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So you didn’t get your kids into the [insert Parks & Rec program] class you had hoped to. It only feels like the end of the world.

You and your kid(s) might be the better for it.

No, I get it. I rely on parks and rec programs as much as the next mom. For city parents it’s a way of life. We rise predawn and face the taunting of that damn “maximum sessions reached” message because we believe it’s what’s best for them.

I don’t have a pool in my backyard—hell, I don’t even have grass. Arguments for the benefits of unstructured play are important, sure, but I can’t in good conscience let my kids roam the city on their own. And too much time inside is enough to drive even the most self-reliant preschooler crazy. City programs offer an environment where kids can blow off steam and learn new skills.

They also stress me the fuck out. And it’s not just the registration process, it’s what comes after we’ve finally got ourselves a spot: Stress over getting them there on time, and then back home in time for a nap.

And for what exactly? In my experience, city programs can be hit-or-miss. For every amazing swim instructor my daughter has had (Andreas at Frankland is the bomb), there’s a teenager flying by the seat of his trunks who can’t seem to learn her name. Is it worth the hassle? Is our time be better spent doing something together rather than driving somewhere together?

Bunch Family FUN guide- photo via Musical Hoots

It turns out some of the city’s best family programs lie outside the pages of the Toronto FUN Guide—and you don’t have to line up to get in. And these terrific alternatives offer cultural experiences parents share with their children.

And isn’t that what being a city family is really about?

1. Wholeplay: Musical Hoots Drop-In

This ain’t your average circle time. Complete with instruments, puppets, parachutes and other props, this hootin’ tootin’ sing-a-long gets both kids and parents moving to the beat. Designed to engage babies, toddlers and preschoolers alike, it’s ideal for stay-at-home-parents with multiple little ones in tow. Bonus: Sibs or kids sharing a caregiver get in two for the price of one!

Ages 0-4. Fridays, 10:30-11:15 a.m., Sorauren Park Fieldhouse. 647.704.6630. $85/five-class pass, $150/10-class pass. (more Wholeplay programs for babies and toddlers at several several locations: check here for mores)

2. Cineplex Family Favourites

Bring on April showers! Me and my girl got plans. We’ll be seeking shelter at the Yonge and Dundas Cineplex, where you can catch a family flick every Saturday morning for less than the cost of the streetcar ride there. And with a spring/summer lineup that includes film adaptations of kid-lit classics, such as The Cat in the Hat, The Secret of Nimh and Matilda, it’s the perfect excuse to finally start up that family book club. Saturdays, 11 a.m. at participating theatres nationwide. $2.50 per person.

3. AGO Side By Side Little Kids

Art school meets playschool in this multimedia art-venture for parent and child. The super-sized two-hour classes are a rare find and offer serious value. (Admission alone would normally set you back more than 30 bucks a visit.) Paint, draw and sculpt alongside your budding artist in the studio then take to the gallery to seek inspiration from the masters. All that plus uninterrupted quality time with your kid.

For ages 4-7. Saturdays or Sundays, April–June, 10 a.m. to noon, AGO Gallery School: from $155/five-week session.

4. Kids Cook to Care Community Meals

This. Is. THE. BEST. Once a month, kid volunteers and their folks team up with one of the city’s top chefs to prepare and serve culturally varied dinners for Torontonians in need.

Cook a kick-ass meal? Check. Learn from Toronto’s diverse communities? Check. Give back to the community? Check.

Bunch FAmily FUN guide

PHOTO: KIDS COOK TO CARE

Like I said, THE BEST. Ages 6-16. Upcoming meals: April 19 and May 24, St. Felix Centre. Email yum@kidscooktocare.com: $20 suggested donation.

5. Watch Me Grow Family Drop-In

Nature meets nurture at the High Park Children’s Garden this summer. Open to kids of all ages, the free family drop-in program includes gardening (natch), nature crafts, storytelling and more. Better yet, no registration required; just show up and dig in.

Ages 0-12. Thursdays, July–August, 10 a.m. to noon, High Park Children’s Garden. Free.

More Family Fun

YogaBuds Family Yoga, City Critters Family Series at Toronto Botanical Garden, Toronto Public Library MAP Family Saturdays, Play in Chimney Court at Evergreen Brick Works. And check back here every week for our weekend listings! We wish you great adventures; tell us about them below.

Beth Maher is a writer, editor, lover of Chinese food, ’90s novelty rap and all things her kids. She lives in Toronto’s east end with her husband, son and daughter. See her guide to finding daycare here.

 

 

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