Playing and Learning with PlaSmart

Do you have a Plasma Car? We got one when they were at the height their popularity, and it's one toy that has stood the test of time in our house. Now at 7 and 4 years-old, my girls are still playing regularly with the car (in the winter, they drive the car around the kitchen and dining room!)

I've since followed PlaSmart Toys with interest, as I love the type of toys they distribute here in Canada. I was super excited to get the chance to review a couple of new toys here on the blog. First up - Catch and Learn! (stay tuned to the blog as I'll soon be reviewing a fort building toy)

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Catch and Learn is an educational game where kids get to "fish" for the answers to mathematical or alphabetical problems. 

The game comes with 10 dry-erase fishies, a dry-erase marker and a retractable magnet fishing tool. The kids get to make up whatever game they want (we've done adding, subtracting, multiplication and spelling) and write the answers on the fish.

I love that this game can be used for different ages, and my 4 year-old has as much fun with it as my 7 year-old. As with the Plasma Car, this is a game that keeps getting brought out.

The only potential issue? The fishing line is retractable, and therefore a TON of fun for the little ones...fun to the point that they like to tie the retractable line around various things in the house. Then Mommy spends a lot of time untying knots. But I will say - despite the abuse this little fishing line has taken, it has not broken!

Head over to our Facebook page, and enter our contest to win your own Catch and Learn toy!!

Do you own a PlaSmart toy? What do you love about it?

Disclaimer: in exchange for this review, we were provided with the Catch and Learn toy. All opinions are our own

Little Ray’s Reptiles : An educational outing

One of the things on my daughter’s summer bucket list was to visit the baby sloth at Little Ray’s Reptiles. So, I took a morning off work to go with her and my mom. Apparently my mom and my daughter went last summer as well, but this was my first time visiting.

We arrived at Little Ray's Reptiles just as the doors opened at 10 a.m. There was a summer camp in session and a school bus pulling in with another camp dropping in for a field trip. Needless to say - there were a lot of people in Little Ray's that day.

Little Ray's Reptiles

The building was VERY warm. An employee came by to apologize and let us know the air conditioner had broken; however my mom noted that it was just as hot in the building the last time they were there, last summer.

The adorable baby sloth (three months old) yawning

The adorable baby sloth (three months old) yawning

I was a bit surprised that Little Ray’s would be fully air conditioned because I remembered when the Canadian Museum of Nature had their reptiles exhibit, with similar reptiles native to tropical climates, that they had to ensure the exhibit was separated and the doors closed to keep the exhibit warm and humid at all times. When I looked it up on their website, they mentions an air ventilation system that should keep the building at 20 degrees. Regardless, if you go, be prepared for a warm, tropical-like temperature inside the building.

What kinds of animals are there?

Little Ray’s has many (over 150) different species of animals, frogs, snakes and reptiles to look at and learn about. My daughter stopped to try and find each one in their habitat (like a “Where’s Waldo?) as well as read about them. She was very impressed by the size of the resident alligator.

Little Ray's Reptiles

Little Ray’s Reptiles also has an outdoor area with a few rabbits, a lynx and bald eagles. Apparently there is also a kangaroo, but he wasn’t outside when we were there. It took us about an hour to tour the building, as my daughter likes to stop and learn everything about the animals. There were many toddlers and preschoolers there at the same time as us who enjoyed looking at the ferrets and frogs as well as the rabbits.

A lynx at Little Ray's Reptiles

The Live Show

The main attraction is the live shows in which staff takes out various creatures and share facts about them with the audience. When we were there my daughter got to hold or touch and learn about a tarantula, a scorpion and a cobra snake. They also brought out the baby sloth, but because we had a rambunctious, busy audience there was no touching the sloth, just looking and photos, which was enough to satisfy my daughter’s love of sloths.

While my daughter had a great time during the show, I would have liked to have seen the pace of the show move a little faster. I love that the handler takes the time to give everyone who wants to hold an animal a chance to, but I wish there had been a second person who continued to teach. This would help little ones - who often have a shorter attention span - from getting restless and wanting to walk about when they have been requested to sit down. The group we had also would not stop talking, which made it hard to hear what the handler was saying. Some ground rules regarding talking, etc. prior to the show would have made it more enjoyable.

