Registering for Programs in the City of Toronto - An Exercise in Frustration and Futility*

I was prepped: client numbers and course selection numbers at the ready, website up, phone number already on speed dial on my desk phone and my BlackBerry.

I watched the clock tick down the moments. My heart was racing with anticipation of ‘the catch’ – this was going to be my lucky day, and like a huntress, I was ready…


Dial, type, dial, and…. victory! a busy signal!

A website that wouldn’t load.

Another busy signal.

Lather, rinse, repeat for 25 minutes.

Finally… yes! The website loads and my chance is at hand! I WILL ACTUALLY BE ABLE TO REGISTER MY CHILDREN FOR A PARKS AND REC PROGRAM!

But now that the website has loaded, a dilemma – this might be my only shot. What do I choose? Do I try to get swimming lessons, for which I need one session but two spots? Or skating, which poses the same challenge? Hmm… ignoring the implications this might have on my younger daughter’s self esteem in the future, I choose Ballet for my older daughter.
Sorry, younger daughter, but I gotta go with the sure(est) thing. Ballet for the five year old, 6:30pm Mondays (it’ll be a race to get there, but I can do it!), punch in the numbers and success! Right?


Class is full.

I punch in the numbers for the swimming class. Full.

I punch in the numbers for the skating lessons. Full.

I adjust the number by one digit for fun. Full, and I don’t even know what it is.

I try a different tactic, and search by available classes in my area. What I find is depressing.

There are no vacancies in any of the classes I am interested in putting my children into (or even variations on those classes) in the 6 – 8:30pm time frames or the Saturday/Sunday classes that I would be able to take my kids to.

However, if I wanted my 5 year old to take Ballet Tuesday at 2pm, I could get into that. If I wanted swimming for both my kids at 4:30pm, we could get into that. There are a bunch of spots open for skating at 6:15pm, but they are at rinks so far from my home that we would never be able to make it
there in time. I keep scrolling, and keep coming up empty-handed.

I stop looking, and resign myself to the fact that, once again, I will have to enroll my kids in private swimming/skating/ballet lessons, and pay roughly ten times the rate of the city-run programs if they are to go at all. And the likelihood will be that availability and budget constraints will keep us from all three anyway. Maybe they’ll get swimming lessons.

I know that I am not the only user of the system that finds it frustrating, but my experiences have led me to believe that the process is particularly biased against working mothers. We have the same rights to the programs as anyone else in our district, yet the schedule constraints are greater and the options more limited with no way to gain priority to those limited spaces. And of course there isn’t - there could be no democratically legitimate way to save evening spots for those that truly could not utilize daytime spots. And why should we get them anyway? I couldn’t say that it would be wrong for a stay-at-home mom to choose an evening class over a day class so that she could leave her younger child with her husband instead of having to schlep her with to gymnastics. That’s legit, even if it means that somebody’s want of convenience trumps my need.

I already know that my kids hate swimming lessons, but now, if I can even find a spot somewhere private, I’ll be able to watch them refuse to get into the water for $250 each, instead of $39. And skating? Knowing how to skate is a Canadian child’s birthright, for pete’s sake. I was hoping they’d get some professional lessons before I take my little ankleburners out on my own, but I guess not.

And, idiot that I am, I’ll probably try again in December. But I think I’ll go oldschool next time and freeze my ass off lining up for 6 hours, Fun Guide in hand, to register in person, like our mothers did. And while I’m at it, I will try to convince somebody to change the name of the session catalogue, because there is nothing, and I mean nothing , even a little bit fun about this process.

*If you are a working mother. If not, enjoy your 2pm ballet class ignore this post.



  1. It definitely is easier to get into classes when you have weekdays free. And no, that's not fair.

    What it does sound like, to me, is that there are far too few classes. Which is a whole other can of worms, of course. But increasing the number of slots available in prime time does sound like a worthy endeavour, if it can be done.

  2. The whole system is ridiculous. I had the hardest time finding out which locations were even close to us as to be viable. In the end I'm driving wayyyy out to Etobicoke for swimming and was just stupid lucky enough to get a spot in evening ballet (because, I think, it is the full-year recital program and costs a bit more).

    This is SO not a procedure I'm looking forward to every three months. Ugh!

  3. Our first summer here, I carefully checked out what would be available for my oldest and was set to jump on it the second enrollment opened up. I was worried since it was a preschool program and they opened up registration to current families first. I completely surprised the people in charge since, as I've since found out, things don't fill up in our small town the way they do in Toronto or DC (my previous experiences). Of course now we fork out money for private swimming lessons and the like since our son can't handle a lot of that stuff in groups. Sigh.

