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. Great ideas! I can’t wait to try them with my son 🙂
    Dawn´s latest post: Busy Week

  2. We have 6 kids so we always try to come up with fun ideas. On occasion we will do math drills and throw mini marshmallows to the kid who gets the right answer. We also go park hopping. We stay at each park for 5 minutes then honk the horn. Everyone runs to the car and we go to another park. We’ll usually hit 5 parks at a time. Recently we took a favorite card game to a fast food place and ate a snack while we played.

  3. My son loves making wishes on dandelions and I make sure to listen to what he is wishing for. For a few weeks, every time found one, he wished for the same thing, a birthday cake. His birthday is 8 months away! However one evening I called my husband on his way home from work and had him pick up a small personal sized birthday cake for our son. I have never seen such a wild look on his face before! He was so surprised and excited that his Dandelion wish had somehow come true!

    I love your list, they are great ideas 🙂 kids need those kind of moments to look back on and remember such a magical time in life!

  4. My kids love to dress up. So I have collected many costumes (originally for Halloween) and tell them we can only wear costumes today. It’s usually a Saturday, but any day could work. Watching my children use their imagination is my favorite!

  5. We pulled all of my daughter’s toddler chairs into the living room and built a fort with a table cloth. She got to bring toys in from the toy room, which isn’t allowed normally. She absolutely loved it!!

  6. We live in the country and usually play on the swings and stuff in our own yard. A couple of times a year we surprise the kids with a pizza night at the playground in town. A couple have great picnic areas and the kids love it. I have also surprised my kids with trips to the movies. I will head to town with them to do “errands” and we will end up at the movie theatre – it is really fun!

  7. I love to do a crazy bathtime – lots of bubbles, glow in the dark glowsticks with the lights off, special scented bath salt, etc… whatever I have on hand!
    Hillary´s latest post: Sleep Schedules

  8. We like to build secret spy forts with boxes taped together. They have windows and secret escape doors and ramps for a fast exit on foot or in a vehicle of choice.

  9. My girls love when I declare it to be “Sleepover in the den night.” We pull the mattress off the bed and put it in front of the couch. We have a “what’s your talent” show where they demonstrate interesting and wonderful things they can do while standing center “stage” on the mattress. Popcorn in bed while watching a movie, and breakfast in bed the next morning are always a big hit.

  10. Great list! And great comments! A few of things we’ve done: I drew a big smiley face with permanent marker on EVERY item in the fridge, so that when they opened the door in the morning, the whole fridge was smiling at them. Really, the delight lasted all week. One time I snuck in their room while they were asleep and took out all of their ponies and lined them all up, facing the bed. They ran upstairs that morning, shouting to me about how their toys came alive during the night! I also have little mailboxes for them outside their bedroom door, and every now and then I’ll leave a little treat or note for them to find in there. It makes waking up fun!

  11. We have sent up our tent in the living room, added blankets and pillows and had lunch in there, read stories….then later on we watched a movie w/ popcorn and floats whilst laying in the tent. Fun!!!

  12. Gram"B" says:

    Since I am a grandmother I was looking for ideas for my grandchildren. It is so heart warming to read young mothers comments and see all of you enjoying being moms! They’re little for such a short time so every day is a blessing. Thanks for giving this Gram “B” lots of fun memory making ideas!!!!!! God Bless all of you and your sweet families!

    • Elisabeth says:

      Gram “B”, you made me cry! It’s so nice to read something so supportive and kind. Everywhere you look these days it seems people are trying to ignite the “Mommy Wars” and get everyone mad at each other. How wonderful to not only have a comments section with such great ideas, but to have someone like you express your admiration for the next generation of mothers. Loving our tiny people is something we all have in common, and it IS fun to be a mom to little ones – thanks for the sweet reminder!
      (PS: Tandy – I am getting out the Sharpie right now to draw faces in the fridge. SO right up our alley, LOL!)

      • Nanna Z says:

        Gram “B”, you also made me cry. I wish I had great ideas like some I have read on here when my kids were small. I have grandkids and have been in childcare 14 years so I love sites like this.

