You know I love you, right?
We’re parents…and we’re in this together.
That being said, I wanted to do something extra special for you today.
Call me crazy, but I was in the mood…and I really like these moods.
Sooooo, before you do anything else: BOOKMARK THIS ARTICLE
(…learning about Family Night from me means you’re going to do it at the end of the article anyway—might as well get it over with now…)
[Note on links: Since updating this article, I’ve included some affiliate links to help pay for this site. It won’t cost you a penny–but if you buy something through a link, the retailer will throw me a few pennies.]
Hey, I’m the comic book dad, the fantasy author dad…the guy who plays competitive Duck-Duck-Goose in his house with teens and young adults, remember?
Oh yeah, I…know…cool.
Doesn’t matter if you want the admiration of your own kids, or to be the envy of every parent in your neighborhood—today, it’s gonna happen.
(winks) I got yer back.
Now, don’t think I’m trying to compare myself to someone else, here.
I learned a long time ago there was absolutely no benefit in trying to keep up with the Joneses.
…besides, it’s a lot cheaper to drag them down to my level anyway.
As I said to the officers, I have NO IDEA how 62 rolls of toilet paper got all over their house, car…or why ‘sparky’s’ fur turned a weird shade of pink.
…but since we’re neighbors, we did help clean it up.
There just happens to be times when I really want my kids to look at me and say, “Wow. I’m so glad he’s MY dad.”
You can tease me all you want, but I have times like that and I don’t think it’s bad.
Moments when my kids are having a rough time with SOMEthing in their lives and I want to come along, put my arm around their shoulder and say, ‘Hey, ya know what? Forget that junk. Let’s hang out, just us.”
Cool Parents Throw Movie Parties
Just for the fact that you noticed the kids and how lousy they feel…AND you want to do something about it, you’re earning points.
We forget quickly, that our kids LOVE us.
They want to BE with us, spend TIME with us and when we notice them, they notice us.
Our kids remember!
(As I write this, three of my littlest kids—Simon (8), Carley (7) and Wynnie (5) walk in to give me a hug.
That’s it…a hug.
Well, and Carley always gives me a kiss too.
Why do they do that?
Because I told them once, months ago that hugs from them make me smile…and I always have a better day.
They haven’t missed a single day since I told them…)
Now, I thought about the kind of Family Night that might appeal to the widest audience and the widest age range of kids…and it came down to movies.
I don’t know of too many families that don’t enjoy watching a good show together—so I’m going to explain how we do it BIG around here.
Besides, movies already provide you with a few advantages:
•Wide variety of viewing options;
•You can theme the experience;
•Movie Parties can be done both INdoors and OUTdoors;
•…even little ones that don’t feel so good (cough, cough, sniff, sniff) can participate.
…But Not Just ANY Movie Party—A DRIVE-IN Party
Do YOU have fond memories of the Drive-In like I do?Click To Tweet
It’s was one of our favorite family activities growing up.
So why not have a first-rate drive-in theater experience…in your living room or back yard?
I mean, have you checked out the price of movie tickets?
When we do a family outing, I regularly spend $100 or more, just for me, Kathi and the kids alone!
(…and we usually have extra family and friends join us!)
Why pay such ridiculous prices, when investing a little money and effort can provide the ultimate experience for the family (and guests) over and over again?
Take that cost and put it into some equipment and creative ideas.
Make this a family project—which builds a level of anticipation which can’t be equaled in the little kids.
If you want to invite extended family and friends over for the best homemade experience they’re likely to have, I’m here to show you exactly how to do it.
The following is what I do in the Buckley house, including alternatives (in case you’re working on a budget).
Pick Your Setting
The first thing you need to have is a place to host the activity. It works almost as well if you’re in an apartment, so don’t stress…but if you have a home of your own—you have plenty of options.
Living Rooms are the most convenient place to host.
This is a perfect pick for colder days, winter time, when the kids are sick and you don’t want to leave anyone out on the fun.
Heck—it’s even fun when you want to create a cozy atmosphere and you’re not ion the mood to haul the sleeping little bodies back to their own rooms.
Back Yards are the best location when you have good grass.
A freshly mowed lawn smells good and cuts back on the need for seating.
You and the other parents can use lawn chairs while the young ones can plant themselves on the grass.
Even your babies will be comfortable kicking back on their blankets.
What I love is tired children can slip off and go to sleep.
They can be picked up and taken to bed after the movie is over—letting everyone else still enjoy the activity.
