Ottawa's Top 5 Family-Friendly Neighbourhoods

By Matthew Birks

Though there are many reasons why our nation’s capital is a great place to live, it is an especially popular spot to settle down and raise a family. The city is wonderfully cultural and historically rich, with an abundance of family-friendly museums, galleries and educational facilities to explore. Above all else, Ottawa is a safe and peaceful city, which boasts a reliable public transit system and values bilingualism (all definite pluses!). Read on to discover our top 5 picks of the best family-friendly neighbourhoods Ottawa has to offer!

A beautiful stretch of homes in Barrhaven (photo credit: Mattamy Homes)

A beautiful stretch of homes in Barrhaven (photo credit: Mattamy Homes)

Barrhaven:
Barrhaven is a residential neighbourhood nestled into Ottawa’s suburbs. The area is the perfect spot to raise a family for countless reasons.  Rich with an abundance of French and English schools, Barrhaven boasts a superior school system. Parents can choose from a number of private and public options; the sheer number of which can make parents feel secure that they’ve made the best choice for their little one. The area is also home to a number of parks and playgrounds, which are sure to keep children happy, healthy and active during both winter and summer months. The Walter Baker Sports Centre is also a wonderful feature of Barrhaven. The complex is home to a library, two ice rinks for skating and hockey and an impressive pool equipped with a water slide (who doesn’t love water slides?) Barrhaven is a safe and suburban community with plenty of single-family homes to accommodate growing families. We are sure families will love it!  

Britannia Village:
Britannia Village is a group of neighbourhoods in Ottawa’s west end located right on the beauty of the Ottawa River.  Like other family-friendly neighbourhoods in the city, Britannia Village is wealthy, safe, wonderfully diverse and multicultural and also boasting a number of great schools. The Belltown Dome is perfect for recreational activities such as skating and hockey and Britannia Beach is a family-fun activity for young and old to enjoy (just hold tight until those warm, summer days roll back around—I promise they’re coming!). 

Glebe-Dows Lake:
Better known as the Glebe, this downtown neighbourhood is trendy, friendly and full of green spaces. One of Ottawa’s oldest neighbourhoods, the community is situated right on the Rideau Canal which makes it an ideal spot to jog, run, skate and take part in a host of other activities during both the summer and winter months. The area is also home to a wonderful school system, which gives parents a number of options to choose from. There are also a number of parks that pepper the area and serve as great spots for family outings. We are sure you will love the overall safety and family-friendly vibe that the neighbourhood offers!

Island Park:
Island Park is a beautifully quaint and picturesque community in Ottawa. The area is peaceful and safe and home to the scenic Island Park Drive, which is a landmark street of the area.  Amid the beautiful greenery that the neighbourhood has to offer, Island Park also boasts a great school system for young and old alike. 

Kanata Lakes:
Kanata Lakes is a beautiful, suburban neighbourhood in Ottawa’s west end. The area is safe, wealthy and diverse, with a number of elementary and secondary schools to choose from. The community is full of single-family homes and has a number of parks, playgrounds and sports fields for year-round outdoor fun and activities for kiddies of all ages. In terms of recreation and entertainment, Kanata Lakes is home to Kanata Theatre for all your cultural and intellectual needs and tennis, soccer, figure skating and hockey clubs as well. For those lazy, rainy days, don’t forget Landmark Theatres, the largest movie theatre in the city, which will prove the perfect outing for the entire family. 

Navut is a company that helps match people (mainly newcomers to Canada) with neighbourhoods suited to their desired lifestyle - read more about them in The Toronto Star. Check out their Neighborhood Finder to discover the perfect neighbourhood for you and your family!  

Do Babies Really Cost That Much?

By Misty Pratt, CD(DONA)

When we found out we were pregnant with my first, one of our concerns was whether we could afford to have a baby. You'd think a 28 year-old woman and 26 year-old man would be financially comfortable at that point in life, but we did what many others of our generation did - we went to school for a long time and racked up a lot of student debt!

