Walter Baker Park in Ottawa

We're all about parks right now...why? Because we want you to get outdoors with your little ones in Ottawa this summer! Thanks to Tracy Noble for checking out Walter Baker Park. If you'd like to add your two cents, consider filling out our survey on your favourite Ottawa parks!

Four years ago I wrote a brief post on Walter Baker Park in Kanata. My daughter was almost three at the time and it was her favourite local park – four years later, it still is. Throughout the summer months, my daughter can often be found running up and down the toboggan hill (or rolling down), swinging on the tire swing or playing pirates on the larger play structure.

Walter Baker Park2

Visiting the park has shown me how much she has grown up! I no longer feel the need to keep my eye on her to make sure she doesn’t climb so high that she is afraid to climb down, nor do I watch to make sure she doesn’t venture to the splash pad on a cold day (she no longer finds being wet on a cold day as funny as it used to be). Now I just ensure she is within eyesight or that I know where she and her friends are exploring next (there are lots of places to explore at Walter Baker Park).

We continue to visit Walter Baker Park for many reasons. In addition to having a splash pad, as well as two sets of swings and two play structures (one for the younger kids and one for the older kids), it is located on a vast green space, which means kids can run and play safely without having to worry about vehicular traffic. There are also bathrooms available within walking distance (the Kanata Recreation Complex is located onsite). It has ample parking, which is always a good thing with kids in tow. The park also has large trees - the big oak tree located by the toddler play structure is my daughter’s favourite - which provide the perfect shade for picnics. There are numerous picnic tables and benches conveniently located within eyesight of the play structures and swings.  There is also a covered picnic table area for a larger gathering and an even larger gazebo located near a walking trail that is a great place for an impromptu dance party.

Walter Baker Park3

Walter Baker Park is a great park for children young and old – and adults too! The park’s recent addition of an outdoor fitness circuit (located beside the splash pad; on the other side of the trees) is a great place for adults to get some outdoor exercise of their own! It is a full body workout and each piece of equipment includes directions and ideas on what exercises you can do with the available equipment. Between this and a run up and down the big toboggan hill, Walter Baker Park has everything you need for a full body workout!

Walter Baker Park1

Walking to the top of the toboggan hill is a family tradition. At the end of our park visit, we always walk up the hill and take in the view. You can see the Canadian Tire Centre among many other things in the Kanata area.

Walter Baker Park isn’t a park I see us outgrowing any time soon. It has something for everyone and only continues to improve as time marches on.


Geocaching in the City

With the school year ending I am sure a popular online search phrase includes "free things to do in [insert your home city]". I've got a great one for you, and all it requires is a smart phone and an app.

I recently learned how to geocache so that I could teach our Beaver Scout group how it works. Little did I know that our own kids would love it so much, and that we would continue to do it as a family.

There are caches hidden all over the world and all over our beautiful city. Think of it - and pitch it to the kids - as a world-wide treasure hunt.

Some caches are tiny little capsules, some are jar-sized with little treasures inside and some are big enough to accommodate a book exchange. Some caches are easy finds and some require solving a riddle or mathemtical equation. We've haven't tackled any of the advanced searches or used a handheld GPS without the visuals, because my children would lose interest if the process was too complicated. We tend to find the easier ones, providing instant gratification and maintaining excitement.

Here is a step-by-step instruction on how to get started:

1. Download the geocaching app (www.geocaching.com). The icon is green with arrows. Basic membership is free. Create your own account. 

2. Educate yourself by reading more about geocaching

3. Decide on an area you'd like to explore and search that area for caches on your device. Little markers will appear where caches are hidden. Clicking on the markers will give you more information such as the size of the cache, the difficulty, the terrain, hints, parking in the area etc. Plan your route.

4. Pack a bag with water and snacks. When you find one you will want to find another!

5. Ask the kids to pack a little ziplock bag with trinkets they are willing to give away. Keep them small; like a marble, a bracelet or little figurine. When you find caches with treasures inside you can take one and leave one!

6. Head out to the area where caches are and give it a try! Let your kids hold the phone (with a protective case and only if you're comfortable) and follow the path to the cache. The fun is in the search and they're sometimes nicely hidden.

7. If you're in a populated area, consider trying to find the cache secretly so as not to draw attention to the fact you are looking for something hidden. You don't want to reveal its location to non-geocachers which could lead to it to be "muggled" (stolen) before the next person finds it. This just adds to the excitement and adventure for the kids.

8. Found a cache? Awesome! Take a look inside, exchange your treasure, log your finding (there is usually a paper log inside) and log in the app that it has been found. The app will track your finds but it also lets the owner of the cache know it's still hidden for the finding.

The experiences you have finding these caches are incredible! The other day we were out and it was getting dark. We found a cache but it was a bit challenging to open as it required a unique key-lock system. We headed home, got our flashlights and returned to finish what we started. Another time, we were geocaching and a movie was being filmed in the park where we were searching. We watched the director film and capture their project which was quite fascinating.

