If the best things in life are free, then family fun should be dirt-cheap. And it can be.
“Parents need to take hold of all the opportunities around them and make them fun,” says Helen Ward, president of Kids First Parents Association of Canada. “If there’s snow on the ground, then go sliding down a hill,” she says. “If you can’t afford a toboggan, use a plastic bag.”
Kids are great at using their imaginations and parents need to be too. “In addition to making snow-men, get your water guns out, fill them with some colouring and make drawings in the snow,” says Jane Muller, editor of CityParent.com, a website devoted to articles, forums and events for parents in the GTA. “But don’t use yellow.”
The Canadian outdoors offers a wealth of rides that outdoes any $60-a-day amusement park. “I really advocate getting into nature,” Muller says. “Go for a walk at the kids’ pace. Let them puddle around in a stream or climb a tree.” Muller suggests visiting the local skating rink or wading pool.
Cities also offer a variety of inexpensive or free activities. You just have to know where to find them. “Even your community newspaper is a good source,” says Muller. “Dig into those pages and there will be some sort of community calendar of local events.”
To avoid parking costs, take public transit, says Ward. “Little kids love being on the bus. They can look out the window, ring the bell and talk with other passengers.” And always bring snacks. Food is often more expensive than the price of admission.
But not all fun has to take place outside the home. “Use something you already own to have some fun,” says Muller. “If you own a video recorder, a fun family project can be making home movies.”
Video games are also a relatively inexpensive way to spend time with family. “You can amortize some of these video games over a long period of time and there’s lots of repeated play,” says Debbie Gordon, a parenting and online safety educator. “We’re saving a lot of money by not spending $100 on going to a movie.” Instead, the Gordons spend many of their Friday nights playing golf or Lips, a karaoke-like game, on their Xbox 360.
“It’s really great family time,” Gordon says. “I think we have to redefine in 2009 what qualifies as family time. It’s not good or bad, it’s the reality of our culture.”