Kids in the Community

This is a guest post by Robert, who lives in Calgary and works as a financial advisorretired at 34. He is married, has three kids.  Robert and his wife then plan to return to school and become teachers, eventually living and working overseas.

Some readers have chosen not to have kids, and they can skip this post if they choose. My wife and I have a girl and two boys, ages 3, 5 and 7. We didn’t choose to have children based on financial projections or any other rational factor. Most of the time, we love them to bits. Our children need lots of opportunities to play, explore and try new things, so I’ll share the things that we enjoy doing with them, for very little cost.

One of my favourite places in the community is the library. Especially during the winter, we sometimes go to the library just to get out of the house. While there, we read stories, play on the computer (they have a kids station with “educational” games), choose books and DVDs to take home and sometimes participate in story time or a drop-in program. The library is paid for mostly by city taxes, and we pay $12 per year for our library card, which I consider to be a bargain.

This winter, we have spent a lot of time at the YMCA. An adult membership is free for volunteers, and a child membership is only an additional $3 (here in Calgary). That’s really reasonable for all the time we spend with my daughter at drop-in preschool gym and with all the kids in the swimming pool. I love swimming, so I do swimming lessons for the kids myself. We also pay for sports programs for the boys, to help them develop other skills and interests.

In the summer, we spend a lot of time at the park. We have a playground beside our house (part of the reason for choosing our house), where the children swing, climb and slide, and make friends in the neighbourhood. It’s a good way to be social and stay active. We sometimes travel to other parks, for a change of scenery and to make new friends. We also ride bikes through the pathways in our neighbourhood.

Outdoor activities are a great way to take advantage of good weather in the summer. One of the most popular activities we tried last summer was floating down the river (the Bow passes near our house, and has many parks bordering it) on a summer afternoon. The grandparents also enjoy going to the Rocky Mountains near Banff with us, whether for a picnic near a pond or an easy hike beside a lake or to a waterfall. If we enter the national park, we need a park pass, which is reasonably priced and protects our parks.

My parents had a great idea a couple years ago: they wanted to buy our family a season’s pass that we could use again and again, that would be fun for the kids. Last year, they bought us a pass to the local amusement park (modest-sized, but plenty big for the kids). We went once or twice a week all summer long, and it was great fun. It’s nice to do something outdoors and out of the ordinary, and it was generous of my parents to pay for it.

The wackiest place that we’ve taken our kids, just to get out of the house, is the pet store. It’s no substitute for the zoo, but there are plenty of cute animals. We’ve even asked and been allowed to hold a snake. Where do you take your kids for a low-cost, high adventure, family outing?

6 thoughts on “Kids in the Community”

  1. Our son is all grown up now but we did tons of free things with him as he grew up, and it helped form who he is today. There were many hikes and camping trips, walks along the river, t-ball, soccer, hours of time in the pool and then swim team (he is the most beautiful swimmer!!…and yes this did cost a small amount but we were in a very small town so cost was low), junior triathons (free) and just so much more.
    We also travelled abroad with him and when i recently asked him what his favourite Christmas’ were he said the trips to Mexico (and we travelled cheap).
    We created a travel bug who loves to hike and run. He now has a degree in Natural Resource Science and is my outdoor baby for sure….

    This post brought back some great memories.

  2. oh, we did the library thing too….an avid reader from a very young age it was hard to keep him in books as he read them so fast….he still loves to read and a gift to him this year was an ereader, by request.

  3. Hey! I’m also a frugal-Calgarian and I totally agree with your petstore outing! We used to do that with my niece, but didn’t bother with a place like petland-look for the local mom and pop’s shops. We went to Big Al’s, where there is an honest to god full-sized shark in a massive tank and all manner of weird and wonderful deep sea creatures. That and some trips to Pisces Pet Imporium (With monkeys!) and we’ll have a fun little stop on a trip somewhere else. The locally owned petshops have always tended to have the weirder animals and a lot more of them.

    I find that there is a lot the city does cheaply or for free in terms of mobile skate parks, community water parks and kids plays that are run out on Princess Island Park. You’d be amazed at what you can do while avoiding the 20$ admission prices of the science centre or zoo. Once in a while is fine, but there are lots of afternoons to fill up in the summer!

  4. Thank you both for adding your ideas. In Calgary, we’re lucky to have outdoor water parks and Sikome Lake. I also sometimes take the kids to Chapters to read or play with other kids. Even just walking through the path system and stopping to visit dogs is fun for them, when the weather is good.

  5. I don’t have kids – but I have nieces (and 1 nephew) so I read your article anyways. I’m a firm advocate of the library, and just being outdoors. My big struggle now is that most of them are older (9-12), and they’re not as big into parks and things. I’m not sure what to do with them that’s free. As for a low cost outing – well, I did kill an hour with 2 kids in Value Village, telling them they could spend no more than 5 bucks. Not free, but not bad..

  6. Living just west of you in those mountains, hiking and biking in the summer months, x-country skiing in the winter. The library is the best bargain going. As an organised (i.e. paid for) activity, soccer is also a great deal, that overflows into year-round play at school during recess.

    Calaway Park is – if bought at the right time – an excellently priced ‘extravagance’.

    Our eldest (8 years old) is a passionate birder, which leads into lots of free entertainment. He’s been an active participant in the Christmas and Spring bird counts for 3 years. Last fall, for his birthday party, he elected to take two friends to Inglewood Bird Sanctuary in Calgary, where we spent nothing – except on food – and everyone had the best time; it’s his favourite ever party.

    If you can get your children into outdoor/nature pursuits, you have a winner!

    One other big success for an outing has been Spruce Meadows. Tickets to the big national and international events are available free for locals (or about $5 per car otherwise), and the kids love the horses and other things on show.

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