Once you get the hang of it you'll realize there are caches everywhere! They are hidden in our parks, on walking trails, at beaches, in parking lots and even in urban areas. The caches will lead the way to adventure for you and your family. Seek out new parts of town, bump into fellow geocachers and enjoy the outdoors! You and your family may decide to hide one of your own for others to find!

Happy treasure hunting!

Andrea is currently a SAHM with three children, ages 3, 7 and 10. She has lived in Ottawa all her life and loves what Ottawa has to offer. You can find Andrea on Twitter

Unsupervised Outdoor Summer Fun

I'm all for outdoor play time. In fact, I think kids should be outdoors for several hours per day in the summer (and even in the winter, although I realize it's harder to achieve that goal!) And a recent report on the health of our kids suggests the same - "the biggest risk is keeping kids indoors."

Just Play Toy Rental Monkey Bars

What's tough about summer is that parents aren't usually on vacation. And even if we manage to get some time off, the list of to-dos is mountainous. I find it hard to send my kids outdoors for hours when I have to be inside prepping meals, washing dishes, and making sure my house doesn't look like we had a recent visit from the tasmanian devil. Of course, I get outside myself when I can (and love heading to the park with the kids), but sometimes you just need them out of your hair.

When they're old enough, I'll have no qualms sending them off on their bikes into the neighbourhood. I tend to be fairly "free-range" in my parenting :) But right now at 2.5 and 5.5, my girls are not old enough to be let loose into the world without parental supervision.

So how do you ensure that your kids won't be banging at the back door to get back in?

Tips for Unstructured Outdoor Play

  1. Snacks: I don't know about you, but if my girls aren't well fed, they get whiny and unproductive. The great thing about summer is that you can set up a little picnic outdoors. This is where I like to sneak in the veggies - if I put out a huge plate of crudites and dip, I find the girls will eat LOADS as they run back and forth between their picnic and games
  2. Water Play: You don't want to leave young children around a body of water unsupervised - even a kiddie pool is dangerous. This is where sprinklers are very handy! If you're trying to be eco-friendly and conserve water, a water table is an amazing toy for any age. I also love these ideas for water play.
  3. Music: set up the boombox on the window sill (ok, fine, I guess it will be your iPod docking station and speakers) and pump the tunes. My girls LOVE dancing outside, and I'll supply them with long ribbons so they can do lots of twirling
  4. Games: organize an outdoor game that you know will take some time for the kids to complete. Scavenger hunts are amazing, although kids usually need some help along the way. An easier idea would be a good old fashioned obstacle course - there are some great tips and ideas on Pinterest! 
  5. Toys: What would outdoor playtime be like without some toys? Of course children love making up games with random sticks, but as they get older, they usually enjoy being challenged by play structures and other climb-on toys.

We recently had the chance to check out the Eezy Peezy Monkey Bars from Just Play Toy Rental.  If you haven't heard of them, JPTR is an amazing local toy rental service. You can "subscribe" to the service through a monthly fee, and have various toys dropped off to your house each month. Or, you can do what I did and pick one toy that you would like to rent. In the past we've tried out their travel toys for long car rides, and they've been a big hit.

Monkey Bars

They have an amazing selection of outdoor toys that would go a long way in supporting unstructured outdoor play. My girls loved the monkey bars (I've heard it's the most popular toy!), and I'm thinking we may book one of their birthday party packages for my daughter's 6th birthday. It saves me SO much time having to think about all the materials and games I would need to purchase. The toys/games are dropped off to your front door, and picked up again at a scheduled date. Eezy peezy!! ;)

So tell me - how will you support unstructured outdoor play for your kids this summer?

Disclaimer: I received the monkey bars from Just Play Toy Rental as a free trial in exchange for writing about them here on the blog. As usual, my opinions are all my own, and anyone who knows me knows I have lots of opinions :)


Reflections on Father's Day

I wrangled the kids to swimming lessons yesterday, while my husband got out early on the golf course. I barely had a moment to pause and reflect on Father's Day as I dealt with tantrums, crying and demands for snacks. 

My husband and our two girls

My husband and our two girls

It's funny that just two years ago it was me who truly needed a morning away from the kids. Off on maternity leave and dealing with a toddler and newborn, I was overwhelmed and tired. Mother's Day was a magical blessing - I celebrated the day by shirking my mothering responsibilities and spending some time alone. And I didn't feel an ounce of guilt!

My husband's not dealing with a newborn, but he's more involved in parenting than he's ever been before. As the primary caregiver, he gets up with the kids, makes breakfasts and school lunches, and shuffles them to and from school and activities. He cooks dinner five nights out of seven. And although we seem to marvel at men who do 50 (or 60 or 70) percent of the parenting/household duties, stay-at-home dads are growing in numbers. And not because they have to, but because they want to!