  4. As a matter of fact, I DID registered my daughter for a 2pm ballet class, but just found out that it was cancelled due to low enrollment. Ended up going private too.

  5. I totally could have written this. (Did you see me venting on Twitter Sunday morning?) Obscenely early time to get up on a weekend (in Scarborough). And an insane time for those districts who have weekday registrations (hhmm, should I feed my kids breakfast? Or sign them up for swim lessons??)

    There are too few spots, too few evening and weekend sessions, too few phone lines, and too few internet connections.

    It's torturous.

    If only we could make this a municipal election issue!!

  6. Auntie JennoSeptember 15, 2010

    In my tiny town there seems to be endless choices of cheap or even free rec activities for my kid. I think I have payed a total of $100 for 5 years worth of swimming lessons, or skating, and just a little more for down hill skiing. But it's the gymnastics programs that mothers have to bribe their way into. It took me 3 years to get Maya into it, and now that she's in it's like belonging to a very elite club. It actually makes me feel uncomfortable sometimes.

  7. This is my first season trying to get my daughter into anything, but I was prepared by hearing about it before. I feel badly that you and some others couldn't get their kids in. I woke up early too, started reloading the website at 7, and got in at 7:03pm. My husband said he thinks it's cause we live right next to the main internet hub thingie for downtown Toronto, we have a super fast connection(?)

    Anyway, I do feel fortunate. It's also just so bizarre, this whole process.

  8. Try U of T Junior Varsity Blues programs. They are more expensive than Parks & Rec, but much cheaper than private. It's a bit of a process registering, but nowhere near as ridiculous as City of Toronto. We have got our first choice classes every time. Instructors are almost all U of T students, some Varsity athletes with fantastic skills - very high calibre. Head & shoulders above the instruction in the few city programs we've tried.

  9. We have this down to a science, everything typed out, 1st, 2nd and 3rd choices, two computeres refreshing in intervals and it has worked everytime, skating, swimming, (we have since gone private because the city instructors occasionally looked like they had just done a bottle toke) when we lived on the Danforth as well as where we live now. By no means am I rubbing this in or think the system is perfect, just another perspecitve.


  10. blah, blah, blogSeptember 16, 2010

    I agree.

    As a SAHM I avoid the deadline and register at my leisure days, even weeks, later. This conveniently suits my fondness for procrastination.

    Rarely have I been turned away--and I've even enrolled mid-way through a program (prorated fees, of course) such is my sloth.

    It's not fair.

  11. I gave up on the parks & rec. system along time ago.
    So so frustrating.
    Now I spend a small fortune on extra programs- and still am not guaranteed the time slots that work best for us.

    As for swimming lessons, have you tried the JCC?
    It's not crazy expensive- (well not as affordable as $35 P&R classes) but compared to other swim classes around the city pretty reasonable.

    Good luck!

  12. Here, here. I could have written your post.

    We completely gave up on Parks and Rec programs for swimming, after experiencing the twin frustrations of mediocre instructors and no guarantee -- ever! -- that both kids would be able to take a swimming class within five hours of each other on the same day. We opted for the U of T Junior Blues program and have been very happy with it. You still have to be on the ball with registration: if you're not on the computer at 8 am on the day of registration, you lose out, or you're stuck with a 2 pm spot which doesn't work for us.

    But this year -- the oldest wants to play ball hockey, so I was up with the dew first thing Wednesday morning. And it sucked, as always.

  13. This was the first year I had a kid old enough to register for any of the parks and rec programs, and sadly was entirely unaware of the whole race to enroll thing. We ended up with nothing and next time I'm going to be up with the dawn trying with everyone else.
    The only way to fix it is to have more spots available.

  14. Yeah, it's a total pain in the ass. We managed to get into a pair of swim classes at a place not too close to us at a time that is slightly a pain, but not horrible. Ballet classes are at such a stupid time, PPie is just going to miss out on them, since even if we signed up, she'd miss them more than half the weeks, anyhow. I'll try again for skating in December, I guess. maybe i should come stand in line with you and we can freeze our tushies off together.

  15. Here's the trick to getting in quickly. Other than refreshing 2 computers at intervals, also use the phone. And begin entering not at 7am like they request you to, but at 6:55am, five minutes before. Not sure "why" this works, probably good Karma, but it does. Good luck next time round. And don't bother standing in line, your swimming class will have filled up and you would have wasted 6 hours.

  16. I actually registered and got a receipt number, and when we went to the swim class with my daughter, found out she was on the waiting list. Unacceptable garbage system. On the phone, the staff sounded like it was my fault and started an IT ticket.


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