Like most parents with young children, we’ve spent the majority of summer trying to keep our kids out of our hair entertained. It’s a challenge to constantly find new activities while at the same time trying to keep the expenses within reason.
We’ve had a fairly busy summer, and now that back-to-school time is (thankfully) fast approaching, I thought I’d reflect on our kids’ summer activities and rank them based on three factors: fun for the kids; reasonably enjoyable for the parents, and affordability.
Here are our kids’ summer activities, ranked:
10. Whoop-Up Days
Lethbridge’s summer family festival is a mini (I stress, “mini’) version of the Calgary Stampede. There’s a rodeo, Midway rides, carnival games, and a petting zoo, among other activities.
The pros: Free admission for the kids. Mini-donuts.
The cons: $15 admission per adult. $5 for parking. $30 for Midway tickets (good for about 5 rides each). $10 to try the Euro-trampoline (non-Midway activity).
We were at the festival for two hours and spent $75. It was 7 degrees outside and raining. In August. Not pleasant.
9. Peddle-boating in Kelowna
We stayed in Kelowna close to Okanagan Lake. Peddle-boating seemed like a kid-friendly water activity that we could all enjoy. We rented a five-person peddle-boat for $20, which got us 30-minutes of luxurious peddling around a lagoon.
The pros: Kids didn’t drown.
The cons: Expect to do all the peddling yourself.
Our excitement quickly faded after about five minutes of circling the lagoon. Our legs were burning after fifteen minutes. I doubt anyone made it the full thirty minutes.
(bonus pro: not a bad leg workout!)
8. Swimming at the public pool
It seems as though every city, town, or village has some sort of aquatic centre or leisure centre, equipped with a wave-pool or lazy river, waterslides, and other fun activities. That’s not the case in Lethbridge, population close to 100,000, which boasts seven public pools that offer the joy of lane swimming and a kiddie-pool.
The pros: Open swim and family swim times are very affordable ($14 for the family) and the pools don’t typically get very busy.
The cons: Zzzzzzzzzzzzz. It’s just a big pool. Boring. And kiddie-pools are gross.
A full-fledged leisure centre within walking distance from our house is slated to open in 2019. It’s about time!
Our kids are fascinated with dinosaurs and so this past weekend we took them to the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, AB. I was pretty excited too, since I hadn’t been to the dino-capital of Canada since I was a kid.
The pros: Admission was relatively inexpensive; $15 per adult ticket. Kids under 7 were free. Also, Dinosaurs!
The cons: The museum was packed on the Saturday afternoon; we waited in line for 20 minutes just to get tickets. Once inside, there were so many people that we could barely move around. When we did, we managed to photo-bomb every selfie-stick carrying tourist in the museum.
Drumheller is a three-hour drive from Lethbridge – not bad, but on the outer limits for a day-trip. It’s also a one-trick tourist town without much else to offer outside of the museum. We paid $3 each to climb to the top of an 86-foot tall T-Rex and look out its mouth at the Badlands. Then it was time to go home.
6. Summer camps
We enrolled our oldest in two week-long camps at the University this summer. The first was an art camp where she got to explore her creative side, tie-dying shirts, making stamps, and creating beaded bracelets and necklaces. The second was a basketball camp, where she learned basic ball-handling skills.
The pros: Exploring new interests and expanding horizons. Getting your kids out of the house for a week. She had lots of fun!
The cons: Nothing available for our youngest (or anyone under 6). Camps are somewhat expensive at $110/week, or $22/day.
5. Atlantis Waterslides (Vernon, B.C.)
As a kid, I can remember visiting a waterslide park almost every summer. My brother and I would spend hours trying out all the different slides. On the fun scale, waterslides are 10 out of 10.
So I knew while on our summer vacation we had to take a day and visit Atlantis Waterslides in Vernon, B.C. It was 37 degrees that day and the kids had a blast. I’m not going to lie; my wife and I had as much fun as the kids (maybe more!).
The pros: The Waterslide Park had something for all ages; our kids got their feet wet on the beginner slides and then spent most of the afternoon on the intermediate slides. Then, as the crowd thinned out later in the afternoon, our kids got adventurous and tried all of the advanced slides.
