Talk about a one-stop shop for all things going on in the city. Melanie, a mother of two, has created what I think is the best resource for all things parents and kids in Toronto. Her blog, aptly named Melanie OTG (on the go), lists various places and activities that one can do with their kids on a daily basis. She rates each location / activity on a scale of 5 by activities, amenities and value and than gives an overall score. She has activities categorized by age, location and type. She even lets others rate / review a place as part of her online Kids’ OTG Activity Directory. Talk about making it easy for your average busy, stressed-out mom. I can’t say enough good things about her site and I’m so glad she agreed to do a guest post with me. We’re also running the Bizzy Bee Playcentre Giveaway together. Check out the contest details on my site or on Melanie’s and enter to win. The contest closes this Friday!
I’m a mom with two children and as you may have guessed, I love taking my little monsters out for fun things to do and provide them with opportunities to learn and explore a variety of activities. My aim for this post is to give you a broad range of ideas for things to do with your kids, young and old, in Toronto and the surrounding area throughout the year.
Some I’ve been to and others I haven’t. If myself or others have reviewed the place already, you can read the reviews by clicking on the links below. And if you have a baby, check out my post here which is geared just for babies (toddler post coming soon!), and my Fun for the Month posts that feature my monthly activity picks!
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of the places I’ve mentioned below and if you have suggestions for other fun things your kids like to do!
1. Water Fun in Splash Pads, Wading Pools, Water Parks, Provincial Parks
A fun way to keep cool in the hot sun, children young and old will enjoy splash pads, wading pools and water parks! Toddlers can enjoy playing with smaller spray jets at splash pads like at Hendon Park in North York which has a separate pad just for toddlers, or Pottery Playground in Davisville which is fenced in so you don’t need to worry about your little one making a run for it! Click here for the City’s full list of splash pads and wading pools (be forewarned that the water in splash pads is VERY cold!!).
The Metro Toronto Zoo and Ontario Place also have smaller jets for youngsters although these places are expensive if your only goal is to entertain your little ones with water play. As your child grows older (and doesn’t mind cold water being splashed in their faces), the Zoo and Ontario Place are better options with bigger splash pads than City-run ones, and climbing structures with smaller water slides. Ontario Place also has a few big water slides for older children. A better option for bigger children is Canada’s Wonderland with more water slides, a wave pool and lazy river. In the summer I’m planning on checking out Dolphin Bay in Wild Water Kingdom which has sprays, 7 slides, splash pads, interactive water toys and loveable characters for children 42″ and under. And when your child is ready for it, you can’t miss out on Wild Water Kingdom’s 10 huge water slides (for children 42 or 48″ or higher in height), a 1/2 million gallon wave pool, a lazy river, mini golf and more!
Some provincial parks have wading pools like Bronte Creek in Oakville which features a 1.8 acre wading pool with lots of space for your little one to play in the shallow water, or your older children to swim around and play with their friends. No need to worry- there’s lots of lifeguards on watch! There’s also a sandy area close to the pool, and fast food easily accessible from the pool area. While you’re there, be sure to check out their play barn (open year round) where your children can go down slides, crawl through tunnels, jump on big mats from above, sit on a tire swing, and scale up a rock climbing wall (main floor for 1- 5 year-olds and top floor for 5- 10 year-olds).
Another provincial park which comes highly recommended by a friend with children aged 8 and 10 years is Earl Rowe in Alliston. This park has a 1 acre pool with a shallow entry area for young children, two beaches, canoeing (you can rent canoes), and of course, camping! There’s no wading pool or splash pad at Kelso Conservation Area in Halton but it has a nice (but small) sandy beach area by the lake with a shallow area for younger children.
Wherever you decide to go, don’t forget your water toys like pails, watering cans, floaties, noodles and inflatable balls for your children, sun hats and sunblock!
Take a stroll with baby and enjoy the fresh air at Centreville or even put baby on the carousel (on a stationary bench seat), or ride the miniature train. As your child reaches toddler age, they will be able to sit on a moving horse on the carousel, ride the twirling Tea Cups and Barrels of Fun, all accompanied by you (so you can join in the fun!), and even try the Touring Cars by themselves! This past summer I enjoyed taking my 2 1/2 year old to Centreville. There are a total of about 15 rides catered to younger children and a small farm with horses, pigs, goats, sheep, baby chicks and turkeys, and bunnies (which by the way may soon be cut from City funding). Centre Island itself is a nice place to go for walks, rent bikes, and roller blade around the island. They also have playground equipment, sandy beaches, a wading pool and two splash pads.
