Friday, 2 November 2012

Fun, free things to do with the kids

As the Christmas holiday approaches so does another school break and a few weeks with the kids at home all day every day. Realistically speaking, the novelty of Christmas gifts wears off after a couple of days and children will be looking to Mommy for entertainment again. With budgets extra squeezed at this time of year it's important to remember that it's not necessary to spend a lot of money to keep the kids happy and entertained and make their Christmas vacations memorable.

It's very easy to drop almost as much money in the week following Christmas as you did on the Christmas gifts themselves trying to make the holidays feel special for the kids - a trip to the movie theatre one day, the indoor play place the next; a dinner out one night, a sporting event the next; Boxing Day shopping despite dozens of new toys that week and the annual Disney on Ice tour for a holiday treat - but it doesn't have to be that way.

There are so many fun things to do with the kids that are free - or very nearly free - and will make the holidays just as special and memorable for all of you.

Neighbourhood Exploring
There's no reason you can't play outside just because the cold weather is here.
Bundle up and go for a long bike ride through the neighbourhood. Try a trail or path or road you've never taken before and make it a couple of hours' excursion. Celebrate with a mug of hot chocolate when you get home!
Or go on a nature walk. Make a list of some of the types of trees and animals you might see and bring along the camera to snap shots when you find them. Print out the pictures, have the kids label them and turn them into a book.
A scavenger hunt is a fun way to make a walk feel more like fun. Make a list of things you know you'll see on your walk (eg: fire hydrant, Christmas wreath, pinecone, pond, yellow house, red car) and make a copy for each kid. Then make sure you stick to your route so you'll see everything!
A night-time drive through the neighbourhood to look at the Christmas lights is always a fun family activity for little ones. Find those houses that go absolutely crazy with lights and inflatables and be sure to include them in your route.

Picnic & Park
Just because it's winter doesn't mean you can't picnic like you would on a warm summer afternoon. If there happens to be snow, why not pack the tent and pitch it near the park? It'll keep you sheltered from the wind and keep the ground dry enough for you to sit and eat - and it feels like a real adventure for the kids! Then follow it up with a game of catch or frisbee, just like in the summer. Spend some time at the playground - it's usually fairly deserted during the winter months and you can often have the place to yourselves. As long as everyone is bundled up well you can easily spend most of a winter's day at the park just like during the summer months.

Yard fun
Outdoor fun can be had closer to home in the winter, too. There isn't usually enough snow by December for snowforts or snowmen, but there's no reason you can't do most of the same summer activities in the cold weather. Stock up at the dollar store on bubbles and sidewalk chalk - maybe they can be stocking stuffers - and go play. Fill up squirt-style water bottles with water and food colouring and "paint" pictures in the snow on the lawn.

Town & community events
There are endless events going on during the holiday season - all free for residents, paid for by your tax dollars. Tree lighting ceremonies, Santa Claus parades, community theatre performances, story time with Mrs.Claus and visits with Santa. Most towns will host at least one free public swim or skate at the community centre over the holidays. And of course outdoor rinks are always free - strap on the skates and take the kids to the pond for a skate and stop at Tim Hortons's for a hot chocolate on the way home. The library is a great, free way to spend an afternoon with the kids, curling up with a good book the whole family can enjoy and exploring the racks for a few choices they can each bring home.

Epic Crafts
Crafts are always a fun way to spend time with the kids and encourage their creativity. They can also easily be turned into major projects that will keep the kids busy and entertained for a full day or even a few days. Crafts in our house are pretty epic lately, and the kids are always super excited when we come up with a new idea. Stock up on crafting supplies at the dollar store - crayons & construction paper, scissors & glue, feathers, pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, pom-poms, glitter, sequins, stickers and play clay. You probably have a ton of stuff at home already in the craft drawer - fill the kids' Christmas stockings with fresh supplies and you'll be able to do anything your imaginations can come up with. We start with something basic - making an animal with crayons and construction paper and googly eyes, or a spooky witch with toilet rolls and felt, or a Santa Claus with popsicle sticks and craft foam - and then expand it. Why make just one animal - how about a bunch of them? Maybe we can all work together and make different animals. What are all the kinds of different animals we see at the zoo? And the construction paper animals need somewhere to live - who don't we make them a zoo? The witch could use some friends - a ghost? A pumpkin? A scarecrow? A monster? A bat? And where will the spooky toilet roll creatures live -how about a haunted house? Santa needs reindeer and elves and a workshop and sleigh. Virtually any craft idea you can come up with can be multiplied and expanded and turned into a group activity to become an epic, all-day project.

Epic Pretend Play
Just like a simple craft activity can be turned into an epic project, so can dress-up and pretend play. Most people have a dress-up chest in the playroom or basement - if you don't, put one together with what you already have around the house. Old Halloween costumes, hats & scarves hiding in the back of your closet or your husband's drawer, and maybe grab a few dollar store items to fill it up - goofy glasses, silly hats, a crazy wig. Kids love playing pretend, dressing up and acting out stories, trying on different personalities and future careers. Have them write a story (or dictate one to you, if your little ones are younger) and encourage them to be as creative as possible. We've had pirates and aliens and ninjas and Transformers and Jedis and dinosaurs and sharks interacting seamlessly in our house. Pull out the crayons and have them draw pictures to go with the story (their storyboard). Then they can dress up in the costumes from their toy chest and act out the story! Kids have such a blast playing pretend and imagining stories on the fly and are so much quicker and more intuitive with improvisation than adults - it's such a joy to watch. And they will love putting on a little show for you.  Snap photos of their performance and put them in a little binder with their handwritten script and the pictures they drew - instant memory!                                   

Movie Night
Agree on a couple of movies ahead of time to avoid arguments - hold a vote so everyone agrees or have the kids select one favourite each. Grab one of the mattresses and put it on the floor in the middle of the living room (because we don't have a designated guest room, we have an extra foam mattress that lives in the crawlspace and acts as a guest bed when necessary and our movie night / fort building mattress the rest of the time). Have the kids grab pillows, mattresses and a favourite stuffy off their beds and set up on the mattress. Close the blinds and shutters, pop a big bowl of popcorn, brew some hot chocolate and everyone snuggle up for an at-home movie night!

Plan ahead, arm yourself with a few dollar store supplies, and enjoy the Christmas holidays at home with the kids making memories - without breaking the budget.

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