Easy Ways to Surprise and Delight Your Children

The following is by contributor Amy Anderson of Let’s Explore.

My kids love a good surprise – how about yours? Since the baby days of peek-a-boo, I’ve loved finding little ways to add more smiles and giggles to our days.

As often as I can, I look for sweet, memorable, or unexpected things I can do for my kids. I feel like I shine as a parent when I make the everyday things special – these moments fill me up as much as they do for my girls.

So, here are a few ideas I have up my sleeve that I know will both surprise and delight my two girls. They are easy, frugal, and don’t require much more than my time. There are going to be lots of smiles around here!

1. Give their bedrooms the hotel treatment.

While your kids are outside playing, taking a bath, or otherwise occupied, sneak into their bedrooms and fancy them up a bit. Make the bed and put a candy on the pillow. Set out a vase of fresh flowers or a new magazine. Maybe you could even offer room service for dessert!

2. Bring something surprising to the dinner table.

The kids are expecting noodles and veggies and you bring a tray of ice cream sundae fixings – how’s that for delightful? Other fun and unexpected dinners could be smoothies and popcorn, a cold cereal bar, or chocolate fondue.

3. Make an I Love You poster.

Make a big poster of all the things you love about your child and hang it on his bedroom door or above her bed. You could continue adding to it week after week, too. What a sweet thing to read each day!

4. Celebrate a crazy holiday.

You could make-up your own holiday or choose one of the many unusual holidays that already exist. For example, August 31 is National Trail Mix Day and September 9 is Teddy Bear Day. Make a snack, do a craft, or play a game that goes with the holiday. (For more unique holidays, check out the lists at About.com’s Family Crafts.)

5. Play a game with breakfast.

Set-up a favorite board or card game at night so it’s ready to greet your child first thing in the morning. Play, visit, and enjoy your toast with a game.

6. Go all out for story time.

Yes, usually bedtime stories are a time for snuggling and winding down. Make an exception and show-up for story time in costume! Don’t forget to do all the characters’ voices and special sound effects, too. I know my girls would really love it if my husband and I performed a story together. We’ll call it Bedtime Theater!

What ideas can you add to this list? Do you have time to plan a simple surprise for your kids this week?

About AmyA

At her blog, Let’s Explore, Amy shares her family’s experiences creating, imagining, and playing together. You can read about her homeschooling journey at Early Bird Homeschool.

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  1. I make my kids (aged 3 and 4) a lunch box. Sounds ordinary but here’s how it works – my kids attend nursery school in the mornings and I collect them aorund 14:00. They are usually ready for a snack by then so I put a peanut butter sandwich, a cookie and a piece of dried fruit into their favourite lunch box and leave it on their car seat for them to find when climbing in. It never fails to please and the “wow, thank you mom” as always a welcome addition to my day.

    • My kids love their, “snack in the car” on the way home from preschool as well! It’s such a normal thing for me – I pack the snack to hold them over while i make dinner- but to my kids, it’s like a magic surprise.
      Alissa´s latest post: Fearless

    • I will put a special snack in each car seat and have it ready for them after school. I will do this on special occassions or just whenever. It always makes them smile and say thanks! I also write loving/encouraging messages on their bathroom mirrors in dry erase markers. My oldest has now begun to leave me and her little sister messages in this way. So sweet…

  2. The “I Love You” Poster is a great idea! I am redoing my kids’ room right now, and I think that would be a perfect addition over their beds!
    Heather´s latest post: Productive Day!

  3. What an amazing post full of new ideas – I just love it!!!
    se7en´s latest post: Se7en School Schedule Solutions…

  4. As a bonus, I think this would inspire my kids to reciprocate. They love to try to surprise others!
    Julia´s latest post: Black Cherry Berry Smoothie Recipe

  5. My kids love to build tents/forts/piles of junk to play in. So one night we ate dinner in their tent. A bit crowded for parents, but they thought it was the greatest thing ever.