Ontario Place in Toronto, Storybook Gardens in London, Planet Snoopy at Canada’s Wonderland in Vaughan, and the family section at Marineland in Niagara Falls are other amusement parks that have rides for younger children. And as they grow older and want more exciting rides to make their stomachs drop, there’s the rest of Marineland to explore and of course Canada’s Wonderland for the ultimate scary rides! Read about my trips to Ontario Place here and Marineland here. Storybook Gardens and Canada’s Wonderland are on my list for this summer!
Another favourite of Torontonians is the Canadian National Exhibition (C.N.E.) which is open for a limited time in August and September. There are rides, lots of games, exhibits, concerts, ice skating shows, and older children can try Flowboarding if they don’t mind getting wet! There’s a dedicated area for kids including Kid’s World of Sports, School of Magic, a circus, petting zoo, puppet parade, crafts centre, and kids shows. However you might want to wait until the children are past toddler age as it can get incredibly crowded and noisy.
Click here for more Amusement Parks, Carnivals & Rides.
Indoor playgrounds are becoming more and more popular, especially in the winter time, during holidays, and when it’s rainy or the sun is too hot for a little one in the summer time. They are typically for infants up to age 7 years and cost $0- 10 per child depending on age (under 1 year is sometimes free- check out All for Fun & Fun for All and Kids Fun City!) and many places offer multi-visit discounts and sibling discount rates.
These facilities vary in what activities they offer. You might find climbing structures with slides, a bouncy castle, ride-on cars, a ball pit, play houses, books, building blocks, puppets, dolls, train sets, dress up clothes, rock climbing wall, walkers, air hockey, foozball, and lots of toys! Some will have a dedicated baby section with swings, exersaucers, baby climbing structures and mats, toddler slides, and baby toys in an enclosed area so older children know to keep out. (Cautions: Most have limited baby equipment, all toys go in the mouth so your baby may get sick afterwards, and you may still need to kick older children out of the baby area when they take toys away from your baby!)
Playgrounds located in the City tend to be smaller because the rent is higher while those on the outskirts have more room for your child to run around and have bigger and more climbing structures such as TimBUKtu Indoor PlayLand in North Etobicoke (free wi fi!), Busy Bodies in Oakville (lots of comfortable couches here!) and All for Fun & Fun for All in Scarborough (big wooden play structure with baby swings!). Some playgrounds offer that “something extra” you may be looking for to keep your little one busy a bit longer such as Kidnetix near Yorkdale mall which has some arcade type games (extra $) and Monkey Magoos in Toronto (Kingston Road & Victoria Park) which always has free colouring for children. There’s also Kids Fun City in North York that has mini golf, bowling, and a dance room (dark room with a disco ball where your child can shake their booty and run around and around and around and tire themselves out for a good nap!).
Most, if not all playgrounds offer birthday parties and many are offering programs such as music, arts and crafts activities, and sports for babies, toddlers and preschoolers. Bizzy Bee in Toronto (Queen Street & Woodbine) offers babysitting for 18 months & up while you shop during the day, and special babysitting evening/ nights so you can have a nice dinner with your significant other, which is also available at Just Ducky in Toronto (Yonge & Lawrence). Balls of Fun in Mississauga offers summer camps and after-school programs.
Click here for more Indoor Playgrounds.
It’s been a loooong time since I stepped foot in Playdium. Now they have over 200 interactive arcade and ticket redemption games, bumper cars (must be at least 5 years old) and batting cages (they also have seasonal outdoor activities including rock climbing, mini-golf, bungee trampoline, GO Kart rides, and Water Wars). Chuck E. Cheese is much smaller and has video games as well as simulator rides, a tube slide, and a few rides for little ones (similar to the cars and horse rides you see at the mall). The games space is divided into a Toddler Zone, Kiddie Area and Skill Games & Arcade.
