Monday, 23 February 2015

Budget-Friendly March Break Ideas

March Break is coming - a whole week off school!

For some of us, this time of year means a family vacation down south. But even when that's not practical - maybe the kids have sports commitments they can't miss, maybe a vacation just isn't in the budget this year - there are so many ways to make the week fun. Whether you're taking the week off work or are a stay-at-home parent you'll be looking for fun, wallet-friendly things to do with your little ones. No matter what your situation, there are endless amazing family activities to make this March Break memorable for your family.
Toronto's classic attractions including the Ontario Science Centre, the Royal Ontario Museum, the Art Gallery of Ontario and Ripley's Aquarium are all open, many with extended hours and special exhibitions. Although none of these are inexpensive attractions, splurging on an afternoon or two out is still significantly less costly than a week on the beach.

The Toronto Zoo is always a super fun family outing and is one of our family's all-time favourite field trip destinations. It may seem more like a summertime destination, but there's lots going on all year round at the Zoo!

And there are so many fun things to do in and around the city to make this March Break fun for the whole family that are free - or very nearly free.

City Hall, Harbourfront Centre and most outdoor municipal rinks are open for ice skating (all free!) thanks to the recent sub-zero temperatures - strap on the skates, bundle up and head out for some free fun on the ice with the kids. Don't forget to warm up with a hot chocolate afterwards!

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.

Bundle up in mittens, hats and scarves, pour a Thermos of hot chocolate, and take the kids outdoors for the day - go skating at the local ice rink, sledding at the tobogganing hill, build a fort or a snowman in the backyard, "paint" a masterpiece in the snow with spray bottles full of water and food colouring.

Go for a nature walk. Make a list 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 another fun way to make a walk feel more like fun. Make a list of things you know you'll see on your walk (fire hydrant, Christmas wreath, pinecone, pond, yellow house, red car) and start exploring the neighbourhood.

Just because it's winter doesn't mean you can't picnic like you would on a warm summer afternoon. If there's snow on the ground, why not pack the pop-up tent and pitch it near the playground? 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! 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.

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. 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 to get their imaginations going!

Just like a simple craft activity can be turned into a 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, 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 and encourage them to be as creative as possible.  Pull out the crayons and have them draw pictures to go with the story. Then they can dress up in the costumes from their toy chest and act it out! We've had pirates and ninjas and Transformers and Jedis and dinosaurs and sharks interacting seamlessly in our house. Kids love 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. Snap photos of their performance and put them in a little binder with their handwritten script and the pictures they drew - instant memory!                                   
Movie nights are always fun. Grab one of the mattresses and put it on the floor in the middle of the living room. Have the kids grab pillows, blankets 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.

A sunny week down south is an amazing March Break treat for parents and kids alike. But for those years when the budget simply won't stretch to cover a vacation there are just as many fun, wallet-friendly family activities close to home to keep everyone entertained.

Originally published as "Budget-Friendly March Break" on my weekly column at gailvazoxlade.com

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