At-Home Family Night Activities You Haven’t Thought of Yet

Well, here we are, at home with our kids. Even as everything creeps towards reopening, many of us would rather remain on the safe side by keeping calm and staying home. And even if you’re starting to venture out a bit, the reality holds that the kids are still there, out of school, at home every day. So you may be in the market for a few ways to spend those evenings cooped up together — beyond just seven-days-a-week movie marathons.

After all, it can be tough enough to get kids to want to participate in family activities — especially when they hit those very, um, special tween/teen ages. But the truth of the matter is this: When those angsty kids reach adulthood, family nights are the times they’ll look back on and remember fondly. So how do you get your kids to take part in family nights and actually look forward to them? By planning fun events that are undeniably worth doing.

While we love Netflix (doesn’t everyone?), plopping down for a binge doesn’t exactly bring on the bonding. The right activities, however, can encourage your family to interact with one another more — instead of just with that screen.

Beyond movie night

Yes, as we mentioned, it’s easy to cue up a movie and chill out. But it’s also (surprisingly) easy to amp up the family-movie fun factor without going overboard. Just create some tickets (index cards, y’all) and a concession stand (popcorn and candy or go healthy with veggies and dip) and set it all up on your kitchen counter or a table — oh, and have everyone pay with fake money. It’ll be a huge hit with the kids.

Make your own movie

Help your kids work together to plan out a home movie (most smartphones can handle recording video, and there are even apps you can use to edit and make it into a super-cool movie, complete with music).

Camp out (or in)

Camping is for the hardiest of folks, right? Not necessarily, especially if you just pitch a tent in your backyard — or your living room. That way, there’s indoor plumbing available. And while a campfire sounds like good fun, it’s not always practical (in high winds or bad weather) or safe (don’t light a campfire inside your house, OK?). So instead of roasting marshmallows over an open flame, you can make s’mores inside with one of these easy recipes. Sleeping bags, lanterns, scary stories and all that togetherness will be sure to make your “campout” supreme.

(Non-boring) board games


Board games are another obvious choice, but is there really a substitute for good-natured family competition? Whether you have old board games from your own childhood on hand or have invested in the latest celeb-backed creations, clear off that table, serve snacks and battle your kids for the ultimate championship. Just don’t get overeager and try to lure them into a four-hour chess tournament, OK?

Make your own board game

Instead of playing a game you’ve played a hundred times before, grab some poster board, markers and little objects you can use as game pieces — and create your own family board game.

Dive into a jigsaw puzzle

Puzzles can run the gamut from super-hard to super-easy. So aim somewhere in the middle (unless you’re dealing with toddlers, of course) and set up a family puzzle with a cool image you can work on together. Bonus points if you set aside a separate table or other space where you can keep it going until the final piece is put into place.

Creative crafts


Sure, crafts can get messy, but it’s worth it to get elbows-deep into some art with your kids. With just a few supplies (or even a premade craft kit), there are plenty of options for you all to get your art on.

Build blanket forts

Blanket forts are a classic; they can be super-simple (drape a blanket over two chairs and voila), or they can be stunningly complex once you start adding towers and flying blanket buttresses and the like. Turn your living room into a super-fort complex, and you won’t even need to pitch a tent for that family campout we talked about.

Plan a dinner

Move over, meatloaf; work with your kids to carefully plan out a special dinner. Pore over family recipes or look up a new one online. Then shop for ingredients and let your kids help you prepare and serve — fancy dishes optional.

Set up a taco bar

Another dinner winner is setting up a taco bar with all the fixings. This way, everyone gets in on the fun and even the littlest kids can help put their tacos together.

Bake cookies


Or if you’re more of a sweet-tooth family, plan a fun team baking night. Pie? Cake? Brownies? The possibilities are endless — and delicious. Need somewhere to start? These online baking classes are pretty perfect.

DIY your pizza

Yes, more food — but nothing tops (get it?) selecting your own toppings for a pizza you’ve made yourself. Find out what your kids’ favorites are and maybe even sneak in a few ingredients they’ve never tried.

