A very dear friend of mine asked me to post our family list of Sunday activities that we do. Perhaps you may benefit as well.
As we try to keep this special day holy, it's sometimes easy for the children to get bored if you only present a list of "Don'ts" such as: don't watch TV, don't go to parks, don't shop, don't play computer games, etc. My children didn't look forward to Sundays, so we had a family council a long time ago and drew up a list of approved Sabbath activities that they can look through when they can't think of ways to spend their time. I think it's so important to have our family look forward to this day, rather than dread it and see it as something to be 'endured'. The Lord sanctioned the Sabbath as a blessing and a strength to us, and I want to delight in His holy day.
Our all-time favorite activity is to play a game we made up, it's called the Gospel Game. Anyone can play this, regardless of your personal religious views. It's perfectly applicable to any set of scriptures (such as the Qu'ran, Talmud, etc).
First we set the stage by creating the game board. We place 10 wash cloths on the floor of our living room. They are set up to create a path of 'stepping stones' across the room. The playing pieces for the game are the children.
The first child will stand at one end of the path of washcloths and I sit at the other end. I will ask them questions about the scriptures or teachings of modern prophets, and if they answer correctly they may step forward onto the next wash cloth. I try to make the questions appropriate for the child, so Sarah will be asked much more difficult questions than Daniel. I try to ask about the scripture stories we've been learning that week. I will also use the Gospel Art Kit and show them pictures of Bible stories, and I'll ask them to tell me what the names of the people are or retell the story that is being portrayed.
After answering 10 questions correctly, they are at the end of the path and they get to pick a jelly bean from the bowl in my lap. I love this activity because it's completely free to create and can be played with merely a few wash cloths (or any other items that can be used to create the path on the floor- sometimes we've used hot-pads from the kitchen, or pieces of paper.) This game can be tailored to the needs of any family. The children love playing this game and each child usually takes a turn going through the path several times.
Sarah's favorite activity is called Sunday Stations. She sets up different activities around the house that people can cycle through. She may set up art supplies on the kitchen table for drawing and painting. She usually has a reading station with the Friend magazines next to the couch, and several blankets and stuffed animals to cuddle with while she reads. She'll tuck the boys both into the couch and read to them aloud while they hug toys. Another station may be singing time, with hand instruments to play in beat to the music. Another station may be at the piano. She'll play Primary songs and have me try to guess what song it is. There are also games we like to play that have Book of Mormon characters printed on the cards, so we can play Go Fish, Memory, Old Maid, and Crazy Eight with those decks.
Nathan likes to cook with the children, and they all look forward to that a lot. They REALLY get excited to spend time with Dad in the kitchen. Last week Nathan instructed Matthew how to make macaroni and cheese all by himself, and Matt was so proud about learning this new skill. They also like to cook desserts together, like cream puffs or cake, or make loaves of bread.
We love to read educational books together, but our very favorite reading activity is to gather in the library room with blankets while Nathan reads a classic book or poetry aloud. The children relished reading the original Alice in Wonderland and Winnie the Pooh books. Some other favorites are The Little house on the Prairie, Mr. Poppers Penguins, and A Midsummer's Night Dream (although it did take some explaining to translate Shakespeare into modern English for them).
We play family games together after dinner. I prefer games that aren't highly competitive. There is more of a spirit of collaboration than competition in our games. I try to emphasize that it doesn't matter who wins since it's merely a game. The main point of the activity is to have fun as a family, regardless who the winner is. I try to train the children to wish each other luck before every game, and after every game they shake hands and say 'Good Game!'. Some of our favorite games include Rummikub, Uno, Blokus, Carcassonne, Mancala, and checkers.
I try to make a dessert every Sunday, since we don't often have desserts during the week. When I don't have time or energy to make a 'real' dessert, we do "Sundaes on Sunday". We set up a sundae bar with ice cream and all the toppings then we let the children choose what toppings they'd like. (Editor's update: we have now changed our Sundaes on Sunday tradition. Children are rewarded with ice cream for their behavior in church. They get one scoop for being reverent in Sacrament Meeting and one scoop for participating well in Sunday School. They also get to choose one topping for each song they sang with the congregation during Sacrament meeting. This system works very well for us! Our kids usually sing every song and are eager to participate reverently in their classes.)
