Parents often experience a bittersweet feeling knowing summer break is approaching.
There's the relief that you no longer need to rush the kids off to school and pack multiple lunches every morning...
But there's also the overwhelming feeling of knowing the kids will be home every single day with "nothing to do" unless mom or dad comes to the rescue.
Since convenient, summer camps can get expensive, we often ask:
What are some alternative free or cheap things to do in the summer?
Here's a list of my top picks:
Get wet and wild
Although Canada is known for its cold temperatures, our summers are nothing to scoff at as even the mild west coast can reach 25 C and feel like 35 C with the humidex during the summer.
One of the quickest and most fun ways to cool off is with some water play.
Kids and adults alike will enjoy these various activities when the temperatures begin to rise. Lather up the sunscreen and pack snacks, water bottles and towels to chill out for hours on end.
Hit the beach and lakefront
Across Canada, there are multiple beaches and lakes where families can go swimming. While the temperatures at many of these Canadian waterfronts can be cold, there’s nothing more refreshing on a hot day.
Check out the top beaches across Canada as well as local lakes. Some of these places are located in national parks where there is an entry fee, but if you pack meals and extra clothes so you’re equipped to spend the whole day, that is money well spent for outdoor fun.
Pick a new splash pad each week
My kids have never met a splash pad they didn’t like. As long as there is flowing water or a wading area, the fun can be endless.
What I love most about city splash pads is that they’re free!
In Toronto, there seems to be a splash pad in every neighborhood. Smaller cities may have fewer splash pads, but there are always new friends to be made.
Pick a new splash pad each week and bring a variety of toys for your kids to play with in the water.
Swim in community pools
When the outdoor communal pools open for the summer, kids and their parents squeal with excitement.
It’s where bored kids can swim, soak up the sun and eat their body weight in freezies. Parents can also make fast friends and join in the socializing or kick back with a good book while their kids take swim lessons.
I loved joining our local resident association’s pool because swimming and tennis lessons were included in the membership, as well as family barbecues and events throughout the summer.
If your neighborhood doesn’t have a community pool, consider joining as an associate member at a nearby pool.
Slip and slide in your own backyard
No need to get fancy ‒ just set up a sprinkler or slip and slide.
If you don’t have one, you can make them. Here’s a pretty heavy duty slip n slide, which can be made long or short, as well as a few different ways to make a sprinkler that kids will enjoy. Depending on the age of your kids, they can help you build it.
If you want to go real fancy, create this car wash that your kids can push their cars and trucks under. You also get clean toys out of this activity. Parenting win!
Be a tourist
There are bound to be places you or your children have yet to explore in your own city. Take your kids to your favourite sites and see them through your children’s eyes.
Admission for many galleries and museums are discounted or free for children under a certain age. Make sure to watch out for free admission days for the whole family!
Discover art galleries
Learning about art, contemporary or old, can be a great experience for children, especially if they get the chance to try it themselves.
Many art galleries have hands-on sections where kids can get creative and make art with guided and open classes. These classes are often free with admission.
Most museums are child friendly, many of which have exhibits that specifically cater to kids.
Keep tabs on what exhibits are coming to town and see if there is one that would especially interest your child. If your child is old enough to browse the Internet, have them search for exhibits they would like to see.
Visit a farm
Check out local farms in your area. Your kids will love seeing animals being fed, groomed and milked. They can get a taste of farm life by chatting with the farmers and seeing what their daily chores are like.
Here’s a list of a few of my favorites:
Try free samples at food festivals
What is better than a festival full of food vendors and local restaurants offering free samples?
Go with empty bellies and have your kids judge their favorite foods after sampling a few. Bring cash to buy the full-size version of the samples they really love. Or better yet, try and replicate the recipe at home with your kids’ help.
Attend a boat festival
If you’re lucky enough to live near a city with a boat festival, this is a fun one to see with the kids.
There is also a lot of family-friendly programming such as concerts and marketplaces during these festivals.
Relax at a jazz festival
Enjoy live music at many of Canada’s free jazz festivals this summer.
Even if jazz isn’t your cup of tea, your kids might be enthralled with the soothing sounds of a jazz concert, allowing you a few moments of well-deserved rest.
Look out for kids days
Some cities even have their own kids days and children’s festivals during the summer.
Be sure to go early for these events as they will be busy and the best spots to watch the live concerts will go quickly.
If they are outdoors, make sure to bring lots of of snacks, water and proper sun protection to keep your little ones content.
Pick a new activity each week
While routines are important for kids, especially during the school year, there is something nice about being more spontaneous during the summer months.
Have your kids pick one new thing to try off this list each week:
Try a new park
Your kids might have a favorite park they love going to, but change things up once in a while if they seem to be outgrowing it.
Offer them the choice of new ones in different neighborhoods – having a change of scenery can be exciting for kids.
Pack for picnics on the go
Before you explore a new park, pack a lunch and have a picnic.
Let your kids help you plan the menu or simply throw in last night’s leftovers.
My kids love to eat lunch outdoors even when it’s hot. Just find a shady tree to park under and enjoy the time to connect with nature, as well as one another.
Plan for backyard camping
If you’re a camping family, this may feel too much like non-camping to you. But for my glamping personality, I like to have access to our kitchen and bathroom when it comes to backyard camping.
If your kids have never gone camping, this could help ease them into the real deal in the future.
Put up a tent and make a mini fire in the backyard to roast marshmallows. Have them invite their friends for a sleepover to make things even more fun.
Go to restaurants where kids eat for free
Try a new restaurant for lunch where kids meals are free or discounted.
This one technically isn’t free since adults will need to buy a meal, but if you budgeted for a meal out, then at least you can save on the kids’ meals.
Watch a movie
Many cities in Canada offer free outdoor movies during the summer. Pop some popcorn and bring some blankets before heading out. Riverview, Toronto, Vancouver and Winnipeg all offer free outdoor movie nights.
Try a workshop
Many big box stores offer free or inexpensive workshops for kids.
Home Depot and Michaels have a variety of workshops to get creative and build with tools. Most public libraries also offer a diversity of programs and workshops. Check out the programming for your kids’ age groups online to register.
Keep them learning
Although the kids are on break from school, it doesn’t mean they have to stop learning! Here’s a quick list of fun activities that also foster learning:
- Hike or nature walk. Create a scavenger hunt or ask your kids to write down or draw what they enjoyed about the walk.
- Movies and books. Have your kids choose a movie or book and write a report about it. You could encourage them to try other forms of media and make a video or voice recording of their thoughts instead.
- Outdoor art. Throw down large sheets of rolling paper, put out paint, glue and glitter, and let your kids go to town. Or if you want to get really fancy, have them try splatter painting.
- Ice cream. Make ice cream with rock salt. Have the kids do the fun part of squeezing the bag of ice cream.
- Grow a garden. Let your kids pick a flower or food to plant and have them take care of it over the summer. Here are a few of the fastest germinating plants.
- Volunteer. If your kids are old enough, have them choose a city event, organization or charity they can volunteer their time to. If your kids are quite young, volunteer with them at a soup kitchen or a child-friendly event. This will be an invaluable lesson on giving back to the community.
- Start a business. Instead of spending money, have your kids brainstorm ways to make a bit of pocket money. With the warmer weather, a lemonade stand or car wash is always popular. Help them execute their plan but let them lead and have fun with it.
What do your kids like?
With endless fun to be had, the sky’s the limit when it comes to fun things to do in the summer.
What are some of your favourite summer activities you and your kids like most?