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Memory Makers

I like to think my four kids will always remember the grand gestures we made during their childhoods: the time we got front-row seats at the circus and let them eat unlimited cotton candy; the pirate-themed birthday party that involved treasure buried in a sandbox and handmade skull-and-crossbones hats; our vacations to Disney World.

Sure they will  -- we have the photos and videos to guarantee it. But I've come to realize that it's not only the time-consuming and expensive efforts that earn "remember whens." As often, it's the little stuff that sticks in children's minds. Some simple ways you can forge the kinds of memories your kids will reminisce about at future family gatherings:

Start small

You're dealing with little people for whom the whole wide world is big and new. You can use this to your advantage.

Elevate the ordinary to the extraordinary by making an event out of it. My grandmother used to pretend to push our car as my mom backed it out of the driveway when we were leaving. My siblings and I eagerly anticipated this and now encourage our own mom to do the same for her grandchildren.

More easy ideas:

Each fall, plant a few bulbs with your child. Mark the spot and then watch them come up the following spring.

Give your child a special plate or mug that will be used only on his birthday.

Go outside in pajamas to look at the stars; bonus points for finding a couple of basic constellations like the Big Dipper or Orion's Belt (that's the three stars lined up in a diagonal row).

Fortunately, a child doesn't quickly outgrow her ability to appreciate the little things. On a recent trip to Arizona with my 12-year-old, we visited the Grand Canyon and Sedona, and did some fantastic desert hiking. She liked it all, but her favorite memory of the trip? The plane ride. Second favorite? A room-service hamburger delivered with those cute mini-ketchup bottles.

Contributing editor Paula Spencer is the author of Momfidence: An Oreo Never Killed Anybody and Other Secrets of Happier Parenting.