In my dual life as a self employed professional and a family man, I get to deal with and provide answers to a multitude of questions. Some are easy such as “How do I upload a video to You Tube” or “Dad, how many Provinces does Canada have?” Others, of course can be more difficult like “How can a single person make a difference regarding climate change” or “Dad, how tall was a T-Rex when it was a teenager?” However, when you are a parent of a large family perhaps one of the most challenging, anxiety evoking and never ending questions is “What are we going to do today?”
With 4 kids in my house, keeping them occupied, entertained, stimulated, etc. can be a challenge. Now don’t get me wrong. The last thing anyone would ever call me is a “Helicopter Parent” since I fully believe that children, if left to their own devices and imagination will always find things to keep them occupied and stimulated. However the fact remains that with the summer holidays now upon us and kids out of their usual school day routines, the need to come up with ideas to help keep the brood occupied becomes both a necessity and a challenge.
Keeping kids occupied can often involve participating in activities that have costs associated with them. When you’re a parent of multiples the cost to participate in anything almost always doubles. In our case that cost goes even higher as we have other children as well. To this point family vacations are pretty much out of reach for us, except for the most basic types, or those that involve deep discounts. Even day trips to places like amusement parks or other similar attractions become prohibitively expensive based on sheer numbers alone. So what do you do? Do you sacrifice other things to have money available to take trips and go places? Do you simply tell the kids that paid trips are out of the question and they should make their own fun? Truth be told, there really isn’t one right answer for all and the suggestions I’ll provide come from no other point of expertise other than my own experiences.
For me and with my children I’ve come to realize that the best approach involves a blend of structure and simplicity. Some of the best outings I’ve ever had with my kids were based on real simple ideas and with little structure or expectations added to it. Here are a few examples that come to mind.
PLANE SPOTTING: When I was a young boy, I can remember one of our favorite family outings would be to get in the car, head to the old Terminal One building at Toronto International Airport (before it became Pearson Int’l), park on the roof top and watch planes coming and going. We’d pack snacks and my dad would make up stuff about every plane that landed or took off. Jump forward almost 40 years to today and plane spotting is now something I do with my 3 boys. While it’s more difficult to find a good vantage point today, it’s easier to track the planes with a laptop and a WI FI stick. The kids love waving at a plane landing overhead and saying “Hi plane from Frankfurt!” On a good weather day, it provides for simple fun with little to no cost involved.
NATURE WALKS: This is another one of our faves! From coast to coast there are amazing places to walk or ride as a family that allow for education, entertainment and exercise. With our family some walks will be to discover fossils, others to look for footprints, while others yet to play make believe. It’s low cost, high energy output and generally a lot of fun!
A DAY AT THE BEACH: Hey, it’s summer and there isn’t a lot of cost involved in setting out to your favourite beach along a lake, pond or conservation area and just hanging out. Pack a picnic lunch, get plenty of sunscreen and find the perfect spot to enjoy some sand, sun and swimming. Canadians are blessed with the longest of summers so be sure to make the most of it while you can!
These are only three of countless examples that demonstrate how family fun doesn’t always have to have a significant impact on family finances. By combining a general idea with the power of imaginations running wild, and a willingness to improvise as the day and situation evolves, largefamilies can often create more excitement than any major attraction can, yet at only a fraction of the typical costs involved.