By Sara G. Stephens
We asked the experts, from Houston moms to parenting coaches to interior decorators, how parents can make their house the “it house,” where their kids, their kids’ friends and neighbors want to hang out.
Here’s what they had to say.
1. Provide for activities that are relationship-centered.
Avoid activities such as TV and video games, because these don’t nurture relationships with others. Rather, having a lot of interactive activities in which everyone is playing with each other. Such activities build relationships and creates histories.
Specific activities depend on budget, space and kids’ ages. For example, for outdoors, a sand pile with buckets, shovels, plastic containers, and castle makers can keep children entertained for hours. Simple ball games like football, kick ball, volleyball, and soccer can be played with a large number of children of a variety of ages in a pretty organized way for a long time. Jump rope, double-dutch jump rope, hopscotch, marbles, and 4-square are fun and easy. A swing set is loved by children of all ages, or just a swing or hammock hanging from a tree in the yard. Also, having a great climbing tree and/or tree fort is lots of fun. Keep plenty of bikes, scooter, and skate boards around, and maybe set up some jumps with plywood and cement blocks in the yard. Get some pipes and set up obstacles. Having a swimming pool or a lake nearby is a bonus for sure.
For indoor play keep on hand some classic board games, such as Sorry, Scrabble, and Monopoly are great classics to have on hand, along with a deck or two of playing cards. Baskets filled with matchbox cars and accessories or baby dolls and clothes/accessories are great too. Having a game room with real sized pool table, foosball table, air hockey, and/or ping pong table is great for teens. – Monique Prince, MSW Parenting Coach
2. Offer a “Hangout Package.”
We developed our teen “Hangout Package,” which we display on a chalk board in the kitchen. The hangout package is our offer to the kids: Anytime they have friends over to the house, we’ll pay for one pizza, six sodas, all the popcorn they can eat and one movie rental. This was the big trick that really got the kids hanging out at our house. They really didn’t abuse the offer and have only used it a few times, but it gave the kids the motivation to start inviting their friends over. Once they all started hanging out here we didn’t really need to keep it up. They got to know this was a cool place to hangout. – Beth, a working mom who home-schooled 2 boys, who now are honors students in college
3. Please Feed the Bears.
Depending on when they are here, sometimes we just order pizzas, and we usually have snacks on hand–drinks and chips type of thing. And for sleepovers we usually do a big breakfast for them as well–as in pancakes, bacon, sausage, muffins and those types of things. – Michelle Morton, mom to three boys ages 19, 15 and 11
4. Present a home, not a museum.
Of course you should expect visitors to respect your house and your belongings. But no kid is going to feel comfortable for any amount of time in a house where everything is fragile, valuable and, therefore, off limits. I make it point to stay on top of all the latest gadgets and gizmos that help me keep up the fun without running down my home. I recently discovered a waterproof, Bluetooth speaker from Exogear that’s perfect for having around the swimming pool. You can literally toss their Ecostone speaker into the water, with no damage whatsoever. It’s light, rugged and affordable ($149)—a godsend at pool parties.
Also, it used to be that when my son’s friends wanted to paint indoors, I would spread tarps all over the floor, then anxiously lord over the easels to wipe the occasional splatter. This did not exactly inspire creativity. I’ve since replaced the tarp and the easels with a few Crayola iMarkers. They’re digital styluses that let little artists can draw and paint to their hearts’ content, and let me rest easy knowing my walls, floors and furniture aren’t being used as canvases. I bought my iMarkers for $29.99 and at griffintechnology.com. There are lots of products out there designed to let you childproof with coolness. – Tracey Timpanaro, Katy mom
5. Keep up the Lawn.
A green and healthy lawn goes a long way toward making your house “the” neighborhood spot. Simple efforts, like aeration and reseeding once a year and fertilizing 3-4 times annually will work wonders. During my childhood, my friends and I liked playing pickup football and baseball games. My house was the place to hang out because we had a huge green yard. – Alex Birkett, LawnStarter, www.lawnstarter.com
6. Keep Things Orderly.
Be sure to greet each friend as he or she enters your home. You want to be welcoming, but not over-eager. This helps set the tone that it is your house and you are in charge, while also modeling good manners. This also helps you learn the names and personalities of your child’s friends.
When appropriate and not intrusive, be sure to ask each friend a question that shows you’re interested in them. Your goal is not to be their “friend” and hangout with the kids, but to show your child’s friends that you value them.
I discuss our house rules with my child before their friends arrive. I also talk through and sometimes role-play how they can handle a situation where a friend is breaking our house rules. For example, my children don’t receive a cell phone with texting or data until they’re 13 years old. Often their friends receive cell phones at younger ages. I discuss how to handle if their friend with a cell phone begins to behave irresponsibly at our home on their cell phone.