  6. Love your hotel idea – I might have to implement that tonight! Did you know that your local library has story telling kits that you can check out?? With puppets and the book = fun and awesome!! When I bring those home (once in awhile) my two youngest are thrilled. I will be posting on it tomorrow.

    xoxo michele
    Michele´s latest post: The Pursuit

    • I hope you try the hotel room idea – I bet your kids will love it. I will have to see if our library has the story telling kits – what fun!
      Amy@Let’s Explore´s latest post: Easy Ways to Surprise & Delight Your Children

      • Melissa Giannini says:

        If you search “Books to Grow on” on the public library website you will find tons of book kits organized by theme. They offer toddler book kits too. I have used these many times in the classroom and the kids love them. They offer poems and finger plays, puppets, and even music and movies often times. I would recommend them for parents and teachers alike.

  7. I have a friend that breaks out the “You are Special Today” plates (each child has their own plate with their name on it) to add that extra boost to special occasions: Birthdays, first day of school, etc. But she also breaks it out at random times, just to surprise and delight her kids.
    Alissa´s latest post: Fearless

  8. My kids are grown now, but something we discovered when they were elementary and middle school aged, was an awesome ping pong ball game. Or you can used balls of wadded up paper (notebook paper works the best). Get your balls or paper, you need at least a dozen or more depending on how many children you have. Sit in a room with a ceiling fan and turn the fan on high. Toss the balls into the ceiling fan blades. The balls will shoot out randomly around the room. Do this quickly and everyone starts scrambling to grab them. It is awesome fun when you are stuck in the house!
    We used to have a youth bible study at our house and the kids loved it!
    Just make sure you make a rule that NOTHING ELSE gets thrown into the fan!
    Living the Balanced Life´s latest post: Is your busyness covering up pain?

  9. oh how fun! i am going to do the hotel treatment idea, cute cute 🙂
    Vanessa´s latest post: Baby Sister’s Wedding

  10. My favorite surprise for my kids was more of an April Fool’s joke. I made a meatloaf in cake pans, then iced it with mashed potatoes, including dying some of it green and using a cake decorating tip. The kids hated it then, but it’s funny to them now.
    Stephanie – Green Stay at Home Mom´s latest post: Can You Save By Packing Your Child’s School Lunch in Reusable Containers?

  11. these are fabulous ideas!!! I need to remember to do those nice little surprise treats more often… if for no other reason than it models behaviour I’d like to see in my kids, them doing nice things for others without being asked or expected.
    katepickle´s latest post: Crocodlie Eats Giant Grasshopper.

  12. One night we sent up our big camping tent in our living room and had a picnic in there for dinner and hung out in there until bedtime. You could camp overnight in the tent too…we just knew they would never sleep that way. They LOVED it!

  13. some really simply ideas which goes such a long way! Glad I found you and your blog 🙂
    the parenting files – tahlia´s latest post: what are you thankful for?

  14. Great post, Amy! Similar to Amber’s idea, every now and then we’ll put a blanket out on the floor of the living room and have a dinner picnic. This started in the winter next to the fireplace, and we roasted marshmallows for dessert. My 3 year old loves this ritual and asks for it all the time, making it all the more delightful when we actually do it.

  15. filing these away. I wish my parents had done cool things like this for me! love it!
    jeni´s latest post: Craniofacial Update

  16. I can’t decide which of your delightful ideas is my favorite — they are all great! Little surprises (activities not things) are so much fun and so rewarding for everyone.

    Now that it is finally hot here in the Pacific NW, I’m adding little surprise twists to frozen treats. My kids loved the heart- and star-shaped popsicle bites I made for them using ice cube trays and a little stick last week. Today I had them gather a handful of mint each and we made coconut milk based mint ice cream w/ chocolate bits for an after-lunch dessert. It turned out more like a milkshake (mommy forgot that the ice cream maker requires a fully frozen part to actually work!) but oh well, that was part of the surprise too, I suppose!

    I really enjoy your blog. Thanks for the inspiration!

  17. Genna Haddad says:

    What wonderful ideas! I found your blog through Frugal Family Fun Blog’s link, and I am glad I did!

    One of my favorite ways to surprise my kids is to fill their room with balloons when they are sleeping. I can hear the squeals of delight the moment they wake up! We’ve done it on their birthdays and other special days too!

  18. Jennifer Spafford says:

    Your “hotel” idea brought back great memories of when my mom used to surprise me with not only a clean room, but a rearranged one too. I would come home to find my bedroom furniture arranged completely differently. I loved that surprise. Now I do it with my girls.

