We've had pretty decent weather this winter so far - just cold and snowy enough for outdoor winter fun, but not quite cold enough to be miserable. It's still winter, though - none of us really want to be outside unless we absolutely have to.
It's tempting, as we try to entertain our children through these long winter months, to pull out our wallets and plunk down our dollars for indoor playplaces, movie theatres, trips to the aquarium and the science centre, weekends away, and even to plan out extravagant vacations down south.
But it's not necessary.
Children, somehow, don't feel the cold if there's fun involved. I am most definitely not a winter person. I hate the cold, I hate the slush, I hate the wind; hats and scarves make me itchy and no matter what boots I wear my feet always freeze; I don't ski or snowboard or snowshoe or ice skate. For me, outdoor fun means swimming and biking and hiking and sitting in the sun, preferably with a nice cold drink. Slush is for margaritas, and frost is for a glass on a hot summer afternoon.
My children disagree.
So, dutiful Mommy that I am, every day with snow on the ground finds me braving the winter wonderland that is this part of Canada in January, bundling up the boys in their snowsuits, hats, mitts and scarves and heading out for some outdoor winter fun.
And there is a lot of free winter fun to be had.
Head out into the backyard and build a snowman. We have a "snowman" hat, scarf and mittens on a shelf in the closet saved just for that purpose. Build a snowfort or an igloo, then have a snowball fight.
Snow "grafitti" is always fun - fill up a spray bottle with water and food colouring and let the kids go crazy "painting" the snow in the yard.
Further afield than your own backyard you can have lots of fun with the same activities that fill the summer days - playing at the park, hiking through the ravine, and climbing at the playground.
Sledding is a perennial winter favourite. My boys can happily spend three hours trooping up and down our favourite local hills with their sleds and never feel the cold.
There's skating year-round at community arenas, of course, but during the winter months most communities maintain free outdoor rinks as well.
And of course no day of outdoor winter fun is complete without a big mug of steaming hot chocolate at home by the fire to finish off the afternoon.
There really are so many fun, wallet-friendly activities to do outside with the kids in the winter - it's just that it's so cold out there! But an active afternoon outdoors without spending a penny is a lot healthier and more beneficial for our families than hibernating indoors and inactive, spending a small fortune on unnecessary activities.
Originally published as "Wallet-Friendly Family Winter Fun" on my weekly column at gailvazoxlade.com