Sure, toys make kids happy, but spending one-on-one time with parents makes them absolutely ecstatic. Put one of the following outings on next week’s to-do list.
Make small talk. "I do something I call ‘boy on my back’ with my three-year-old," says Nick Morgan, dad of two in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. "At bedtime, I lay on his bed and he lays on my back and we talk about what happened during the day, then we go through all of his friends at preschool and say ‘night-night’ to them individually. We both look forward to it every day."
Explore the outdoors. "I take nature outings with my twins," says Kristi Morris, a mom of two in Incline, Nevada. "We spend several hours collecting our favorite things, like pretty leaves, then when we get home, and we put them into a book. With my help, we write what the item is, where it was found, and why it makes them think of that particular season."
Turn errands into fun time. "My 3-year-old daughter and I love our weekly routine of going to the grocery store together," says Paul Shrater, a father of two in Simi Valley, California. "We get the ‘car buggy’ and she helps hold the bag open for the produce or picks it out and places it in the bag. Sometimes we’ll even buy a treat that we share on our drive back home."
Create something special. Erin Wing, a mom of three in Issaquah, Washington, has put together alphabet books with her young children. She’ll take photos of her kids’ favorite things or stuff around the house, then assemble them in a notebook, letting the kids draw the corresponding letters—say, "C" for a photo of their cat. It teaches kids the alphabet and, she says, "It’s fun time together."
Don’t worry about what you do. "It is not about what activity is done together, it is about relating and connecting," says Fran Walfish, a child and family therapist in Beverly Hills, California. "You can dig for worms in the back, take a walk around the block counting dogs and kitty cats, or go into the kitchen and let your child scoop you ice-cream cones. The key is making eye contact, placing your arms around your child, and experiencing pure pleasure."