  13. Well I love your ideas of course! So awesome! I love surprising my kids! Trips o the movies. A suprise sushi or pizza night where each one of us puts together out own meal 🙂 I love setting the tent up in the entertainment room or a suprise picnic at the park or even just in the front yard under our tree. We have done ice cream breakfast before – so fun and unexpected 🙂 my husband lives and world away from us and we miss him so much. We only get to see him once every month or so, so I try to keep their minds off that thought as of course it brings sadness to us all. Keeping them happy and entertained while learning new things and having fun is the best part of my days!!! 🙂

    Thanks so much for some more great ideas!
    And Gram B – you made me tear up also! You’re an amazon Granny for wanton to do fun things with your grandchildren – they’re lucky to have you!!

    • my husband is moving away from us for while due to work love the idea of making things fun to keep their minds off him being gone!

  14. Amazing Granny!!! Sorry 🙁 typo!!

  15. Genevieve says:

    Love the smilie face idea!
    I am going to use so many of these ideas.

    We often have gone on an adventure walk. The family sets out together walking a block at time. At every corner one member of the family gets to choose to turn left, right, or walk on ahead. We explored much of our small town that way when we first moved here and met many interesting people. We see lots of holiday decorations and even our pet makes some new friends once in a while.

  16. I’m so looking forward to summer so i can surprise my little blessings with y’alls awesome ideas! Thank you all. I’d like to add play with your food night. I buy a box of instant potatoes, make the whole box dish out a small amount with dinner then split up the rest on sarate plates for potato sculptures w

  17. I can’t do this yet as my kids are too small and still learning eating habits, but I remember my mom having different rules for dinner times. Sometimes we had to eat with our hands behind our backs, sometimes only eat with our left hand, or eat only with chopsticks. I remember how fun it was. I also remember my parents waking us in the middle of the night to order pizza. Many memories have faded as i have a terrible memory, but those ones have never gone away. I can’t wait to do this with my kids when they are older; however, i look forward to trying out some of these ideas. Thanks for reminding me I can be fun, just like my mom 🙂

  18. Stephanie says:

    I love these! I love even more that I can do so many of them for my teen and preteen daughters! Thanks!

  19. Since it gets so hot down south we have to play at the park early in the morning so the night before I call all of my kids friends moms an set up a play date in the park but I don’t tell the kids. Before they get up my husband makes a doughnut run and sticks it in the back of the car so they are surprised at the park. Sometimes we bring silly string, bubbles, chalk, water balloons or even regular balloons and we play games with that ballon like keep it off the ground or ballon volleyball. Just don’t forget to clean up the balloons or silly string and that teaches them about littering. We also go buy hotdogs(uncooked) and cookies and take it to the fire station. Most of the time the firemen end letting the kids hang out and look at the trucks. When we where shopping for the hot dogs I never told the kid what we were going to do with them. They loved it!

  20. Set out a picnic blanket and all the picnic trimmings and have a picnic in doors. My daughter and I did this in my bedroom one time and we watched a movie together.

    Every Christmas Day, since we live very far from family, we have a dinner just the 4 of us. The table is set beautifully candle light and all, we buy children’s champagne (sparkling apple cider) and use our fine china and allow the kids to use real champagne glasses. My husband and I prepare a really nice dinner that we all share together as a family. We do the same on New Year’s Day!

  21. Mae Mae says:

    What a great site, so fun. I have a 4 year old Grandson, a 8 month old Granddaughter and another Grandson on the way, and I am always looking for fun things to do a MaeMaes house. Thanks to all these young Moms for energizing My creative juices. We are never to old to learn something new from the younger generations.

  22. My son is only 1 month old, so I haven’t done any of these fun memorable things with him yet, but when I was little the last day of every month was “no rules night” at dinner. It was something special that I always looked forward to, and a break from my parents from constantly reminding me how to behave at the table!

  23. my son is still a baby, but what i am excited to do for him is something my mom did for us as kids that i have always loved and never forgotten:
    surprise movie night!!!!!
    we would watch a movie and she’d make colored popcorn, a different color for each of us using koolaid. she would bust out all the pillows and blankets in the house and make a giant floor couch for everyone to snuggle on……… it was always a surprise when it happened and so much fun!!

