Despite the record-breaking warm winter we have had in Toronto this year, summer is still far away. Yet the beginning of March is an exciting and nerve-racking time of the year for local Toronto families.
Registration for Toronto Parks and Recreation Spring and Summer programs begins this week!
Explore recreation program options online at toronto.ca/torontofun or pick up a FREE copy of the Toronto FUN Guide Spring/Summer 2016 at City Hall, civic centres, community centres and libraries. The Fun Guide will list all the programs available in your area, locations, dates and times they are offered. Prices are very reasonable. There are four different versions of the FUN Guide, one for each part of Toronto.
From summer camps and dance to swimming, soccer and art classes, there are more than 54,000 recreation programs and activities available through "Parks & Rec" (City of Toronto's Parks, Forestry and Recreation). My daughter and I have tried yoga, skating, swimming, gymnastics and preschool programs in previous years. The summer camp at our local community centre is my daughter's all-time favourite summer camp and I have promised to register her again.
We are very lucky to have such great, affordable, accessible recreational programs in the city. The reality, though, is that living in a big urban centre such as Toronto comes with some very competitive registration for the popular programs.
The registration process for city programs can be challenging for newcomers. Below are some of the steps and tips.
If you want to get your kids into a city-run summer camp or soccer/swimming/dance classes, you need a strategy! Registration begins on March 5!
- KNOW YOUR REGISTRATION DATE:
Registration for Spring and Summer 2016 general programs, Spring skating & swimming lessons and Summer camps begins online at 7:00 a.m. on the following dates:
- Etobicoke York District - Saturday March 5.
- Scarborough District - Sunday March 6.
- North York District - Tuesday March 8.
- Toronto & East York District - Wednesday March 9.
2. KNOW YOUR "FAMILY NUMBER" AND "CLIENT NUMBER"
Is it your first time registering for Parks & Rec programs?
If you don't know what those numbers mean, you need to call customer service at 416-338-4386 to set up a family account (8:30 am to 4:30 pm, Monday-Friday) preferably before registration day. They will give you a Client and Family Number that you can then use to register online, by phone or in person. You can also also start an account in person by visiting a community centre.
I usually keep those numbers written on a small green card that I was given the first time I got them at my local centre. I also keep a copy of those numbers in my e-mail just in case. I don't want to be looking for them in panic mode on registration day.
3. KNOW YOUR PROGRAM CODES
Every program and camp has a "program code" (or code or barcode). It is usually seven digits and is listed alongside the program in the printed FUN Guide or you can find it in the online program listings. In order for your registration day to go smoother and faster, plan to have those program codes ready in advance.
I usually write down on a piece of paper all of the programs/camps I am hoping to register my child for, along with the codes, dates and times. On registration day, which is always Saturday for my part of town, I set my alarm clock for 6:30 am (that is correct!), and get ready to sit at my computer with a cup of coffee, the list of programs and codes and my phone.
4. KNOW YOUR PRIORITIES AND CHOICES
Be ready to register first for the class or camp that is most important for you - maybe because of its convenient location or times or topic. And plan for several options. For example if you don't manage to get in the closest soccer league, are you willing to go to another soccer league, on a different day at a different park? Do you have the program code ready for your second choice?
Make sure you have a "plan A" and a "plan B" list of programs. We don't register in too many activities with one child, but I can only imagine that this process gets even more complicated for families with several children.
This is what a parent friend of mine shared on Facebook with me when I asked for registration tips some time ago:
"Have your registration number and credit card ready. Have your programs selected and have your 2nd and 3rd choices chosen in case your first choice is full. If possible, keep clicking "register online" right at 7:00 a.m. and at the same time keep pressing redial on the phone. I prefer having the paper copy as opposed to the online guide when it comes to researching the the options beforehand."
5. HOW TO REGISTER
- Online registration -- if you have your Family and Client Numbers, register online, it is the fastest way to do it.
- Register in person -- at a designated civic or community centre on registration day or later on.
- By phone -- call 416-338-4386.
How people register for Fun Guide programs is probably a personal preference. I usually have a double strategy -- website and phone at the same time. I keep clicking on the "refresh" button until I get access to the online system early morning on registration day. One or two times I have been lucky in getting early access. Several times I have had to click and wait for an hour or more, and have missed some of my choices. One time I did manage to get through on the phone and registered this way. There is no magic trick. Not all programs are so popular. Usually it is not a problem to wait until later in the day or the week and register even in person for adult programs. The children's activities such as soccer or swimming for example and the camps are in highest demand.
6. FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE FOR LOW INCOME FAMILIES WITH THE "WELCOME POLICY"
The City of Toronto's Welcome Policy provides a fee subsidy to help low income individuals and families who live in Toronto access city programs. If you are approved under the Welcome Policy, you will receive an annual financial subsidy that can be spent on any of the wide variety of high-quality recreation programs offered by the City throughout the year.
Effective January 1, 2016 the individual annual credit amounts was increased to $504 for children and youth and $235 for adults and seniors. If you think you and your family might be eligible for a "welcome policy subsidy" to register for city programs for free - you can read more about this program and fill out an application form.
7. IMPORTANT NOTES
Expired Session -- knowing this can save you a lot of frustration:
"if, while using Toronto FUN Online, there is no activity for a period of five minutes, your session will be terminated. You will need to log-on again to return to Toronto FUN Online. Do not use the back and forward buttons in your browser as it may result in the termination of your internet registration session and you will be required to re-log on."
New This Year - Minimum Age for Camps
Due to new regulations by the Province of Ontario, children must be 4 years of age on the first day attending any camp program.
Free Drop-in Programs
In addition to registered paid programs, many community centres offer free recreation programs (click for locations and listings), including leisure swimming and skating, and drop-in programs for children, youth and older adults.
[photo credit: Toronto Fun Guide]
Another Facebook parent friend summed it all up for me a couple years ago: "At 7:03 this morning a miracle happened! I got through to the Fun Guide registration on my first try... needless to say I am very happy this morning."
Does your family have favourite summer memories of attending city programs and camps in your town?
Do you have any words of advice or comments about registration or programs you liked? I am really intrigued this year by the Toronto Island Explorer Camp. I wish I was a kid and could go! We will likely not manage to get to this camp due to distance, but it sounds so exciting! I still hope to visit the Island on our own several times, as it is one of my favourite summer spots in Toronto! Until then, I will bundle up and enjoy the late winter and the special leap February 29 day, while planning out our camp registration on Saturday!