My family doctor quickly dispelled the myth that babies cost a lot, and as I learned more about pregnancy, birth and postpartum, I realized he was right.

Did you know that many couples spend thousands of dollars on their first born? It's easy! We're told we *need* a giant list of essentials. And hey, we're new parents, what do we know?! If friends tell us we must buy a wipe warmer, we're bound to follow the advice.

In my blog post yesterday, I outlined some of the ways to prepare for life with a baby, including budgeting for a prenatal class and lactation consultant. My idea of "essentials" probably differs from the norm, but here are a few things that may help you save money and avoid the consumer trap:

1. Registries are great, as you can direct your friends and family to purchase truly useful items. A friend of mine created a registry for second-hand baby items!

2. Shop consignment - you'll find items that are practically brand new, at a much lower cost.

3. Ask around - we're all trying to reduce the amount of "stuff" we have laying around our house. You probably know many people who are done having babies, so do them a favour and take the baby things off their hands!

4. Don't buy the "trendy" items (think Bumbo) - these are things that you'll use for 2-3 weeks, and then discover, a) your baby detests the toy/machine/play thing; or b) it only worked for a short period of time. If you really want to try out the trendy item, ask to borrow one from a friend!

5. Remember that newborns are simple beings - they won't want to play with toys, and if you try shaking something in front of their face, they're bound to yawn and go to sleep. Your newborn wants three things - milk, warm arms, and sleep!

So what do you absolutely need to have? Here are my thoughts, and feel free to add to the list in the comments below!

- car seat
- some kind of sleeping surface, unless you want to co-sleep (which contrary to popular opinion, is not dangerous if done right). A bassinet or crib beside your bed works well.
- clothing (your baby will stay in PJs for a number of weeks....or if you're like me, months)
- diapers: cloth or disposable
- baby blankets and wash cloths
- good nursing bras

And that's it....really. There are SO many "nice-to-have" items - a sling or wrap will probably save your arms! And there are many things down the road that you might find you need (e.g. bottles perhaps). But if you're worried about money, and wanting to simplify the process, focus on the essentials.

Did you find you spent a lot of money on your first born?

 

Ottawa Gears Up to Cut Newborn and New Parent Services

By Misty Pratt, CD(DONA)

Did you read this article in the Ottawa Citizen? In short, public health services in Ottawa for newborns and new parents may be cut, in order to balance the budget in 2015.

Currently, all new parents in Ottawa receive a telephone call from a public health nurse in the days following birth. It's a check-in to assess for any potential issues, and provides follow-up or referrals to other resources (lactation consultants, postpartum depression resources etc.) Furthermore, Ottawa Public Health runs free prenatal classes at local library branches, which have become quite popular since The Ottawa Hospital cut their classes back in 2012 - it's unclear from the article whether these classes will be cut.

Maternal morbidity in the postpartum period can extend beyond the first several days, and early intervention is key - health problems such as incontinence, headaches, perineal pain, infection and postpartum depression are common, yet go unreported when new mothers are dealing with the care of a newborn. Furthermore, our dismal breastfeeding rates after several weeks postpartum point to a clear lack of support and information related to breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding

What's a parent to do? If you are expecting a baby this year (or planning for the future), I strongly encourage you to provide feedback to the Ottawa Board of Health. Beyond that, I've offered a number of tips below:

  • Get a midwife: midwives have a much better track record than doctors for postpartum support - following you throughout the first 6 weeks postpartum, you are visited at home in the first week, and have the option of contacting your midwife to talk about any specific problems you may be facing.
  • Check out the Monarch Centre: a brand new health facility which supports parents in the postpartum period. You will have access to newborn health physicians, nurses and certified lactation consultants.
  • Budget for a good prenatal class: if the city cancels its prenatal education program, parents will have no choice but to pay privately for a class. As a doula, I can't stress enough the importance of taking a class - the average will run you between $125-$150. Your parents want to get you something special for the baby? This is it!
  • Budget for a lactation consultant: if you plan to breastfeed, definitely put $160 away (the cost of a 2-hour consultation with an IBCLC).
  • Consider hiring a Postpartum Doula: these special doulas help facilitate your transition to new parenthood. Find out more by clicking here.