If your child loves rides and it’s rainy or in the wintertime, check out Fantasy Fair, an indoor amusement park at the Woodbine Shopping Centre in Etobicoke. They have 9 full sized family rides, a 3-level play village, midway games and arcade. If you have a toddler on your hands, you might want to know that 3 out of 9 rides do not allow children under 36″ (even if accompanied by an adult). Check their site for free puppet and magic shows which are scheduled frequently.
In the wintertime you might also want to consider a family get-away to Great Wolf Lodge in Niagara Falls. You have to stay at the lodge to use the water park (pricey!), but if your children like water play, I hear it’s a great place to go! Their indoor water park features a 4 story tree house, indoor and outdoor pools, lazy river, water basketball, tube slides, and a wave pool (0 depth entry). There are smaller slides and a separate area for small children with a zero depth entry to 1’6″ depth pool. There’s also an arcade, mini golf, kid spa, indoor activity centre for young children including crafts, parent free programs for children 4 years and up, evening story time, and a morning kid’s show featuring animals singing about life in the forest.
Click here for more Indoor Amusement.
You can start as young as toddler age for picking your own blueberries and raspberries (the bushes are perfect height for youngsters and not back breaking for you like picking strawberries are!). At Andrew’s Scenic Acres in Halton Hills you can pick a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and flowers from May to October. Most Pick Your Own farms also offer a children’s play area, wagon rides, farm animals to see and maybe feed, and pony rides (extra cost). Cost varies from none to $10 pp including adults. Although Chudleigh’s (Halton Hills) is on the expensive side and only offers apple picking in the fall, I really like their play area featuring big slides in hay (be sure to wear long pants!), a hay maze, sand pit with toy trucks, “horse” swings, and a relatively good sized animal area which is home to deer, goats, bunnies, horses, alpacas, chickens, ducks, turkeys, and a peacock.
In the fall when Halloween is just around the corner, many farms will offer pumpkin patches where you can pick your own pumpkins and additional themed activities such as a Pumplin Cannon Show and a gently Haunted Forest for younger children. Check out Whittamore’s in Markham or Forsythe Family Farms also in Markham. Southbrook Pumpkin Patch puts on a mini carnival including a children’s play area (with a toddler slide, ride-on toys and other play equipment), mini ferris wheel, bouncy castle, big inflatable slide, swings, and more.
If you’ve never been, Riverdale Farm is a fantastic place to take the kids to see farm animals and it’s currently free to get in! They have pigs, goats, sheep, chickens, cows, and a donkey. While you’re there you can check out Cabbagetown Regent Park Museum and a farmer’s market in the summertime. They also offer camps, special events at Halloween and Christmas time, and children’s preregistered activities throughout the year.
Click here for more Animal & Pick Your Own Farms.
There are many museums, galleries and historic sites in and around Toronto. The big ones are of course the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) and Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) in downtown Toronto. At the ROM, kids can see dinosaur, coral reef, bat cave exhibits, an Egyptian coffin and mummy and lots more. They also offer preregistered children’s programs on Saturday mornings for ages 5- 14 years, and programs for mom and baby/ tot (0- 4 years) during the week. You do need to be on the ball about booking these programs though. They sell out fast!
The AGO is home to the Weston Family Learning Centre which offers an art-making and creative play activities drop-in from as young as you’d like to bring & up, open during the week and on weekends. There are Family Sundays offered monthly where children get to participate in different activities such as making “simply wacky cameras” and pinhole cameras, exploring art making all about the sky, and creating objects using found, recycled and re-made materials.
Check out the Bata Shoe Museum and the Toronto Railway Heritage Centre in downtown Toronto for something different! One of my readers highly recommends the Toronto Railway Heritage Centre where you can enjoy a trip on the half-kilometre miniature railway through Roundhouse Park, sit down to a computer-simulated ride in an the cab of an actual diesel locomotive, and take a ride on the operational 120-foot long turntable.
I’ve always wanted to check out the Bata Shoe Museum as I walked past it on the way to classes (a long, long time ago!). They have hands-on demonstrations and tours of the museum available on select dates, and Weekend Family Fun programming that may include painting a mini clog, trying on shoes, treasure hunts in the galleries, and arts and crafts.
Do keep an eye out for special events happening at City run museums and historic sites such as Markham Museum‘s Halloween Scaryfest where kids can go trick or treating, and many holiday drop-in and preregistered programs that are more affordable than places like Casa Loma!
