Equal Opportunity Participation

Listen in on an adult conversation, and it won’t be long until you hear someone say, “I wish I had more time with my family. We’re all going our separate ways, and it seems like we never do anything together.”

School and work keep families apart, and other activities, such as pre-school story time, middle school soccer and high school sports are designed for specific age groups. Churches even split families into distinct age groups.

Why not offer recreational activities that keep parents and children together? The following are examples of relaxed and fun time in which all ages can participate at their own level and interest.

Wacky Olympics

While the “real” Olympics has highly skilled athletes, Wacky Olympics lets families compete as a team. Obviously, the scoring system is a bit on the creative side! A few categories include:

· Javelin Throw--See who can toss a Q-tip the farthest.

· Discus Toss--Get out the cotton balls or craft pom-poms and measure who throws the greatest distance.

· Widest Smile--Use a tape measure to record the width of each person’s smile.

· Bike Race--Set up a race about 50 feet from beginning to end. Time each rider to see who is the s-l-o-w-e-s-t to cross the line. The goal is to ride a bike slowly without letting one’s feet touch the ground for balance.

Rube Goldberg Contraptions

Find a picture of a Rube Goldberg invention. Goldberg was a cartoonist who created extremely complicated contraptions to perform simple tasks.

For example, his alarm clock would “sound” once a ball rolled down a ramp and knocked over a bottle, which scared a cat that then jumped on a curtain and released a bucket of water onto the sleeper’s head to wake him or her up.

Hand each family a bag with an assortment of items such as balls, toy cars, balloons, tape, boards, cardboard, blocks and other odds and ends from the storage closet. Each family is to create a machine that will knock over an empty soda can. (Make sure a soda can is included in the bag of goodies.)

Give families 20 to 30 minutes to create their machine. You’ll see that all ages can participate in this activity. Then let each family demonstrate its invention by explaining what should happen, and watch the results. They never are what you expect!

Super-High Egg-Drop Contest

Invite families to create a safe environment for a raw egg. People can bring items, or have an assortment of boxes, paper, packing peanuts, etc. available. Each family has to protect a raw egg in a shatter-proof container.

This activity works best if you have a two-story (or higher) building. A window can be used for this event, but a rooftop drop is more dramatic! One at a time, a staff member drops the eggs, and sees if they remain whole.

Some people use parachutes on their containers and other gravity-slowing devices. One family brought a 6-foot giant stuffed teddy bear. They cut a slit and put their egg inside the bear’s padded stuffing. It was quite a sight to see the parks and recreation staff member toss the bear out a three-story window. Yes, the egg survived.

Family Book Reports

This activity requires advanced preparation for participants. Ask families to select a book and “report” on it to the rest of the group. But this is not an ordinary book report--every family member has to participate in some way. This means people dress up in costumes and act out scenes from the book. Or they can sing a song about it.

One family reported on Little House on the Prairie. The two young girls dressed in their calico dresses and talked about the book while “Ma” passed out homemade bread to the audience. Dad participated too, although he was not a Michael Landon look-alike with suspenders and a straw hat. He dressed in last year’s Halloween costume--a cow with giant udders! Home-school families especially like this activity.

Crazy Infomercial Inventions

We’ve all watched home-shopping channels or late-night infomercials where people sell obscure items. Here’s a chance for families to create their own infomercial.

Give each family an assortment of odds and ends, such as brooms, boxes, streamers, socks, balls, etc. The weirder the items, the better this event will work. Make sure each family gets a roll of masking tape and string to help them make their invention.

Families get 20 to 30 minutes to create an item to sell, using at least four of the items in their bag. This means a family might tie a sock to the end of a broom and attach streamers to the sock. Then they might tape a doll’s head to the middle of the broom and have a whistle dangling from the broom bristles.

Next, the family creates an infomercial. They will have an announcer, someone demonstrating how it works and a person telling how much the item costs. In this case, the family will be selling the “All-In-One Cleaning and Entertaining Broom.” Mom shows how she blows the whistle to call her kids. They come running and sit down to be entertained while Mom sweeps. As she sweeps, the doll’s head and streamers move around, keeping kids amused. No need for TV! Then when Mom starts sweating from all her work, she rubs her brow with the sock at the top of the broom. Can you imagine all this for only three easy payments of $29.95?

There’s always a place for people to be with others their age. It would be pretty tough to interest a 12-year-old boy to attend a pre-school class which is making sock puppets. So whenever possible, include a few programs to help scattered family members laugh and enjoy being together.

Silvana Clark has over 20 years experience helping thousands of children create arts and crafts projects. She presents keynotes and workshops on a variety of recreation-related subjects. She can be reached at (615) 662-7432 or via e-mail at silvanac@msn.com.