An easy way to get moving as a family after school—no scheduling required

I find it hard to motivate myself to get outside as a family after school. I have all the excuses in the world from “My child is tired and needs some down time” to “I have so many errands to do and this is a great time to check a bunch off the list!”

Whether you stay home with younger children, work from home, or commute to the office, the pre-dinner period is always rushed with groceries to buy, a house that refuses to clean itself, and dinner to start, yet again. Suddenly letting the kids entertain themselves (usually with video games and screen time) seems very appealing, rather than a family walk or outdoor activity together.

Fortunately, I have found one small tool that works wonders to motivate my family to get outside more after school, in the evenings, and on the weekends. It challenges me to briefly forget about the neverending to-do list and to head out somewhere fun (even if I have to stop by Tim Hortons on the way for a quick energy boost). And it all starts with just a piece of paper!

Create a monthly active family bucket list

At the beginning of every month, I sit down with a piece of paper (I’m partial to brightly coloured construction paper) and I create a big bingo grid with at least 12 boxes. Inside each box, I write down something fun that I want to do as a family outside this month. I call it my monthly “fun list” and we try to check off as many activities as we can each month.

I put our monthly bucket list up on the fridge so that we have a daily reminder of our goals and so that we can check them off with a bright marker whenever we complete something. And yes, I’m a goal-setting freak, but it really does work—even if you don’t normally set goals or thrive on being super organized. 

The brilliance of monthly bucket lists for the “non-planners” out there is that you don’t have to plan everything ahead of time. You look at the list in the afternoon and randomly pick something depending on your family mood, energy levels, willingness to drive beyond your neighbourhood, and time constraints. And you could offer a reward for completing a certain number of activities on the list (perhaps a family pizza and movie night at the end of the month).

Tips for creating your bucket list:

  • See if you can come up with at least one or two activities that can be done outside after school or even after dinner.
  • Add a few indoor activities for those cold or dreary days.
  • Include a few activities that extend past the “after school” time frame. I like to include both activities for at home and day trip ideas that we can do on a weekend or on a school PD day.
  • You don’t have to break the bank! Choose activities that are affordable, that cost no money, and that can be done close to home. I then include a few special activities that require splurging for the weekend.
  • You don’t have to buy new equipment for the activities on your list. If you choose to invest in an activity, make sure it will be something that you plan to enjoy on an ongoing basis (example, a subscription to a geocaching app, a trail app for hiking, or a few starter discs for your local disc golf course).
  • Focus on activities that don’t require registration and that can be done as a whole family. You don’t need to sign the kids up for lessons or enroll them in a club.
  • Get the kids involved in creating the list (and set a monthly budget if you have to).

10 activities to add to your early winter bucket list:

  1. Go for a family bike ride or walk on cleared pathways around your neighbourhood or city
    This can even be done in the evening if you have bike lights or headlamps. And if your children are able to bike or walk to school, consider picking them up and extending your bike ride or walk home for a longer tour of the neighbourhood, perhaps visiting a new playground on the way home or grabbing hot chocolate and a treat at a nearby coffee shop. (Our Tim Hortons loop home from school is always met with great approval.)
  2. Visit a new playground or stay at your school playground after you pick the kids up
    Again, this can be done in the evening as well if you bring headlamps.
  3. Go sledding at a local hill or choose a location with lights for evening fun
    If your children have a hill near their school, you can pick them up with sleds (and a snack) and go straight to the hill. You could even splurge with a visit to a local tube park if you have a ski hill in your city.
  4. Invest in a few starter discs and try disc golf if you have a course near your house
    The rules can be found online and you can use a regular frisbee in a pinch if you want to try it out. Disc golf can be played year-round if you’re going through a low-snow period in your city or if you attach some colourful ribbons to your discs to find under the snow.
  5. Go swimming at a local pool, visit an indoor activity park, trampoline park, climbing gym, or arena for public skating
    There’s no shortage of fun places to spend a few hours as a special treat when kids get out of school early Friday afternoon.
  6. Get memberships for your local zoo
    We love spending a few hours at our zoo on a PD day where there are many indoor buildings to warm up in. Ours also has playgrounds open year-round and fun holiday-themed events in December.
  7. Try geocaching as a family
    It’s a fun outdoor activity that can be done year round with a free app that you put on your smartphone. You can also pay for a premium subscription if you plan to get serious about the activity and want access to more caches around your city. The best part about this is that you’ll get out for a great walk as a family and discover new trails and pathways in your neighbourhood or city.
  8. Visit a local rink or pond for some outdoor ice skating
    Skating outside is a great experience for many, and lots of city facilities are lit up at night as well, making this a great after-dinner activity. Alternately, many city parks have cross-country ski trails if you enjoy this sport and have the equipment. Bring headlamps if you want to ski in the evening.
  9. Look for nighttime winter festivals, especially through the month of December
    In my city, we have several festivals where you can go for a family walk, or try ice skating, sledding, or cross-country skiing under beautiful holiday lights. Alternately, go for a holiday walk around your neighbourhood in the evening to enjoy the lights and decorations through your community.
  10. Try night skiing at a local ski hill in your city if you have the equipment
    Many ski hills offer discount nights and affordable rates for evening skiing.

Afternoons and evenings can be a magical time to reconnect as a family and stay active together year round. A bit of creativity goes a long way and with a small amount of planning each month, you’ll have a great list of fun activities to try.

What are some ideas you’re thinking of putting on your list? Share with us in the comments—we’d love to hear them!

Photos courtesy of Tanya Koob.


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