It started when I wanted to really make a production of the last day of school. Luke had an up and down school year - doing mostly well, but struggling a little emotionally on Mondays and other times of transition. After pick up on that last day, I presented him with a set of envelopes with clues inside that would tell him where we'd be stopping to celebrate our official start of Summer Vacation. Everything I'd planned was fairly close together, and all Summer Vaca themed. We went for ice cream, checked out books to read this summer at the library, played at the playground, went to Best Buy to pick out a new video game to play on vacation, and stopped at Burger King for lunch.
Henry, our middle son, isn't really the jealous type. He rolls with everything and gets involved in whatever's going on with Luke, but I wanted to give HIM one of these special days, too. So we planned the same type of day for his 4th Birthday, only with birthday stops in mind (the birthday "party" at Toys R Us, picking out a cake, picking out helium balloons). This time, Luke helped me with the clues by drawing pictures of each stop for me.
These days have been SO much fun for us as a family. We do a variety of things, and since my guys are all little and at different levels of development, whenever one of them gets bored, we move on to the next thing. And no one seems to mind, because there's so much thrill in tearing into the next envelope to see what's next.
I loved doing this for Summer Vaca and Henry's birthday - I think we'll do a Christmas one when the time comes, too! Maybe a Halloween one? The possibilities are endless!
Wanna try? Here's how we do it.
1) Choose the types of stops you'd like to make, and what area of town you want to explore. Make a list of however many stops you have time for.
2) Using index cards or small pieces of paper, draw picture clues for each stop that your kids will be able to decipher. If you have older kids? Make a puzzle out of it! Maybe write out the words and scramble the letters, or leave letters missing, or even write a riddle or a list of clues.
3) Seal each clue into its own envelope, and number them in the order you plan to make the stops.
4) Load up! Pack up the kids, maybe bring along some water bottles, snacks, a picnic blanket, a wagon or stroller, sunscreen, lunch - whatever you'll need for where you're going!
5) Give the child of honor (or rotate between kids) the first envelope and let them figure out where they're going. Then take off! Don't let them open the next envelope until the stop before it is finished!
Some ideas of things to do (Summer/Birthday):
- Go get ice cream or froyo - make it more exciting by letting them choose which place to go to!
- Visit a playground - depending on your other stops and time, you can let them choose which one they like, too.
- Stop at the library - read books, pick some to check out, play on the kids computers or in the playroom if yours has one, attend a story hour.
- Go to Toys R Us or another toy store - if it's their birthday, visit Toys R Us customer service and they'll get a free balloon and birthday crown to wear around the store. They'll also get a $3 coupon in the mail about a month before if you've signed up for the birthday club - bring it along and give them a shopping budget. Or just look around and make a wishlist together for Christmas or their Birthday.
- Stop at a bakery or grocery store and let them pick a treat.
- Go the Dollar Store and get $1 helium balloons, or give them a few dollars to spend in the toy and craft aisles.
- Go to the SPCA, pet store, or other pet shelter - visit and pet the animals, look at the fish and birds, let them pick out a new toy for your pet. My kids love doing this!
- Go putt-putting - if your kids are old enough, this is really fun!
- Go to the movies.
- Go to the mall - many of them have free play areas, places to stop for cheap snacks, fountains to throw pennies in, escalators to ride on, and sometimes, special events.
- Visit a Goodwill or Salvation Army - even with a small budget, kids can pick out some books, board games, or even dress up clothes.
- Go to a craft store - pick up supplies for a particular project you'll do later, give them a small set budget, or let them pick out a couple sheets of stickers or set of markers.
- Have a picnic - pack a lunch before you set out and stop at a park or let the kids pick where they want to go. If you have a nearby airport, find a place to park where you can see the planes coming in!
- Go bowling.
- Stop somewhere for lunch - even just a drive-thru.
- Go to a comic book store - they are cheap ($3-$4 usually), and they can almost definitely find something they are already into!
- Go to Barnes and Nobel - not only are there books, there's usually toys set up - trains, legos, and more. They also do story hours and special events, and you can grab a snack at Starbucks, too.
- Go to Party City - it's not a scary place (my kids won't even go in the pop up costume stores, they're too scary for them!), but you can look at costumes and Halloween decorations.
- Stop at a Pumpkin Patch - let them pick out small pumpkins to paint, or even their big pumpkins for carving.
- Stop at a grocery store for cider and powdered donuts.
- Go to a park, walking/bike trail, or somewhere with pretty leaves, and bring your camera to take pictures of the landscape and your kids with pretty backgrounds!
- Let them pick out the candy you'll give out for the trick or treaters.
- Pick out some inexpensive decor at the dollar store - fake spider webs, plastic skeletons, etc, and decorate the house when you go back home.
- Pick out Halloween craft supplies at a craft store or dollar store and make a Halloween project together - there are so many project ideas on Pinterest!
- Bake Halloween cupcakes, cookies, or other spooky recipes.
- Take them to a pumpkin patch or similar place that offers hay rides in the fall.
- Go to the library to read/check out Halloween books.
- Make the return to home stop jumping in leaves in the backyard.
- Drive around to look at Christmas lights.
- Stop somewhere for hot chocolate.
- Go to the Mall - visit Santa, look at the all the decorations, go shopping for gifts.
- Go to Target - help them make their wishlists for Christmas.
- Visit a Christmas Specialty Store - around here, we have Dave's Christmas World and Christmas Tree Shops - both are really fun to explore around Christmas!
- Go to a craft store - let them pick out supplies to make a Christmas gift, sheets of Christmas paper and stickers to play with, or supplies for a Christmas craft.
- Let them pick their own decor - stop at the Dollar Store, craft store, or specialty shop and give them a small budget to pick out their own garlands and whatever else they can decorate their room with.
- Stop at a bakery for Christmas cookies.
- Go to the library to read/check out Christmas books and movies.
- Mail out Christmas Cards they helped you put together, or stop at family member's houses with a card and some homemade Christmas cookies.
- Go sledding - maybe make this one of the last stops, since everyone will be tired and potentially wet afterwards!
- Make the return to home trip involve popping some popcorn and watching a Christmas movie.
There are many other occasions and holidays I haven't covered, but use your imagination!
You can Google around for local places to visit if you need more ideas, too. And you can also do this at home! It's a great idea for a birthday or holiday that ends up rained out. Start the morning making a list of things you'll do - maybe a craft, a movie you'll watch, a snack you'll make or a dessert you'll bake, a game you'll play - and use the same envelope system to make it more fun and suspenseful!
It might sound like a lot, but this is actually a REALLY simple thing to do. Both times we've done this, I've decided it last minute, and threw it all together in 10 minutes in the morning. It's really not a lot of work for a really FUN day - the kids love it so much!
PS - if we're doing a tour, I usually make the last clue be something fun to do at home. That way, when it's time to head home, they're not all sad about it!