  19. Stephanie says:

    I’m totally going to do the hotel room idea. How fun! My kids will love it. We made smores the other night in our living room with Sterno (no fireplace and too hot anyway!) They thought it was the greatest thing. I love all of your ideas. Thanks.

  20. Such wonderful ideas. I love the idea of doing fun little suprises just to make them smile. We do a lot of suprise picnics and I love adding fun surprises to their meals like using cookie cutters to cut their fruit. I leave special treasures and stickers around so the girls can find surprises from “the fairies” when they wake in the morning. My almost 4 year old loves it.

  21. Love all these great ideas, I sometimes surprise my daughter with a fancy morning or afternoon tea – I set her little table with a nice cloth, napkins, special china cups etc and do a mini “high tea” seated at her table with her – she loves it. Next time we do it I am going to dress up too .

  22. I absolutely love these ideas! Definitely bookmarking this one as a reference.
    Nicole {Simple Organic}´s latest post: Weekend Links

  23. Amy, you come up with the best ideas. I loved the breakfast game board playing one so much that I did it yesterday and my whole family LOVED it. My husband and I are going to make it our Sunday morning ritual now.
    Catherine´s latest post: Makeover Monday – Thrifty Mirror

  24. Surely kids will love these ways. They will enjoy their stay at home. I believe that children will be always at home, it is on how mothers treat their children. They should let their children know that they are love and take good care.
    Ron´s latest post: Tips on How to Hide Man Boobs

  25. I can’t wait to try some of these! I think the I Love You poster and the fun dinner ideas will go over really well with my kids. Thanks so much!!!
    Amy @ AboutOne´s latest post: Week in Review: Our Posts From This Week

  26. These are lovely, lovely ideas!! What a blessing it will be for me to make my little girl feel special!
    Brandi´s latest post: It’s Simple To Give

  27. Great ideas! The I Love You poster reminded me of something we do. Each of my boys have a journal in their nightstand. Every now and then, my husband or I will write a little note to one of them or a special memory that we want them to remember. Maybe it was just a really great day, and I want them to know how much I enjoyed being their mom that day. It’s so fun to look back through it and read older entries.

    Also, being that we have 3 kids-all boys, we have designated the 3rd Sunday in August as Brother’s Day. We spend it doing things that they choose and celebrating what awesome friends they are. They ask all year long, “How much longer until Brother’s Day?”. It’s my hope that they will continue it later in life!

  28. We bake and frost a cake together and then celebrate their “unbirthday”. Their favorite part is blowing out the candles and biting into the cake.
    Another one is doing a shadow puppet show for bedtime stories. We lay on bed with a flash light (or daddy’s phone, using the flashlight app) and project our shadow puppets onto the ceiling. They love it!

  29. Set up the tent in the living room and campout for the night. This is especially good in the winter, when real camping is unfeisable…Put a candle in the middle and circle around it to tell campfire stories. Another idea is swap-beds night. The children get to cuddle up in your bed and you and your hubby can sleep in theirs…

  30. Those are such great ideas! Thanks for the reminder to take time to do something extra special and out of the ordinary for my kids =D It makes day to day much more fantastic and makes everyone feel so loved and special! Great ideas =)

  31. Love the poster idea! Love all the ideas! I was thinking maybe I can blow up a cute picture of each child that seems to really capture their unique spirit and have it laminated at Kinkos (poster size)…then I can use write and wipe markers to change up the things I am loving about them that week ??? Thanks for the inspiration!!!

  32. Kristina C says:

    Last week the alarm went off and my husband said, “What do you think about letting the boys stay home today?” I was tired and agreed (and I knew from looking at schedules that nothing was happening that couldn’t be made up). So we let them (8, 6, 6,and 3) sleep until they woke up. When they awoke, I announced that it was Family Vacation Day. We ordered pizza for lunch, stayed in our pjs all day, watched movies, played games and generally just had a good time. Obviously you can do this all the time, but what about once a year???