Holding a tarantula at Little Ray's Reptiles

What you need to know

  • You can expect to spend about an hour and a half at Little Ray’s Reptiles – more if you plan on staying for the live show, which really make it worth your money.
  • Little Ray’s Reptiles is a privately funded zoo and a member of the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums and has more than one location.
  • General admission is $12.50 for adults, $10 for seniors, and ages two and under are free. There is also a family rate of $48 for 4 people.
  • There is free parking in the parking lot in front of the building, as well as along Bank Street. The day we were there was quite busy, so they had a staff member directing traffic and making sure those parked along Bank Street were safe.
  • Summer Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., 7 days a week (from May long weekend to the September long weekend)
  • There is a gift shop
  • There is no place to eat there, but there are restaurants located nearby in Findlay Creek (including a McDonald’s.)

My daughter loves learning about animals - if your have a child with a passion for animals then they will probably love Little Ray's Reptiles too!

Five ways to keep kids entertained at a cottage

We’re a cottaging family and spend at least two weeks at cottages every summer.

The packing list for the cottage may be long, but based on my years of cottaging with children I thought I’d make a list of my five favourites for keeping the family entertained.

I realized after writing it that my list falls to the less sporty type family so you may want to include some type of sporting equipment or balls or something too ;)

5 ways to keep kids entertained at a cottage

1) The super noodle

If you’ve ever been in a lake with children you know that, regardless of how well they can swim, their favourite place to be is attached to you. This is okay when you can stand up, but once you’re in water above your head, it can feel a bit like you’re about to drown. I quickly figured out that I needed multiple noodles in order to keep myself and a child up above water, but once I found the super noodles from Costco I was sold on spending $20+ on a noodle.

The super noodle will hold me and at least two, sometimes three children above water. It will even allow me to stay mostly above water as children catapult themselves off docks and into my arms. 

My general rule with the super noodle is that adults always get them first, as the only reason we invested in them is to help the adults stay afloat with the children who will undoubtedly try to sit on top of their heads while they’re trying to tread water. When all the adults are out of the water I’m willing to share and let the kids experience the fun of the super noodle too.

2) Child sized kayaks

kids kayaking

We previously wrote about kayaks on Kids in the Capital and I still think they are one of the best investments if you go to a cottage with any regularity. They cost about $100 and I have seen children as young as four master them really quickly.

Kids can spend a lot of time just trolling around close to shore while you supervise, the ones who are a bit more nervous about swimming out further or who just are less inclined to swim a lot can kayak themselves to floating docks, and you can go on a family kayak ride. Note: make sure you have some kind of towing rope on your kayak or theirs and an easy way to attach the kayaks together. I often end up towing kids back, but it’s well worth it to have had them kayak independently to start.

3) An art kit

Arts and crafts are a must at the cottage - especially for rainy days or quieter evenings. We come up with all kinds of projects while we’re at the cottage and many include crafting.

·      Painting rocks and sticks.

·      Scavenger hunts.

·      Simple paintings and drawings.

·      Creating a memory game.

·      Box monsters.

4) Books

Adults and kids alike bring many books to the cottage. We have comics and novels and activity idea books.

You’ll find people reading in hammocks, in bunkbeds, and sitting by the lake.

We’re a bookish family so we may lean a bit more heavily to the books than others, but I think the cottage is a great time to get a lot of great reading done – make it part of what you expect at the cottage! The Ottawa Public Library allows you to take most books out for three weeks (and they can often be renewed for another three), which is usually a perfect length of time for a cottage vacation.

5)   Lego and puzzles

Some kids are less outdoorsy than others – I have one like that in particular. While they might love it if we’d let them play on electronics all day, that’s simply not an option. Instead we make sure there are Lego or 500-1000 piece puzzles to play with. These cottage projects are perfect for the kids who want to stay indoors while the others are in the lake, and they are great for quiet creative time.

We can rarely find an activity that all five of us want to do at once, and now that our kids are a bit older (with our youngest being 8) we’re able to simply accept that we can split up and do what each of us wants to do. Having lots of options for every personality type has really helped everyone enjoy their time at the cottages.

What are your cottage must haves to keep everyone busy and entertained?

Petrie Island: after the flood

In May 2017, a flood like we have never seen in this area destroyed homes, inundated our beautiful Petrie Island (and many other natural areas,) and caused millions of dollars in damage.

Photo credit: jflWilliams, Ottawa

Photo credit: jflWilliams, Ottawa

After such devastation, we were all worried about this beautiful beach and protected wetlands (the poor beavers!!)

2017: this was NOT normal

2017: this was NOT normal

I'm happy to report that after a chat with Friends of Petrie Island staffer Emily Daze, the island and all of its trails are now accessible.

