It always amazes me how quickly kids move from “Hooray, school’s out!” to “Mom, I’m bored.” The truth is that the rush of freedom that comes with the end of school can quickly stretch into long, hot days at home. As a mother of three children, I’m always on the lookout for active, inexpensive activities that get my kids away from the television and computer, and save me from the endless bickering of siblings suffering from cabin fever. Check out some of these ideas for creative ways to make the most of summer days with your kids.
Affordable arts & crafts
Arts and crafts are very popular in our home and there are several that we always do in the summertime, either because they are very messy or require larger spaces. You can adapt these to the age and skill level of your children, and can find the necessary materials around the house or at a dollar store.
This is a messy, all-encompassing activity that is perfectly suited to a shaded grassy spot in the yard. You’ll need old sheets of newspaper cut or torn into strips (get the kids involved), balloons that have been inflated and tied off and a paste of flour and water, mixed to the consistency of thick glue. Now, dunk the strips of paper into the glue, using your fingers to remove the excess glue. Layer the strips onto the balloon, gradually building it up into shapes. Make sure the whole balloon gets covered, and that the strips remain wet as you are building. Little kids who make it too wet can just put dry strips of paper on top to soak it up. Get creative – toilet paper tubes, paper cups and straws can all be used to build up your shape. Make ears, eyes, tails and feet. Put the finished papier maché creatures in a well-ventilated spot to dry, which can take 24 to 48 hours. When they are completely dry, you can burst the balloon inside with a pin (kids love this part) and then paint as desired.
Like many of the best summertime crafts, pet rocks work well because they involve two separate activities: searching for suitable rocks and then painting them. Go on a rock hunt through your neighbourhood to find the perfect rocks, ideally those with flat or smooth surfaces. Scrub them clean in an outdoor bucket or wading pool and let them dry in the sun. Paint the rocks as you wish. If you are feeling particularly crafty (and can offer adult supervision), pick up a dollar store glue gun and let the kids attach buttons, pipe cleaners, beads, feathers or glitter.
Personalized stepping stones
Making your own concrete stepping stones is a great outdoor activity (since the concrete dust is not healthy to breathe in indoor spaces) and gives kids plenty of opportunity to personalize a long-lasting, decorative stone for your garden or walkway. While kits with supplies can be purchased for $20 or more, the actual materials can be gathered on your own for less than $3. This activity requires active adult supervision to prepare the moulds.
What you will need
- Rubber gloves for handling the concrete. If it gets on your skin, wash it off with soap and warm water before it sets. Some manufacturers also advise using eye protection. This would be a good time to change into old clothes or put on a smock. Cover any exposed skin since wet concrete can cause skin irritations.
- A cement mould such as a plastic planter saucer (less than $1) or a stepping stone mould from a craft store (around $3 or $4);
- An old ice cream container or bucket for mixing concrete;
- An old measuring cup;
- Piece of screen or hardware cloth cut 1 inch smaller than your mould can be used to make your stepping stone stronger;
- Damp rag for wiping up spills and spots;
- Quick setting concrete. You can buy quick-set concrete from any hardware store very inexpensively, but it tends to be a bit pebbly compared to the slightly more expensive concrete sold in craft stores specifically for this purpose;
- Embellishments: almost anything will do – use your imagination! Beads, pebbles, shells, stained glass, mosaic tiles, keys, marbles, beach glass, souvenirs. Use cookie cutters, stampers and Popsicle sticks to carve letters, words and shapes into the concrete as it dries.
Protect your work surface with a plastic sheet, newspapers or old tablecloth. Prepare the quick-set concrete according to package instructions (mixture will have consistency of wet brownie batter) and spoon into the mould until half-full. Lay down your piece of screen or hardware cloth if you are using one, then spoon more concrete to top of mould. Gently tap the edges to remove air bubbles. Leave your mould to dry for 30 minute before adding embellishments. You may need to sit for longer if you will be carving or printing anything into the surface. If you make a mistake, just smooth it over and start again. Allow to dry for 24-48 hours before you pop it out of the mould. Stones can be painted (followed by a coat of clear acrylic sealant) if you wish. Give them another week or so to completely dry out before you place them in your garden.
Check out local museums
There are plenty of ways to incorporate some learning into your summer fun. If the weather is wet or extremely hot, try visiting a museum for a refreshing and educational couple of hours. Besides the well-known ones such as the Biosphere, Biodome, Montreal Science Centre and Insectarium, check out some of the smaller museums. For example, McCord Museum is free the first Saturday of every month. You can also check out our online calendar at www.montrealfamilies.ca for inexpensive activities, workshops and presentations offered at museums during the summer months.
Discover public statues
Older kids and teens might appreciate a discovery of the city’s amazing public art and statues through a scavenger hunt. You’ll need a car for this one, as well as a digital camera and an hour or so Googling locations before you go. Some of our favourites include the massive set of keys outside McGill University’s M.H. Wong Building (home of the Department of Mining and Metallurgical Engineering), the sculpture garden on René Lévesque Blvd., opposite the Canadian Centre for Architecture, Jean Paul Riopelle’s “La Joute” opposite the Palais des Congrès (surrounded by a circular fountain, it runs through a 32-minute long sequence and is beautifully illuminated at night) and the life-size statue of a man reading a newspaper outside an office building at the corner of Sherbrooke St. W and Greene Ave.
Old Montreal’s collection of statues and monuments make for a veritable who’s who of Canadian and Quebec history. Take photos of the kids at each one, and spend a bit of time learning about the monument and the name of the artist. By the end of the summer, you will have a wonderful collection of interesting pictures, a newfound knowledge of other neighbourhoods and a lesson in history to boot.
Visit public markets
Try taking your kids to the city’s public markets for a tasting session. Walking up and down the aisles of brightly coloured fresh produce and flowers can bring out the gourmand in the pickiest eater. Many stalls offer tasting samples so you can discover whether your child actually enjoys kohlrabi, blackberries or purple cauliflower. We like to prepare some simple meal ideas before we go, and having a shopping list makes the excursion feel much more like a treasure hunt than a boring outing to the grocery store. Meeting the egg producer or farmer themselves helps kids develop an appreciation for where our food actually comes from. We always include some treats and it’s fun to unpack and prepare our bounty together when we get home.
Free activities at city parks
The summer is a great time to discover the various large and small parks run by the city of Montreal. You can learn about an organic farm and go swimming at Cap St. Jacques Nature Park, windsurf or canoe at L’Anse à L’Orme, or take the ferry from Promenade Bellerive to Île Charron so the kids can watch the enormous cargo ships passing by on their way to and from the city’s port. To help you plan a visit, the City of Montreal’s website includes a section about the various parks. Simply click under the section “Activities and Recreation.”
One of our family’s favourite summertime spots is Parc René Lévesque in Lachine, right off the main bike path. There is a paved path looping across this spit of land (separated for cyclists and pedestrians) that is perfect for kids gaining confidence on their bicycles, rollerblades and scooters. Dogs aren’t allowed, so kids can romp freely across the welcoming green space, check out the amazing and often whimsical public sculptures and learn about the interesting trees in the arboretum. Picnic tables at the farthest point on the loop overlook the water to the west, making it a picture-perfect sunset picnic destination. Parents will also appreciate the practicality and cool design of the conveniently placed public toilets. Metered parking is available and there is a kiosk where you can buy cold drinks and ice cream.