  24. We have a 3 year old daughter and an 8 month old son. When going grocery shopping, I make sure to grab a few quarters so my daughter can get something from the little machines (you know, the ones where you put in the quarters and twist the handle and the little dome thing comes out). She is so delighted each time to see what little prize she gets. Occasionally I’m able to grocery shop alone and she is beyond ecstatic when I come home with one (or two) of those little prizes for her. At bedtime she is allowed to choose one glow bracelet (I get the 15 pack at Dollar Tree or the $1 section at Target) and bend it to make it glow (we call it glow juice) and she promptly puts it on her wrist and wears it all night. After dinner each night, I put a big spoonful of vanilla bean ice cream in a bowl and use the spoon to break up a chips ahoy cookie in it for her. It’s her favorite part of dinner. Even though our son is only 8 months old (and he shouldn’t even be eating this), he loves ice cream so he gets to have a little tiny scoop of vanilla bean ice cream after his dinner too (although he cries like his heart is breaking when the bowl is empty). Both kids LOVE it when we bat a balloon around the room. Our daughter loves to participate and our son loves it when the balloon bonks him on the head. They both giggle to no end and it is such a joy to hear their laughter!

    Gram “B”–Thank you so much for the encouragement!! Being a mom is hard and I know we all appreciate you lifting us up with your kind words!

    • Ann Marie, my son and I were at the grocery store the other day (he is now 22 years old) and as we were leaving he looked at the machines and said ” Mom, remember when I was little and I got to get something from the machines when we went shopping? that was sooo much fun. (back then they had little minature football helmets, he collected the entire set and still has them in a specially made case hanging in his bedroom). It’s nice that he still remembers that.

  25. One of my favorite memories as a kid is my parents waking my sister and I up to take us around to look at Christmas lights. It was so fun being out of bed and the regular family tradition was even better that year!

  26. These are such great ideas!!! We have a special tradition for Christmas where we each pick out new jammies and open them Christmas Eve night. We all put them on and cuddle on the couch and watch a Christmas movie after. Usually the jammies we pick are silly looking and it’s a fun surprise to see what everyone picked out for eachother.

    It’s also fun to do backward food day. As a special treat, we eat dinner for breakfast and breakfast for dinner. Our son loves waking up to pizza and it’s a fun way to mix things up.:)

    You can also mail silly little things to your children from a “secret friend”…beach balls, small toys, notes or cards. It’s also fun to send things to their friends and ask their parents to mail things to your child. Our toddler loves checking the mailbox to see if he received anything. It’s a fun little way to let them know someone was thinking of them.

  27. There are some absolutely wonderful ideas within these comments. Thank you for making me smile and for getting my creative ‘mom’ juices flowing again.

  28. One of my favorute traditions aroud Christmastime was every 23rd of december my sisters and i would have a Christmas movie marathon where the tree was set up, then we would sleep over in there. Them on Christmas eve we would all sleepover in the playroom, then we were all together for Christmas morning!!! So fun!!

  29. A friend gave me the idea to make ice cream sundaes out of my grandkids so on a hot day last summer, I broke out the whipping cream, sprinkles, caramel and chocolate sauces, jam and little wafers. The kids absolutely loved being coated in such yummy stuff. I even put a cherry on top of their heads. I rinsed them off at the end of it all with the sprinkler and then put them in the bath (you should have seen the water). My grandson still talks about it. I will have to do it again with them this year along with some of the other suggestions. Great Post!

  30. Such beautiful ideas! Cant wait to try them out with my one year old when she grows up a little bit!

    So thankful to inspiring people like who push us to be better moms every day 🙂

  31. I love the ideas! We use a turkey blind tent in the living room or we try and make “the best ever” fort… we also do movie marathon saturdays (saved for when my husband is out of town) such as 3 or 4 of the Harry Potter movies or a season of Friends shows…. this includes picnics and “food I never allow any other time” … The girls love it and they always seem to have the next one planned in their heads!

  32. Thanks for posting these ideas. I was so motivated that I printed off a calendar and started filling up days/evenvings with all these great ideas! This way I can do something at a moments notice rather than finding the time time and incling to look it up on the computer. my girls are ages 3,4,5 & 14, so memorable, fun activities are always well utilized and appreciated! Thanks so much 🙂

    Glow stick bath is a must.

  33. Some times I surprise my little one (6 almost 7) with a warm towel from the dryer after her bath! And when she’s done drying off she uses it as a cape to “fly to her bedroom” for her warm pjs!! And I LOVE the ice cream treats for dinner idea!!

  34. LOVE these! I’ll occasionally move a sleeping child into our bed so when they wake up in the morning or middle of the night, they are all excited b/c it’s a special treat to be in mommy’s and daddy’s bed. Or one of us (daddy or me) will go to sleep in their bed (they are already asleep) so when they wake up one of us is there. Once we both did it – one in each bunk. The kids were giggling hysterically the next morning!

