My Secret to the Best Weekends for Kids AND Adults

published Jul 10, 2021
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Credit: Jessica Goldman Foung

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Over the years, my Saturdays developed a dependable rhythm. After being awakened by the crow of our youngest family member, we threw on jackets over our PJs and wandered down the street to our favorite coffee shop and then, the neighborhood farmers market. This simple tradition provided a tangible shift from the busy week behind us. But this past year, blurry days were replaced by blurry weeks and months. And nothing seemed to mark the passage of time. Weekends lost their distinct beat. And I desperately wanted a way to crossover from “homeschool/work” mode to “let loose” weekend vibes. 

This is how Surprise Saturdays were born.

Starting in April, I began to kick off each weekend with a themed, surprise day. Some past favorites include: Bubble Day, Carnival Day, Planes Day, and even Disneyland Day — which had us all exhausted by 3 p.m., just like the real deal. And I know: weekly surprise days sounds like a lot of work. But with a theme to guide me and a few quick Google searches, it was pretty easy to cobble together four or five activities that (magically!) lasted the whole day; sometimes, even the whole weekend. And it was worth it. Because, with a little pre-planning, “surprise days” offered my kids something to look forward to and for me, structure to the week. 

Because, with a little pre-planning, “surprise days” offered my kids something to look forward to and for me, structure to the week. 

Every Saturday, I followed the same formula that’s easily adjustable to fit any age or interest. First, I searched the closets for inspiration and materials I already owned. Astronaut costume? Space day! Toy cars? Race day! Old birthday hats? Birthday day! Then, I used the trusty internet to find related activities, crafts, and “academic”-ish lessons. Throw in a cooking or baking project and a little topic-appropriate screen time (whatever you are comfortable with). Make a schedule. And let Surprise Saturdays take the reins for the weekend. 

Here’s a few examples to get you started.

Credit: Jessica Goldman Foung

Favorite Book Day

  • A favorite story or series makes the perfect starting point for a surprise Saturday. Begin by asking your child or children to dress up like their favorite character. This could mean digging through your costume drawer or pulling out the sewing kit or hot glue gun for a little DIY project.
  • Next, make a scavenger hunt inspired by the book. Maybe it is solving clues like Nancy Drew or finding Spot hidden somewhere in the house.
  • For a little academic break, ask them to write a new chapter, draw a new character, or make a map of the different places their favorite character visits.
  • Most stories include a favorite food or special dish (and if not, ask your child to imagine what that might be!). Then get to work in the kitchen to make a snack or meal inspired by the story.
  • Finally, if you’re okay with a little screen time, you can end the day by watching a show or movie based on the book. Or, for a different version of this activity, search for interviews with the author or virtual readings.

Holiday Day

  • Most likely, you already own decorations for your favorite holiday. So pull out that stash and get ready to celebrate — because dates don’t matter anymore. For the purpose of this article, though, let’s go with Halloween.
  • Have your kid or kids help you put up decorations you already own  or make your own! The internet provides plenty of tutorials, from pipe cleaner spiders to homemade trick-or-treat bags. And if you don’t mind pulling out all the sheets from the closet, take your fort building to a new level with an indoor haunted house.
  • Next, work on costumes. Like Book Day, this can be a combo of using old costumes and making new ones with paper, cloth, tinfoil, and anything else you can find.
  • For your kitchen project, what’s better than making your own sweets? Check out these 20 easy recipes, from Frankenstein Fingers to pumpkin-flavored cookies. 
  • Take a science break to make spooky slime or gooey oobleck. Set up your own blind-folded sensory table with “worm spaghetti” or “grape eyeballs.” Or print out an age appropriate, Halloween-themed “spot the difference” quiz or crossword puzzle.
  • Finally, it’s time to trick-or-treat. Mark a few doors or areas in your home with numbers 1 through 4. Choose one adult or older child to wait at the first stop and then quickly switch to the next one. Make it extra fun and silly by changing costumes each time. And either hand out those homemade treats you made earlier or make little paper tickets for the kids to redeem their edible prizes at the end.
Credit: Jessica Goldman Foung

Olympics Day

  • The official Olympics may be on hold for now. But that doesn’t mean you can’t host your own at home. Start with a little education on the history of the Olympics. Search for videos that explore its birthplace, traditions of the opening ceremony, or some of the newer sports. With the help of AirBnB experiences, you can even meet a real Olympic or Paralympic athlete!
  • Next, get a little crafty. Create your own torch passing by building one out of paper and playing “pin the flame” on a larger piece of decorated cardboard. Or add in a little science and spark by making a “torch volcano” with the help of baking soda and some vinegar. Or spend time designing your own Olympic rings.
  • To use up all that energy, set up your own series of competitions. Use pillow cases for potato bag races. Set up a long jump (or long hop!) area. Use ribbon and a chopstick for a rhythmic gymnastics routine. Or have kids create a new sport of their own imagination. And because on this surprise day everyone wins, have them make gold medals for all.
  • Finally, head to the kitchen for your own closing ceremonies. Pick a country, play the national anthem, and pick a traditional dish or dessert to make and enjoy.