Large Concrete sections & Driveways also work well if you have the seating (have guests bring their own).
We did this in one of our homes where the carport used to sit.
Plus, if you want to have a ‘real’ drive-in experience, just hop into the car or truck, pickup or convertible and watch from there!
Talk about authentic =).
We did a movie night at a friend’s home where they had us all turn our cars towards the house in a cul-de-sac and it was a total blast.
Gather The Right Equipment
Now you are going to need the gear to pull this off, but don’t sweat.
It’s really not that hard.
Your list will include a backdrop, a projector, maybe a laptop, sound system, power source and a platform to set it all on.
Don’t panic, for the first year or so, we borrowed some of these from friends until we could buy them ourselves.
First off, you need a backdrop or screen to project the movie onto.
Here are some ways we’ve made this work:
A Few White Sheets: If you have some ready to throw out from wear, save them—they make a perfect backdrop screen for movie night. Just zip a couple sheets through a sewing machine and you have a screen that can be tacked up. Just make sure you run the seam through a few times—the wind can pull apart a shabby sewing job in a heartbeat and ruin a fun night. Make sure you have enough tacks or nails to keep the sheet in place and stretch out the ripples in the fabric.
The Solid Screen: We do a lot of these movie nights and found a fantastic variation for making a cheap backdrop. If you go to Home Depot and pick up some full sheets of bathroom shower paneling, it works like a dream. This thin white board nailed perfectly to a 1” x 2” wooden frame creates a huge picture frame. Put hooks on the back to hang on the side of the house. For the seam in the center, we used a tube of caulking that turns white.
When All Else Fails, Use The Wall: If you have a home with white or lighter colored walls, it can work as a backdrop. The darker the color of the wall, the harder it is to see the projection. If there are cracks, outside lights mounted to the walls or anything else in the way of the projector, it will make the film harder to watch. NOTE: Textured walls are horrible and make it near impossible to enjoy a film, as does a wall with aluminum siding (ridges).
Projector: Now, a side note here: if you have a HUGE flat screen, it could work—like 60” or bigger, but projectors are better for the experience. There are so many options to choose from, this is completely up to you. I used one from work for years until we bought our own. Look for one that works with both Windows and Mac platforms (in case you have to borrow a laptop). Also look for a projector that has a 5000+ hour bulb life and had a USB plug and play ability. I use my iPod a lot—and it’s a great option when I don’t have access to my laptop. You can get as extravagant as you want, but there are incredible deals on ebay and in your local paper. Shop around. I recommend visiting the Projector Superstore or stopping by Overstock (no affiliate links here, so don’t sweat it).
Grab a laptop: This is what you’ll be running the movie and sound from. I have both a Mac and a PC. It’s always important for me to have the option to use either. So long as you have the ability to run the movie from your laptop, you can use it for your theatre night. However, as I mentioned above—the ability to use your iPod is really convenient.
Now you need sound.
The right sound system is very, very important—you’ve got to make sure everyone can hear what’s going on in the movie, right?
Being outside with the planes, cars, maybe barking dogs—it sucks up a lot of the sound.
That means output, output, output!
Yes, you can use a good dual set of computer speakers (I always recommend Logitech brand—kinda like the Ford/Chevy argument…and I get the most mileage from these guys).
If you want a truly kick-butt time, stretch.
Purchase a higher-quality computer surround sound system—it will include a subwoofer for all those explosions and galactic battles.
Speakers are really cheap—and again, going to your local newspaper is a great option.
We have KSL.com, where we can find amazing sound systems for under a hundred bucks (those in the phone I looked up while writing this article would work perfect—$30).
2017 UPDATE: Another alternative you have, which wasn’t available when this article was first written was the Amazon brand line of products called Amazon Basics.
GREAT prices, amazing quality and they have consistently become my favorite brand of goods, so check them out (again that link is NOT an affiliate hookup, so go for it).
The power source and platform are simple.
Grab a heavy duty extension cord from the house and make sure to throw a surge suppressor on the end (use the one you use for your desktop or laptop).
Set it all up next to your table, in front of the screen.
We used to use a card table, but after a couple accidents with little kids tripping on wires, I move a heavy table out back instead to protect the hardware.
Test It Out And Make Adjustments
It’s always smart to make sure you test everything before the party gets started.
Trust me when I say it’s a tad embarrassing to promise this great event and not be able to pull it off with a lacking plan.
If you don’t do it the night before, do it in the house to make sure it all works properly—then move the setup out back.
