5 Earth Day Activities for Kids

April 22nd is Earth Day, a day to celebrate nature, get outside, purposely do something “green,” and it's a great opportunity to teach children how they can do their part to help preserve and protect our planet. And while crafts can be a fun way to learn about Earth Day, getting your children involved (and outside) is even more fun!

earth day activities for kids

Plant a tree

When my daughter was one we started an apple tree from seed. We nurtured it indoors until it was ready to be planted outside and now it’s the same height as her. There is nothing more educational or rewarding then watching a tree sprout and grow from seed or seedling. If you plant a tree, take the time to explain to your children why trees are so important (their ability to absorb carbon dioxide), and let them know it will grow up just as they do. My daughter loves measure herself against our little apple tree.

Build a bat house

I got the idea to build a bat house from the Wild Kratts, but I love it because it gets kids closer to a creature some may find scary. Building a bat house is not hard (here is a link to the bat house mentioned in the Wild Kratts). As with tree planting, building a bat house is a great opportunity to teach kids where bats fit into our ecosystem and why they are important. They eat insects and in many parts of the world they are also plant pollinators.

Collect garbage

Grab some garbage bags, put on some gloves and head to your local parks and trails and start cleaning up! The windy winter always leaves a lot of garbage behind—Earth Day is a great opportunity to get outside and clean up the neighbourhood. While picking up garbage you can explain how garbage can be damaging to wildlife, including how they can get stuck in plastic containers or cut themselves on glass.

Plant a monarch butterfly garden

Monarch butterflies are endangered, so why not plant a monarch butterfly garden and teach kids what plants they are attracted to and why butterflies are important! Plant some milkweed so the monarch butterfly can lay its eggs on it and so their caterpillars have something to eat (did you know they only like milkweed? Luckily, many garden centres now sell this once hard to find plant seed). Like bees, butterflies are pollinators, so their existence is very important to the survival and success of our own food sources.

Have an earth day scavenger hunt

This is a great activity for younger kids. Create a scavenger hunt based on things found in nature, such as pinecones, rocks, flowers, and leaves. A nature-based scavenger hunt is a good way to help younger children learn more about nature as well as get them outside! Another idea is to go to your local library and find a bird watching book, then go for a hike and see how many kinds of birds you can spot and make a list!

There are many ways to get your children involved in learning about, appreciating, and protecting our earth. It can be as easy as religiously recycling, using reusable bags and making a conscious effort to conserve water. By taking the time to teach them now, they will hopefully carry this knowledge with them and share it for generations to come.

How do you celebrate nature and make Earth Day fun and educational for your kids?

Easter at the farm

By Tom Stacey

We got a chance to check out all of the Easter weekend activities at the Agriculture and Food Museum on Good Friday, and the girls had a blast!

The highlight of the visit was (of course) the baby animals. One calf had been born just that morning, and there were also sweet little lambs and piglets.

farm pig.JPG

New this year is a rabbit agility demonstration (of course we always knew those bunnies were agile!!) This is presented by the Renfrew County 4-H Rabbit Club, and located under the covered pavilion outside.

Another favourite activity is the annual Easter Egg hunt, which is located in the horse and cattle barn's lobby. The girls got to take home three eggs each (although let's be honest - these were consumed long before that.)

The kitchen was doing a really cool demonstration on cocoa beans, and how we transform the bean into chocolate. Chocolate cake was served to all the kids!

For a full listing of all the activities, check out the farm's website for more information. Activities run until Monday April 17th.

Tomorrow is looking quite rainy, but the museum has many buildings where you can take cover with the family. And bonus, crowds are usually smaller on rainy days!!

Happy Easter Ottawa!

Choosing a soccer league for your child

I have a seven year-old who wants to do EVERYTHING. Over the past few months she's asked to try karate, soccer, pottery, dance, road hockey and forest school. 

As much as I love her enthusiasm and want her to try it all, I realize this is a) not realistic; and b) not affordable. So we have asked her to focus on one thing she'd really love to try, and she chose soccer.

My daughter did Sportball when she was younger, learning some basic skills and just having fun with the ball. I didn't go further than that because she was never keen to wear proper cleats, shin pads or the team uniform.

