Last year’s Summer Of Awesome campaign was a huge success, I must say. We didn’t have any big travel plans, so instead I led the kids in being tourists in our own city. This city has an amazing amount of activities, museums, and attractions, and we wanted to take full advantage. Not that lazing around in the backyard isn’t great – we did a lot of that, as well – but I tried to get us out for at least two activities per week, and it really was Awesome.
This year, we’re up for it again, but I’m particularly looking for inexpensive or free activities. We can splurge on a couple of major day trips, but last year almost everything we did ended up costing $100, and when you add all that up, we may as well have thrown it all at a big trip instead. This year, we will have fun – but be frugal, too. A lot of these activities are repeated from last year, but for any new places, I plan to blog about it over at Kids in the Capital.
And new this year – the option to come along for the ride! I can’t take credit for this idea – Sara over at My Points Of View wrote to tell me she was planning her own Summer of Awesome, and why not make it a whole movement? I thought it was a bang-up idea, so I made these pretty pretty badges. If you’re being a Tourist In Town this summer, why not join us – grab a badge (code below), blog about what places you’re planning to visit, and then report on exactly how fun they were on a scale of 1 to AWESOME.
<img src="http://diaryofaturtlehead.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/summerofawesome-120.jpg" alt="Summer of Awesome, hosted by Turtlehead" width="120" height="120">
<img src="http://diaryofaturtlehead.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/summerofawesome-150.jpg" alt="Summer of Awesome, hosted by Turtlehead" width="150" height="150">
Here’s what’s on my list for this summer. How about you?
Family Bike Rides: Alcatel-Lucent sponsors the closing of several major roads and parkways on Sunday mornings, from now until September, for biking. This is the first year we have all three kids up on bikes – Little Miss Sunshine has a wee one with training wheels, and the older two have (finally!) learned how to handle a full 2-wheeler – so we are ready to hit the road. Can’t wait to give this one a try.
The Library: Our home branch is Centennial in Bells Corners, which has a fantastic children’s room and activities all summer long. Many programs there require registration, and your kid will need his or her own library card for that. As long as you don’t lose the card, though (DOH), everything’s free. My kids just love going there – they are amazed every single time that all those books can be theirs just for the asking. Don’t forget they have a huge DVD library too, and that you can request just about anything using their website, then just pop in to pick it all up. We’re hoping to make it a weekly thing – at least.
Museums: We have memberships this year to the Museum of Civilization and the Museum of Nature, so we’ll be going there a lot. Unfortunately I can’t really call either place “free” since parking costs an arm and a leg…and another arm. But it’s pretty inexpensive and we can easily spend a whole day at either place if I bring a packed lunch.
Stargazing at the Museum of Science: We didn’t get the Museum of Science membership this past year but we still went once or twice. On July 8, you can have a peek out of their space telescope – one of several evenings a year when the planetarium is open to the public. Unfortunately, since it’s July, this is the latest viewing evening of the year – the stars don’t come out until 9 p.m. So I’m not sure if the kids will be up for this one, but I certainly am interested and I’d love to go one day. Next year we will try to hit one of the Spring or Fall viewings instead when the sun sets earlier.
Splash Pad Parks: There’s a brand new one just a few blocks from us, but you can find one near you by checking the city’s list. I just heard that the Barrhaven ones will be open on weekends, so there’s sure to be one near you no matter where you live. We can easily spend the whole day, getting wet, getting dry, snacking, swinging, getting wet, getting dry, repeat. I even like it better than the beach – no open water, and plenty of shady spots for parents to rest.
Saunders Farm: I just love The Farm. It’s one of the more expensive trips on this list, but I consider it a can’t miss. My kids could literally spend all day just playing on their big pirate ship play structure, but beyond that, there’s also puppet shows, giant slides, a splash pad, and OH THE MAZES. I just LOVE the mazes. Although, we may skip the Mile Maze this year if we want to be home before dark; and a warning to those with very young children, do NOT attempt to bring a stroller into the mazes. DO NOT. One more thing: bring some crayons for rubbings – you won’t regret it.