Once it’s all connected, adjust the distance of the projector from the screen to get the best size and clarity of picture possible and test the position of the speakers for the broadest sound range.
NOW FOR THE MAGIC…
The Kiddie Drive-In: If you want to create fun, excitement for the younger kids AND contain mess—oh, I have a fun idea for you.
This was a HUGE hit with the little kids.
Before it gets dark, gather the children into the backyard for a cool side project.
You’ll need to provide some moderate sized boxes, which you can acquired from the local Walmart (good time is 3am while restocking shelves).
The adults cut out the shapes from the boxes, then get out the crayons, pens and kids paint if you have them…and let the kids create their own custom paint jobs!
Now, for any of you worried about a fictional wizard giving you, a parent, instructions in any way—let me assure you, Chuck is more than qualified.
Not only is he a father, he’s been a foster father, raised a king, a prince, trained heroes…AND still holds the ground speed record for racing a rocket tricycle across the barren flats at 268mph.
Take it away, buddy!
Welcome ladies, gentleman, parent and the rest of you probably stuck with little monsters and don’t know what else to do with them!
(That most certainly was NOT rude…have you MET some of these kids in today’s generation? Beastly little….oh…right—this is a parenting blog. Sorry, my boy, I’ll mind my P’s and Q’s…..)
AS I was saying, making imaginary cars from boxes is a wonderful way to add to the family event and broaden the smiles of your little angels…
(looks behind him with a smile)
So here’s what you do:
First, you want to find the right size boxes and assemble it.
Use tape to close the box as and then using a pencil or marker—draw a line across the width of the box, approximately 2/3’rds from one end.
You’re going to cut along the fold of the box—but you want to know how far, so we can fold the flap up and over to make the windshield.
To keep the stability of the box, cut two half circles, one on each side for mock doors.
Second, we want to cut the half circles from off our flap and then fold it to form the windshield.
Now the trick here is to fold it so 1/3rd is showing above the hood and 2/3rds is below the hood.
Well, there needs to be a long enough of a piece to tape to the sides of the box AND to form a flat dashboard for your angels to glue a mock steering wheel to.
(looks behind him with a smile)
When you’re all done, take a step back and get a view from different angles to make sure your cuts are smooth and there’s enough room to get in and out.
The next step is the tedious part.
Pull out the paper plates and small paper/foam bowls and glue them to the box for a steering wheel, wheels, and headlights.
If you don’t have access to a bottle Gerberman’s Super-Duper Phlem Juice, Jaime says something called ‘Elmers Glue’ will work just fine.
Give it some time to dry before going to the last step.
The last step is the FUN part. CUSTOMIZE TIME!
Grab the paints, the pens, crayons—whatever you want—and deck this baby OUT!
Make it shine, make it sparkle…and make sure you make it hot enough to make the teens jealous.
A little silver on the rims, throw a pillow into the back and you now have a custom set of wheels ANY three-year-old would love to take a spin in!
There you go, my boy.
Back to you!
Thank’s Chuck, I appreciate you taking time out of all of us.
NOTE ON DESIGN: I chose a specific style after much trial and error for one specific reason—if you get too fancy in the cut outs there is less support. If the kids lean back and get comfortable or what I plan on happening, namely falling asleep, the box won’t handle the shift in weight. I like to make sure the boxes contain the kids and their treat mess. Just letting you know my logic =).
Let the children get to place their “car” in positions relative to the screen, just like a real drive-in.
We even had some over-sized boxes that were used as two-seaters.
For you parents who want to trip your kids out—see if you can get your hands on a refrigerator box or two from a local store and make a truck or van….you’ll earn a couple hundred points on the “cool” scale.
Goodies, Goodies, GOODIES!
I wasn’t going to tell you that you had to have anything particular for a movie, but then I thought, “Wait. This is my blog…I should be able to express my opinion here.
To spread more joy and sugar love.”
IF YOU’RE GOING TO EAT A MEAL: I suggest you keep it fun, simple and contained.
Just speaking from exTENSive experience here.
We prefer to leave the deserts for the actual movie—but some, like my sister—prefer to actually have dinner with the movie going.
Keep in mind that with the box cars, you can control the mess, but you don’t want the experience to be soured by the children getting sticky or making a mess they can’t deal with.
That being said, we go with Corn Dogs or Chicken Nuggets.
They’re small, easy to share, easy to place on the hood of the cars and if the kids drop them, no harm done.
Not good enough?
