These free – or inexpensive – outings will get your kids socializing and your sanity intact. Tracey Tong – and our preschool tester – report
Whether you’re a stay-at-home parent, on parental leave, or just have the day off with the kids, you’ve probably wondered what there was to do with your rugrats. Although we all need down days, sometimes, the kids – and let’s face it, you – need to get out of the house (and no, grocery shopping does not count as an outing). We came up with a list of places to go on weekdays where your child is guaranteed to run into other kids and then put then put our preschool-aged tester, Millie and her mama (that’s me) to work. The following locations are kid-approved, make playdate planning breeze, and best of all, will leaving your house intact at the end of the day. What else could a busy parent ask for?
Starr Gymnastics and Parkour
From the time that my older daughter could sit up, she’s loved Starr Gymnastics. Kids can burn off excess energy at one of three locations, which have one-hour drop-ins for kids five and under most days of the week. While the foam pits and trampolines were toddler hits, four-year-old Millie now favours the rope swing, balance beams and rings.
Where: 2766 Lancaster Rd., Ottawa; 1140 Morrison Dr., Nepean; and 520 Lacolle Way, Orleans
Cost: $5 per child. No cost for children 12 months and under and adults.
If your child is of the free-range variety like mine, he or she will love Toddler Games. A non-profit organization created by parents, this drop-in community playgroup for children ages 1 to 4 years old features include a large (great for active kids who like to run), fenced-in (great for nervous parents) and turf-lined arena, tons of seating for snack time and stroller parking.
Where: Inside Archery Games at 1860 Bank St #3b, Ottawa
Cost: $4 per child or $20 per month. No cost for children under 12 months and adults.
This play centre offers a play structure, jumping pillow, roller rink, games and redemption games to keep children of all ages entertained. Millie likes interacting with other children on the play structures and always finds a little friend to play with. Open seven days a week, including PD days and school breaks. Socks are required.
Where: 1650 Queensdale Ave., Ottawa
Cost: $6.75 to $16, depending on age. Check website for details. No cost for adults.
An all-ages play centre, Funhaven features a rock wall, bumper cars, a huge arcade with redemption games, a jungle gym, escape room and a ‘Crazy 8’ ride. Bring socks if you want to use the jungle gym. Note that if your child is younger like Millie, he or she may not be tall enough for the rock wall and the rides, but will still find plenty else to do between the games and the play structure. Also, it can be a bit noisy (possible sensory overload for younger or sensitive children) during peak hours, so aim to go during the daytime, when it is a bit quieter.
Where: 1050 Baxter Rd., Ottawa
Cost: Varies by activity
Formerly known as the Ontario Early Years Centres, EarlyON centres offer free, high-quality drop-in programs for families and children from birth to 6 years old. Millie has been attending the main location on Don Reid Dr. since she was less than a year old, where we interact with other children, meet other parents and can access advice from early childhood professionals. They also offer a range of services, including a toy sign-out (great for keeping clutter down at home) and take-home leaflets and resources and even special guests and experts, like nutritionists and car seat safety professionals. Activities include free play and crafts. Each session ends with a circle time with reading, storytelling, sing-alongs and games. Drop-in times vary by session (check the website for more information) but many centres are open weekdays, evenings and weekends.
Where: Various locations
Toddler Time at Xtreme Trampoline Park
A great trampoline option for the west end, we found Xtreme Trampoline to be clean and the staff friendly. Toddler time is open to children aged 4 and under and is held in a separate section of the park — Kiddie Kourt, where parents can sit and play with their children in a safe space.
Where: 50 Frank Nighbor Pl., Kanata
Cost: Children ages four and under pay $10 for 30 minutes and $18 for 60 minutes. Price includes a pair of jump socks. No cost for non-jumping adults.
Wave Pools and Family Swim
With the amazing pool facilities that the city has, there’s no reason to get your own installed in the backyard. Between all the public, family and preschool swim times offered at City of Ottawa pools, there’s a time and location to suit almost any schedule. The sessions are long enough that it outlasts Millie’s interest in playing in the water (which is great, because there’s nothing worse than having to drag a kid out of a pool). Note that preschool swim is for children ages five and under.
Where: City of Ottawa pools, various locations
Cost: Free for children two and under; $3.75 for kids 3 to 18; $5.75 for adults and families with a maximum of two adults pay $3.75 per person.
City of Ottawa museums
Ottawa is fabulous for museums and galleries – they are arguably one of the best things about living in the capital. But when you’ve been to all the usual suspects (the Museum of Nature, Museum of Science and Technology, Canada Aviation and Space Museum, Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, War Museum, Children’s Museum, Museum of Civilization and the National Gallery of Canada – whew!) as many times as we have, you welcome any opportunity to venture off the beaten path. Fortunately, Ottawa has more aces up its sleeve, in the form of city-run museums. Here are three of our favourites:
Housed in Ottawa’s oldest stone building, the Bytown Museum traces the history of Ottawa’s early years — from the construction of the Rideau Canal to the city role as the nation’s capital. Afterwards, wander through the ByWard Market or get lunch at the Rideau Centre.
Where: 1 Canal Lane, Ottawa
Canada’s Cold War museum is housed in this 100,000-square foot facility. Discover the Cold War era through the bunker’s medical centre, the Bank of Canada vault, the Prime Minister’s suite and more. The tunnel at the entrance is a big hit with our tester.
Where: 3911 Carp Rd., Carp
Named for its location in the Richelieu Park, the Muséoparc Vanier Museopark looks at the natural history of the Richelieu-Vanier forest. The Museopark also hosts the Sugar Festival every April, of which pancake lover Millie is a big fan.
Where: 300, des Pères Blancs Ave., Ottawa
Mommy and Me Yoga
I frequented this event, held every Tuesday and Thursday between 10 and 11 a.m. at the Bayshore Shopping Centre, when Millie was a baby. Mommy and Me yoga classes allow parents like me to get a gentle workout WITH their babies and meet other moms (and dads, although I’ve noticed it’s rare) with similarly aged children. These classes are ideal for babies between eight weeks and one year old.
When: Where: Bayshore Shopping Centre, Crystal Hall, Level 3 by Starbucks
Mom and Baby on the Move
Who says mall walks are for seniors? Join Fitness with Jules for a free indoor workout at the St. Laurent Shopping Centre every Monday and Wednesday. When Millie was smaller, I used to push her in a stroller, or put her in a baby carrier, and make the rounds while doing some window shopping. Sometimes, she’d even fall asleep! It’s a great way to make friends and get some exercise, no matter what the weather outside is like. The walk commences at guest services near ToysRUs at 9:15 a.m. for an hour of physical activity.
Where: St. Laurent Shopping Centre
Stars and Strollers
Keeping up with the latest movies is hard when you’re a parent – I think I’ve seen two movies in the last five years – so Stars and Strollers is a great option if you’re a film buff. Cineplex Theatres offers a choice of two new movies a week, lowered volume and dimmed lighting so that baby can nap; change tables; bottle warmers and stroller parking while parents take in a flick. Advice: do this one while your babies are young and won’t care what’s on the screen.
Where: Various locations. Check website for schedule
Cost: $2 off general admission for all Stars and Strollers performances