Holidays are usually few and far between in life, and so I always like to try and make the most of them. Vacations away are great for family bonding, but with a little bit of creativity even “staycations” can be special. My philosophy is that it’s not what you do, but how you do it. I’ve learned over the years that we can have a great time together anywhere if we’re in the right frame of mind. My sister Nads is a master at this. Give her 2 kids and a pack of balloons, and she’s good for at least 8 hours of entertainment. I remember I invited her to my daughter’s movie theatre birthday party, and pretty soon Nads had 25 8-year olds on stage re-enacting the Oscars. I can’t say I’m that spontaneous and creative, but I get a kick out of hanging out with my girls, and I make a point of planning good times together whenever I have the chance.
Here are some of my ideas for fun things to do with your kids this March Break (or anytime!), many of them pretty cheap. These ideas are about creating a great experience, not just about taking your kids to see an attraction. Try to keep the agenda loose, and leave lots of time for talking (and listening). The important thing is just to have some fun together. And, if you’re working this March Break, why not plan some of these things for a great weekend instead?
1. Have a Beach Picnic. This week, it’s going to be mainly sunny and 15–20 degrees out. What better way to get a little taste of summer than to hit the beach for a picnic? Grab some snacks and head to one of Toronto’s great lakeside parks – the Beaches or Bluffs in the east end, or Sunnyside heading west. We always like to stop by an Italian bakery and grab some fresh buns, cold cuts, bocconcini cheese and cannoli for dessert. Maybe bring your bikes and try out a portion of the Waterfront Trail.
2. Check out the Studio Ghibli retrospective at the Bell LightBox. One of the most influential film studios the world, Japan’s Studio Ghibli creates magical and moving animated films that touch people of all ages. These stories are nothing like the Disney fare we were raised on. Isabel, my youngest, recommends Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind or the classic Spirited Away. My favourite is the beautiful Howl’s Moving Castle.
3. Take a stroll through Kensington Market. Try on vintage clothing and browse through quirky stores. Stop in for gourmet grilled cheese at The Grilled Cheese at 66 Nassau Street.
4. Go on a 1-day road trip. Discover Elora or St. Jacobs. Or head to Sandbanks Provincial Park to enjoy the warm weather. Bring a soccer ball or volleyball, and have a game on the beach. If your kids are athletic and you’re not, this can be especially fun. For them, mainly!
5. Visit the National Film Board’s Mediatheque to try out one of the free digital viewing stations. Over 6000 movies are available on demand for free.
6. Listen to TED Talkswith your kids. They have a huge repository of talks from different conferences on a wide array of topics, all free online. Afterwards make some multi-layered Dagwood sandwiches and talk about the power of ideas.
7. Take a walk through one of the city’s great ethnic neighbourhoods. Try Little India on Gerard Street, grab some souvlaki on the Danforth, have a gelato on College street, or hit Chinatown for some noodles. Bring cameras and turn it into a picture walk. Take lots of photos, then go home and check them out on the computer. Marvel at your childs creativity.
8. Plan a family games tournament. Pick teams and play 3 or more different games. Try cards, board games, or outdoor games. If you’re feeling brave, have the kids design an obstacle course. We tried this one year and it just about killed my husband and I. Make a bet to increase the fun factor. Stakes have to be high. Losers have to do something for the winners, and the winners get to gloat. Maybe they get to have breakfast in bed – while gloating.
9. Have a Movie Marathon. Introduce your kids to some movies you loved as a child, or try a great series like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings or Pirates of the Caribbean. Make some snacks, order take out food, get lots of pillows. Make it extra comfortable.
10. Pitch a Tent. One year when the kids were small, we pitched a small pop up tent in the basement, dug out sleeping bags and “went camping” that night. Make peanut butter and banana sandwiches and home-made s’mores. Turn off all the lights and use flashlights to create some atmosphere. My kids got a real kick out of this one.
11. Cook something different together. Bake bread, make ice cream, try an ethnic dish. Go to a cheese shop for some gourmet cheeses and make a 6 layer grilled cheese sandwich (that’s Nads’ idea). Be brave, there are lots of YouTube videos to help you out.
12. Go for a bakery tour. Leslieville/Yonge Street/Queen West are great locations. Take a long walk with comfortable shoes. Stop in at each bakery you pass, and share a dessert, a cookie, a chocolate. Skip lunch.
13. Have a spa day at home. Eat cupcakes and give each other pedicures. This only counts as an activity if you paint fun things on the toes. Or make them polka-dotted. Why wait for summer?
14. Make a fort. Every kid I know loves to take pillows, sofa cushions and blankets and create a little fort. Why not go big and take over your entire living room? Use blankets, sheets and binder clips to transform the space into a great hide-a-way for the day. Grab lots of pillows and some smacks. Curl up inside and read a chapter book out loud, play cards, or watch a movie on the computer.
15. Make some Dollar Store crafts. Dollar stores are treasure troves of inexpensive art supplies for kids. Quick and easy? Grab some mini canvases, paint brushes about a dozen acrylic paints, and go to town. You may get some gorgeous results. And art has more impact clustered in groups. For under $20, you can create a great art wall showcasing your child’s talents.
top photo by spDuchamp, flickr, “My Red Bike at the Beach”