Well, okay then—let’s try something that’s not only good, but manageable.
I suggest appetizers.
For this reason, I’m going to recommend the ladies over at Home. Made. Interest.
Kat & Melinda are masters of yummies for your tummies, with a wide range of tastes, while never missing the fun.
I’ve always love tater tots and hey, I’m a huge fan of cheeseburgers…so why not combine them, right?
Prep time’s only 20 minutes, cook time 35 minutes and it can serve 16 people, so plenty to go around.
The other dish I’d recommend are the Philly Cheesesteak Potato Bites.
This will provide lots of flavor, with the fullness we love from the potato, so once the kids scarf these down, they probably won’t consume so much of the junk food.
Not likely, but I wanted to give you some hope.
You gotta have popcorn.
It’s just not…normal to have a movie night and not have popcorn, especially at a drive-in.
Licorice and soda are always fun treats as well, but I suggest you be creative and include your family favorites to share with your guests.
Remember the goal here—be the COOL parents and make this event something the kids will remember.
Treats help make a memorable night.
To assist you, I have some suggestions:
During the warm season, try Shaved Ice – Great on a hot summer night, there are many brands to choose from and you can have a fun treat over and over.
Again, I encourage you to think long-term.
You might pay a little more now—but you’ll have it longer.
Don’t just have ordinary popcorn, make it special.
An experience like when we were young!
Try Old-Fashioned Popcorn – I can almost smell this as I type it.
Walmart carries so many variations of old fashioned looking machines, you can create the excitement and cook it at the same time.
Oh, and to add that perfect taste—and I do mean perfect, try adding some Flavicol.
You’ll never go back to regular popcorn again, I promise.
Ohhhh, two of my favorite flavors, together because dad says we’ve all been GOOD and deserve some serious yum-yums!!
This comes from my friend Heather over at My Overflowing Cup.
Thank you, Heather, for bliss in the palm of our hands.
But wait, there’s MORE!
Oh yes—like Lemon Coconut Shortbread Cookies, again from Heather (aka, the Coconut Queen). Seriously, check out her site—specifically her snack section and see if you don’t discover a delicious trend with coconut.
Trust me, my darling wife is Samoan…I know coconut =)
Hold on there, where are you going?
We’re still not done.
We’ve done yummy and blissfully delicious, but we haven’t taken this to the near freakishly awesome I’m known for yet…
Now, for those who love to go all out and create a spread for guests (or in the case of Kathilynn, spoil her own family with an abundance of food love), I found some treats that my friend Kirsten makes over at Sweet Tea & Saving Grace that made me look at the scale in the bathroom and laugh until I cried:
First off, we’s start with Nutella Cookies with Chocolate Hazelnut Frosting.
Created by Kirsten’s partner-in-crime, Roxana, these amazing cookies were crafted while angels sang in the background (seriously, they’re that good).
Her idea was to make peanut butter cookies but to substitute the peanut butter with Nutella. Won’t say more—get the recipe here.
Next, we have Nutella Cupcakes with Toasted Hazelnuts & Seasalt.
Anyone seeing a theme here?
Using box mixes, you doctor them up with sour cream, buttermilk and extracts…but you can go to Kirsten’s sit for the recipe and details.
The last one is for dad.
Too often I forget about dad—and I shouldn’t.
So guys, this one’s for you…and you can thank Kirsten for it.
Now that you have all the prep work, components, food and company ready to enjoy an awesome night of entertainment…remember a few useful tips:
- Make sure all the cords are out of the way and tied up (I use zip-ties). Trust me—the kids (especially if you have toddlers) are going to wander. They will ruin the night for everyone with a simple accident of tripping over the cords. If you have a small rug, throw that over the walkway to prevent tripping and damage to your hardware.
- Create a safe-zone where kids are not allowed to go. A good rule of thumb is five feet around the projector table. Ask your guests to help you encourage the children to steer clear of the table. I like to rope off the area with stakes from the garden and string, just as a reminder.
- Don’t start the movie until the sun is down over the hills if you’re outside. Even at dusk, it’ll be hard to see the screen.
- Have the refreshments at the back for flow and make sure the bathrooms are ready for kids—this helps prevent little ones shouting “can you pause the movie for me??”
- Also—if you have a drink cooler, I find it best to have cool water on hand to avoid the need for drinks. If you like, keep a cooler with pop can handy too—we do juice boxes for little ones.
The whole experience was not only fun—most of the little kids didn’t get out of the box at all. We took turns walking around and offering treats to the drivers and we had a fantastic night!
