of everyone, it’s a little more exciting than just having everyone sit down on the couch together.

  1. Instruments: Perform songs that you are currently learning on whatever instruments you have at home.
  2. Recitation: Children can recite a recent essay they wrote. Recite Bible verses, stories, or poetry
  3. Sing: Take turns singing your favorite songs to the rest of the family.
  4. Tell Stories: Share funny or interesting stories from when you were young. Share what happened this week.
  5. Acting: Pick a Bible story and act it out: David & Goliath, The Good Samaritan, Daniel and the Lions Den, The Prodigal Son, etc.

Most schools and work environments require some form of public speaking or group performance. Family performance night will help everyone work on their stage-presence and help getting over stage-fright!

#5 Game Night

Who doesn’t remember childhood memories massaging Monopoly money in your hands, rolling the dice while shouting, “Big Money, Big Money!” and the excitement of getting paid when someone lands on your newly purchased property? Card and board games can be a great gateway for family-interaction and improve math & money skills, hand-eye-coordination, logic, debate, communication, spelling, and more. Here’s a list of some classic and not-so-classic games:

Classic Family Games
Serious Board Games (Suitable for Older Children)

Please let me know what’s your favorite game in the comment section below.

#6 Plant a Garden

The Bible is full of imagery, parables, and stories related to gardening, and farming. Through the process of preparing the land, planting seeds, weeding, pruning, fertilizing, watering and harvesting your family can learn so much about life, death, and eternity. Not to mention the following benefits:

  1. Exercise for the whole family.
  2. The joy of watching things grow.
  3. The harvest from whatever you plant.

It’s like life-science, geography, PE, nutrition, and economics class all rolled into one, but without the boring lectures, heavy textbooks, abstract jargon, and smelly locker rooms. Say hello to fresh air, organic greens, a happy heart, and improved overall health. If you don’t have any land, or simply want to bring some of the outdoors into your home you can consider buying and caring for a terrarium (if you’re in Portland, OR area check out Roosevelt’s Terrariums).

#7 Clean the House Together

There is little that compares with the joy you get when you spend your time and energy managing and maintaining what God has given you. And what better way to build character, a strong-wor ethic, and keep the home in tip-top shape than cleaning the home as a family. Benefits include, but are not limited to:

  1. A cleaner home, which leads to parental-peace and sanity.
  2. Family exercise.
  3. Improved management skills for everyone.
  4. Children won’t grow up to be lazy, and have a sense of entitlement.
  5. A greater sense of responsibility.
  6. A great reminder of the organization motto: “Everything Has it’s Place, and Kind Goes with Kind.”

Some possible steps to make this work in your home:

  • Pick one room to focus on, one night each week.
  • Teach everyone your cleaning strategy.
  • Put all items that don’t belong in that room at the foot of the doorway, and take them to their rightful place after the entire room is cleaned.
  • Delegate tasks by ability levels.
  • How to Teach New Tasks: (1) Tell what’s expected, (2) Show how to do it, (3) Do it together, (4) Supervise while they do it, (5) Allowing for independent cleaning.
  • Turn on some music, or sing while you work. This lightens the mood, and lifts the spirits.

End the activity on a positive note. Snacks for everyone, and a cold drink to wash it down. Mission accomplished!

#8 Family Sports and Recreation

One of the best things your family can do together is exercise. Here’s a quick list of great family-building sports and exercises you can do.

  1. Play basketball: Go to a nearby school or gym, or better yet, set up a hoop on the front of the garage, or in the driveway. Hint- For full family enjoyment, don’t crush your wife and little ones by blocking every shot, stealing the ball, or always showing off your 360 dunks on an 8 foot rim.  It’s not cool, and you won’t win their hearts that way. Teach them the game, allow occasional traveling and double-dribbling. Improvise, be creative, make up new rules. It may seem un-manly, but if it’s family-time, make sure everyone is a winner.
  2. Play other sports: soccer, baseball, tag, or kickball.
  3. Trampoline: Set up a trampoline in the back yard. Or better yet, do what my dad did, and dig a gigantic hole and set the trampoline flush with the ground level. A well-built, full-sized trampoline will provide endless hours of exercise and fun for the whole family. And it also makes a great place to lay down and catch some rays on pleasant summer days.
  4. Dance Night: Have everyone dress up. Bring out the snacks and drinks. Turn on some music, and have a dance party. If you can’t dance, like me, feel free to close the living room curtains, and lock the doors for added privacy.
  5. Nerf-Battles in the Home: For added fun, play scenarios like elimination, capture the flag, or night-time battles with the lights-out. Just make sure to move fragile items so you don’t hear the splintering crash of shattering glass, and blood-curdling screams from some dark corner of the house. Safety goggles and bike helmets might be a good idea when the lights are out. You can also tape mini flashlights to the guns and bow and arrows for extra spy-ness action.
  6. Living-Room Fort: Turn the living room couch and arm-chair over, cover it with bed-sheets, turn on a fan, pad the ground with blankets. Turn on a box fan under the bed sheets to have it fill up completely. Watch the kids eye’s light up. Don’t worry about damaging the furniture, you’re investing in your children, and they’ll think you’re the best Dad ever. Which you are.

Build Some Walls

Family building activities are not easy, but they are really worth the effort. That’s why it’s so important to protect your family-time from distractions or sabotage. Here are some tips to help make sure your efforts are not wasted.

  • Beware of Smart Phones:  Many parents and teenagers spend more time on their cellphones than they do talking with each other. Shut them off, or make them off-limits for family-time. Family connections are more important than internet connection.  Set up boundaries and stick to them. Fight for your family. It’s worth the battle.
  • Take Baby-steps: Instead of tossing the TV in the garbage, You might simply want to cover the TV with a beautiful piece of fabric, so as to make it less of a temptation and central-focus in the home. Or maybe move it into another room for when you want to watch a DVD.
  • Avoid activities where some family members are excluded, it get’s too competitive, or the activity causes fighting. We’re trying to build the family, and not tear it down or divide it.
  • Schedule it until it becomes a habit: Remember that change can be painful, and starting a new habit takes hard work and time. You don’t have to get it perfect right out of the gate. Pace yourself. Don’t give up. Try something out, get feedback from your family, make adjustments, and try again. Your family will eventually reap a fruitful harvest of unity, productivity, and joy, but you’ve got to stay the course.

In Conclusion

Hopefully this post has been helpful in giving you some action-steps to take your family-time to the next level. Not many guys take a pro-active approach to leading family time, so if you do, you’ll be one of the few. Your family is waiting for you to lead. So go ahead, Indiana, make your move!

Question: I know I’ve probably missed some of your favorite ideas above. What is your favorite tv-free family activity? Please let me know in the comments below, and maybe i’ll add it to the list!

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