Attractions & things to do for the kids in your life


Toronto TOP-3 free family fun this weekend



The shortest day is long on fun!

This weekend, three whimsical activities are taking place, that will offer some wholesome pre-Christmas fun. Two are Toronto traditions and one is new. I hope you get to enjoy one of them!

Kensignton Winter Solstice (Sunday December 21st at 6:30 p.m.)

Celebrating the shortest night in the year, the Kensington Winter Solstice is in its 25th edition! You are IN the parade and walk along a route marked with surprises and ending in a park with a bonfire. Über cool! (Loud, chaotic fun, more suitable for older kids.)

The Christmas Story (until December 21)

The Church of the Holy Trinity (the lovely little church behind the Eaton Centre) has featured the Christmas Story (re-enacted by the community) for 77 years! It usually features a real baby as Jesus. Awwww. It's free (donations suggested) but you can reserve a seat on their website and there were still availabilities for the next three days when I checked on Dec. 18.

The Shortest Day (Dec. 21)

This is the second year that the Shortest Day brings FREE Canadian short films to the families! (Shorts on the shortest day... clever!) It is apparently a nation-wide initiative taking place on Dec. 19, 20 and 21 in different venues. (See listing on In Toronto, on December 21, you will be able to see shorts in Royal Cinema (608 College): 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., and at Carlton Cinema (20 Carlton Street): 3:30 p.m., 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.



The Twelve Santas of Christmas

Santa really exists!

(This post currently being updated, come back Nov. 26, 2015 after 8 p.m.!)

From late November up to December 24th, one can visit Santa in several shopping centres and other attractions. (December 25 falls on a Friday in 2015.) Here is a selection of twelve whimsical places where you can see him, and maybe do a bit of shopping along the way. Don't forget that Santa needs to take a break from time to time. He might be absent for a short period when you show up.

Baby_with_Santa_torontofunplaces.com1) Santa at Springridge Farm 

On weekends until December 13, 2015: It's fun to see Santa in a barn for a change at Springridge Farm during their Christmas Open House. Santa is there on weekends from Nov. 28 to Dec. 13, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. They offer $5 craft activities. The farm's great gift shop is open daily until Dec. 24 at 12 noon. They sell Christmas trees.

2) Santa's log cabin by the Eaton Centre

Daily until December 23, 2015: Click here to reserve a 30-minute interactive session with Santa (including storytelling, you can take all the photos you want) from Nov. 26 to Dec. 23, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the cozy cottage built near the church on the west side of the Eaton Centre. You can usually take photos in a sleigh outside of the cabin and enjoy a little maze made out of small Christmas trees. Big bonus: the shopping mall's giant deer and The Bay Christmas windows at Queen and Yonge. Mall Holiday hours: Monday to Saturday 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. (Dec. 24, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed Dec. 25)

3) Santa at Pingle's Farm

First two weekends in December 2015: Santa is at Pingle's Farm on weekends in December from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. (you can bring your own camera and expect Christmas crafts). The farm market and bakery is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. until December 24 when they will close at 1 p.m. (They sell fresh-cut Christmas trees.)

4) Santa's cottage at Black Creek Pioneer

Weekends until December 21, 2014: On weekends at Black Creek Pioneer Village, you can hop on a horse-drawn wagon to get to Santa's cottage. Christmas spirit reamins from November 22 to December 23. Black Creek is open weekdays from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on weekends from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

5) Santa's lodge at the Toronto Christmas Market

Until Sunday December 21, 2014: You can visit Santa's cottage at the Distillery during the Toronto Christmas Market, Tuesday to Friday, 2 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and on weekends from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. This is probably the best time of the year to visit the Distillery, all lit up with firepits and patio heaters everywhere. (See my photo gallery of the Toronto Christmas Market 2014.)