Be creative, be frugal, use what you have and remember…have FUN.
You don’t what movies to pick?
Not a prob
I’ll reveal not only the top 10 movies to show on your Family night…I’ll give you CRITICAL tools every parent should use before watching another movie with your child!
Movie Selection List
Not sure what to watch?
Didn’t I tell you I had yer back?
I meant it.
Really—what are friends for?
You’re going to have a wide range of tastes and viewing desires.
Now, Kathilynn and I try to gear our tastes to the youngest denominator…and then we watch something with the older kids and young adults.
Nope, this isn’t JUST about the little tikes.
So I have my lists broken down into a few lists, with links.
Top 10 Kid Movies
The Lego Movie: PG, 100 minutes. An ordinary Lego construction worker, thought to be the prophesied ‘Special’, is recruited to join a quest to stop an evil tyrant from gluing the Lego universe into eternal stasis. I was surprised with how many adult jokes were included. Not nasty—but a balance between entertaining the children while making me chuckle too. I enjoyed it.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman: PG, 92 min. The time-traveling adventures of an advanced canine and his adopted son, as they endeavor to fix a time rift they created. I don’t know about any of you, but I used to watch Mr. Peabody as a kid and I loved this. Good fun, clever and the animation was first rate.
Maleficent: PG, 97 min. A vengeful fairy is driven to curse an infant princess, only to discover that the child may be the one person who can restore peace to their troubled land. This was a fanTAStic version of the story—which I personally couldn’t stand int he first place. To me it had a similar feel to it as a Narnia movie.
How To Train Your Dragon: PG, 98 min. A hapless young Viking who aspires to hunt dragons becomes the unlikely friend of a young dragon himself, and learns there may be more to the creatures than he assumed. A near perfect cartoon and one of my all time top 10. Great story, great morals. Highly recommended.
How To Train Your Dragon 2: PG, 102 min. When Hiccup and Toothless discover an ice cave that is home to hundreds of new wild dragons and the mysterious Dragon Rider, the two friends find themselves at the center of a battle to protect the peace. Fantastic sequel, better than the first—again, great morals, great story and I found myself being able to teach my kids about family, loving one another and not giving up!
The Boxtrolls: PG, 96 min. A young orphaned boy raised by underground cave-dwelling trash collectors tries to save his friends from an evil exterminator. Based on the children’s novel ‘Here Be Monsters’ by Alan Snow. This was a very curious film. I have to say I caution some parents—the girl in this movie sets a pretty bad example for the first while to the point that my little daughters were disgusted with her (so maybe that’s good). The claymation was amazing and visually—has few equals. Check it out.
Big Hero 6: PG, 102. The special bond that develops between plus-sized inflatable robot Baymax, and prodigy Hiro Hamada, who team up with a group of friends to form a band of high-tech heroes. Beautifully done, this is currently one of my top 5 all time favorite animated films. Cannot recommend this story more.
Penguins of Madagascar: PG, 92 min. Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private join forces with undercover organization The North Wind to stop the villainous Dr. Octavius Brine from destroying the world as we know it. The only film I have been waiting MORE than this one (animated films, to be clear) is the Minion film. I laughed so hard I almost wet myself. Epic laughter in tiny packages. All I can say is, watch it.
Dr. Who: TV. Yeah, I know this isn’t a movie—but we are Whovians around here and Dr. Who has a special place in our hearts. Pick up a copy of a few episodes and make a play list for your family.
Guardians of the Galaxy: PG-13, 121 min. A group of intergalactic criminals are forced to work together to stop a fanatical warrior from taking control of the universe. I know this isn’t PG, but my kids wanted this on the list—it’s one of our all time favorite films. I have to say there are some not-so-nice parts (so use the film sites to view those) but we’re comic book people here and this is one of the few films that had such breathtaking scenery, we felt we were there, in the film. Awesome. VERY fun for a projector night!!
I’ve listed a ton of content in this article.
My desire is to provide options, not only for you, but for your family.
Thing is, I’ll never get it perfectly right.
What I want YOU to know, is that I respect you and your right to be the best parent you can be.
Since all I can really do is share my own thoughts, experiences and perspectives, it’s important for you know I provide all this so you can pick and choose.
…NOT because it’s the best.
But because I want you to have the best I can possibly give you.
Choose what’s best for you.
We’re in this together, you and I…and though we travel different roads and take different detours, we’re trying to get to the same destination of a happy family.