Build with food

This is “playing with your food” with an architectural spin. Take some fruit cubes, a bag of marshmallows and some toothpicks or slender pretzel sticks and try your hand at building with your food. Kids can create a person, a house, what have you — and when they’re done admiring their work, they can eat it. Win-win.

Read a book — yes, really


Rather than reading to your kids or everyone reading on their own, turn this into a collaborative out-loud team performance in which everyone takes turns reading a page or passage of a family favorite. And don’t forget to cater to the ages you’re dealing with; you may be surprised how much a teen turns out to love reading The Catcher in the Rye out loud. (Bonus points for whomever does different voices for different characters.)

Get pen-palling

Gather construction paper, markers or crayons, puffy stickers, magazines, glue sticks — you name it — and turn a simple greeting into something crafty and cute. Mail them to far-off relatives or just your kids’ friends down the street.

Play Mad Libs

Mad Libs have been around for ages, but we’re convinced they never get old. They’re a great way to accomplish a few goals at once: Have fun as a family; teach your kids about nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.; offer the opportunity to read out loud; and laugh your butts off.

Host show-and-tell

This one’s great for the littlest kids. Ask each family member to choose an item that’s important to them and then tell all about it. Encourage your kids to make a poster or choose a song to play to further illustrate their item.

Turn cardboard boxes into… well, anything


Cardboard boxes offer endless opportunities. Smaller ones can become cash registers, car garages or dollhouses, and larger ones can become vehicles, stuffed animal enclosures or a playhouse. Instead of tearing down and recycling your boxes, stash them somewhere until you’ve got a good collection going and then bust them out for box night.

Play dress-up

Let your kids rifle through your closet (maybe hide the fancy fabrics first) and choose outfits to try on. Don’t worry; parents can get in on the fun too — although you probably can’t wear your kids’ clothes, you can pick out something you haven’t worn in five years and try it on for a final spin while you debate whether to toss it (you should probably toss it).

Make a cookbook

Have every family member choose several of their favorite recipes you often share as a family and write them out or type them up for future reference. Bonus points for pretty cover pages, string binding, etc.

Just plain color

No matter how old your kids are, chances are they would still enjoy a coloring session — especially if brand-new markers and fancy grown-up coloring books are involved. Grab coloring books (whether they’re your 5-year-old’s or your own) and go to town.


Image: Getty Images/Design:Ashley Britton/SheKnows



21 Budget Home Improvement Ideas

21 Budget Home Improvement Ideas

We round up a selection of quick and easy budget upgrades to inspire your next home improvement project.

If you're an avid DIYer, you're already on your way to saving money. But with the right planning, you can transform the feel of a whole room with a single project that only costs you a few hundred bucks.

Easy Home Upgrades You Can Do on a Budget

Pick from our round-up of value-boosting upgrades that all come in under the $500 mark—some well under. Not only will they be soft on your wallet now, but some of these will even save you money in the future. Check out our easy home improvement ideas below.

1. Refresh Your Rooms With Paint

Photo by Kolin Smith

You can give your drab, washed-out walls a burst of brilliant depth (or wash away your decorating sins with virgin white) just by picking up a paint can and having at them. That's the power of a coat of paint: It rearranges your reality. Which is why painting is the most oft-tackled DIY home-improvement upgrade.

While you don't have to be a pro to learn how to paint like one, there is more to a good paint job than just slathering some color on the wall. See our how to instructions to coat your walls expertly in one weekend, from the first scratch of the pole sander to the final feather of the brush.

Cost: About $150

See How to Paint a Room for full step-by-step instructions.

2. Add Crown Molding the Easy Way

Photo by Misty Keasler

Crown molding makes it to the top of most remodeling lists because it adds charm and value to a home, not because people enjoy spending a Saturday try­ing to get the corners just right. Luckily, there's a simple way to beat miter-saw frustration.

