50 free things to do this summer

By: Cheryl Embrett

Author: Canadian Living


50 free things to do this summer

By: Cheryl Embrett
Fun summer activities at home
1. Celebrate ice cream days by making your own. Use tasty toppings and see who can make the most unusual sundae – it's fun for the kids and you get to pick primo dairy ingredients.

2. Watch the sun rise (or set) together as a family at least once this summer -- ideally on a dock. A balcony or backyard works, too.

3. Remember board games? Bust out Monopoly or Clue on a rainy day.

4. Start a summer blog with your kids -- get them to write about summer camps or daily adventures.

5. Download and watch kids' movies and Canadian classics for free from the National Film Board of Canada.

6. Make your own healthy popsicles, slushies and slurpees with real fruit juice.

7. Read aloud a classic series such as The Chronicles of Narnia, Anne of Green Gables or The Lord of the Rings.

8. Pull out the sidewalk chalk (or splurge on 3-D chalk) and let the kids go to town creating artful masterpieces.

9. Play easy outdoor games such as hide-and-seek.

10. Pitch a backyard tent, make s'mores, sing songs and tell ghost stories.

11. Play cricket, Ultimate Frisbee or badminton – and award prizes to the winners.

12. Make a bird feeder by spreading pinecones with peanut butter and then coating them with sunflower seeds. Hang them in the yard and enjoy the free entertainment from your new feathered friends.

13. Set up a Flickr account and post pics of your summer so friends and family can see what you're up to.

14. Set out on a family scavenger hunt. Make a list of activities to do or things to find in your own neighbourhood -- climb the monkey bars at the park, for example, or find a feather. Take pictures of your adventure (see no. 13).

15. Create a playlist for your next get-together. Let the kids download their favourite songs and mix in a few of your own choices -- Mungo Jerry's "In the Summertime," for example, or anything by the Beach Boys.

Page 1 of 3 -- Did you know there's a wealth of free, fun things to do in your own neighbourhood? Find out more on page 2.

16. Make some no-cook treats. Think rice-crisp squares and no-bake cookies.

17. Get crafty and sign up for a DIY workshop. Most craft stores, including chains like Michaels, offer hands-on activities for kids and beginners for a nominal fee.

18. Let the kids design a planter of a few lovely late-summer-blooming perennials such as purple coneflowers and black-eyed Susans.

19. For rainy-day fun, check out the hundreds of free kids' games and activities on

In the neighbourhood
20. Grab a magnifying glass and a jar and go on an insect hunt. Take pictures of your finds and look them up on when you get home.

Set up an entertainment swap with your friends. Gather books, CDs and DVDs your family doesn't want anymore – then get together and swap! Donate remaining items to charity.

22. Challenge neighbourhood families to a game of soccer or baseball.

23. Visit a different playground or neighbourhood park every week. A playful change of scenery in a different area makes for new adventures.

24. Sign up teens ages 12 to 17 for a free summer gym membership at Goodlife locations across Canada (

25. Take a walk through a new neighbourhood in your city. Stroll through Vancouver's Chinatown or Edmonton's little Italy.

26. Get wet. Many parks have free splash pads, and municipal pools are often free of charge, as well.

27. Enjoy a community fireworks display. Take lawn chairs or a blanket, and don't forget sparklers and glow-in- the-dark sticks.

28. Take 'em out to the local sports field to watch a baseball or soccer game.

29. Organize a block beach party – complete with games and a sand castle competition (fill up baby pools with sand).

30. Visit your local library for freebies, including passes to local attractions, story time and reading programs, as well as their selection of current DVDs and magazines.

31. Organize an end-of-summer garage sale – the kids will like the cash and you'll like getting rid of some dust collectors.

Page 2 of 3 -- Wander out of the house and enjoy the summer with our favourite things to do in town, or out on a road trip on page 3.

In town (within city limits)
32. Attend a rehearsal. Many performance groups (symphonies, operas, etc.) have free dress rehearsals that are open to the public – but call in advance to be sure.

33. Register for a free Lowes or Home Depot Kids' workshop. Young builders can learn to make birdhouses, bat houses and tulip planters.

34. Kids love animals. Check out to find a shelter near you and learn how you can volunteer to help animals in your area.

35. Find a picnic spot that reflects your child's interests. If she loves art, for example, head to an outdoor sculpture garden.

36. Play hometown tourist. Sign up for free guided walking tours, like those offered by in Vancouver and Toronto. For spots to explore, check out

37. Be a culture vulture. Many museums, historical sites and art galleries offer free (or discounted) admission for families on specific days. The annual Doors Open Ontario, for example, offers free tours of buildings of architectural, historical, cultural and social significance.

38. Try a new family-fun activity, such as geocaching, a high-tech treasure-hunting game that's popular worldwide (

39. Go bowling. Alleys across the country participate in the summer-long Kids Bowl Free program, allowing kids to play two games a day on the house.

40. Explore a local farmer's market. Have the kids help plan a market-fresh menu, then shop for and prepare the food together.

41. Cities and towns across the country put on free outdoor concerts in the summertime; the historic Public Gardens in Halifax, for instance, hosts Sunday concerts.

42. Picnic with the Bard. Summer offers no shortage of Shakespeare plays performed on outdoor stages. Pack a hamper, make a donation and savour an evening's entertainment at your local park.

43. Watch movies outdoors. Cities across Canada hold outdoor film festivals, where you can watch flicks under the stars for free (or almost free). Or if you have a drive-in nearby, take the kids and re-live the fun of a bygone era.

44. Enjoy a street fair, parade or cultural event – check out your city or town website or community newspaper for info about upcoming events.

Day trips

45. Enjoy free family fishing events from coast to coast during National Fishing Week.

46. Find a multicultural festival near you. Your kids will learn about different cultural traditions and, if they're lucky, they may get to try on a costume. For example, check out GlobalFest in Calgary.

47. Visit a pick-your-own local farm or fruit orchard – some offer entertainment, so pack a lunch and make a day of it. The only cost is the price of the produce you pick. For more info, visit

48. Stargaze. Grab your binoculars, borrow a book on stars and get far away from the city lights on a cloudless summer night for a view of the Milky Way and favourite constellations.

49. Hike or bike the TransCanada Trail. This 22,000-kilometre-long trail winds its way through wilderness and capital cities, across historic rail tracks and through national and provincial parks. To find the section of the trail nearest you, check out The Trail locator at

50. Hop in the car and see where the open road takes you, or check out some off-the-beaten-track excursions – such as the Big little Science Centre in Kamloops, B.C., – at the Day Trips Canada website (

This story was originally titled "50 Simple Summer Pleasures" in the August 2011 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!

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50 free things to do this summer