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Fun on the Cheap

Fun on the Cheap

I was away this past weekend on my annual writers’ retreat to Manitoulin Island, so my wife was solo parenting for a few days. She thought it might be a nice treat to go and do something with the boys on Saturday, both to have some time just with mom and also to minimize the amount of fighting she’d need to cope with on her own.

The boys all had suggestions of what to do, of course, but they were mostly on the expensive side – go to the movies or to the trampoline gym or even to a Blue Jays game – but she decided to see what could be done for free around the city on a spring weekend. The answer, it turned out, was quite a lot.

They started with the outdoor skatepark. It’s not new to us, but it had some upgrades over the spring and only just reopened on June 1. It’s a great facility, guaranteed to amuse our kids for a few hours at least. The park is also by the river, so they took the opportunity to wander down and gather some tadpoles (which are now living in an aquarium in my dining room).

Then everyone headed down to Exhibition Park, just north of our place, where the city had planned a schedule of games and activities for kids of various ages. They had parachute games, an obstacle course, and all sorts of balls and toys. There were even two city workers there to lead things. My eldest sons mostly just chucked a football around, but the youngest one got right in there with all the activities.

Then they went over to Sunny Acres park, just on the other side of us, for the annual community group barbecue potluck. Someone brought a bike-pump rocket launcher. Another brought a washtub with a variety of dolls and some soap (a surprising hit that occupied my youngest for the better part of an hour). Other neighbours brought dress up costumes, lawn bowling, croquet, and all sorts of games.

While they were at the barbecue, my middle guy arranged to have a sleepover at a friend’s house, and my eldest arranged to have a friend sleepover at our house, so there were snacks bought and bags packed and video game systems transported. By the time everyone was asleep (3 a.m. for a few), they had managed a pretty amazing day without spending a dime on anything but some movie snacks.

Now, I know that there aren’t such great free activities available everywhere and all the time (the experiment would have looked a whole lot different in the middle of February), but the truth is that you don’t have to spend money to have a good time with your kids. In the winter you can sled or build snowmen or skate on outdoor rinks. In the summer you can swim in a friend’s pool or start a soccer game at the park or go for a hike. If it’s raining you can go to the library or invite friends for board games or do some baking. If you start poking around in your area, you’ll probably also find that there are free concerts, activities, and programs to interest a whole range of kids.

It’s easy to assume that having fun with your kids has to cost you something. It’s certainly the costly activities that get marketed to us and that our kids are told they should want by their friends and the media, but it really isn’t true. With a little creativity and research, you can almost always find cheap or even free ways to spend time as a family, which hopefully means that you’ll actually spend more time together as a family. And that’s a win-win for everyone.