According to the Toronto Star, seven industry experts discussed increasing the size of condominium suites due to the influx of families now choosing to raise children in downtown Toronto. Consequently, these larger condominiums will make it easier for current and future generations to raise children in affordable housing, and simultaneously, encourage more families to remain downtown as their children grow. But as these new and larger condos are currently few and far between, the immediate infrastructure in the downtown core must facilitate the influx of younger children whilst undergoing improvements to support the increasing density of families in the core.
“There aren’t many parks around here,” Gaea Gunn-Moghimi, registered Early Childhood Educator and Senior Director of the Family Development Centre at the Central YMCA, says. I met her late April to help understand what can be done for families living in downtown condos with young, active children. “Outside of daycare, children are not getting much physical activity, at least in the downtown area.” For most families, according to Gunn-Moghimi, the daycare [and school] is where children get most of their exercise. Though the need for larger condominiums for kids to move around in is imminent, families will remain in dwellings that average 800 square feet for a few more years to come.
Despite this tight squeeze, families are making it work. In the area south of Queen between University and Dufferin alone, for example, the percentage of children under age five has grown by 65% since 2006. So as to most, and not just to some, condo living is not a mere stepping-stone to the suburbs but rather a step in the urban direction.
Small businesses and organizations have noticed the shift from single life to family life, and have begun to accommodate the needs of growing families. Businesses that once solely served ‘grown-ups’, are now accommodating the needs of families. Many restaurants now have kids’ menus, while others have healthy, child-friendly options and provide table-top activities like paper placements with crayons to keep kids stimulated.
Many independent coffee shops have become increasingly kid friendly through providing changing stations in many women’s and men’s washrooms. Other coffee shops have also become hybrids in which coffee, whole milk and juice boxes can cohabit.
Even developers have hopped on the bandwagon and begun implementing recreation and/or play rooms specifically designed for young families and children. This will allow kids to enjoy the fun of daycare and school outside of class time and near the comforts of their own home. Local developer, Menkes, designed a playroom for their new condo development, The Eglinton (located at Yonge and Eglinton), which has chairs suited for pre-schoolers, a slide, and beanbags for small bottoms.Thankfully, many condos in the core are slowly following suit as more and more families flock downtown.
Although these shifts in infrastructure are very exciting, we mustn’t forget the resources that have existed long before Toronto’s condo boom. The Central YMCA at 20 Grosvenor St. and the West End Y at 931 College St. are excellent gym facilities for toddlers to teens, and host exceptional events for families.
As the cold winter season fast approaches, there are countless ‘go to’ places where kids can be both themselves and enjoy indoor play and social activities. No matter what age your ‘condo kid’ is, there are numerous places in Toronto parents can utilize to keep their child active and entertained. So, with rainy fall days and cold winter months on the horizon, what can parents do for their unruly kids?
INFANT – TODDLERS – PRESCHOOL (ages 0-5)
Plan to stay in with your tumbling toddler? A balancing beam such as a folding training low beam by Z-Athletic is perfect for any toddler who wants to perform a balancing act, or Gonge Riverstones, or Hilltops by Gonge can help develop balance and coordination. These items are stackable or can be folded and tucked away when not in use.
Crawling is important to a child’s development. In fact, crawling helps strengthen the muscles in the palm which are essential to hold small objects such as a crayon or a pencil. IKEA’s Busa tunnel or tent will encourage crawling for the young toddler and imaginative play for the preschooler. And again, this product can be folded and stored easily in a condo of any size.
For hand and eye coordination, some would think that an iPad would be the solution, but not so! The Melissa & Doug Sunny Patch Verdie Chameleon Beanbag Toss is a perfect activity to encourage hand and eye coordination as well as number and counting recognition.
And for the older kids, I highly recommend Strider Bikes. These balancing bikes – two-wheelers without pedals – help kids as young as 18 months to learn to ride on two wheels. It’s an excellent primer to bike riding as it focuses on your child’s sense of balance. Strider also provides attachable skis for the bikes for winter racing.The benefits to Striders? They don’t require a backyard. Kids can ride to a park, store, or to a friend’s house independently and meet the physical needs for their little bodies.
Though these products are geared to your child’s physical development, ensure that they are used in a safe manner and are age appropriate for your child. Read manufacturer’s instructions on the safety handling of these products. And please, put a helmet on your child when riding the Striders. They only have one head.