Santa_at_Vaughan_Mills_1_torontofunplacescom6) Fishing with Santa at Vaughan Mills

Until Tuesday December 23, 2014: I think this is my favourite Santa for the beauty of his Wilderness Cabin and the original photo you can take of the kids fishing with Santa. Santa’s elves can also capture each fishing adventure with a photo and a video that you'll be able to view on-line and share it with friends and family as an email, Tweet, Instagram or Facebook post. Santa's hours: Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mall Holiday hours: Monday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Dec. 24 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

7) Santa's Victorian Christmas at Bronte Creek

Weekends and a few days until December 23, 2014: In Spruce Farm at Bronte Creek, on December weekends before Christmas plus Dec. 22 and Dec. 23, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., you can dress up in Victorian costumes and take photos with Santa with your own camera (or you can also book a private family photo for a fee). Bronte Creek Provincial Park is lovely in the winter. There's wagon rides on the weekend. Skating in the large outdoor rink starts in December 13, weather allowing and you can do tobogganing. The very cool children's playbarn is open year-round except on December 25!

8) Santa's Wonderland in Bass Pro (also at Vaughan Mills)

Until Tuesday December 24, 2014: Santa's Wonderland is in the back of the huge and quite spectacular store, to the left. There's lots of action and a fun decor. The activities usually some shooting activities (Bass Pro is a hunting and fishing store). Older kids will love this place. The only problem with smaller kids is to make sure they don't see the other Santa (further to the left when you exit the store. Santa's hours: Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Dec. 24 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) Note that they started on Nov. 15 with shorter hours. Mall Holiday hours: mmm

9) Santa at Woodbine Centre

Until December 24, 2014: I have two reasons to really like visiting Santa Claus at Woodbine Centre. The mall hosts the indoor midway Fantasy Fair (including a little train that Santa will ride with the kids on December 14 from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.). And it is home to Rainbow Cinemas, which offers FREE family movies at 11 a.m. on December 13, 20 and 27 (doors open at 10 a.m.). Santa welcomes all young visitors (and each of them will get a colouring book) but you won't be allowed to take your own photos. They sell photo packages, the cheapest being $22 for two 4 X 6. Santa's hours: Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.. He will be "at the office" on December 24 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.9). Mall Holiday hours: Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Dec. 24, open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

10) Santa's court at Sherway Gardens

Registered visits until December 24, 2014: I hate to tease people with registered activities that get quickly sold out and this is one of them. I'm adding it to the list so you can maybe think about it in time next year. You can only register in person at the booth by Santa's place at Sherway Gardens. It is the loveliest 30-minute interactive activity with Santa in a great setting. The $5 sessions are offered from November 15 to Decemper 24, 2014. Mall Holiday hours: Monday to Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Dec. 24 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

11) Santa at Scarborough Town Centre (and Square One)

Until December 24, 2014: Santa (and Mrs. Claus) welcome all young visitors but you won't be allowed to take your own photos. They sell photo packages, the cheapest being $17 for two 4 X 6. Santa's hours: Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Sunday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Dec. 24 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mall Holiday hours: Monday to Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Sunday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Dec. 24, open from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. (In Square One, Santa, who awaits in a forest of evergreens, also accept visits from all but don't allow photos with personal devices. Their cheapest photo package is $15 for a 5 X 7. See Square One for hours.)

Santa_at_Yorkdale_Mall_2013_torontofunplacescom_2_copy12) Santa at Yorkdale Centre

Photo sessions with a fee until December 24, 2014: What really attracts me about this shopping centre is the rain of crystal balls (near the Indigo). Holt Renfrew features a cool multimedia display on each side of its large entrance. It appears that one can only visit Santa in his Crystal Wonderland at Yorkdale Centre if buying their photo package (minimum fee $22 for two 4 X 6). TIP: Don't forget that once at home, you can scan your photos from the phto package and send it to as many person as you want.


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Ontario Science Centre is a no-brainer!

