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Having Fun Together

6 Ways to Turn Your To-Do List into Playtime

Amp up the fun of everyday errands and housework with these expert-approved strategies

My mom had a framed cross-stitch piece that always hung near our family's kitchen: "There will be time for cleaning and cooking, but children grow up when we're not looking." But parents can't put off cleaning and cooking until kids are 18-somehow we have to make room for both. These expert-approved strategies can help make sure there's fun packed into each day.

1. Make car time more fun. Trapped in his carseat's five-point harness, your kid is a captive audience, especially for games. "Play a version of 'I Spy' in the car that's specifically tailored to what your child is interested in," says Cynthia Gentry, communications officer and editor for the International Play Association, and founding director of Play Atlanta. "My grandson loves the color pink, so we will look only for pink things." (Need more ideas? Try one of these 13 fun car games for kids.) 

2. Cook on the floor! "Measuring ingredients, mixing, sprinkling spices...it can all happen on the floor," says mom of two Kimberly Noble, MD, PhD, who runs the Neurocognition, Early Experience, and Development Lab at Teachers College, Columbia University. Since so much kitchen stuff is off limits to children-sharp knives, hot stoves-give kids their own measuring cups and mixing bowls and an apron, suggests Gentry.

3. Have a get-dressed race. It works so much better than yelling "hurry up!" every single morning of your life. Dr. Noble will challenge her four-year-old: Can you get dressed more quickly than I can dress your little sister? For older kids, a sibling race is fun, too.

4. Crank the music! Sorting the recycling, emptying the dishwasher, packing lunches-all things that are more fun when they're a dance party. There are dozens of studies about the link between music and memory. So: You might think you are folding laundry and matching socks together, but actually, you are making memories.

5. "Interview" people on the go. The nice lady at the checkout, the guy who pumps your gas. Too often, these strangers blend into the background. But for kids, it's fun and fulfilling to "stop and take the time to engage," says Gentry. "On your way to the grocery, ask your child, 'what can we ask Beverly at the register today? What do we not know about her yet?'" That turns the experience into a treasure hunt and builds empathy for other people.

6. Let them help with your beauty routine (seriously!). Struggling to get out the door with everyone groomed and brushed? Dr. Noble found that her girls are more willing to let her comb their hair when she lets them brush hers.

Lauren Smith Brody is a writer, consultant, and founder of The Fifth Trimester. She is also the author of the upcoming book The Fifth Trimester: The Working Mom's Guide to Style, Sanity, and Big Success After Baby (Doubleday, April 2017).