Trimroc molding from Canamould Extrusions is a lightweight polystyrene foam coated in hard plaster. It cuts smoothly with a handsaw and it goes up in a flash with joint compound. No coping, no tricky angles, and ragged joints disappear with a dab of mud. So in just a weekend, you can upgrade a plain room to an elegant space—and still leave plenty of time for the rest of your list.

Cost: About $120.

See How to Install Foam Crown Molding for full step-by-step instructions.

3. Install a Low-Cost Stair Runner


Want to get a good grip on slippery stairs? Try a DIY runner. After getting a quote of $2,500 to carpet her dangerously slick oak staircase, TOH reader Jaime Shackford took the project into her own hands. Using just two off-the-shelf woven runners ($125 each) and supplies from a home center, she gave her stairs an non-slip upgrade.

Cost: About $300.

See How to Install a Low-Cost Stair Runner for full step-by-step instructions.

4. Install a Dishwasher to Conserve Water

Photo by Kolin Smith

That old dishwasher could be wreaking havoc on your electric and water bills. Time to switch it out for a new Energy Star-qualified dishwasher, which can save you more than $30 a year on power and almost 500 gallons of water. If you don't have a dishwasher at all, you're using 40 percent more water washing by hand!

The biggest cost saver of all? You can install a dishwasher yourself in an afternoon. No plumber, no electrician—and no worries that you're squandering your retirement money on a load of clean dishes.

Cost: About $450+

See How to Add a New Dishwasher or How to Replace a Dishwasher for full step-by-step instructions.

5. Rewire a Vintage Entry Lantern

Photo by Kristine Larsen

Many hanging lanterns from the first half of the 20th century were humble by design, looking as if they'd been crafted by blacksmiths rather than machines.

Popularized by tastemakers of the time, such as Gustav Stickley and the Roycroft crafters, these rustic lanterns exemplified a back-to-basics design sensibility. If you've scored one such find at a yard sale or have one stashed in the attic, you can invite guests to "come on in" by putting back into service a vintage lantern. It's an easy, affordable job once you get the parts.

Cost: About $140.

See How to Rewire a Vintage Entry Lantern for full step-by-step instructions.

6. Renew Old Flooring With Paint

Photo by Kolin Smith

The burgundy red floor in the master bedroom of Sara and Andrew's Massachusetts farmhouse didn't fit the fresh and energetic personality of the newlyweds. But refinishing wasn't an option on a limited budget. So to update the space, they painted the floor in a light checked pattern, using beige and white to warm up their cool blue walls.

Here we show how a little measuring and a couple of coats of durable floor paint can add a lot of personality to a room for a small price.

Cost: About $75.

See How to Paint a Floor for full step-by-step instructions.

7. Make Shade and Add Privacy With Interior Shutters


Sunlight streaming through windows can be an annoying distraction. Not to mention the neighbors who have more evening hours to look into your brightly lit living room. You could install shades to foil prying eyes, but swinging wood shutters would definitely be more beautiful.

Interior shutters were the original "window treatments," commonly used in Southern and urban houses, and they're still a great way to add architectural and historical detail. They also help keep out winter's chilly winds or summer's oppressive heat. And they're easy to install on any window because they attach to a thin frame that either sits inside the window opening or around the outside of the casing.

Cost: About $150 to $400.

See How to Hang Interior Shutters for full step-by-step instructions.

8. Give Kitchen Cabinets a Flawless, New Finish

Photo by Kolin Smith

Your cavelike kitchen feels that way because the dark cabinets have sucked all the light out of the room. But a brighter makeover doesn't necessarily mean replacing those gloomy boxes with all-new one. As long as the frames and doors are structurally sound, you can clean them up and brush on some new paint—and within a weekend take that kitchen from dreary to sunny. All you need is some strong cleaner, sandpaper, a paintbrush, and a little elbow grease. What you don't need is a whole lot of money, as the transformation will cost you a fraction of even the cheapest new cabinets.

Cost: About $200.

See How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets for full step-by-step instructions.