The City of Toronto Historic Museums, Art Gallery of Ontario, Bata Shoe Museum, and Royal Ontario Museum are part of the Toronto Public Library’s Museum and Arts Pass (MAP) which allows you and your family (2 adults and up to 4 children) to get in for free! Details available here. Note that there are limited quantities, you must have a valid adult Toronto Public Library card, and you may have to line-up or participate in a draw in order to obtain a MAP. Call your local library for details!
Click here for more Museums, Galleries, and Historic Sites.
7. Provincial Parks & Conservation Areas: Camping, Canoeing, Hiking
If your children are old enough to know not to escape from the tent and go wandering off while you are soundly sleeping, why not take them camping?! Bronte Creek, Darlington, Sibbald Point and Earl Rowe are all located within 100 kms of Toronto. You can hike and swim and all except Bronte Creek offer canoeing.
Bronte Creek in Oakville has 144 campsites with electrical service, there’s flush toilets, showers, and a park store selling fast food. There are 6 easy, barrier free hiking trails ranging from 15 minutes to an hour. They also have summer programs including Tyke Hikes designed especially for kids between 2 and 7 year of age (older kids welcome) and you can Learn the Basics of using a Hand-held GPS Unit to Navigate for kids 7 and up. Click here to check their current events. Bronte Creek also has a 1.8 acre wading pool (small extra cost), sand play area next to the pool, small farm area including goats, chickens, pigs, peacocks, bunnies, and a kids’ play barn for ages 1 to 10 years. There’s no lake or beach in this park but the wading pool is amazing.
Darlington in Bowmanville hs 315 camp sites (135 have electrical service), showers, flush toilets, laundromat, play area, canoes for rent, and a parks store that sells groceries, camping supplies and snacks. There are four trails classified as easy to moderate and 30 mins to an hour in length, and a sandy beach.
Earl Rowe in Alliston has both a one-acre pool (extra cost) and a man-made lake and beach. There are 400 campsites (183 have electrical service), flush toilets, showers, laundromat, canoeing and paddleboats for rent, a Park’s store selling groceries and camping supplies and snacks. There are 5 trails- easy to moderate, that will take approximately 10 minutes to 3 hours to hike depending on the trail.
Click here for the official site for Provincial Parks in Ontario including a park locator.
8. Ontario Early Years Centres (OEYC), Toronto District School Board (TDSB) Parenting & Family Literacy Centres & Growing Up Healthy Downtown (GUHD) Programs
OEYC’s are for parents and caregivers with children aged 0 – 6 years. They offer free drop-in and preregistered programs, and have many locations across Ontario. Drop-in times and programs vary at each Centre. Normally each main site will be the biggest and it’s satellite locations smaller. Activities such as circle time (music) and arts and crafts are usually offered and programs may include storytime, Mother Goose songs for babies, pre-reading and math concepts. Most Centres maintain a calendar on their website so you can easily see what’s going on. Here are some favourite Centres of my readers (you can click on the links to see reviews): Don Valley East Ontario Early Years Centre, Trinity Presbyterian Church satellite, and Parkway Forest satellite all in North York.
TDSB Parenting and Family Literacy Centres also offer free drop-ins Toronto for parents and caregivers with children aged 0- 6 years. “They offer a fun, play-based program to support children’s early learning and development and a place for parents to learn and connect with each other. Each Centre has a schedule which includes music and story time, snack time, art activities, sand and water play, dramatic play, grossmotor play, puzzles and a time to use simple and inexpensive learning materials which can be replicated at home,and are designed to develop literacy and numeracy concepts necessary for kindergarten entry”. There are a total of 76 Centres that are free to the community. Hours vary by site and no preregistration is required.
I recently found out about the Growing Up Health Downtown initiative that again offers free programs for parents and caregivers with children aged 0- 6 years. They offer parent relief, a variety of workshops, community kitchens as well as fitness and post-natal programs for moms and their babies. We deliver school readiness programs, reading circles and drop-ins for caregivers with their children. See below for a list of programs offered. There are 8 participating locations in the downtown Toronto area including Harbourfront Community Centre (Queens Quay West & Bathurst), St. Christopher House (Dundas St W & Ossington), Dixon Hall (Queen St E & River), Family Service Toronto (Gerrard St E & Church), University Settlement Recreation Centre (Dundas St W & University), WoodGreen Community Services (Queen St E & Pape Ave), Davenport-Perth Neighbourhood Centre (Davenport & Lansdowne), and The 519 Church Street Community Centre (Church & Wellesley St E).