Can you spot my kid? :)

Can you spot my kid? :)

But all of a sudden she has grown up, and realizes that proper equipment means she can participate and feel comfortable. For a kid with many clothing sensitivities, it's a huge win to have her willing to wear a uniform.

I started looking at soccer league options, and was immediately confused. What was best? A city program? A soccer league run by volunteers? A soccer league with certified coaches? The option for her to play competitively at some point down the road?

I put the question out in our Facebook Group, and got a LOAD of information. I've put together a few things parents mentioned - you may want to consider some of these when choosing a soccer team or league.

Location and times

This seemed to be the most common thread from parents - choose a league where the location is close to you, and the times of the practices and games are doable for your family. It's going to cause a lot of stress if you are driving all over the city, or missing work to rush home for an early meet.

Long-term development and competition

Many leagues have a development soccer programs for youth. The goal in the younger years is not to push kids to the max - this way, they learn to enjoy the sport. Player positions are not assigned for younger kids, and many leagues don't even play games until a special festival weekend. At this stage, children are working on basic skills, often in groups instead of teams.

One suggestion I received is to ask if the children will be grouped in the same group, or if they're switching each week. Different groupings make it hard for kids to make friends, and can take away from some of the social aspect of the sport.

If at some point your child shows an aptitude for the sport, there are leagues that will funnel into competitive programs.

Volunteer coaches vs. certified coaches

Some leagues are run by parent volunteers, whereas others are run by certified coaches. As you can imagine, the coaching ability will vary widely when it comes to parents - some are naturals, while others require a bit of, um, work. 

I've heard some parents share positive experiences about volunteer-run leagues, whereas others feel that is too much of a gamble (will you get the great coach, or the not-so-great coach?) 

Cost

I've seen anywhere from $100 - $190 for the season. If this cost is prohibitive for your family, there are a number of programs that support low-income families:

- some clubs will lower the fee if parents volunteer

- the club may have scholarship programs, so be sure to check before you register

- Canadian Tire JumpStart program

- KidSport Canada

- Minding our Bodies Youth Grants

Competitive soccer is a whole other ballgame (no pun intended.) Parents are looking at hundreds of dollars in fees for the season. We're not there yet, and not sure we'll ever be, but it's good to know!

Finally, the last piece of advice I received was to get involved - make sure the rules and guidelines are clear. Find out if there are ways to volunteer (even for rotating snack!) This way you can see if coaches are encouraging team play and a supportive atmosphere. Sports at any age need to be FUN!

Is your child in a soccer league? What do you love about it?

The Vegetable Gardener and The Art of Seed Saving

A couple of years ago, after seeing a pattern in the kinds of vegetables my family and I like to grow in our vegetable garden, I decided to look into seed saving to see if I could reuse various seeds from our family's homegrown favourites.

When I started seed saving, I wasn’t sure what I had to do before preserving them or if I could just through them in a Ziplock bag (or the freezer) and forget about them until spring.

Luckily, there are resources dedicated to teaching keen gardeners how to preserve their seeds so they can use them again. USC Canada is an organization dedicated to the preservation of seeds as well as the sale and consumption of good (ecological) seeds—non GMO seeds, and non hybridized seeds that still maintain their flavour and nutrients.

USC Canada has a handy seed saving document that not only details seed harvesting information, but also information on how to clean the seeds as well as how long the seeds will maintain their viability. For example, did you know you can store carrot seeds for three years and tomato for five years?

Seed saving is not difficult or time consuming. Once you have mastered it, saving seeds will save you money (and the time it takes to remember to order or go to the store and purchase them every spring).

What you need to know to save seeds

The procedure to save seeds depends on the type of fruit or vegetable, but, for example the tomato – if you are like me you probably have an over abundance of tomatoes at the end of the growing season. Well, take one or two of your overripe, soft tomatoes and scrape out the jelly with seeds into a jar and cover with water. Leave it to ferment for three or four days (or until it gets mouldy). Then decant with new water and throw away any floating seeds – only keeping the ones that did not float. Then spread them on a paper towel and let them dry out for about a week. Then put them in a paper bag or envelope and store them for up to 5 years! The key is to make sure your seeds are completely dried out before storing them.

Why save seeds

In addition to saving money, by saving seeds you are helping to preserve the genetic diversity of fruits and vegetables.