  33. Really cute ideas! I can’t wait until the kiddos are old enough to try some of them 🙂

  34. Hi, I really enjoyed reading all of your ideas and the comments!! The room ideas all reminded me of my own mother, after I would go to school she would tidy my room and set up my toys as if they were real…..they would be in different poses and outfits even setup for a tea party, it was always so much fun to see what they would be doing 🙂

  35. Sometimes I’ll fill up our living room with balloons! They love it! It keeps them busy all day.!
    Erin´s latest post: Glow sticks in the tub

  36. You are great! I love this site, well done! Wish I had discovered it years ago, but glad I have now. Great, achievable ideas, even for exhausted single mums like me! 🙂

  37. We just did chocolate fondue on Monday with our crew. Strawberries, pineapple, apples, cherries with stems, kiwis, marshmellows, vanilla wafers & caramels. They had a blast & we also enjoyed it!!

  38. When I was little my mom would do “hidden breakfasts” for me sometimes on weekends. When I woke up there would be a note taped to my door with a hint or a drawing to go to some location in the house and then it was a full on scavenger hunt for all of the ingredients for breakfast. It was the best! And we still joke about the time that she hid a grapefruit and we NEVER found it. She couldn’t remember where she’d put it and neither of us could interpret her weird drawing she’d done late the night before.

  39. Love this post. I’m a big proponent of adding a little variety into life. I usually think of that in terms of myself (i’m a very selfish person), but reading this little list has me all excited to mix it up for my kids. They would absolutely LOVE everything on this list. I may have to feature this list on an upcoming blog post.

    My favorite part about this list is that it’s all SUPER SIMPLE. We forget how easy kids are to please. Thanks for this.
    Kristin´s latest post: Lei-ing Down

  40. have a lunch or dinner picnic outside on an ordinary day. if the weather is no good have an indoor picnic!

  41. Today, I set up the beach cabana/tent in the backyard and let my kids drag out all kinds of things from their bedroom – pillows, books, dolls, stuffed animals, tennis rackets. They played for hours without fighting. My son even requested to take his nap out there. After dinner, I packed it back up. I will definitely bring it out again on another special Saturday. It was a treat for us all.

  42. On the occasion that my mom would get us a surprise during her weekly grocery run, my brother and I would get home and find a trail of post-it notes waiting for us. Some would instruct us to put away or things or a specific chore to and others would send us to various parts of our house. Most were riddles, so we got a mental and physical exercise-with a treat at the end. At 24, I sometimes still wish to come home to a post-it note trail at my apartment-even if there were no prize but my mom waiting for me.

  43. Even though my daughter was only one at the time ( now 2). It was so nice out that we made sloppy joes and took a blanket to the front yard and ate dinner outside. It was so nice!!!

  44. Kristine says:

    These ARE the things they’ll remember! You might not, but they will. My mom used to clean my room while I was at school… Once in awhile, when she got sick of the mess. She would make it so perfect, rearranging things here and there, adding little touches. I mentioned it the other day, how special it made me feel and she has no recollection of it! Just Mom being Mom, I guess. When she stays with us, she makes my 7-year-old’s bed all nice and sets up his stuffed animals or action figures or whatever. He loves it too, especially since I never make it unless I’m changing his sheets, lol!

  45. Toni Ross says:

    My husband and I have a son and through the week he didn’t get much say in or schedule so we adopted “special night”. On Friday night our son decides what we eat and what we do. He always wants “snack foods” like cheese and bread, chocolate covered strawberries, chicken on a stick, etc. we eat that on the floor watching his favorite tv show. Then we spend the rest of the night playing board games and cards. Wonderful memories!

  46. For bedtime stories we sometimes light candles. It makes the time magical. You have to be careful of course. It only takes a minute. We don’t do it every night so stays special.

  47. My 7 year old Loves when we do a picni lunch on a blanket on the living room floor. It’s been a while since we have done it so I surprised the kids with one today. It was all set up when I called them out for lunch. I guess it has been a while because my 2 year old had NO idea how I expected him to sit on the floor and eat!

  48. When we were kids, our parents would send us to bed early (we didn’t notice at all) and once we were all snuggled in bed in our pj’s, they would ring a special bell we had mounted on the wall and yell “pajama run!” Then everyone would get out of bed and we’d pile in the car and go out for ice cream in our pajamas. Usually a cone at McDonald’s. My uncle’s version included having his kids decide which way they would turn at intersections, timing the choices offered in a manner that would allow him to still get to the destination he had planned on.


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