August is a great month to start planning next year's family reunion. When getting a large group together, agreeing on a location and finding lodging works best if you start one year in advance. I know it can be hard to nail down dates, but you will have the most options for lodging if you book 9-12 months in advance.
As one of six siblings who now live scattered across the United States, when our family gets together we adopt a “reunion-vacation” model and try to see destinations we are excited to visit while spending quality family time together. I thought I'd share with you a few ideas that make reunions memorable for our family.
We have found that choosing a theme for the reunions and planning a few basic activities around that theme makes memories that the kids will talk about for years. Each of these activities require a bit of planning and advance preparation, but when kids and adults all participate, we laugh, have fun together, and make lasting memories. My mom and I are still laughing about the stick pull competition from six years ago (I lost).
Here are a few examples of themed family reunion activities that have worked well for our family of 30+ when we have traveled together.
Cowboy Theme – Black Hills, South Dakota
It was easy to pick a Cowboy theme for our Black Hills, South Dakota reunion. We stayed near Deadwood and went to a rodeo and a shoot-out as some of our sight-seeing, and the kids were excited about cowboys and cowgirls before we even arrived.
To carry on the theme around the house, we had a “family rodeo” one afternoon at our vacation rental. We divided into four teams and each person got a colored bandana to wear to identify with their team. We competed in the following competitions and earned points to see who won the rodeo:
- Rodeo relay: Each person dressed up in cowboy attire and rode a wooden stick horse while they jumped over small obstacles, raced around barrels (soccer cones), and raced back to the finish line.
- Quick Draw Competition: A pictionary game using cowboy words. We kept the dry erase marker in a holster for a “quick draw” when we said go.
- Root Beer Chug: Each team had age brackets for a root beer chug competition. Watching 5-year-olds chug root beer is hilarious.
- Watermelon Eating Contest: We quartered a watermelon and each team had to designate one contestant to eat a quarter of a watermelon.
- Shoot Out. We set up a range in a garage. Each team had a chair at the end with 3 wooden clothespins standing on end holding up a face card. Each person got five shots with a Nerf gun to see how cards they could knock down for points.
- Bucking Bronco. Teens and parents held the toddlers on their backs in an 8-second bucking bronco contest.
- Hoe Down: We ended the festivities with a square dance and hoe down at the end of the rodeo while the judges calculated scores.
The winners of the rodeo won lassos (long licorice ropes) and the losers all got cowpies (chocolate-covered cookies).
We ended the week with a Murder Mystery Dinner set in Deadwood, South Dakota. This was the activity the teenagers were talking about for weeks in advance and were so excited about. We dressed in character and enjoyed unraveling a great murder mystery. You can purchase themed mystery's from Night of Mystery. They offer a family-friendly version and a less-cleaned-up adult version.
Having a few activities planned around a Cowboy theme had our little ones wearing bandanas and cowboy hats all week. It helped that our reunion was held in cowboy country, but this cowboy theme could be enjoyed anywhere with trail rides, mountains, or campfires.
Pirate Theme – Outer Banks, North Carolina
When we visited the Outer Banks of North Carolina, we choose a Pirate theme for the week since we were in Blackbeard territory. We ordered pirate patches from Oriental Trading Company and started the week with a treasure hunt. Everyone put on whatever pirate garb we could come up with and headed out in search of booty. We used the treasure hunt to orient everyone to the beach and the locations we needed to know about during the week, such a the clubhouse, tennis courts, the lighthouse, and where our beach umbrellas were located.
The organizers of the treasure hunt had buried a treasure chest on the beach where we ended up. The kids loved hunting all over Corolla, NC, for buried treasure and several of the little ones are still convinced we found a real buried treasure.
Olympics Theme – Park City, Utah
Our Olympics-themed reunion was a hit when we were able to visit the Olympic sites in Park City, Utah. However, for any family who enjoys watching the Olympics, this theme would work well. We held a family Olympics and made a torch and marched everyone around the tennis courts at the resort where we were staying for our “opening ceremony.” We then played games the kids could compete in and awarded “Olympic medals” at the end. Here are some games that work well for a family Olympics:
- 100-yard dash
- Shot put (bocce balls or coconuts work well)
- Discus throw (frisbees)
- Equestrian races (with stick horses)
- Long jump
We ended our family Olympics with a huge cake frosted white with five M&M circles that looked like the Olympic rings. Seeing the actual Olympic ski jump and luge run in Park City just enhanced our enjoyment of the theme.
Nearly any theme can be used to make fun games and activities–Hawaiian luau, circus, etc. The games I explained for our Rodeo reunion could be modified and renamed to fit any theme you want.
Looking for more Family Reunion Ideas?
Check out our Family Reunions page with info on renting vacation homes, creating family traditions, and destinations that work well for reunions. You may also be interested in
- Don't Rent a Lemon: 10 Tips to Find a Vacation Home
- Our Family Reunions pinterest board