AMC Morning Movies – I’m so bitter about this one. Last year, AMC had Summer Movie Camp where kids could see a movie on Tuesday mornings for just $1. They’ve discontinued the program for this year, though, hence the BITTER. Still, they do have morning pricing – $6 for movies that start before noon – so I’m sure to take the kids to the movies at least once or twice this summer. What with a new Cars movie, new Kung Fu Panda, and new Winnie the Pooh, how could I stay away?
CHEO Teddy Bear’s Picnic – This is something I swear we will go to every year, and yet we always seem to miss it. It’s usually in June and June is a crazy busy month for us. But this year is our year, oh yes. It’s on Saturday, June 25 at the Governor General’s mansion, and there will be food, games, midway-style rides, and of course, the bear repair clinic – and I think it’s all free (some of the games might be a very minimal cost, I can’t recall). By coincidence we have been talking quite a bit about the Governor General around here lately – inspired by the election and the Royal Wedding – so this is a great chance for us to have some fun and see an Ottawa landmark at the same time. I’ve heard you have to get there EARLY if you want to avoid being overwhelmed by the crowd – it opens at 8 a.m.
Parliament Hill: Speaking of landmarks, my kids love Parliament Hill. This shocks me, I would have thought they’d be so bored there. If you recall from last year, the Changing Of The Guard was NOT a hit, we won’t be bothering with that this year, but wishing at the flame, going up the tower, looking for cats, and running around on the lawn are things that never get old. This year I’d like to try taking them on a tour – they’ll probably be bored out of their trees, but you never know.
Busker Festival: We lucked into this one last year. It’s on Sparks Street on the Civic Holiday weekend. Tons of entertaining, fun shows all up and down the street, all weekend long – and you pay what you see fit. Our kids were dazzled by sword swallowers, super strong women, kids on unicycles, and magicians. Give each kid a pocket full of twoonies, slather them with sunscreen, and let ’em loose.
National Art Gallery: Oh, how I love the gallery. You can’t have too many expectations when you go there with little kids – they’re into running around, not sitting and absorbing. However, if you’re not too committed to quietly enjoying art yourself, you can still have a great time checking out the modern art galleries (at high speed) and talking about what it means for something to be “art.” The Gallery is free on Canada day, but if you can’t make it that day, try a Saturday or Sunday morning. All summer long they’ll be running their popular Artissimo program, weekends at 11 a.m., and your kids can make a truly amazing and beautiful piece of art to take home.
Canada Day: And speaking of Canada Day, it’s A. Big. Deal. here in Ottawa, which means you can’t turn around without some kind of festival/concert/event happening under your nose. We usually do Canada Day In Kanata, which features free bouncy castles, fire trucks, and music all day (this year, Sloan is the headliner, one of my most favourite bands EVER). For a fee you can do things like face painting and midway rides. We haven’t actually ever taken the kids downtown – Sir Monkeypants and I CANNOT stand the crowds – but we have friends visiting this year who are interested in that so…we may risk it. If you don’t hear from me after July 1, you know I’m trapped downtown somewhere near the Terry Fox statue. SEND HELP.
Nature Walks: Here’s something cheap that we don’t do enough of: walk in the green belt. We live within walking distance of several forest paths and my kids alternate between loving it and being scared out of their minds. Overall, though, I think it’s a positive experience and they especially love bringing fruit and seeds to leave for the animals. We also always come home with a variety of leaves for pressing and pinecones and sticks to use for crafts. It’s nice and cool in there, even on the hottest day, and I kind of want to go there RIGHT NOW.
Public swimming: We don’t have a pool, so we take full advantage of the city pools all summer long. Last year we tried to go once a week to our local outdoor pool, plus the kids took swimming lessons on a daily basis for a couple of weeks. It’s a great way to get wet for very minimal cost – lessons at the outdoor pool were almost criminally inexpensive. We’ll be doing this again for sure.
Britannia Beach: My kids are OBSESSED with the beach. It’s like some sort of mystical nirvana. Up until this year I’ve been very nervous about taking them by myself and I always chicken out, but this year the bigger two are more confident in the water, so it’s on. Plus, I think I can rope a few friends into coming along so we can share the lifeguard/snack serving/bathroom taking duties. A get-together AND beach fun – for free? AWESOME. You can check the daily water quality of the city’s beaches here.
