Our Baby-Friendly Fourth

There was once a time when my daughter fell asleep at 6:30 every night. She was six months old then. As a first-time parent, I never dared keep her up past curfew for fear of stunting her development or something like that (I'd read it in one of my many baby books, which I've since tossed in the trash!). On July 4th of that year, my husband and I sat on the front porch of our tiny dead-end street until dark, hoping to catch a glimpse of a fireworks display in the distance (we didn't), slaves to our daughter's sleep schedule. Since then we've had two more babies and learned a thing or two about how to have a good time with the whole family on the Fourth. Below are our favorite ideas.

1. Make daytime the new nighttime. Forget the fireworks show. What about other stuff going on in your town during the day? Concerts? Picnics? Parades? We've been to some really fun parades with antique cars and floats and marching bands. They're great for little kids. If nothing like that exists in your area, round up the neighbors and put on a parade of your own! The kids will love being the stars of the show—and it'll make for excellent photos.

2. Play dress-up. Buy that “Baby’s First Fourth of July” bib and miniature Uncle Sam top hat. While you're at it, grab a stars-and-stripes diaper cover and headband with glittery stars and pom-poms, too! Dress your baby up as festively and ridiculously as you can while it’s still cute and she won’t complain when you take pictures and post them on Instagram. Give her a red, white and blue toy like the one above and snap pictures of her doing her thing.

3. Have fun with food. Check out my easy Fourth of July snack recipes and have a blast in the kitchen with your kids. Red, white and blue ice pops, watermelon stars, chocolate-covered pretzels and strawberries with sprinkles are just some of the many festive foods you could whip up in minutes. We like making extras and delivering goody bags to the neighbors.

4. Host a kid-friendly potluck. Invite your friends and their tots over for a backyard barbecue, or suggest a neighborhood block party. Get everyone outside to share food and light sparklers before the sun goes down.