9. Get More Flowers Without Spending a Dime

Photo by Ryan Benyi

Dividing perennials every three to six years is a great way to thin clump-forming varieties, like the daylily (shown here), which blooms from late spring to late summer. This technique can also be used to control plant size, invigorate growth, and multiply the number of specimens in a garden. A good rule of thumb is to split apart spring- and summer-blooming perennials in late summer or before the fall frost.

Cost: $0.

See How to Divide Perennials for sull step-by-step instructions. And don't forget to check out How to Propagate Plants at no cost for even more ways to multiply the plants you've already got.

10. Install a Water Filter and Ditch Expensive Bottles

Photo by Kolin Smith

Millions of households have switched to bottled drinking water because of concerns over the purity or taste of their tap water. Such problems exist across the country, regardless of whether the water comes from municipal pipeline or ground well. However, there's an easier, less expensive way to obtain clean drinking water: install an under-sink water-filtration system.

Cost: About $250.

See How to Install a Water Filter for full step-by-step instructions.

11. Lay an Eco-Friendly Layer of Insulation

Photo by Kolin Smith

It's bad enough to have to get up in the morning, let alone get up and experience the icy shock of a cold floor. What you need is some warmth underfoot, a little cushion as you pad across the house. Enter cork. Resilient yet durable, stylish yet earthy, a natural cork floor can turn any cool room into a cozy haven.

Cork is also a lot easier to install than traditional wood flooring. Manufacturers now offer products in engineered panels that snap together without glue or nails. These floating-floor systems sit well over plywood, concrete, or even existing flooring. In one afternoon you can turn a floor into a comfortable mat where your toes can roam free without fear of the big chill—or expensive area rugs.

Cost: Average is about $6 to $8 a square foot.

See How to Lay a Cork Floor for full step-by-step instructions.

12. Refinish Your Home's Handsome Wood Door

Photo by Kit Latham

The years and the elements hadn't been kind to the exterior of this 94-year-old, thick, cypress door. Flakes of varnish still clung to the wood in spots, while the rest of the surface was rough and dried out from the effects of water and sun. Wood entry doors everywhere suffer from the same assaults, and many end up in the trash, replaced by low-maintenance, mass-produced metal and fiberglass surrogates. But you can breathe new life into your old door with a few affordable supplies.

Cost: About $50.

See How to Refinish a Door for full step-by-step instructions.

13. Put Down a Fresh Bead of Bathroom Caulk

Photo by David Carmack

You've seen the ominous signs of aging caulk. First it was the brown tinge along the edges. Now its smooth and supple skin has turned brittle and cracked, opening the way for stubborn colonies of mildew to take hold, or for water to seep through and turn wallboard and framing mushy. Whether it's around your sink, between a tub and its tile surround, or covering the joints of your shower stall — it has got to go.

Fortunately, caulk is cheap, and applying it isn't difficult. All you need is an hour, a few common tools, and materials easily found at any hardware store. But as easy as it is, you still have to do it right, or you'll be caulking again next year, says This Old House general contractor Tom Silva.

Cost: About $10 to $50.

See How to Caulk Around a Tub for full step-by-step instructions.

14. Revive Your Old Deck


By the time contractor Stephen Bonesteel arrived on the scene, the condition of this pine deck was bleak. Twenty years of harsh upstate New York weather without a lick of care had turned its once-bright boards a weatherbeaten gray, flecked with slimy algae and black leaf stains.

Still, even wood this neglected can be brought back to respectability. Over the course of a week, he power-washed and hand-scrubbed the deck back to a semblance of newness, then brushed on a protective coat of semitransparent stain to protect it from the elements.

Cost: About $80 to $120.

See How to Restore a Weathered Deck for this pro's full step-by-step instructions. In addition, you'll want to make sure your structure is stable by doing a Deck Check.

15. Add Architectural Interest With Stair Brackets

Photo by Ryan Benyi

The newel post and balusters get all the attention, while the exposed side of most staircases is largely ignored. But with the addition of decorative stair brackets, a bland stringer can become an elegant eye-catcher. Here we used simple-to-install, affordable wood brackets that go up with adhesive and nails.