Blog reader Julie Linton scoped out the scene, and reported back with some awesome updates:

red line flood

See that red line above?? That's where the flood waters reached!

Turtle egg nest

Turtles are laying their eggs in the sand.

They spotted some toads!

The play structure is still intact, and ready for some climbing fun.

Big smiles

And fun was had by all...

My husband and the kids also got a chance to head down to the beach this past week. The water is safe for swimming (although you should always check out the City of Ottawa's website for beach water quality info!)

Apparently when you swim on the main beach, the water quality is often protected by the large sandbar. So sometimes the west end beach will be closed occasionally for E. Coli counts, but this one remains open!

We're so happy the island is back, but we will never forget the devastation of the 2017 flood.

Now more than ever, we need to conserve and protect these special places.

A huge thank you to Julie Linton for sharing her experience and her photos. Also a big thank you goes out to jflWilliams for permission to use the breathtaking shot of a Petrie underwater.

New York City: A Family Vacation

Visiting New York City with kids is easier than you think and there is a lot to see and do – for both adults and children. Of course, it is a different NYC experience with kids than with adults - but it is still a memorable one (if not more so).

New York City: A Family Vacation

How to get to New York City

We chose to fly out of Syracuse International Airport – it was significantly cheaper and very convenient. Border crossing was done via car and then we only had the security line to deal with as a family. The flight was a mere 45 minutes both ways and we had no issues other than a minor flight delay heading to New York thanks to thunderstorms. We flew into La Guardia, which as of July 2017 is under heavy construction, so I advise against booking a hotel shuttle - depending on what terminal you land in, it could be tricky to get to. NYC's infamous yellow cabs, however, are everywhere. And for approximately $40 USD you can get into the heart of downtown Manhattan.

Once the construction at La Guardia is complete it will be a beautiful airport and the subway will go right into the airport, making it even easier, and cheaper, to get anywhere in New York City.

Where to stay in New York City

There are a plethora of hotels in New York City and the good news is you don’t have to stay (and pay) to be in Times Square. We stayed three blocks away from Times Square in the Garment District, which is the equivalent of a five-minute walk to the heart of Times Square. We chose to stay at a name brand hotel with breakfast included to make it easy and convenient to get food first thing in the morning; however there are food vendors everywhere in Manhattan and it’s just as easy to get a bagel for $1 USD right outside your hotel door. Just remember, many of the hotels are smaller than you may be used to because of limited real estate; but how much time will you be in your room anyway?

How to get around New York City

 We travelled by foot, subway or yellow cab. If you want to motivate your kids to walk purchase a step counter and challenge them to reach a certain number of steps each day (we walked an average of 20,000 steps a day!). We also relied a lot on the NYC Subway system. There’s a free subway app you can download to your smartphone that makes travelling via subway easy to understand; and don’t be afraid to ask someone – every New Yorker we spoke with was more than willing to help us.

What to see and do in New York City

1) Top of the Rock

Forget the Empire State Building - located at the top of the Rockefeller Center, Top of the Rock offers incredible views of the entire city. We went first thing in the morning and there were no line-ups—apparently the lines can get quite long. So, go early, bring coins for the kids to use the viewfinders (it’s 50 cents each time) and make sure to grab a map from the visitor’s desk so you can play “I spy” with the numerous landmarks that can be seen from each of the three viewing decks.

Top of the Rock NYC

Top of the Rock NYC

2) Central Park

You can easily spend a day at Central Park. There are gorgeous trails, bridges, and playgrounds to keep the kids busy exploring and playing. If you have a stroller you can stay on the main paths of the Park, including the famous Central Park Mall where many movies have been shot (you may even see a celebrity or two jogging through the park). There is a historic carousel near the south end as well as ponds with turtles. The little guys must be used to being hand fed, because as soon as they saw us they came swimming up. If you plan on spending some time in Central Park, I highly recommend downloading the official Central Park app – it has interactive maps as well as interesting audio information about various statues, etc. throughout the park and it is narrated by celebrities, such as Jerry Seinfeld and Julia Louis Dreyfus.

Central Park | Feeding the turtles

Central Park | Feeding the turtles

3) American Museum of Natural History

A museum is a perfect place to spend a rainy afternoon, which is what we did. My husband and I have been to the MET before and knew it would be a little big (and perhaps boring) for our daughter, so we chose to go to the American Museum of Natural History. If your kids love learning about animals and nature then they will like this museum; it’s a lot like the Museum of Nature combined with the Museum of History here in Ottawa. It’s big and easy to get lost in, so make sure you grab a map. Tip: there is a spot to refill water bottles for free on the lower level where the cafeteria is.