The Metro Toronto Zoo in Scarborough is the largest zoo in Canada. The zoo is home to over 5,000 animals representing over 500 species, and has over 10 kms of walking trails. They also have a 2 acre water play area, a kid’s zoo, carousel, pony and camel rides. You can time your visit to make sure you arrive to hear zookeepers give informative talks about Komodo dragons or see them feed animals like elephants, cheetahs, lions, otters and orangutans. If you’re planning on visiting more than 3 times, it’s probably worth looking into a membership.
In Etobicoke there’s the much smaller but free High Park zoo that is run by the City and houses bison, deer, llamas, peacocks, cattle, sheep, and more. It’s a favourite of locals and while you’re there be sure to check out Jamie Bell Adventure playground, a wading pool, outdoor pool,30-minute scenic ride on a trackless train (operating seasonally), Colborne Lodge historic museum, ice rink, and Grenadier cafe that serves up delicious breakfast for a very reasonable price. (Unfortunately this zoo may be closing soon. Read more here about a petition you can sign to save High Park zoo.
Click here for more Zoos & Aquariums.
10. Theatre, Shows & Story Time
The Toronto Public Library has programs for infants up to 5 years where songs are sung, stories are read, and rhymes are told! You can click here to see what programs they offer and available times. Some Ontario Early Years Centres also offer storytelling programs including Don Valley East OEYC‘s Storytime and More program (18 months- 5 years), which focuses on a specific children’s story each week. The story is enhanced through dramatic and creative activities where children are encouraged to participate. Toronto Community Centres also have programs that focus on story telling. For example StoryBook Adventures for 3- 6 year olds where children explore a variety of children’s stories and discuss plot, characters and setting, and create crafts and special projects based on each story.
Visit Storytelling Toronto’s Storytent at Artscape Wychwood Barns Farmer’s Market (Christie & St. Clair) on Saturday mornings from 10am to noon during the summer and winter. (In the summer it’s in a real tent outside in the Farmer’s Market. In the winter it’s in the Artscape Wychwood Barns – see the red banner over the door.) Stories are based on the age of whoever is there at the time, and audience members can even tell stories themselves! And if you really love storytelling, you might want to check out Toronto’s annual Storytelling Festival! Click here to see current information for this year’s upcoming festival.
Solar Stage Children’s Theatre in North York features children’s musical plays, shows, operas, puppet shows, and interactive play for children aged 3 to 10 years. Shows are typically 1 hour. Check their website for current shows. Young People’s Theatre in downtown Toronto offers theatre shows such as Jack and the Beanstalk and the Never Ending Story for children who can sit through a 50- 80 minute performance (babies & up are welcome). Click here for current performances.
There are many, many programs that fall into the Sports, Recreation and Fitness category. Programs run by the City (see the Fun Guide) tend to be more affordable and are typically located at Community Centres. Private places are of course more expensive but you may want to consider them as your child grows older and would benefit from better facilities and more specialized instructors than Community Centres can offer. I’ve heard very good things about Birchmount Gymnastics in Scarborough which offers programs for children who are walking and up to 16 years. Sportball and Little Kickers also comes highly recommended from a few friends who have toddlers. They both have locations all around Toronto and the surrounding area, and offer programs all year round for children aged 16 months to 17 years at Sportball and 18 months to 7 years at Little Kickers.
For outside winter fun, there’s skiing and snowboarding at Centennial Park in Etobicoke and Earl Bales Park in North York which are run by the City of Toronto. They have ski and snowboard school and night skiing. Lessons start for children 3 years old for skiing and 6 years old for snowboarding. They also have racing programs starting at 6 or 7 years old, and a Freestyle Terrain Park for advanced skiers & snowboarders including rails, boxes and jumps (lessons starting at 9 years old)! At Glen Eden in Milton you can ski, snowboard, try out the terrain park AND go tubing (children must be 42″ or taller)! And if you’re looking for a different ideas for birthday parties, Glen Eden also offers tubing birthday party packages starting at $275.
