10 Brilliant Weekend Ideas

Ditch the chores and celebrate fall with great ideas for family fun.

The holidays are over and your older kids are back in school. Suddenly, weekends become a precious commodity again — much too valuable to waste at the same park you haunted all summer. So, think outside the pumpkin patch and discover some new, offbeat family adventures. We’ve got 10 cool weekend ideas to get your fall moving and shaking.

1. Hunt for some ’shrooms
Add a twist to a traditional hike and forage for some edible (non-psychedelic!) fungi. “Our kids, aged eight and 11, are expert at identifying chanterelles,” says Alison Dyer of St. John’s, Nfld. “Chanterelle hunting is done furtively – you don’t want to give your spot away. When one of us finds them, we yell our code word: ‘custard.” (For links to mushroom-related sites, including safety, check out fungi.ca.)

Or consider fall’s other booty. Blackberries are everywhere, but so are blueberries and salmonberries in B.C., Saskatoon berries in the prairies, and partridgeberries in Newfoundland and Labrador.

2. Rock out together
Music is a great way to bond as a family. “I first took my daughter to a Def Leppard concert when she was nine, and she’s 20 now,” says Jill McNulty of Calgary. “Last year, we even drove to California to catch an Aerosmith gig.” Whether your tastes run to classical or hip hop, there’s probably an all-ages show happening near you. Consider the Canadian Deep Roots Festival in Wolfville, N.S., featuring all-ages rhythm workshops and family singalongs, or a Bunch Family Dance Party held in locations like Toronto’s über-hip Drake Hotel.

3. Go gallery hopping
While the idea of unleashing your little monsters on fine art may seem ridiculous, the wide-open spaces of most public art galleries are practically made for families. “People assume we’re like a library – that you have to be completely quiet and that young children aren’t welcome,” says Lora Carroll, education program coordinator at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria in B.C. Their range of programs for kids from two to 12 aims to break down those barriers and to get kids hooked on art. At monthly “Family Sunday” events, kids and their parents let loose with paint, sculpture, collage and even Chinese brushwork. Check out similar programs at public galleries near you.

4. Host a fall fiesta
Counter cool nights with a hot and spicy Mexican-themed party. Kids can dress up with sombreros and play games like pin the tail on the burro while adults chill with margaritas. (Just don’t drink too many before taking a whack at the piñata.) Pick some tunes to suit the mood – anything by Calexico or Ry Cooder would be perfect – and kick up your heels. Chelsea Donaldson of Guelph, Ont., relishes the end-of-summer bbq held by a beloved ex-babysitter every year. “The kids compete to eat the most corn, and the grown- ups play catch-up in the backyard.”

5. Start your own breakfast club
Start a family ritual of going out for breakfast on Sunday mornings, giving everyone a turn choosing where to go. If your five-year-old picks a gelato place, so be it; next time you can choose somewhere healthier. “Ever since my four daughters were very young, we’ve gone for brunch together on the weekends,” says May Yeung of Unionville, Ont. They started with breakfast at Burger King, then moved to dim sum and bistro fare as their taste buds matured.

6. Tweak the apple-farm tradition
Sure, it’s traditional, but even too-cool-for-you teens enjoy an outing to the orchard. “It’s a family tradition for us,” says Sally Erskine Doucette of Dartmouth, N.S. “When my kids were small, they would take a pony ride at the farm. They’re teenagers now but still like going.” Once home, extend the activity by turning your harvest into a yummy pie or heating up some cider.

7. Be department-store divas
Take your little princesses and princes to a department store to score perfume samples and look at all the chic grown-up stuff. Try on hats and gloves, ride the escalators (over and over), and splurge on fresh-squeezed juice and fancy cookies in the cafe. What’s ordinary to you may be a magical palace to your preschooler. Bonus: if the kids see that shopping can be fun, your next trip could be drama-free.

8. Get snap happy
Turn your tots on to photography with a Polaroid or digital camera session. “Go with a format that gives instant results, and they’re hooked,” says photographer Adam Greaves, who runs classes for kids at Vancouver community centres. Greaves suggests setting up a photo shoot in your living room, where the kids can direct the rest of the family in a fashion shoot or re-enactment of a story they want to tell. You’ll giggle over the snaps for years to come. Or, get outside and capture the fall flora and colours super-up-close, pop-art style.

9. Learn a wild new skill together
Why not mix up the extracurricular scene and take a class with your child for a change? Think West African drumming at Vancouver’s Britannia Community Services Centre or sushi making at Niagara College in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. While many community centres and schools offer Saturday workshops aimed at families, an adult-learning class may still be suitable for your big kid. Talk with the instructor to see if tweens or teens are welcome.

10. Get up with the birds
Fall is the perfect time to bid adieu to the migrating birds. “Our kids are eight and five now, but we’ve been going up north for years,” says Jim Chliboyko of Winnipeg. “They probably couldn’t care less about the flocks of birds and Vs of geese, but since it means eating at – gasp – McDonald’s and a chance to stay up slightly later, they’re in!” Hey, if it takes a bit of french-fry grease to get closer to nature, we can live with that.

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