Make every summer weekend count! Inexpensive (or free!) family fun activities

Daneille Mattis


✔ Summer in Canada is short! Make every weekend count.

✔ Here are 16 ideas for safe summer fun for every weekend of summer – from the unofficial start on the May 24 weekend right through to Labour Day

✔ These activities can be done in whatever order you wish and you can also come up with many of your own!

Canadians come alive during the summer months when it is finally a pleasure to be out of doors. Especially after COVID-19 lockdowns, the prospect of summer’s arrival is being met with excitement. Many of the usual summer things to do are still not available this year because of the pandemic and many families also want safe and budget-friendly activities. Here’s a countdown of ideas that might inspire you to make all 16 weeks of this summer count – from the unofficial start of summer on Victoria Day weekend in May all the way up to Labour Day in September. You don’t have to go in order – mix and match for whenever the mood strikes or the weather co-operates.


Weekend 1: Plant a garden

Almost anyone can garden in some shape or form, even if you don’t have a lot of outdoor space. If planting outdoors, check the frost-free date for your area (many areas are around Victoria Day weekend). Seeds, soil and grow pots don’t need to cost a lot of money. Friends who are gardeners can also offer cuttings of their shrubs or perennials for free. If you don’t want to garden yourself, go get fresh veggies from the experts. Farmers markets offer seasonal produce all summer long


Weekend 2: Go on a city walk tour

How much do you really know about where you live? Many cities offer self-guided walking tours. You can download a map, put on a pair of comfy shoes and go explore – whether your interest is architecture, history or green spaces, you’re bound to learn something new and get some exercise and fresh air!


Weekend 3: Camp in your backyard

If you have access to a backyard, there’s nothing more fun for kids (and parents) than setting up a campsite in the backyard. If you have a firepit or small propane barbecue, you can roast weenies or make s’mores. You can sing songs, play games or delight one another with scary ghost stories by flashlight.


Weekend 4: Learn how to stargaze

On a clear night, you can often see what seems like thousands of stars in the night sky. There are lots of resources online to help you identify the North Star and Big Dipper – and tell you what stars and planets might be visible in your area with and without binoculars.


Weekend 5: Dine al fresco

Whether that’s barbecuing in your own outdoor space, or just serving up sandwiches on your patio, or packing up a picnic lunch to take to a nearby park, there’s nothing like eating out in the fresh air. You could also challenge your family to a competition – see what tasty concoction you can make from items that are already in your pantry for your outdoor meal.


Weekend 6: Go on a virtual (and educational) tour

While we might have had a lot of virtual activities in the past year, if the family has gotten a bit too much sun recently, why not go on a virtual tour of a museum or zoo? Since the pandemic began, many organizations have been offering virtual tours for free. Look to see what’s available in your area or even see virtual tours of museums, zoos and aquariums around the world.


Weekend 7: Have some splashy fun

For many Canadians, enjoyment on or by the water is a summer pastime. If there are beaches or splashpads near you and open, go for a swim or splash! You can also set up a sprinkler in the backyard – children especially love to run through the sprinkler on a hot summer day. Children also love playing with water balloons – fill up a bunch of balloons with water and play catch with every member of the family. There will be plenty of extra giggles if a balloon bursts on Mom or Dad!


Weekend 8: Go for a hike

A hike combines the best of two worlds – nature and exercise. If you can, hike in a forest - the Japanese coined the term ‘forest bathing’ and research shows there are big health benefits to spending time in nature. Take in the sights and sounds and smells of the natural world around you. See if you can spot different kinds of birds, insects and plants.


Weekend 9: Free community events

Depending upon how much things open up this summer, there are likely to be at least some community events in your area. Check local listings to see what’s available, or what virtual options there might be for your favourite summer events.


Weekend 10: Play cards, board games, dress-up

Delight the kids and bring out the kid in Mom and Dad with games that are a particularly good bet on a rainy summer weekend. Dig out that old Scrabble board, play cards, make up skits and dances, or play dress-up with old clothes. The main thing is to spend quality family time together and make each other laugh!


Weekend 11: Volunteer

Giving back to the community is an important lesson for all children to learn – why not see what’s available in your community this year? Even if some organized volunteer activities might be cancelled, you can still practice good deeds – such as mowing the lawn or grocery shopping for an elderly or ill neighbour. You’ll feel better and make someone else’s world better.


Weekend 12: Outdoor exercise and games

Soak up as much sunshine as you can (with sunscreen of course!) with any number of activities that the whole family can enjoy. Throw a Frisbee or play catch in the backyard or nearby park, get in some exercise with outdoor calisthenics, learn how to juggle, play a game of touch football or hit a nearby outdoor tennis court for games of singles or doubles. The important thing is to be active outdoors when you can!


Weekend 13: Outdoor photo challenge

With just about everyone have a cellphone with a camera nowadays, taking photos has become a popular pastime. Why not challenge every member of the family to come up with the most beautiful or wacky photos, and have a prize for whoever has the most interesting photo? Or you can come up with a specific photo challenge – such as walking through the neighbourhood and seeing how many photos of dogs being walked you can see, or how many different types of wildflowers you can take a snapshot of in a set period of time?


Weekend 14: Scavenger hunt

Kids love scavenger hunts and you can come up with any theme you like. They are a great way for kids to learn, by sharpening their observation skills and explore new words and places. A scavenger hunt is just simply a game in which participants (as individuals or in teams) either gather or observe all items on a list. So, one at the beach might be to collect seashells, different coloured rocks, driftwood or bird feathers – or to see if you can spot a certain colour of towel or beach umbrella, see a sailboat or a fish.


Weekend 15: Have a yard sale (but be safe, distance, sanitize etc.)

Having a yard or garage sales is a quintessential Canadian summer activity – and it’s also a great way to get rid of your old junk (someone else’s treasure!) and collect some cash. Of course, you want to make sure you have proper distancing and sanitizing measures in place to keep everyone safe. Or you can always browse local yard sales – and find that treasure you’ve been dreaming of or didn’t know you wanted!


Weekend 16: Do indoor activities outdoors

Summer is the time to do anything you can outdoors. And a lot of ‘indoor’ activities are fun outside too. Practicing yoga outdoors amid natural surroundings takes it to a whole new level. So, does reading under a tree amid birdsongs or sketching and painting. What indoor pastime can you take outdoors?


These are just 16 budget friendly ideas for the 16 weeks of summer – how many can you accomplish this year?

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