If these stackable and foldable products still can’t fit in your small condo or storage room, “Go up and down the stairs, take them to the gym in the condo, if allowed, in the building.” says Gunn-Moghimi. Other facilities in condos include a pool and play areas. Going to these places with your child if their age is permitted in the building, would be beneficial to your child’s physical needs. Another alternative is to take them to Sprouts, located at 183 CarlawAve., an excellent place for babies and toddlers. Sprouts has 6,000 square feet of trampolines, structures and slides, ladders and passageways your kids will love.
Coffee shop, Red Fish Blue Fish (73 Harbord St.) has two family washrooms, stroller friendly areas and a wheelchair accessible entrance. And even with their modern, slick kid drop-in centre, they still maintain an adult friendly atmosphere good enough for a sophisticated cup of coffee. Red Fish Blue Fish also provides a studio space for rainy days and colder days as well an after school program.
For the mini bookworms, the Lillian H. Smith Library at College and Huron has the largest collection of children’s literature in all Toronto Public Libraries, as well as fun kids activities. Additionally, the Children’s Book Bank, a non-profit organization (and one of my personal favourites), at 350 Berkely St., will give one free gently used book per child of any age, per visit.
YOUNG CHILDREN (ages 6-11)
Kids at this age need to get out and have fun and there are a number of exciting activities to choose from!
Simply put, give them a bike, scooter or skateboard. Whether your family is going on a big outing, or just to the corner store, encourage your kids to get moving on different modes of transportation. This will ensure the use and exercise of different muscle groups and help children develop habits to increase muscle mass well into their teen years. These toys will also help you and your child understand the importance of road safety and be more aware of your urban surroundings. Of course, be sure to have the appropriate protective gear for their little heads and joints.
Tobogganing for the upcoming snow days is of course a favourite pastime. The best hill in the core is Riverdale Park, accessed at Broadview Ave. This hill is ever so popular for kids and adults alike, so be prepared to meet some of your local neighbours!
And if snow has got to the best of you, consider tying up your skates. The most popular place for skating is Nathan Philips Square, but there are a number of rinks available that don’t attract people from all corners of the GTA. Harbourfront Natrel Rink is a great and less crowded destination. Set against the beautiful shoreline of Lake Ontario, it’s a fantastic winter destination for the whole family. Evergreen Brickworks humble sized skating rink is also a perfect place for those new to the ice, such as toddlers with bob skates.
For indoor physical activities, check out Playground Paradise, located in Toronto’s east end at 150 Grenoble Drive. Run by the City of Toronto, this facility is designed for kids 12 and under, it has a two-storey indoor play structure where kids can climb, slide, swing or play in the ball pit. Furthermore, this facility has outdoor playgrounds, a picnic area, a splash pad, a community garden, and outdoor courts and fields. It also reaches capacity every weekend. Call in advance to ensure space availability.
And finally, we mustn’t forget your little scientists and artists! The ROM, Science Centre and the AGO are perfect places for the inquisitive types. Programs and events are constantly changing all year round. And for your budding archeologist or historian, there are three City of Toronto Museums in and about the downtown core: Spadina House (285 Spadina Rd.), Todmorden Mills Heritage Site (67 Pottery Rd.), and Mackenzie House (82 Bond St.). These historic sites have excellent education and camp programs, including workshops for the whole family. The bonus to these sites? A family can acquire a map pass at any Toronto Public Library to get free access to their regularly scheduled programs.
TWEENS TO TEENS (ages 12-18)
When they’re too cool for school, or rather too cool for their parents, there are endless places for your children that are safe and supervised in the urban core.
TPL is a great resource for youth. There are plenty of fun writing workshops, games and contests your teen would love to attend.
Y Teen Nights at the YMCA is a well-attended program encouraging youth to connect with others, build relationships and even confidence, in a safe and healthy environment. Activities include swimming, dance classes, teen-focused discussion, workshops and so much more.
The Teen Fitness Program at Goodlife Fitness is a program designed and available for youth ages 12-17 across Canada. Goodlife’s goal is to create healthy habits in children at an early age in hopes that these habits will continue into their adult life. The bonus to this program: it’s free and quite possibly a positive opportunity to bond with your growing child.
With such an abundant list of active and engaging child-friendly activities located right outside your front door, don’t let your child’s winter be consumed by video games or the four walls of your home. As Gunn-Moghimi, Director of Family and Child Service at the Central YMCA, says, physical activity is what growing kids need most! Especially during their developmental years. Remember, the benefits of living in Toronto’s downtown core are endless! There are tons of family events happening all year round in addition to the countless activities available throughout the entire year. Staying fit and having fun is actually at the tip of your fingertips, so don’t let it go to waste!