For years, we’ve been preaching that it’s often the little things that make the biggest impact, especially when it comes to those fun treats and creative ideas that help make summer magical for families. Just ask our own kids how much they love it when we set up a spa in the bathroom, or make a Tuesday movie night, just because. Best of all, it doesn’t have to cost a lot.
We’re super excited to be partnering with our sponsor Cracker Jack, the original master of little surprises, on their brand new initiative, The Surprise Inside Project, which kicks off today in New York’s Herald Square. Turns out they found out the same thing in a national survey: 3/4 of families say their best family memories involve surprises, even though they’re probably spending way more than they need to pull them off.
So we’ve put together 12 of our own tried-and-true ideas for little surprises–all under $20–that can help bring some fun to your families, maybe when they least expect it.
We really hope you find some inspiration.
1. Have a picnic dinner on the living room floor. Of course you don’t have to tell your family that it makes cleanup easier; they’ll just remember it as a totally cool, indulgent, fun way to share a family meal. It doesn’t even matter if it’s a home-cooked tray of lasagna or just take-out pizza. Our own kids get so excited the second they see a picnic blanket come out of the closet.
2. We know that parents are very connected to their smartphones these days (no judgments!) so pick a random night and tell your family, “Hey, I’m going to turn off my phone all night. Let’s do something together.” Whatever it is, from a board game tournament to a movie marathon, your family will be so happy (maybe even surprised) to have your undivided attention.
3. Refrigerator magnets are overrated. When you frame your kid’s favorite artwork and hang it somewhere special–as in, on an actual wall–it’s a way of demonstrating that you’re truly proud of their efforts. It doesn’t even have to be a fancy frame. When they come home from school to discover it, they’ll be thrilled.
4. There’s nothing more magical to kids than the idea of sleeping outside, and it doesn’t even require a road trip to the Grand Canyon. Pitch tents in your own backyard, get flashlights, tell stories, read books, and watch the stars come out. Proof we can all live without TV or tablets for a night.
5. Tuck a surprise note into a lunchbox or briefcase. Scribble a joke. Make a promise for something fun that night. Or just write I love you. It’s a very small gesture that brings so much joy.
6. Why should parties be limited to birthdays? Celebrate something random, like National Yo-Yo Day, Ben Franklin’s Birthday, or National Watermelon Day (August 3!). Your family will be thrilled to come home to festivities they weren’t even expecting. Hey, any reason to celebrate is always good by us.
7. Get that rescue dog. Finally. At last. Don’t wait for a holiday or birthday–just pick a day, get the family together, and do it.
8. With more and more parents working out of the home than ever, we know they are so appreciative when they know they are missed. Pick a random day and make a handmade welcome home sign to hang on the door before the other parent gets home from work. (You might want to have tissues at the ready for this one. We’ve been there.)
9. Just say yes to ice cream. It’s the world’s easiest yes. And it makes everyone happy.
10. Water balloons. On a hot day. For no good reason. Trust us, it’s the best.
11. Leave work early, grab the kids after school, and forget the activities and play dates and obligations for just one day. Head out on a surprise after-school adventure, whether it’s to a carousel, a park, or Grandma’s house for an early dinner. Or better–don’t even tell anyone where you’re going until you get there. A little surprise like this is one of the best ways we can think of to use up a personal day at work, don’t you think?
12. Turn the bathroom into an at-home spa. It doesn’t matter if you paint toenails, let yours be painted, cover your arms in temporary tattoos, or turn everyone’s hair into a turquoise-streaked work of art with wash-out hair chalk. Just the time you spend together will be delicious.
Illustration: shayla lafreniere