By saving seeds from fruits and vegetables that grow well and eventually building up enough stock to rotate what you grow in your garden every year, you are helping to maintain genetic seed diversity and keep various species of fruit and vegetable plants alive and well.

How to get the kids involved

Getting your children involved is a great way to get them interested in the environment, food, and sustainability. It's also a great way to show children where their food came from, and how they can produce it themselves (and keep producing it).

Younger children love to get their hands dirty! Let them help harvest the seeds from the chosen fruits and vegetables. You can also throw in some math lessons by having them help count the seeds.

Seed saving and recycling makes for a great science experiment for kids of any age and, regardless of how old you are, if you like gardening there is always a sense of pride and satisfaction when the first sprouts breaks out of the seed and dirt to say hello.

For more information on seed saving, as well as "good" seed companies (I buy mine from Cubit's Seed Co.), visit USC Canada.

Do you save seeds? From what fruits and vegetables? Leave a comment and let us know.

 

5 Family-Friendly Ottawa Trails

The warmer weather is here (hopefully to stay), which means it’s a great opportunity to venture out to one of the many family-friendly trails in Ottawa.  Although some trails are open year-round for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, spring opens up further opportunities to get outside and explore during what is usually a quieter time of year on the trails.

Of course, the term “family-friendly” is subjective. If you have a stroller some of the trails may be a little difficult to navigate. Mer Bleue, which has a boardwalk trail, may be okay. The idea is that these trails are not difficult to walk, are not overly long to complete, and are scenic - offering kids of all ages a chance to explore the best that Mother Nature has to offer in Ottawa.

Ottawa trails

1) Mud Lake Trail

Located along the Ottawa River in west Ottawa, Mud Lake is a 2-kilometre trail through deciduous swampland. It is a popular migratory stop for many species of birds (over 250 bird species have apparently been recorded there!) and this area is currently being studied for its invasive plant species. There are tall pines, lake views and you can walk over to Britannia Beach from the trail.

This area is very unique and the trail is a great length for younger kids. Because this is an ecologically sensitive area, visitors are asked to not pick plants, and not capture or handle any animals. Free parking.

2) Mer Bleue Bog Trail

A popular trail in the east end, Mer Bleue Bog Trail follows a boardwalk that loops around the wetland. This 1.2 km trail is short enough that young kids can explore it with ease. There are other trails off the boardwalk as well for older kids or those looking for more outdoor adventure. Parking is free.

3) Stony Swamp Trails

Located in Southwest Ottawa, Stony Swamp has over 40 kilometres of trails, some of which connect to the Trans Canada Trail. Some of the more family-friendly ones include Jack Pine Trail, which crosses over beaver tails, and Sarsaparilla Trail, which has a lookout over a beaver pond. The Wild Bird Care Centre is also located along Stony Swamp. Free parking outside the trail entrances.

4) Shirley’s Bay

In addition to 7 kilometers of hiking trails, Shirley’s Bay also has 19 kilometres of walking trails. The shoreline trail (tail #10) is a 4 km loop that provides great views of the Ottawa River. This is also a great spot to bring your canoe or kayak, as well as a picnic lunch!

5) Green’s Creek

A great tail for older kids, Green’s Creek has some steeper hills, but offers some unique urban ruins, including ruins from an old train trestle bridge. If you're looking for something a little different and about more than just bird watching and nature, this is a great trail to try.

Before venturing out with the family for a leisurely hike, here are a few tips:

1)    Pack bug spray. Once the snow melts and the temperatures rise, remember the bug spray! This is especially important in early spring when the black flies make their appearance.

2)    Wear shoes and socks. Ticks and Lyme disease are on the rise in Eastern Ontario and although not all the paths and trails have long grass, many do. Ticks also like to hide out in cedars and other bushes.

3)    Don’t forget snacks and water. Kids get hungry and thirsty, so it’s great to be prepared. When their tummy rumbles half way through the hike you have some snacks to get them through… also some special treats are a good incentive if they suddenly don’t want to walk anymore.

4)    Don’t get burned. Even in spring the sun can be strong, so remember the sunscreen, sunglasses and hats!

5) Dogs are not always welcome. While some Ottawa trails welcome dogs, some do not. You’re always best to check the NCC website to ensure your furry family member is welcome