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WASHINGTON — Date night doesn’t have to be limited to you and your significant other. The next time you make special plans, consider making them with one of your kids.
Lauren Harris, owner and director of Little Ambassadors’ Academy in Arlington, Virginia, says that while it’s essential for families to spend time together as a unit, getting in some quality one-on-one time with each of your little ones is equally as important.
“Mother-daughter dates, father-son dates — these are all so important to create lasting bonds and relationships,” Harris said.
Need a few ideas outside of the the usual activities? Harris, along with preschool instructor Lindsey Kite, offer some of their favorite parent-child date days.
1. Reading and coffee date: OK, so your child might not drink coffee. But heading to a local coffee shop for a cup of hot cocoa or tea is a special experience for kids.
“They really like to feel like they’re an adult,” Harris said.
While you’re out, swing by a bookstore and cozy up to a few stories. Harris says a coffee and reading date is perfect for kids ages 4 and up.
“I think that children, starting at that age, get really excited about reading and they just want to have a great time,” she said.
2. Imagination games: Have a kiddo who loves pirates? How about princesses? Get into character and transform your home into a ship or castle for a fun and easy way to spend some quality time.
For older children, write clues and scatter them throughout the house. Then, take your kids on a secret spy mission. Kite says imagination games are good for kids of all ages.
3. Picnics and planes: Gravelly Point is a popular park along the Potomac River for a number of reasons. For starters, it’s a great place to ride bikes, kick a ball and enjoy a picnic. It’s also a prime location for watching planes take off and land at Reagan National Airport.
Harris says if you bring a small radio (or even your cell phone), you can dial into a special station that lets you listen to the nearby airport’s air traffic control center.
“[You can] hear what’s happening in the control tower and talk to your kids about all the things that are happening with the planes taking off and landing. It just adds an extra dimension to that park,” she said.
4. Cook up some fun: One of Kite’s favorite activities is spending some time in the kitchen. And getting the kids involved is not only fun, it’s educational. She recommends cooking activities for children ages 3 and up.
“For younger ones, they’re going to help you collect the ingredients or make something as easy as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” Kite said.
Older kids can attempt make-your-own mini pizzas, and teenagers can tackle even more complicated recipes.
5. Off the the market: A trip to the farmers market is an opportunity to taste a variety of fruits and vegetables and introduce your child to those who grow them.
“It provides so many educational opportunities, but also opportunities for real life skills that they need,” said Harris, who adds that even grocery shopping and meal planning can be a fun activity for children.
“Sometimes we don’t think about that. Have your kids write out their own grocery list. Let them know that you want them to be an active part of the meal-planning decisions in your household,” Harris said.
A trip to the market is a great activity for children as young as 2.
6. Tap into the city’s cultural opportunities: Plan a day on the National Mall and pop in and out of an array of free Smithsonian museums. Take a break with a picnic and some play time on the green space, and go for a spin on the carousel. The Mall provides an endless number of ways to keep the young and old entertained.
7. Inside dates: Don’t let a rainy day put a damper on your date plans. Harris says yoga flash cards and even fitness videos are a great way to keep kids engaged and active indoors.
8. Get active outside: The mountains, the beach and everything in between are all just a short car ride away from the nation’s capital. Take advantage of the great outdoors with a day of kayaking, fishing, hiking or camping.
If you prefer to stick closer to home, Harris says gardening is a great outdoor option.
“Kids really love to get tools out and try to help,” she said. “And even though it might not sound fun to adults, they like yard work. So get the outside. Get some rakes and some shovels and let’s do yard work together.”
9. Dinner dates: Of course, a dinner date is always a special way to spend one-on-one time. The restaurant doesn’t have to be fancy — although older kids may enjoy getting dressed up. A casual meal is just as meaningful.
“It’s really great for the kids to be able to go out with the family and see how to behave in a restaurant and how to sit and eat their food,” Kite said.
10. Movie dates: Popping in a movie or ordering a newer release from your cable provider is another option. Make popcorn and hot cocoa, get in your PJs and enjoy a movie on the couch. After the flick, ask your kids what they liked best and what they didn’t understand so well.
“This sort of thing helps them to recall details, which for young kids is very important to help them learn and this is a fun way to do it,” Kite said.
11. Take a class together: If your kids are older, tap into their interests with a class — from cooking to pottery to archery and more.
“There’s just something for everyone out there, and I think that that’s a really great activity for parents to see what their children’s interests are and go from there,” Harris said.
12. Give back: Volunteering together is the perfect way to better the community and bond with your child.
“Those are really meaningful activities … and that will teach them about the world around them and how to be great civic leaders, hopefully, as they continue to grow up,” Harris said.
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