It seems like every week, a new study touts bad news about the quality and quantity of time devoted to family activities in America. One of the best ways to break out of the couch-potato rut is through family crafts projects. Any family can find a good match to the age and interests of their children -- often without busting the bank. Here are a few online places to start researching your next family project.
One of the most rewarding and open-ended projects your family can undertake is constructing a family tree. Young kids love to learn anecdotes about their ancestors; older children often enjoy the sleuthing. The Internet makes researching geneology easier than it's ever been.
* Geneology.com's software package and accompanying Web site, Family Tree Maker gives a simple but powerful template for researching and building the branches of your family tree; the finished, printed project can be quite a thing to treasure.
* You also wouldn't do wrong if you started with Family Search, a massive database of geneological information archived and maintained by the Mormon Church.
How about an online photo album of your summer vacation? Digitizing images is no longer difficult or expensive, thanks to Kodak's PhotoCD service. Local copy shops and film processors also have the means to turn your pictures into pixels. From there, head over to My Big Adventure, an interactive, free site that allows super-simple organization of not only images, but captions as well. And it's very hard to make the finished project ugly, thanks to the site's elegant, automated formatting.
Two of the coolest family projects to come out of the digital era are Lego's MindStorms Robotics Invention System, and Cye the Robot. While neither is cheap -- the MindStorms set runs around $200; Cye will sap almost a grand of your funds -- they both offer practically endless stimulation for teens and adults alike.
* Cye is a gadget lover's dream: A robot that learns the lay of your house, and can perform tasks ranging from vacuuming to serving hot chocolate at your Christmas party.
* While your MindStorms creations may not be able to perform the same tasks, the range of projects you can build is limited only by your imagination. For an even cheaper electronics project, try a homemade crystal radio
Easy, Inexpensive Projects
Looking for something you can do in an afternoon? A number of resources exist for quick projects.
* Since 1991, one of the best resources for family projects has been FamilyFun Magazine. Geared toward families with kids in the 3 to 12 age range, FamilyFun offers great ideas for projects, games, and learning. And most of that information is now online; the magazine's Crafts Index is a true family project portal, featuring clear descriptions of what you'll need and step-by-step instructions for each project. An added bonus is that most of the fun projects require little or no specialized materials -- who knew you could make a hummingbird bath out of a carrot and some string?
* Other sites offering an abundance of creative ideas for easy and inexpensive family projects include:
o About.com's Family Crafts Exhaustive links to other project resources online.
o Making Friends Most of these projects emphasize group creation, with the underlying goal of making not only objects, but friendships in the process. Great for when the neighbor kids join you.
o The Free Crafts Project Depot As the name implies, this one emphasizes projects that are inexpensive or free.
With the explosion of online resources and digital tools, any parent can find an affordable project to engage their kids and fit their own interests as well. But beware: group creativity can cause uncontrollable happiness!