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'Keep it simple': Parents get creative as summer 'staycations' look likely

In this June 2016 photo, a girl climbs a tree next to her family's RV at the Mammoth Hot Springs campground at Yellowstone National Park, in Montana. Like most Canadians, Toronto-based occupational therapist Erica Schott doesn't yet know what this summer has in store for her family. The 40 year-old mother of two had planned a number of camping trips for the sunny season, but as the country remains on lockdown, the chances of her vacation plans happening as intended are rapidly vanishing. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Brett French/The Billings Gazette via AP

Like most Canadians, Toronto-based occupational therapist Erica Schott doesn’t yet know what this summer has in store for her family.

The 40 year-old mother of two had planned a number of camping trips for the sunny season, but as the country remains on lockdown, the chances of her vacation plans happening as intended are rapidly vanishing. She’s currently brainstorming a number of alternatives should this happen, including moving her vacation into her home.

“We will be having some campouts in our backyard once it gets a bit warmer,” Schott says, noting that she’s also held a number of picnic lunches with her kids to break up long learn-from-home days in quarantine thus far.

Schott is not alone in her family vacation woes. With flights on hold and national parks closed indefinitely, young parents across the country are getting creative about hosting staycations from home.

Lori Bonesky, 32-year-old Calgary mother of three, is among them. The Toronto editor of Family Fun Canada — a national parenting and travel blog — has taken full weekday responsibility for her kids while her husband, a hospital employee, goes into work each day. Their weekends, as such, are designated for family time. Rather than planning elaborate itineraries that require purchasing extra craft supplies or taking long car trips, Bonesky is finding ways to make the most of this time with items they already have around the house.

She stresses that finding engaging staycation activities doesn’t need to be expensive. In fact, with stores closed, many parents are finding themselves with little choice but to use items they already own.

Bonesky suggests trying adventurous recipes with pantry staples or repurposing items found in storage or around the house, like cardboard boxes or couch pillows, for playtime or arts and crafts. Making a Saturday out of at-home play is, to a child, as good as any vacation, she says.

“Keep it simple. Keep it cheap,” Bonesky says. “There is no need to make a big elaborate expensive thing. It can be something like painting in your backyard or having a family sleepover in your living room and making a fort.”

Though she’s cautious of increasing screen time allowances, Bonesky has also found countless free online resources for keeping kids engaged. Virtual museum and aquarium tours, exercise and art classes, and family-friendly recipes are all available for parents to try with their children — and they’re all completely free.

Schott has made use of similar resources (online all-ages dance classes are one of her go-tos.) She finds pockets in the day — typically around 11 a.m., 2 p.m., and 4 p.m. — to get her kids outside, taking these classes to the backyard to let out their energy. Parents who don’t have access to a backyard can always do the same in a local field or playground-free space that’s devoid of foot traffic and surfaces upon which germs or virus particles could live.

Regardless of price point, Bonesky says planning the perfect staycation is not dissimilar from planning a successful vacation; the most important things to make time for are play and rest.

“If you can incorporate those things into a break at home, it will give you the same benefits as going on a vacation somewhere else, for a lot cheaper,” Bonesky says, noting that parents may want to disconnect from their phones and computers as a first step to accomplishing this.

Bonesky also urges parents to remember that vacationing in lockdown may be more enjoyable for children than meets the eye, so it’s not worth putting pressure on yourself to make things perfect. While sheltering in place has its stressful moments, she’s found solace in shifting her mentality and remembering that in five or ten years time, her children will remember little of this crisis other than how it felt.

“Our kids do not care that things have been cancelled,” Bonesky says. “If we reframe it around ‘this is a special time’ where we have more time than ever to be playing together, just doing simple things and making memories, really, when it comes down to it, they, in some ways, are going to be happier during this time.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 21, 2020.

Audrey Carleton, The Canadian Press