Indoor fun

Once again, a good thing keeps getting better. Since my last visit when the Centre was in a transition period, lots have happened: a Forest Lane, user-friendly signage on the floor, staff on Segway, a climbing wall, an Arctic expedition, a dancing floor... and their new special exhibition Brain: The inside Story.

I visited on a Friday when the place was filled with the effervescence of excited teens, which reminded me that the Ontario Science Centre is always more fun for older kids when they're attending with their friends. (They just love sharing their discoveries with each other.) And most of the action was not at the new exhibition. It was at the AstraZeneca Human Edge on Level 6 (in front of the restaurant).

Ontario_Science_Centre_nov_2014_9_toronofunplaces.comOver the years, the Centre has reshuffled a few elements and added many new ones. I recognized some displays found in other sections in older days but the full space offers a new elegant and whimsical design. The Arctic Expedition is a small but fun maze where one enters, makes decisions, and "suffers" the consequences. Once you come out of it, you understand the strategic positioning of a climbing wall to your right. On the other side of the room, students were having a ball, dancing to the music of a large juke-box. Go up the stairs near this section and walk through the tunnel to see what happens! (I'm not telling.)

As for the visiting exhibition Brain: The Inside Story (included with the cost of admission), it is not as physically engaging as the rest of the Science Centre but definitely interesting. Allow the kids to let off some steam before entering the Brain section. (Scroll down to see photos and descriptions.)

I recommend entering from Level 2 (left of the ticket counter) to walk along the giant measuring tape stelling the geological history of our planet, with of lovely view of the ravine as a bonus.

It leads into the Great Hall with a moving installation hanging from the ceiling.

Then, it's the favourite part of toddlers, the three long escalators down to the Valley Building. From the top of the third escalator awaited part of a display I had not seen yet: a white pine trunk with roots announcing the entrance of the Forest Lane.

From the large windows in the corridor leading to the Valley Building we can see lively birds.

They've added clever signage on the floor. It's getting harder and harder to get lost in the Science Centre! Make sure the kids get to play with the interactive floor. (There's a "pond with fish" in the middle of the Hot Zone.)

I liked the installation Biotectonics by Elaine Whittaker turning science into art with the images she took with her microscope in her studio-laboratory as she cultured an ancient bacteria. Yep! You were admiring bacterias.

From the Hot Zone, you see the ever-changing lights of the threshold to three different rooms of Ontario Science Centre but I suggest you try to drag your kids first to the older section of the centre to the tropical Rain Forest, following it right after with a tour of the cold cave in the Living Earth.

Past the tornado, is the Science Arcade where you might arrive in time to see the popular hair-raising ball (actually called a Van der Graaf generator) in action, or check the schedule for the next one.

Then, you can come back to the AstraZeneca Human Edge.

The entrance to the Arctic expedition is on the right side of the climbing wall.

I pushed a button to see if I'd have the bad luck of living through an avalance (when the dice shows an X). I survived and was told to take right-hand corridor.

Later, I was asked to choose the three items to take with me to finish the last part of the climb at night. Warning, one door leads to your death!

I went up the stairs by the restaurant to check out A Question of Truth, including a mezzanine overlooking the Human Edge and an intriguing test to enter the room.

The Brain exhibition is on Level 6, past the Hot Zone with interactive floors, and beyond the Rock Paper Science Hall (where they offer the paper making workshops amongst other things).

There's plenty of reading required to reap the benefits of the various experiments. The clever exhibition finds all kinds of ways to make us understand how the brain works. When I learned that our brain may have at least 300 trillion connections, it made we wonder if it is not one of the reasons why we're so hooked to social media... all that connectivity in us.

One display featured a wall of stacked reels of thread. Looking at them one by one, or in small groups, you can't see the pattern. Then you see the Joconde, even though it's upside down. This process, which takes us a few seconds of conscious effort, is done in 1/50 of a second every time our brain processes visual information.

