Pop quiz: What toy does your child most want to play with this summer?
It's a trick question.
"Believe it or not, you are your child's favorite play toy," family therapist, blogger and mother of two Amy Wickstrom tells ParentDish.
Wickstrom, a contributor to Working Mother, OC Family and more, also writes the blog More Than a Toy. She tells ParentDish it is important for parents to play with their children, especially during the summer when kids have more time and their hands and are crying out for parental interaction.
"Most children would do anything to have their busy parents get on the floor and play with them, especially in their early years," Wickstrom tells ParentDish. "Take 10 or 15 minutes to give them your undivided attention and interact with them and the toys they are playing with."
Need some suggestions?
"Do a family craft," Wickstrom suggests. "Run to your local craft store and pick out a craft to do with your child (such as building a bird house). Build enthusiasm for it by including your child in choosing what the craft will be, picking out the supplies together, learning about it more (for example, if doing a bird house, research different kinds of birds with your child and find out which birds visit your yard, etc.) and determining the time you will do it (simple crafts can be done in one sitting, but other crafts, such as building a model plane, could be done over several weeks during the summer)."
Some of the simplest games create the most lasting memories, she adds, such as hide-and-go-seek.
"One of my favorite memories as a child was playing kick the can and hide-and-go-seek with the other kids on my street," Wickstrom tells ParentDish. "Sadly, our age of technology often squelches a child's natural tendency to be outside and play with other children. Simple, all-time favorite childhood games are disappearing."
You can help combat that trend with a trip to the library, she says.
"Parents can take their kids to the local library to pick out a book and read it together there," she says. "Many libraries have special rooms just for children that are filled with toys and sometimes a stage with props for story time. This helps engage children in their imagination, have quality time with a parent and develop their reading skills. It also keeps them accustomed to old fashioned books instead of eBooks.
Websites such as FrugalDad.com have some other low-cost ways to build lifelong memories. Here are a few:
1. See a $1 movie. Many theaters offer summer movie programs for kids. If you're not so lucky, consider a movie day at home with a rental or streaming online video.
2. Hold Sprinkler Day. Delay your sprinklers for one day so they come on a little later in the morning. Then everyone can get in their bathing suits and jump through the sprinklers on a hot day. This also conserves water and reduces utility costs.
3. Go fly a kite. Check the 10-day forecast and look for a windy day in the coming week. Pick up a cool kite for the kids.
4. Make homemade Play-Doh. It's basically just water and flour. There are all sorts of recipes available online.
5. Build a "fort" in the living room. You remember this from when you were a kid. All it takes are some cushions and a sofa. If you want to get all fancy, you can use some large boxes and (with parental supervision, of course) some box cutters.
6. Go bowling. Bowling alleys often have special rates for families and will put out the bumpers so kids don't roll gutter balls.
7. Have a water pistol fight. Water pistols are often no more than $2. Pick up a couple and have a duel. If you want to make it a teachable moment, read up on the history and etiquette of dueling and make that part of the experience.
8. Hold Pajama Day. Stay in your pajamas all day.
9. Spend a day volunteering. There are lots of places you can volunteer and teach kids the importance of helping out. One idea might be the local Humane Society.
10. Have your kids come up with their own shirt designs, then have a custom T-shirt printing service print them up.