RCMP Musical Ride: This one is on my list every year. And we never go. And we probably won’t this year, either. The problem is that it’s a sunset ride, and in late June (when they are in Ottawa), that means the show isn’t starting until 9 p.m. – way too late for my little ones. However, you can go and visit the stables any time, and we might do that – the Little Miss is starting to get really into horses, and I think it would be interesting to see how she handles seeing them in real life. (Of course, that probably means that by this time next year we will own a pony. Maybe I will rethink this one.)
Camping: Camping is cheap. However, camping is also dirty, gross, and bug-infested. Man, do I EVER hate camping. I can’t think of anything I enjoy less. So guess what we will be doing this summer! Bingo, CAMPING. The kids have bugged and bugged (ha ha! Pun intented!) to go camping because a) they are obsessed with collecting sticks, and b) there is a Mystical Nirvana Beach there. So Sir Monkeypants and I decided to suck it up and we have booked a weekend of camping, SO HELP US GOD. If I end up enjoying it…I won’t be admitting it. So camp away at your own risk.
Farmer’s Markets: I am obsessed myself with farmer’s markets. My mom used to take us girls when we were kids and it was a special treat, a trip full of yummy food and amazing things to see. I tried to take the kids last year to the Carp Market and it was one big whine-fest. That won’t stop me from trying again this year, though! I will never give up, never! Don’t forget, if you’re trying this one, to bring lots of cash – most stalls can’t take plastic – and resign yourself to the fact that something deep-fried and on a stick WILL be purchased.
Ray’s Reptiles: Every year one of my kids becomes newly obsessed with reptiles. This year it’s Gal Smiley, so we’ll be heading off to Ray’s, like we do every year (usually several times a year) to see the snakes, turtles, and birds. It’s a totally interactive place, with lots of hands-on shows, and worth it for any age. It’s a small place so it’s perfect for a rainy morning or afternoon.
Mont Cascades: With the opening of Calypso last year, Mont Cascades got some water park competition. As a result they’ve really dropped their price – just $13 per person. It’s not exactly cheap, but it’s a lot less expensive than a day at the water park would have been just a couple of years ago. With splash pads and pools all over the place, I’m not sure this is a must-do – not to mention the fact that I’m quite nervous about taking three kids to a high-excitement water-based attraction by myself as it is – but it’s on my list for consideration.
The Expensive Stuff: I also have lots of more expensive places on my list – likely we will pick at most one or two of these places to visit this summer, but I wish we could do them all, so I thought I’d mention them. Last year, Cosmic Adventures was one of our biggest hits of the summer, but it is CRAZY expensive – budget at least $100 if your visit will include a meal. Still, it might be worth it for a rainy day, or, it’s a great place to go if you have friends visiting because the adults can actually sit and talk while the kids go nuts. We usually go to the Papanack Zoo once a year, and I love it there, but we might take a pass this year only because we’ve been there often and there’s so much more to see. As an alternative, we might consider Parc Omega, which is a more interactive animal adventure, and I’ve heard it’s great. I have never seen the appeal of Upper Canada Village but MyFriendJen raves about her trip from last year, so it’s now on my list of possibilities. I’m really serious about doing the Wakefield Steam Train this year, IT WILL HAPPEN, and on a rainy day, we might consider doing a splatter paint session at 4Cats. Lastly, we’re hoping to go back to Marineland this year – it doesn’t quite count as a local attraction, but our kids still talk about the whales and dolphins (I think they consider the animals there their own personal pets), and Disney is still years away so this is a great alternative for us.
WHEW. I am tired just typing this all out!
If you’re planning a Summer of Awesome like this, one thing I do recommend is planning. Most of these make great day trips but you can’t just wake up one morning and decide to go (well, I can’t, anyway). It helps to know when you get up in the morning that here’s where we’re going, here’s what food we’ll need, here’s what the kids need to wear, and here’s when we want to get there.
Plus, I find we can only handle two or three of these activities at most per week – the rest of the time is just playing in the park, filling the wading pool in the backyard, or having friends over for popsicles. So if you want to fit it all in, organize your list then actually book it on the calendar – a couple per week all the way out to September. That way, it actually will happen.
Oh yes, IT WILL. Have an awesome summer!