Younger kids will love the screens in the back of the room, where they're asked to make decisions as a greedy kid who badly wants a cookie. (We can all relate...) We get to see the physical impact of the kid's emotions on his body depending if he steels or not the cookie his mom forbade him to have before dinner. Hilarious! It's hard on the nerves to be a bad kid!

The Weston Family Innovation Centre had been well put to use by the students on the day of my visit! They had engaged in paper plane flying contests, designed shoes, done time-laps short movies, had their photo turned into a wall of bubbles...

Then, you go up to Level 4 where big kids want to explore the Space room while kids 8 years and under will go crazy in the two rooms of KidSpark. Note that big kids also love this section and the staff might let the older siblings join their little brothers and sisters if the place is not too busy.

KidSpark includes a fun special-effects room.

... and water games.

... and a view over a large pond.




Just another day at school

Funny Bits


Johanne Pepin is the whimsical illustrator behind the colourful covers of my three guides. She and I go way back! Here are a few funnies we came up with in 2007 to amuse the readers of Pause, an eNewsletter supporting the online resource for Ontario teachers eWorkshop I was working on at the time. Here they are, with the accompanying texts (meant for teachers).

February issue

Aaah! The joy of getting gifts from the heart! After a moment of panic, you realize all you need to do is gracefully accept the gift and "save" it for later. What really matters is acknowledging the special part you play in your students' lives.

March issue

By the time you're finished with the last, it is time to start over with the first. This feeling of being caught in a loop is never more true than in winter with its lot of wet boots, lost mittens and stocked zippers. Hang on! The cold season is almost over!

April issue

We all start the school year with grand ambitions: our classroom will be impeccable, our desk super-organized, everything under control at any time, etc,... Then, reality sinks in. But take heart! The word out there is that chaos breeds creativity.

May issue

June issue

In this line of work, one really has to be ready to jump through all sorts of hoops! You didn’t read the fine prints where it mentioned that you would have to show up with the appropriate attire for Pyjama Day, Crazy Hair Day, Upside Down Day, Halloween, school plays, 20-minute daily vigorous activity sessions, etc… Don’t worry, ridicule has never killed anyone.

September issue

It's one thing to manage a group inside the classroom. It's quite another to supervise hundreds of kids let loose in the school yard during recess. But relax! Within a few weeks, you'll know which activity is suited to which grade, what are the games kids love most and who they choose to play with, what everyone's favourite hiding spots are, etc. Pretty soon, recess supervision will become.child's play!

Good news! 

For years, Johanne Pepin has created fantastic murals for, an onlne company specializing in prepasted murals. Most of Johanne's creations are 8" by 8" (64 sq. ft) and cost $269 o less. A fantastic and easy way to dress-up a bedroom, a playroom, a basement or a classroom!



TOP-10 Advent Calendars!

Christmas | DIY crafts | For parents | Pinterest

Now is a good time to prepare fun and easy Advent Calendars! 

These, and more ideas, are all posted (with links to the original website with DIY                             instructions on my X for Xmas Pinterest board!

#1  Made out of Legos!


#2  One pre-wrapped book a day! (They don't have to be new! They can even be borrowed to your local library! The fun part isn't to own them, but to unwrap a new story every day until Christmas.


#3  Small envelops taped on the fridge, with a thought, a joke, an activity idea, a clue...


#4  A toilet paper roll tree hiding small animals, gadgets or candies...


#5  Paper cups elves hiding a treat!


#6  Little wrapped surprises hanging there (no need to put hooks, you can just tie a knot)


#7  Clothing pins, pinned around on a cardboard circle, with treat taped at the end


#8  DIY board you can reuse next year. Use a glue gun to stick clothe pins on a board, to pin little gifts


#9  More toilet paper rolls, this time in the shape of a little house


#10  Muffin pan... Start on Dec. 14 if you have one with 12 slots.




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After years of doing all kinds of outings with my children, I can assure you the secret to a perfect outing lies in the details, not the destination.


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