I don’t plan activities for my child (I’m not a cruise director), but I do help them brainstorm activities they can do when their friends are over. This helps minimize the “bored” kids getting into trouble. – Susan Santoro, Organized 31, organized31.com
7. Be thoughtful about design.
Even though I’m an interior designer and like to own beautiful things, I lead a very casual life, and my spaces reflect the same. No room in our home is off-limits for my kids. Children have such a beautiful energy, and to allow them to freely dance, run and sing throughout the house really encourages such an amazing ambience that you can’t find anywhere else.
There are a few spaces that I do make extra special for my children to want to spend time in, more so than their friends’ homes and other places outside ours.
My youngest daughter’s room is colorful, extremely playful, very bold—as is with the rest of our home—and I keep all her dress up gear there. She has her own bathroom with a tub so all the wet mess stays in one area. I also keep a small TV and a child chaise in her room where she and her friends can hangout while us grownups stay in the main areas.
I’m a big believer in losing formal spaces and opening up rooms to create large entertaining areas. Pick a neutral palette, add lots of bold accents and choose furniture that is fun and playful but still functional for the entire family.
Splurge on a fantastic sofa. Paint one of the walls with chalkboard paint to add depth without sacrificing refined style. Let natural light in. And don’t be afraid to be eccentric and use color.
– Lorena Gaxiola, lorenagaxiola.com
8. Show your character.
My philosophy for design is to allow people to embrace creativity and welcome positive influences into their home. The home is where the heart is, and it is important to make sure that your home can make family and loved ones feel welcome. Allowing an open space incorporated with the warmth of the family’s style shows not only how beautiful a home can be, but who lives there. If you have kids, the design of a home is important, because as children grow up they are influenced by what is around them. A calming environment can encourage healthy development.
– Kelly Amen, KGA Designs
9. Make the space fun.
Have a space like a game room with easily accessible options for entertainment. Have a theme, movie posters or fun colors on the wall. Make it the cool place to be. You don’t have to have a sound proof room, but nobody likes to hang out in a space where you have to be quiet.
– Cory Cryer, Sunburst Shutters Houston, sunbursthouston.com
10. Keep it clean and organized.
Organize both your inside and outside toys and games in clear, easy-to-identify containers on visible shelves. It gives kids the perception that you have a lot more fun things to do when they can clearly see all the options instead of them being all piled up and hidden in a bin or closet. It also makes it easier to clean up after the visit is over.
Hire a company to keep your home clean. You will be more willing to say yes to last minute visitors if you are never embarrassed by the condition of your home. Having the reputation as being “the flexible family” that is always up for guests will make everyone feel more comfortable approaching you for both pre-planned and impromptu get-togethers.
Have a welcoming/warm attitude: One of the most important parts of hospitality is the mental attitude. Kids want to be a part of a friendly, welcoming environment and not feel invasive when they are at someone else’s house. – Cindy Pratt, Owner, MaidPro League City maidpro.com/league-city
11. Consider the “cool” factor.
Techie touches here and there add up to a huge “wow” effect that keeps friends talking and coming back to the coolest house on the block.
Install touch-free faucets like Sensate model K72218, P-chrome with black accents.
Replace your light bulbs with 2700K color LED bulbs–much cooler in the summer, especially in the kitchen and bath. Buy them at a lighting store. The ones at the box stores are poor quality and can vary in color and brightness. They use much less power, look like the old incandescent bulbs, and pay for themselves in 2 years.
If you have a plain, blah concrete porch, consider topping it with some beautiful slate or a non-slip, stone-look tile. Less expensive than you might think.
Add LED ribbon lights in the “toe-kick” of your kitchen and bath cabinets for a very cool effect.
Tech idea: Buy a “Chromecast” device ($30-$35 at Best Buy or online) to plug into the side of your TV. Then you can put anything that shows up on a tab on your phone or tablet on your TV easily. I watch YouTube videos and free movies on my TV for example. You can also show family photos and all sorts of things. Cool technology for cheap! – Dan Bawden, President, Legal Eagle Contractors, Co.
12. Create trendy spaces.
For big kids – Many parents want to attract their kids to come home over breaks and spend time with them. No longer is just doing their laundry and taking them to dinner going to suffice. We have found that proximity to the inner city and nightlife is important to this demographic. Many empty-nesters are following the trend of selling their suburban homes and moving into smaller, trendier infill homes that provide modern amenities, such as a pool with outdoor living space that allows both the parents and children to entertain. The outdoor spaces typically include multiple televisions, fire pits, outdoor kitchens, hot tubs and pools.
For small kids – While the game room remains a popular option, the ability to take the interior design of that room and incorporate “cool” kid spaces is a growing trend. Custom built-in bunk beds have become a staple for On Point Custom Homes. This feature creates an awesome sleeping space and hideouts for kids in the game rooms. This room becomes a place where children can play with their friends, snuggle up with a good book or watch a movie on the big screen television. – John Leggett, CEO, On Point Custom Homes