Summer is the long-awaited season of relaxation for most Canadians, but parents know that summer can also become the season of “I’m bored!” If you’re already forking out money for a vacation or day camp, keeping costs down while keeping the kids entertained may be a priority. So here are some parent-tested ideas for easy-on-the-budget summer activities:
Do something familiar in a new way “We go on a family bike trip as pirates, have a pirate picnic in the park, search for treasure, and then bike home again,” mom Kat Gibbs says. Or try touring your hometown as tourists, taking a closer look at (and maybe some photos of) local landmarks you normally take for granted.
Play ball Invite neighbourhood kids for a game — soccer, baseball, ball hockey. Or invent your own game. My kids and I used to play “soccer baseball” with friends. We used a soccer ball, which the “pitcher” kicked toward the “batter” who kicked it into the field, then ran around the bases while other players tried to kick the ball to home plate first. Easier than batting for the little ones, and lots of fun.
Go backyard camping “The kids don’t care that you don’t go far,” says Gibbs. And you might appreciate having a real bathroom close by.
Check out the library Many have summer reading programs where kids can earn prizes for reading books. Others offer storytimes, free movies, craft sessions and other activities.
Take a tour Every community is a little different, but most have some opportunities for a behind-the-scenes look at intriguing businesses, historical sites or fun locations. Some things we’ve been able to tour, just by calling ahead and asking: a fire station, the city greenhouse, a chocolate factory, a university research area with fish (even sharks!), a donkey sanctuary and a restaurant kitchen with a friendly chef.
Visit a farmers’ market All the beautiful fruits and vegetables might encourage your kids to try some new tastes, and it’s a great opportunity for them to meet local farmers and understand more about where our food comes from. Head out of town to see what’s different at other farmers’ markets.
Find ways to get wet Many parks have free splash pads, and municipal pools are often free.
Stargaze Borrow a book on stars from the library and see if your kids can find the Big Dipper or other constellations in the night sky. If you live in town, you may need to head out to the country in order to see the stars more clearly.
Pick your own produce OK, not quite free, but you’ll get some absolutely fresh local food to bring home as a bonus. At many farms, you’ll also enjoy a wagon ride and a chance to visit with some farm animals. For locations near you, check pickyourown.org.
Start a collection Summer hikes are more fun if you’re also looking for unusual rocks, wildflowers or other treasures to add to a growing hoard.
Try a new craft With warm weather, you can do some of the messier activities outside. Consider tie-dyeing or fabric-painting some plain white T-shirts out on the lawn and hanging them on the line to dry.
For my family, I liked to post a list at the beginning of summer of “things we’d like to do.” I’d start the list off with a few of my own favourites, but soon found my kids would add their ideas. We’d cross each one off as we did it, and any left over became the starting point for next year’s list — giving the whole family something to look forward to through the long winter.