Is your child born in 2001 or 2002? The Canadian Ski Council is once again offering free skiing and snowboarding at 34 locations in Toronto. Wow! Apply for a card and use it up to 3 times to get a lift ticket at EACH of the participating locations. Click here for details.
Another favourite winter activity is skating! There are lots of skating rinks in and around the City. For a leisurely skate, check out outdoor rinks:
Nathan Phillips Square in downtown Toronto: Great spot with lots to do in the area, but it’s rather small and gets very crowded. Harbourfront Natrel Rink beside the lakefront in Toronto: Check out their live web cam here! Bronte Creek Provincial Park in Oakville: There are heated change rooms, a bonfire area and refreshments at the Parks Store. You can also check out their play barn open year round for 1- 10 year olds! Cedarena in Markham: Located in the beautiful Rouge Valley. You can warm up with hot chocolate and hot apple cider in the old clubhouse. Colonel Samuel Smith Park in Etobicoke: The city’s only ice skating trail located next to the Power House Recreation Centre. Celebration Square in Mississauga: Newly opened and one of the biggest in the GTA. No change facilities or lockers here.
Harbourfront now has a lounge area that will be open in Lakeside Eats restaurant where you can rent board games, watch movies and sports events, warm up by the fireplace, and enjoy gourmet coffee and hot chocolate in between ice time. Skating lessons are offered at the Natrel rink (it’s not City owned/ operated) for 3 – 17 year olds. And they have a DJ Skate Night on Saturdays starting at 8pm!
Children can learn to skate as young as 2 years old! Click here for a handy flow chart on the City of Toronto’s instructional skating programs.
Click here for more Sports, Recreation and Fitness activities.
12. Music & Dance, Cooking, Drama and Arts & Crafts
Check out Toronto’s Fun Guide for a whole host of activities for children from infant to teen. They offer drama and improv, guitar, hip hop and piano lessons, drawing and painting, cooking classes, and lots more for a reasonable price. For ages 0- 6 years, check out an Ontario Early Years Centres near you, offering free drop-in arts and music activities and preregistered programs.
At Avenue Road Arts School, arts, music and drama classes are offered by professional artists and educators for children ages 6 months & up. There’s Drama and Improvisation for children in Grades 1- 8, Acting for Film and TV for grades 3- 9. In Little Characters for JK to Grade 4, children will create works of art that will be used in developing imaginative and unique stories and characters which will then be incorporated into story-telling, drama and creative movement activities. Classes are expensive- around $250 – $420 per term!
The Chef Upstairs has cooking classes for children aged 4 – 14 years. Children will learn the basics of food preparation, cooking techniques, healthy eating, and above all they will learn how to create and enjoy great food. I’m picturing my children at age 5 (too soon?) being able to make me a tasty meal while I sit in front of the TV and watch a full news program without interruption!
Other tourist attractions not mentioned already include the CN Tower and Ontario Science Centre. At the CN Tower you can rise to the Lookout Level at 346 m or 1,136 feet in a mere 58 seconds! Don’t miss the glass floor and outside observation deck. If you purchase another ticket you can take the Sky Pod elevator and rise another 33 storeys. You can see all the way to Niagara Falls or Rochester, New York on a clear day. While you’re there, see what’s gong on in the high definition 3D theatre currently featuring The Ultimate Wave Tahiti 3D which is playing every 30 minutes throughout the day. You can also check out Himalamazon, a motion theater ride (must be at least 42″ to ride).
The Ontario Science Centre features 9 exhibit halls including the Science Arcade, Living Earth, Mind Works, the Human Body and lots more. The Weston Family Innovation Centre for teens features hands-on activities such as designing aerodynamic objects and conducting a string orchestra. KidSpark is for young children (8 yrs and younger) who can learn through play by “building a house” using a crane, playing with a water table and bubble station, balancing balls in mid-air, playing in a mini music studio, and role playing in a kid-sized supermarket. KidSpark hands-on workshops are free with admission. Check their program schedule for details. There are also educational films on at the IMAX Dome and live planetarium shows (call the morning of to see when they will be offered). Be sure to check special events and exhibits on throughout the year!
Note: The Ontario Science Centre is also part of the Toronto Public Library’s Museum and Arts Pass (MAP)!
Click here for more Attractions.