Thanks to a semi-regular blip of the calendar, the school holidays last a whole week after New Year's Eve.

That means, unless your kids are in some kind of winter camp, families will be finding themselves with a few bonus days that aren't tied to the major holiday events.

Whether you're lucky enough to have the whole holiday season off with your kids, or are just sneaking a day, here are a few ideas for how to make the most of your family time off (that go beyond the typical skating or tobogganing activities).

We've divided them into three categories: simple, special and splurge.

Simple:

  • Visit the Earth Sciences Museum at the University of Waterloo. It's free and open Monday to Friday (but not the last week of December). Learn about rocks, the Great Lakes formation, mineral exhibits, and more. Bit of a hidden "gem," geddit?
  • Free Flicks at KPL Central Library. They're showing Harry Potter on Friday, Jan. 6 at 2 p.m., followed by a Harry Potter trivia party at 4:30 p.m.
  • Bake! Throw some low-cost basics in your shopping cart, and you have the makings of a great, if messy, afternoon. Let their creative streak run wild. Purple pancakes? Throw in some frozen blueberries. Bacon and peanut butter cookies? There's a recipe for that.
  • Go old school. Have lots of boxes left over from Christmas? Turn them into a fort or castle. Bonus points if you manage to make a drawbridge.

And don't forget the CBC KW Skating Party Dec. 30 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at Kitchener City Hall!

Special:

These are things that don't necessarily cost a lot of money but will need an investment of your family's time. Think fun, with lots of chatter afterwards.

  • Catch the Edward Burtynsky exhibit Infinite Change at KW|AG. This was the first gallery to show his work. He's now a world-renowned photographer whose landscapes continue to reshape our understanding of human impact. This show is on until Jan. 13.
  • Get warm at the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory. It's tropical in there! Bonus: The seasonal Flight of White with thousands of white Rice Paper butterflies. Check out bugs and watch butterflies emerge from their chrysalis.
  • Holiday Family Fun Days at Waterloo Region Museum. Events range from a murder mystery to birds of prey to retro parties. Check the website for details.
  • SkyZone Trampoline Park in Kitchener has toddler hours, Glow Nights, and on Thursday afternoons they have a sensory hour for special needs kids and their families (the chaperone is free).

Splurge:

If you have a bit of money set aside following the holiday spree, consider doing one big family thing that you'll all enjoy and remember. You don't have to fly to the Caribbean for a memorable holiday!

  • Escape rooms are great for teens and tweens. You get locked in a room with a range of objects, and have to solve puzzles, find clues, and use logic to get out. There are quite a few around town. Adventure Rooms is suitable for ages eight and up. Most of the others, like Escape Adventure Canada and Gr8 Escape, recommend ages 13 and up.
  • The Kitchener Rangers play the Erie Otters at home on New Years Day, and the Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds on Friday, Jan. 6. Bit of a splurge when you're taking a family, but the atmosphere is unbeatable!
  • Blend your child's favourite books and movies into a cultural adventure in Toronto. Do your children love Finding Dory or Moana? Head to Ripley's Aquarium. Do your toddlers love the Franklin books? The "museum" book is based on the ROM. Mad about Star Wars? Get galactic with the AGO's Super Stars exhibit and pop-up planetarium. Hotels cost a bundle, but there are family-friendly options that include tickets to attractions. If you can, get one with a kitchenette, so you can prepare your own breakfast. (If you want to spend a few days hitting all the tourist spots, consider buying a CityPass. And remember, kids under 12 ride the TTC for free.)

A lot of regular programming is suspended during the break to make way for winter camps, so you'll want to check that your go-to options, like Early Years Centres for little ones, are actually open.

There's no central database that includes all activities and events for families, but here are a few sites that prove pretty helpful: