Getting the best out of life with your partner, kids and parents

How to have some frugal winter family fun

By Paula Kehoe,

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Little girl enjoying a cup of hot chocolate on a cold day.Want to break up the dreary days of winter? Are your kids climbing the walls with boredom? With March break on the horizon, you may be looking for cold-weather activities you can enjoy with your children that deliver lots of fun for little cash. And the annual Family Day long weekend is fast approaching, when many Canadians living in the six provinces celebrating the holiday will take a much-needed rest from work to focus on the importance of family and reconnect with their loved ones.

“Family Day is a great opportunity for the whole family to beat the February blahs,” says Caroline Fernandez, a mother of three and the founder of, a website dedicated to sharing fun and inexpensive things families can do together. “What makes Family Day special to us is that it’s a stress-free holiday. Unlike other ‘holidays,’ I don’t have to rush around buying presents or shush the kids while I make huge holiday meals. Family Day is truly a day off.”

Here are some ideas for thrifty fun that will keep your kids entertained indoors and out this winter:

Backyard winter Olympics

Is there a future winter Olympian in your family? Calgary mom of two, Angela Smith, says having your own backyard winter games can teach kids the value of sportsmanship and team spirit. “Everything else is a little imagination and a whole lot of enthusiasm,” says Smith.

Start with the kids and their friends trotting around the block in a relay race, passing a “torch” (made from a few simple craft items) to one another. Set up an obstacle course in your backyard made of snow: a hill for speed climbing, a slope for sled racing and a flat space for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. You can even make up your own special event such as a snowman-building competition. Then, hand out gold, silver and bronze medal cookies, along with hot chocolate, to the young champions.

Snow painting

Let your budding Picassos add some pizazz to your winter wonderland. Toronto mom Catherine Doyle pours various colours of tempera paint into small jars and bundles up her brood. “I draw shapes in the snow to serve as a canvas and let the kids paint pictures and write messages in the snow, or even add colour to a snowman,” says Doyle. No mess or fuss here! The paint is child- and animal-safe, washable and won’t stain snow pants or winter coats.

Play tourist in your own town

Appreciate your town and all it has to offer. Take the road less travelled and plan a day trip exploring new places right on your home turf. Bring the kids on an educational adventure to a festival, local market, museum or conservation area. For ideas, visit your town’s official tourism website or check out the community event section in your local newspaper.

Create a family portrait

Celebrate your child’s inner artist and your growing family with a new tradition. Linda Walker, a Winnipeg mother of four, says a child-drawn portrait of the family may not be the most flattering, but it’s pretty darned cute. Frame the family portrait and hang it for all to see, adding a new one each year. “Over the years, our portrait wall has become a beautiful memory of our family,” says Walker. “Copies of the portrait also make great gifts for aunts, uncles and grandparents.”

Host an indoor beach party

When the wind is howling outside, keep the little ones entertained with an indoor beach party. Decorate your living room or family room with photos, seashells, a beach umbrella and a poster-board sun. Turn up the surf tunes and enjoy a hula hoop competition, the limbo or balloon beach volleyball, and sip on fruit smoothies with little umbrellas.

Build a blanket fort

Toronto dad Scott MacDonald encourages his children’s imaginative play by building a fort with blankets and chairs, as he used to do with his own father. “We like to tell stories around a make-believe campfire while snacking on hot dogs or marshmallows,” says MacDonald. A blanket fort can be even more fun by having a sleepover with friends inside it. Now that’s roughing it!

What will you do with your kids when they’re off school this winter? Share your plans with us by commenting below.

More ideas for family fun:

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