The Fun Parent + Making Early Learning Part of Your Family Culture

This post was sponsored by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt as part of an Influencer Activation for Influence Central

Yesterday, Bart was working from home, so he came up to eat lunch with us.
After we finished eating, Bart worked on the dishes and the two older girls sat on the bar stools and played “Synonyms” with him. 
Bart gives them a word, and they try to come up with as many words that mean roughly the same thing as they can. 
I was in and out of the kitchen and every time I came back in, I was amazed that they were still playing it, with all three of them totally engaged in this simple game. 
Bart is much (much!) better than I am about making up fun games on the spot to play with the girls. 
The Synonym game is just one of them. 
After he took an improv class during his MBA, he introduced us all to a game called “185,” where you choose an object and then make some sort of joke or pun about it, based on 185 of those items walking into a bar and getting told by the bartender that he doesn’t serve their kind here.
For instance, Ella picked corn a few days ago as the item, and Bart’s response was: 
185 ears of corn walked into a bar. The bartender said, “We don’t serve your kind here.” The corn turned and stalked out.
We play this almost every night at dinner at Ella’s request and it’s fun for all of us, but I can guarantee I never would have thought of having this as a family game. I love watching Ella learn about puns and the intricacies of language in a totally low-key and enjoyable way. And I won’t pretend I don’t love trying to come up with the most clever response. 
Another hit is “Drop the Point” which he invented back when we were packing up our house in North Carolina before we left for Bart’s internship and study abroad in London. He would ask trivia questions and when she got one right, an imaginary point would drop from the ceiling into her imaginary bucket where she collects points (I don’t know where he comes up with these things either)(Update: Bart informed me that Ella came up with the name and visuals). Now they play it in the car or on trips, and Bart introduced it to Merrick‘s boys when we were traveling together last spring and now apparently THEY play it on trips too. 
There are also the three characters Bart invented, complete with unique voices, that the girls are always begging to have come for a visit: Boss, Silly Pants, and Frederick (who has a British accent). When Bart travels for work, Ella and Ani miss those three almost as much as they miss their dad. 
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are rhyming games, and I Spy, and the alphabet game in the car, and ten thousand other reasons that Bart is, without question, the fun parent. 
My brain just doesn’t really work like that – it’s much harder for me to come up with ways to spark their curiosity and fuel their imaginations. 

So, I love the #SparkAMind campaign that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has launched. You can share your simple ideas for sparking curiosity and imagination in your children, and everything with the #SparkAMind hashtag is gathered on their site so you can steal other people’s great ideas too.
Even better, every time that hashtag is used, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt donates a book to help close the early education gap, especially for low-income neighborhoods where the ratio of age-appropriate books is 1 for every 300 children. 
They’ve also developed the Curious World app with more than 500 fun and educational games, videos and books for kids 3-7 (you can get a discounted subscription here).
And . . . if you have great ideas for how to interact with your kids to foster early learning, you know I want to hear them, so that I can at least have a shot at being the fun parent, if only for a few minutes. 

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  • Reply Kate March 4, 2016 at 2:11 pm

    Those games are hysterical and sound so fun! My mom always played "the cookie game" with us which was basically math word problems involving various desserts.

  • Reply Kristin @ Going Country March 4, 2016 at 2:57 pm

    My sister and I used to play "I Love My Love" all the time, and I play it with my kids now. You go through the alphabet and start with "I love my love with an "a" because he is Awesome. His name is Adam. He lives in an Ant hill and he eats Apples and Artichokes." Then you change the adjective, name, residence, and foods with each letter. My kids love this and they get better at it as they learn their letters, obviously.

    My husband tells my sons a story every single night that he makes up. Different every night. Sometimes they're about a pig named Alfie, sometimes Mr. Monkey, sometimes Caveman Thomas and Caveman Charlie. He's been making up a new story every night for FOUR YEARS now. It's kind of amazing. And now my sons sometimes take turns telling their own stories. The three-year-old is still in the rambling stage, but the six-year-old tells surprisingly good stories already.

  • Reply Kathleen Forbes March 4, 2016 at 6:41 pm

    Those are impressive games! My husband is totally the fun parent too. His strength is coming up with stories. He can tell such a wonderful, imaginative story with detailed characters on the spot. When I'm forced to tell a story, my mind freezes up.

  • Reply Rob and Corrie March 4, 2016 at 6:54 pm

    My 4-yo and I play a rhyming game similar to the Synonym Game.

    We also play "Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down" at the dinner table…naming different manner rules, or lack thereof, and giving them a thumbs up or thumbs down. This game has become surprisingly useful, as it allows us to correct unmannerly behavior in a simple, low-key way, or address it in a social setting without embarrassing him.
    He also taught it to his cousins, and his baby sister (19 mos) likes to get in on it, too. 🙂

    Like you, I am NOT a naturally fun parent, so I'm pretty happy when I think of these things!

  • Reply Paige Flamm March 4, 2016 at 8:00 pm

    I always say that Derek is way more fun than me too! We don't do a lot of games like this at all… aside from asking "what's your favorite…" for every category because the answers change everyday still haha. Except pink… pink is still Kyle's favorite color #wompwomp

  • Reply Shelly March 4, 2016 at 10:14 pm

    Fabulous post, I love all of the fun parenting ideas! And cute pictures too.

  • Reply Beth March 5, 2016 at 8:24 am

    Those are fun games! Here's a super easy one we used to play:

    When you buckle yourself into your seat belt, you count off. (First one to buckle is "one".) And everyone has to count off in a different language (second one to buckle is "dos", or "zwei" or "rua" or whatever). Kids especially like it when there's a baby because that obviously means that the baby's buckler will count off late.

  • Reply Kristie March 6, 2016 at 4:48 am

    Ok, this is an awesome post. Thanks for some simple suggestions of games to play with your kids. I am not the fun parent, that totally is my hubby. He will end up on the floor roughhousing with the kids. But it makes my heart happy to see them play together. Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply Monica Packer March 6, 2016 at 6:43 am

    Dads really are the best eat making things interesting/fun on the spot! Also, your girls are going to rule the world with games like that. I'm truly impressed!

  • Reply Analese March 6, 2016 at 7:33 pm

    Love these ideas. My husband also has the fun ideas and games, while I struggle to play anything with a lot of imagination. We often play "What Animal Has…" or "What Food has…" and then we give our daughter descriptions of the animal or food, such as sweet, yellow, likes to eat hay, etc. She absolutely loves playing it and I feel like it has increased her ability to pay attention to details.

  • Reply Brian and Courtney March 7, 2016 at 11:55 am

    I am a complete bore. Thank the Lord for daddies! My husband is definitely the fun parent, too! I, however, was an adult at ten years old! These are great games! Absolutely awesome!

  • Reply Kristi March 7, 2016 at 11:54 pm

    Blaine is the king of this too, though it has been a while, but it was fun to read this and remember some of the creative games that Blaine has invented throughout the year. The Alligator game (I'm still a bit fuzzy, but I think he hides under a blanket so he cant see and they have to sneak up to him and touch him without getting caught, or something!), and the couch game which involves running around and collecting kids until he can get them all on the couch at the same time (they can get off if another kid comes and frees them). Bart is a fun dad! He's a fun friend too, we miss you guys!

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