Although my own father was not the primary caregiver in our house, I realize now that his involvement in our family led me to marry a man that would take on his fair share. My own dad would cook dinner whenever he could, and still happily does the mountain of dishes after a meal. He never got to be a stay-at-home dad because his job was so demanding, but we certainly got to spend more time with him than other kids got to spend with their dads. When I was 16 I went on vacation to the UK alone with my dad - it seemed completely normal to us, but probably unheard of in some families.

My Dad and I on my wedding day

My Dad and I on my wedding day

I know that my husband's equal involvement in parenting is having a huge impact on my girls' development. Although they still run to Mommy when they're hurt, their closeness with Daddy means that they have a positive male role model in their lives. And science is telling us more about the impact that fathers have on daughters:

In one cohort study, the researchers found that "the quality of fathers' involvement with daughters was the most important feature of the early family environment in relation to the timing of the daughters' puberty."

Other impacts fathers can have on daughters?

  • Lower stress response

  • positive relationships into adulthood

  • self-esteem 

So taking time to reflect on Father's Day this year, I want to give a good ol' feminist shout out to the amazing men in my life - my own Dad, my incredible husband, my father-in-law and my brother (who is parenting a brand new little guy!) Thank you for raising strong daughters (and sons!), and for taking the time to build close relationships with your daughters.

Imaginary Friends: Taking reading to a new level!

I have a lot of friends who get to be involved in really cool things in their work and a few weeks ago a friend shared a Kickstarter campaign for Imaginary Friends. I watched it and got so excited I was ready to back the campaign on the spot. After a conversation with my friend she offered to send us a Beta version of the book for us to try out and I jumped on the opportunity. Turns out, it's as awesome as I expected and I think you should back the Kickstarter too. (For those of you who don't know, you pledge now but don't pay unless the goal is met. You're pledging to help them have the funds to create the product but in this case the timelines aren't too long and first products are going to ship in September.)

 

What is it?

It's a chapter book that is printed with each chapter as its own mini book. There are also activities that take the kids out of the story and into real life between each chapter. This includes scavenger hunts (for example, my son had to find all the pieces of a puzzle around our house based on clues we created), games on the computer and one game in our book even had our son exploring the neighbourhood using the gps on my iPhone.

Imaginary Friends set up stories that take kids outside of just reading. The way I see it there are advantages for all types of readers.

My son is an avid reader, sometimes it's hard to get him out of his room. The pause between each chapter for an activity had him up and running around and excited to take on another task. (I haven't seen him this enthusiastic about anything other than Minecraft in a long time!)

For a non avid reader, I can see the activities making reading feel more interactive and exciting and less "boring".

How it works

When you get the book, the parents are in charge of setting up an account and getting things rolling. There is an account for the parent to move the story forward and set up activities and there is an account for the kids to log in and play the games on the computer and get prompted to do activities (the games run on an ipod/iphone but it worked better on an actual computer). 

When we first started out I wanted it to seem magical that the games was leading him to things around our house but until I explained that we had been involved he would often just stare at the computer baffled at how to follow through within the computer game. Once that clicked he was thrilled and really got in to all the games.

 

Parents need to log in to their system to move to the next game and be ready to hand out the chapters one at a time, so it takes more involvement from the parent than a typical book but it was well worth it. There was one time when I thought the game wasn't working properly but it turned out I hadn't done my part in the parent part of the system so you just need to remember to do all the parts.

Who are these for?

They say they're targeted at 8-12 year olds. I think because my son is such an advanced reader that it seems to me it could be younger than that but I know most kids aren't devouring chapter books on their own at 6. I do think you could be even more involved and help with the games and the chapters and kids as young as 6 would really enjoy these stories.

I asked my 8 year old what he thought and here are a few of his points:

I liked getting to play a game between each chapter. (Books and video games, my son's favourite things! :)

I really liked the story because it was exciting, it had superheroes and the ending was kind of surprising.

It was surprising at the start because I didn’t know there would be games. In one of them the computer game told me to look for things in my own house and I couldn’t figure out how they did that. 

Now what?

Check out the Kickstarter. They only have 7 days left and they're 75% of the way to their goal. I liked the book so much that I bought their 4-book pack knowing we'd get the same book as we already have and planning to give it to someone as a gift. 

I love encouraging reading and making it even more fun by taking them outside of the books was a total win for me. We read Capes in the Family and I can't wait to get Circus of Mirrors in the Fall. Eventually I think we'll get one of their deluxe books that has artifacts and props. Because seriously - how cool is this idea!? So Cool!

The Imaginary Friends team put together a few freebies if you want to try things out. Check it all out to get a taste for the products.

Free Sample Kit: Try out some of Capes in the Family game now! http://try.imaginaryfriendbooks.com 

Free Father's Day Cards:  http://imaginaryfriendbooks.com/blog/2015/06/17/imaginary-friends-free-downloadable-fathers-day-cards/

Websitehttp://imaginaryfriendbooks.com

Connect with Imaginary Friends on TwitterFacebookPinterest and YouTube

Full disclosure: I was given a book for free to test out but wasn't asked to say anything specific. I really do just love this idea a lot :)