4) Ellen’s Stardust Diner

This restaurant came recommended to us and we are glad we went! The food here is not only fantastic, but so are the singing wait staff that break out in tunes throughout your meal and sing everything from hit Broadway songs to top 100 pop songs. We did not want our meal to end because the singing was so good. We went to the restaurant just after the lunch rush (around 1:30 p.m.) and only had to wait about 10 minutes for a table, so like everything in New York City, make a plan to go during a quieter time (unless you want to wait.)

Ellen's Stardust Diner

Ellen's Stardust Diner

5)   Times Square

The bright lights, the tall buildings and the hustle and bustle of Times Square are entertainment in and of itself! We made a point to visit in the mornings and got a coffee (and juice for my daughter) and found a spot out of the sun in the middle of Times Square. There are always interesting people to watch and it’s a great place to rest while you plan what you want to do next.

Times Square NYC

Times Square NYC

M&M World NYC

M&M World NYC

M&M World New York is three stories of everything M&M. From stuffed animals, to aprons to personalized M&Ms. It’s fun for kids of all ages… and adults too. We got to try the new caramel M&Ms there and I would be lying if I didn’t admit to going back and buying more than one bag of them.

7)   Staten Island Ferry

The best part about the Staten Island Ferry is that it’s free and on a clear day there are great views of the Manhattan skyline as well as the Statue of Liberty. Just don’t get swindled or confused by the numerous sales people who will attempt to persuade you to purchase the Ellis Island Ferry and tour the Statue of Liberty (unless you really want to go directly to Lady Liberty). Just walk through the Staten Island Ferry front doors and wait in line. The ferry comes every half hour, so don’t worry if you miss one.

8)   Broadway

Depending on the age of your children, indulging in a Broadway show can be a lot of fun. We bought tickets (in advance) to Hello Dolly! because I really wanted to see Bette Midler on Broadway, but we were tempted to see another show as well. There is usually a Disney on Broadway production going on, which is perfect for kids. Regardless, look at the show reviews online and so long as you pick a production filled with uplifting music, dancing, and colourful costumes, kids of all ages are sure to have fun. You can buy tickets from TKTS, which is a discount Broadway ticket vendor located in Times Square, but from what I saw the ticket prices there did not differ that much from purchasing them either from the theatre box office or online.

Broadway

Broadway

9)   NYC Subway

While it is easy to take a yellow cab in NYC (note: from our experience there, Uber costs pretty much the same as a cab), the subway is fun for kids who have never been on one and it is easy to navigate. It’s also fast, inexpensive… and a great way to escape the weather on a rainy or extremely hot day.

10)    The High Line / Chelsea Market

The High Line is a public walking path / park built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side. It makes for an interesting walk filled with great views of the Hudson River as well as modern and historic architecture. It runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th and 12th Avenues. We got off the high line at Chelsea Market, which is the home to unique shops, bakeries and restaurants, such as the delicious Sarah’s Bakery.

The High Line through Chelsea

The High Line through Chelsea

Ripley's Believe it or Not

Ripley's Believe it or Not

So, these museums may not be all that unique to NYC, but when you have kids with you on any trip it’s always nice to do something that they will love. Madame Tussauds and Ripley’s Believe It or Not offer weird and wacky facts, wax sculptures and much more… so, if you find yourself in need of some way to fill an afternoon with kids while in New York City, these museums are right in Times Square and are guaranteed to bring out the giggles in your kids.

Tips

- If you know you will be seeing four attractions invest in the New York Explorers Pass from Costco. It gets emailed to you can save you a lot of money. If you plan on going to Ellis Island to see the Statue of Liberty as well as visit the MET and/or the Museum of Natural History look at investing in this or a CityPass.

- There are also hop on, hop off bus tours, such as Grayline and Big Bus. Depending on the time of year, these tours can be quite busy, but it is a great way to see many of New York’s landmarks without having to worry about transportation.

- If you’re visiting in the summer, bring your own water bottle. We were grateful to have water with us at all times. New York City can get quite warm in the summer!

- Eat the street meat! Buying lunch and dinner from local food vendors is economical and yummy! You can buy more than just hot dogs too! There is Pad Thai, Philly cheese steak sandwiches, fresh smoothies and so much more!