Cost: About $150 to $250.

See How to Add Shapely Stair Brackets for full step-by-step instructions.

16. Lay Low-Cost Flooring in Laundries and Mudrooms

Photo by Shaffer Smith Photography

Long before the advent of the resilient sheet flooring and plastic-laminate planks, there was vinyl tile. Originally produced as an alternative to linoleum, vinyl tile grew in popularity because it was colorful, easy to clean, and crack resistant. The 12x12-inch tiles come in dozens of colors, patterns and textures, making it easy to create checkerboard designs and floors with contrasting borders. Here we'll show you the right way to put in self-adhesive tiles for a professional-looking and durable floor.

Cost: About $2 a square foot and $80 to $100 other materials.

See How to Lay a Vinyl Tile Floor for full step-by-step instructions.

17. Protect Walls With an Easy-to-Clean Backsplash

Photo by William P. Fuller

If installing a traditional tile backsplash feels a little out of your DIY league, putting up one made from a single sheet of solid surface material may just be your saving grace. Shaping, cutting, and gluing up this inexpensive stock material—available from companies such as Swanstone, which makes the beadboard backsplash shown here, in a variety of colors and patterns—is a weekend project most amateurs can conquer with confidence. And when you have your sleek backsplash in place, you'll think it such a stylish protector from splashes and splatters you'll wonder why you ever considered tile in the first place.

Cost: About $25 a square foot.

See How to Install a Solid-Surface Backsplash for full step-by-step instructions.

18. Prevent Mold Growth With a Bathroom Vent Fan

Photo by Keller and Keller

Installing a ventilating fan in your bath does more than just eliminate fogged-up windows, steamy mirrors and stale odors. It also helps prevent moisture-related problems, such as the growth of mold and mildew, that can be costly to remove and lead to health problems. Avoid all of that with this affordable upgrades. Here, This Old House general contractor Tom Silva shows the proper way to install a bath vent fan. In this particular installation, Tom ran the exhaust duct into the attic and through a sidewall to the outdoors.

Cost: About $120 to $175.

See How to Install a Bathroom Vent Fan for full step-by-step instructions.

19. Build a Custom Tool Bench

Photo by Allison Dinner

Amy Paladino is a pro at juggling the demands of her job and family. But as with many of us, when it came to organizing tools for DIY projects, she needed a little assistance.

Here is a plan for a size-it-to-your-space tool-storage bench that doubles as a work surface. Though it may look complicated, the construction couldn't be simpler. And you'll be protecting your valuable tools in a custom chest, while saving on the outrageous cost of store-bought storage.

Cost: About $150.

See How to Build a Tool Bench for full step-by-step instructions.

20. Ceiling Fans for Summer (and Winter) Savings

Photo by Shaffer Smith Photography

The popularity of ceiling fans continues to grow as more and more homeowners discover dramatic, year-round energy savings. In summer, ceiling fans create cooling breezes, which reduce the strain on air conditioners. In winter, they circulate heated air to keep the room warm.

Installing a ceiling fan is relatively simple, especially if the space above is accessible from an attic. However, even when it isn't, the job is still quite doable. Here, we'll show how to replace an old light fixture with a new ceiling fan and light, in a room with no attic above. The advantage of this approach is that you don't have to run new wiring. The fan connects to the existing cable from the old light.

Cost: About $50 to $350.

See How to Install a Ceiling Fan for full step-by-step instructions.

21. Cut Costs With a Programmable Thermostat

Photo by Ryan Benyi

Going digital with a model that automatically changes the indoor temperature setting is fairly easy, and it can trim about $180 off your annual heating and cooling costs. Simple models that only control heat are sold at home centers for around $25. But units like the one shown here can handle many more functions, including cooling and humidifying. Typically they're purchased through and installed by HVAC contractors, but you can get a good deal on one by buying online and install it yourself in no time.

Cost: About $475.

See How to Install a Programmable Thermostat for full step-by-step instructions.


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