The cons: It was busy there early, so we didn’t bother trying to get on the popular river raft ride. The cost was fairly steep, at $45 for the family, considering we even got the “half-day” rate, from 2:30pm – 6:00pm.
We could have made it an all-day affair, brought our own picnic lunch, and taken advantage of the mini-golf course and kids-zone playground. I’d say the price was worth it – certainly three times more fun than an afternoon at the public pool.
4. Enchanted Forest
One concern we had about our summer vacation was driving from Lethbridge to Kelowna in one-day. We decided to split up the drive and stay one night in Golden, B.C. That allowed us to do some sightseeing along the way without being stretched for time.
The Enchanted Forest was one of those attractions that we had always planned to visit, but never found the time. This summer we made a point to go, and I’m glad we did.
The pros: The kids got to see all of their favourite fairy-tale characters, and even got to step into their homes. The fifty-foot high tree house was a big hit with the kids. The nature walk and 800-year old cedar grove was a nice touch for mom and dad.
The cons: None.
I’ve been to several tourist traps that offer a gimmick, but not much substance. The glass house on Kootenay Lake comes to mind, which costs $10 per person for a ten-minute walk through a weird house. But the Enchanted Forest was well worth the $40 admission for our family.
3. Skye Trek Adventure Park
Another reason we were glad to have stopped at the Enchanted Forest was that we discovered a new attraction called Skye Trek Adventure Park (same location). The majority of the trekking course was too advanced for our kids, but Skye Trek did have an outdoor jungle gym where kids could climb up rope ladders, navigate their way across a giant spider net, and speed down a fully netted zip-line.
The pros: A unique outdoor playground where our kids could test their limits and take unlimited laps around the climbing course.
The cons: The kids’ jungle gym was a lot of fun, but at $20 per child it was pricey – even for unlimited use of the course. Our youngest only made one parent-assisted lap around the course (she’s 3).
Skye Trek activities are mostly geared towards older children and adults. There’s a kids tree adventure, climbing wall, and an aerial trekking course. We’ll definitely be back when the kids are a bit older.
2. Kangaroo Creek Farm
Short of a trip to Australia, where else can you pet a kangaroo, hold a baby joey, feed an emu, and have a four-week old sugar-glider jump onto your shoulders?
Kangaroo Creek Farm in Lake Country B.C. was incredible. I couldn’t believe how such a strange menagerie was thriving in this little B.C. farm, and how well the animals were treated by the owners and staff.
The pros: An amazing and unique experience for our entire family to interact with animals that we had only seen on TV. And for just $5 per person (kids under 5 are free), the farm was a great bang for our buck.
The cons: Not surprisingly, the farm has exploded in popularity in recent years and so it is quite busy and there is little to no parking available on site.
1. Free activities
You don’t have to spend money to keep your kids busy and entertained in the summer. Our kids have taken advantage of plenty of free activities. Some of which include:
- Big bird, little bird, and Trailblazers – Free children’s programs at the Helen Schuler Nature Centre that explore nature through activities, crafts, and games.
- Library – Our kids love to read and so we visit the library every few weeks to borrow new books and (lately) dinosaur DVDs.
- Spray park – Nothing beats going to the local spray park on a scorching summer day.
- Nature walks – As much as we liked Skye Trek and the Enchanted Forest, our summer road trip also included free stops to walk around and explore Emerald Lake and Lake Louise
- Beach and pool – We had an action-packed vacation in Kelowna but when it came time to relax, our go-to spot was in the pool at our condo or a short trip to the beach.
Finally, the main reason why we “invested” in an outdoor swing-set and trampoline was so that our kids could hang out and play in the backyard this summer. For the most part that has worked out according to plan. This backyard playground will hopefully provide a few more years of “free” entertainment for our kids.
It’s been a good summer. We’ve tried lots of new things, some of which were worth the money, but we’ve found the old saying that “the best things in life are free” really does hold true.
I’m sure we can speak for many parents when we say that we’re glad summer is almost over and we’re ready for back-to-school!