  35. My stepson enjoys me getting in the living room floor with him and masking tape and creating the wildest track for his monster trucks. Its an easy clean up and easy redo when we need to switch it out. It also works well with match box cars and the track comes off the furniture and onto the floor, most of the time, any usual television watching going on at the time by anyone else becomes impaired by their involvement or entertainment. Have fun with it, we do!

  36. We have UnBirthday Tea Parties. Make home gifts for everyone, bake a cake, then dress up crazy and have a party.

  37. We have family fun food day. Everyone decides on their favorite dish they want to make. NO RULES!! We all head to the grocery store to get everyone’s ingredients. Then we spend the day together making everyone’s favorite dish and then we serve all the faves together! Makes for some interesting meals! Loads of fun and family time!

  38. We have Pirate Day. We dress, talk and act like a pirate for the day. My daughter’s favorite part is “swabbing the deck”. We put old socks on, dip our feet in warm soapy water and swab the kitchen floor. Great fun and I have a clean floor when we’re done. ;o)
    I have to say that I’ve been needing to clean my fridge out for a while and dreading it so much, but now I’m off to go clean it out armed with a sharpie marker. Can’t wait to see the smiles and giggles later. :o)

  39. I teach second grade so when my have to pack lunches for my own children’s field trips it is always a must to have their lunch clearly marked with their name. And seeing that I love colorful Sharpies, I add doodles to the items in their lunch and look up jokes to go along with the field trip to write on the outside. (What do you use to fix a pumpkin? A Pumpkin Patch!!)

    Thanks guys!!

  40. My daughter is almost 2, she loves when mommy or daddy surprise her with shared bath time. We suit up in our swimwear and one of us gets in the tub and she just gets so happy to share her beloved bath time.

    Another thing we enjoy is playing in the car. Sometimes it’s before/after delivering lunch to daddy, or just while out running errands, we will turn some music on, and bounce and sing, take photos, put the seats down if we are in the SUV, people watch, picnic in the back seat, it’s like a portable fort!

  41. Unreal Mum says:

    Every week we have The Friday Adventure. I choose a secret destination and pack whatever is necessary and take the children after school. It can be as simple as a bush walk in the local forest, a pizza picnic at the scenic lookout, a walk on the beach, a ferry ride in the city, a night at the theatre or movies. Once it was just to drive on Woopity Do Street (my name for it) where you become airborne over the humps if you drive fast! No matter what has happened during the week, we all look forward to a fresh adventure on Friday!

  42. Wow all of these ideas and the ideas contributed by the other lovely mothers in the comments got me excited for tomorrow with school being out for New Year’s Eve! We already have 1 thing super fun planned but we may add something else from your list too! My step daughter is an awesome and adorable 9 year old, my daughter is a sweet and silly 4 year old and my son is an ornery but handsome little red-headed 14 month old and we are having a “fashion show” photo shoot. I picked out a bunch of different outfits, from pj’s to dress up outfits, to nice clothes and new clothes from Christmas, and borrowed my moms super nice camera. We are going to use a white sheet hung from a doorway to create a background and the kids will get all sorts of pictures with tons of poses both together and individually. We don’t go get professional photos because we can’t afford it and because I take amazing photos on my own so this serves two purposes, getting professional grade photos for me and the kids (well the girls at least lol) will enjoy “modeling.” And my step daughter isn’t allowed to wear make up until she’s 14 but we allow her to play occasionally at home with me doing it for her so for some of the photos she will be allowed to wear some too.

    To Granny B wow how thoughtful and sweet of you for your kind, supportive, and inspiring words. Thank you! To the other grandmothers thank you also for your encouragement and support as well!

    • I love your ideas! I used to do the same with my kids (now turning 12), I hung large sheets on the wall, this big light that I have and make them change and pose, it took hours, but we all had fun. I have thousands of pictures with all those beautiful memories. All this stuff is so much fun doing with the kids!