On the first Sunday of each month, the children really look forward to doing PPI's with Nathan. (That would be a Personal Priesthood Interview) They beg him to do PPI's often. They each have a turn to go speak privately with Nathan. They first pray together, then they talk about thier week, concerns they may have about the family, what they are learning that week, and set goals. After the interview they get a small piece of chocolate or other candy.
We sometimes take nature walks to enjoy Gods beautiful creations. There are lots of greenbelts around, so we pick one and drive to it. It's surprising how secluded the green belts in Austin feel....often we can't see or hear anything to indicate we're anywhere near civilization. I love it. I used to go on drives into the mountains on Sundays when I was little. I loved the feelings in my heart when I'm away from the noise and bustle of the city and surrounded by trees. I love listening to the birds in the trees and the buzz of insects.
We always call grandparents or other relatives on Sunday. Nathan and I love chatting with our siblings and parents, especially since we haven't seen most of them for a couple of years. I would feel so isolated from my extended family if it weren't for our weekly chats. I love hearing of their adventures, concerns, trials, and triumphs. I don't feel like we're a thousand miles away, and it always lifts my spirits to share in life's delights with my favorite people.
Developing talents is encouraged, so we sometimes practice music or create art of various forms: painting, drawing, embroidery, sewing, etc.
We also do a ZIP meeting. (Zion ImProvement) We meet for a family council where we discuss any family concerns and set family goals. It could be goals on family struggles we'd like to overcome, or new talents we'd like to explore, or something we'd like to learn about or go see. I have a family binder with our goals. There is a page for each person so they can choose their individual goals to work on. We can review how the previous week went and decide what changes would be good to improve things. We also can talk about the schedule for the upcoming week and talk about the needs each person has so we can address them.
We REALLY love playing the Compliment Game. For this game we pick a family member (for example, Daniel) then everyone has a turn to say something they admire about Daniel. After we all share compliments with Daniel, we move to the next person and everyone expresses particular things they like about that person. We do this until each member of the family has a turn. We try to be specific in our comments. Instead of just saying, "She's nice" we focus on details such as, "I like how she played with me and read me a story, that was nice." Often we do this around the dinner table. It provides such great conversation! It's uplifting for everyone and brings such a sweet spirit into the meal. Sometimes the children prefer to play this on the floor. We sit in a circle, and one person has a ball. They pick a family member to compliment. After expressing the kind words, they roll the ball to the person they picked. The new person compliments a new person of their choice and rolls the ball to them. This continues until everyone has received the ball several times. It's surprising how much they love this game! It's so simple, and it's so great for building family unity and love.
Nathan loves making music as a family on Sundays (well, he does this everyday). He'll play the guitar or piano and we'll sing hymns together. Sometimes he'll accompany Sarah on the piano. The boys like leading the music with large wooden spoons to wave in the air. It's really fun to sing together. Earlier this year we hosted regular music nights in our home. We'd invite other members of the congregation to come sing twice each month and we'd serve refreshments. It was so nice to have our home be a gathering place for such wonderful people. I loved having them in my home.
We will often read the Illustrated Scriptures together with the children. After each chapter they can choose to answer three trivia questions about the story.When they pass off 3 correct answers they can choose a jelly bean. I adapted this idea from Jewish history. In my studies a few years ago I read that teachers would give children honey on their tongue to savor while they listened to the words of the Talmud. It trained them to associate the scriptures with a physical delight until they were old enough to enjoy scriptures for the intrinsic rewards.
A new goal for the summer is to introduce a new Sabbath activity. As part of the home school curriculum, each person will have an individual writing journal and we will all be writing in them during the week, whether it is a fictitious story, journal entry, poetry, etc. On Sunday evenings we will make popcorn (or some other snack) to enjoy while we take turns sharing something from our weekly writings. This way the children will have more exposure to public speaking and sharing their creations, and we can all encourage each other's efforts. I'm really looking forward to this activity!
Sometimes we just have a quiet day and everyone cuddles together for a refreshing nap. Our choice of activities usually is dependent on the parental energy level. If it was an exhausting day at church (like teaching a rambunctious class of very active children), we opt for quiet activities like reading or painting or cuddling for a nap.
See more ways to honor the Sabbath with kids here.
I hope these ideas help you enjoy this special day each week with your family!
What works in your family? Please share your ideas in the comments below!