The year counting down to high school graduation is a great time to make new memories with your teen. With this in mind, we asked parents in our Paying for College 101 Facebook community for suggestions of fun things to do with teens before college begins.
Take a Family Road Trip
Of the many ideas our parents shared, the one we heard most often was Hit the Road! These trips can be as flexible as your time and budget allow – from impromptu to finely detailed, brief to long, close-by or far away, here are some ideas for family experiences with your teenager:
- Get nostalgic. Visit places from your family’s past, like the first park you camped at, your family’s favorite vacation spot, or a theme park your student loved when they were little.
- Let your student create the itinerary. Ask them to draft their personal wish list of places to visit. Provide guidelines for the budget and length of stay, then encourage them to look at a map and focus on either one or multiple spots.
- Reconnect with family members who live out-of-town. Take a trip up the coast to see cousins, a great-aunt, or attend that wedding four hours away. Give students an opportunity to show their extended family how much they mean to them before college life becomes the norm.
- Combine practical with fun. If you know the school your student will be attending, visit the town it’s in. Scope out places to eat, shop, and tour. Consider an outdoor adventure, a boat ride, or a city tour with a local guide. Make it special – your student can start their freshman year with a better sense of their new home.
Find Fun Things to Do in Everyday Life
Parents often worry about how their young adult will make it on their own. To give them a strong head start, our community suggested focusing on life skills that either you provide, or your whole family learns together. Somethings to do with your teen include:
- Signing up for lifelong learning classes at a local community college
- Getting a CPR certification together
- Taking car maintenance courses
- Enjoying a cooking class or cook through a family recipe book
- Plant or care for a garden of houseplants
Your community center may also offer weekend workshops on much needed “adulting” topics. Consider all free or low-cost courses hosted by churches, local extension offices, and businesses.
Lee Katherine H. said adults should pass down their own skills, especially in the kitchen, an idea echoed by many: “Learn to cook the foods Mom makes,” was a popular suggestion.
This last year of high school is also a chance for parents to learn alongside their students, with Erin K. recommending the whole family try getting a green thumb: “Adopt some house plants and see who can keep them alive,” she said.
One big payoff from this last activity: surviving plants can move with the student into their new dorm!
Put the “Fun” in Family Activities
Sometimes, the best thing to do with your teen is to spend quality time with the intention of enjoying each other’s company. These family activities resonate with young adults and give parents much-needed quality time with their teenagers:
- Make jewelry, try 3D printing at a maker space, or go to a graffiti art studio to get messy
- Start a scrapbook, or finally finish that one you started years ago, by including new pages for senior year
- Participate in an escape room experience
- Capture a video of your family cooking or trying a new TikTok dance trend
- Make a list of all the movies you have yet to watch (but always wanted to) before they leave; then take the time to finally watch them. Create a signature snack mix to enjoy during the event
- Have a family book club night with one book to read for enjoyment each month, then discuss over a big family dinner
- Make the family holiday cards something amazing. Include costumes, props, or a destination vacation backdrop
Jennifer S. stressed the importance of living in the present by putting college talk aside for just one day a week. “We as a family spend every Wednesday night watching a show, and there is no discussion about college on family night – just spending time together,” she said. “I think it is helpful keeping a balance between pleasure and ‘business.’”
Celebrate High School Graduation
Finally, there’s nothing sweeter than time with family and friends. Consider an end-of-summer bash where classmates and their parents can get together and not only look back but also imagine the future. Create a space to mingle, rent a photo booth, or create a background where kids can take pictures, and be sure to provide lots of fun food. Students will appreciate this opportunity to see old friends before moving on to make new ones, and parents will enjoy being part of the party.
Multitask: Make Plans and Memories
While most parents have their own ideas of how the year before college should be spent, our community said they’re more than willing to let their students take the lead and not only pick activities, but also help plan them.
“With a busy senior and a sophomore, my main focus this school year was getting everyone to eat dinner together as much as possible,” said Rebecca A. Her suggestion for other families? “Try to keep things simple. With so much to do and think about next fall and winter, it may be easier to schedule less.”
Going to college is a giant leap that requires some trust. By giving students ownership over what activities to do this year, you’ll signal that you’re ready to let them spread their wings.
The bonus? Memories to last a lifetime and some peace of mind that your teen will be well-prepared for their first year away from home.