  43. Wow! Such great ideas! It is now 2013, and after reading all of these wonderful ideas, I came up with an idea of my own, a New Year’s resolution rather! I will pick one day a week where I do something fun, exciting or just plain memorable. Things that my children will never forget and hopefully do with their own children when they are older! I am a waitress and a cook at the local diner, so I have a waitressing uniform and a cook uniform, and what I like to do (especially when dinner isn’t something they are too fond of) is I like to play “restaurant” with them. I have them come into my “restaurant” (kitchen) and have a homemade menu for them to look at which really only has one option on it, but it’s still exciting for them to look at and they tell me their order and I write it down on my pad of paper, then I switch into my cooking uniform right after I give them crayons and coloring books to use while I’m cooking for them, then when dinner is done I garnish it up with lemons, parsley, orange slices, anything to make it fancy, and I deliver it to them, and they almost always eat their whole meal, because they feel special because I made it fun for them! This is a great idea for picky eaters, and my oldest son has autism and this idea works great for him as well! Worth a try if you have picky eaters at home!

  44. WOW……
    Thank you all for your inspiration!
    We have 2 high needs boys, 6 & 7.5, and we really struggle to have fun like you have mentioned/suggested. I made a concerted effort to get Christmas presents that required our involvement, in an attempt to rectify this problem.
    Reading that many of you mix up meals and let the kids eat random things at the “wrong” times … I think we will give this a go. Our eldest is constantly asking for food and he usually only wants treat-types….letting him have or better still surprising him with biscuits and ice cream for breakfast should be a hoot!

    Thanks again and I hope I can shake some of the “grumpy, old mum” off and be a bit more fun for all ????

  45. PS love the letterbox idea!

  46. Thank you all for sharing! One year we made a pinata (just a simple hot-air-balloon). After Halloween we filled the pinata with their candy and let them bust it open, so they got double the fun out of the same amount of candy! I love Carissa’s comment, about how she surprised her son with a birthday cake! I will be using so many of these ideas!

  47. On Christmas, actually on Thanksgiving weekend, we set the Christmas tree, the nativity set and all our stuff for Christmas, it’s such a wonderful time. My two children and me played Christmas movies while doing all the setting, and play and sing Christmas songs. I’ve been doing it since my kids were little, they’re turning 12, and actually my son is the one who started it this past year, even before Thanksgiving he was already excited. My daughter loves to wrap presents after, and write the cards, even the dog gets something, handmade, but everybody gets something. It just make me so happy to see my children’s excitement and happiness, that is priceless. It’s really a wonderful time 🙂

  48. Our daughter loves to lay in the back of the truck and gaze and talk about the stars. we bring a blow up mattress, blankets, pillows, snacks, etc and get nice and cozy!

  49. What great ideas! It amazing what little things make kids so happy if we just put a little effort and time into it! I love surprising the kids. My sister is 12 years older than me and was always great a coming up with fun ideas that she passed down to me when I became a mom. A few fun ones that have really stuck with my kids are “fancy glass night” Each kid has a fun fancy class (wine glass or glass mug of their choice), one night a week we use these at the dinner table. They always look forward to it!

    We also do backwards night were we eat everything in backwards order – desert first, then dinner then appetizer – or we have to use the wrong silverware or eat with our hands or chop sticks – or eat on the floor like you see in the movies japanese style

    we do breakfast for dinner a lot as well which they love – pancakes, etc.

    at Christmas we have the “Polar Express” don’t tell the kids what you are planning – tell everyone to get on their PJ’s and get ready for bed, then when they go in their room they will find a ticket on their pillow – then we blow the train whistle and load up the car to go look at Christmas lights late – we have hot chocolate and snacks in the car. They go crazy when they see the ticket and hear the train whistle!

    fill a room with balloons so when they wake up there are balloons everywhere – when they become a teenager do this to their car!

    leave post it notes all over their room or bathroom mirror, back of front door, back door, their seat at the table, in their backpack – kids love notes – if you want to get even more into it write them in code then give them a decoder (you can find many free decoders to down load or use morse code and give them a morse code cheat sheet to look up.

    I grew up in a house with 4 kids – every year for Christmas my dad would have one person get a gift that was found only by completing a treasure hunt – one person would open a gift that was really just a clue to the next clue and so on until you found your gift. Usually a gift that was a challenge to wrap so it was hidden somewhere instead and you got several clues to get you there. We always wandered each year who was going to get to go on the infamous treasure hunt!

    Thanks for taking me down memory lane and giving me several new ideas to try! I’m going to hang mailboxes at each door very soon!


  1. […] great idea is one a blog called Simple Kids. One post: Easy Ways to Excite and Delight Your Children was written by a devoted mother and clearly positive role model. This Post lists 6 great ways to […]