I know what you're thinking: "that's a lot of money, Misty, and how is it fair that I pay out of pocket for this?" 

It's not fair. But it seems to be the reality here in Ontario, as more and more cuts are made to essential social services. Politicians, nurses, educators and healthcare providers are all doing their best, but the system has significant gaps (that said, the Citizen article made it clear that services would still be available to disadvantaged populations). So it's up to most parents to fill in those gaps - and it's not impossible! Check back tomorrow as I provide tips on how to save money AND have a baby!

So tell me - did you find Ottawa Public Health services to be helpful after you had a baby? And how much of your own money did you spend on support and information?

Worth a Visit: Quitters Coffee

We're introducing a new series here on Kids in the Capital - every Tuesday we'll be sharing a place that's worth visiting with your kids in the Ottawa region. It could be a store or restaurant, a park, an event/activity, you name it! Have a special place you'd like to share? Submit your ideas to kidsinthecapital@gmail.com.

There are many great coffee shops around town, but Quitters Coffee (which opened in late 2014), is a real gem. Never mind that it's owned and operated by a famous Ottawan (which is cool enough), but the ambiance, treats and yes, coffee, make it worth the trip with your little ones. Just make sure you're feeding your kids the treats and not the coffee ;)

Quitters Coffee.jpg

My 2 year-old daughter and I took a trip there several weeks back, while en route to drop something off to a friend. I'd heard of Quitters, and had wanted to check it out, but living in Orleans makes it quite the drive. I can now say it's worth it! I don't think I'll be stopping by for my morning coffee, but it's a great place to meet up with friends once in a while (and lucky you if you live in Stitsville!)

Croissants were warm and fresh, just out of the oven. My daughter gobbled one down in no time, and I enjoyed a really nice coffee. 

I was encouraged to see several other children there, and a mama breastfeeding her baby. The openness of the place makes it suitable for kids, although it might be difficult to deal with your stroller - I would park and use a carrier or sling instead! Also, the bathrooms need a change table, but they're so clean, I just changed my daughter on the floor!

My favourite part? The beautiful dog wandering around greeting customers. Anyone who is cool with allowing dogs hang out in a coffee shop has to be a pretty awesome person, in my humble opinion (but those with allergies, take note!)

Have you been to Quitters? What did you think?

Choosing the Right Camp for Your Child

As a child, I attended some really amazing day and overnight camps (thumbs up Toronto Zoo and Scarborough Music Camp!!) I have so many fond memories of camp – meeting new friends, honing new skills, learning independence and eating SO MUCH SUGAR. I also attended some not so good camps, and a couple of really, really bad camps.

Summer camp

It’s stressful as a working parent to find childcare for March break and the summer months. We would love to have 12 weeks of vacation each year to spare, but alas, The Boss limits us to 3 or 4 (more if you’re lucky!)

So when it comes time to pick a day or overnight camp, many parents struggle to find the right one. “Will my child enjoy themselves? Will they be safe? Will they learn something?” These are all important questions we ask ourselves once registration begins.

I turned to a friend of mine, local photographer and mother Kim Brooks (of Breathe In Photography). In a past life, Kim was a camp director, and eventually went on to consult with camps around health, safety, and camper and staff experiences.  She gave me some questions she would be sure to ask before she sent her own daughter to camp. 

“There are standards set out by the Ontario Camps Association (OCA), for example, that would be a great starting point” says Brooks. These standards deal with all aspects of a camp – leadership, training, direction, safety and financial management. Camps don’t have to be approved by the OCA to be well-run, but the website provides information to parents on how to choose a camp (see 10 Questions to Ask a Camp Director)

Ultimately, Brooks says it’s up to us parents to do our research. “If you can meet the directors of the camps you hope to send your child to, that’s a great plan. Get a good vibe, and ask some questions around emergency procedures, camper to staff ratios, training that the staff receives, menu plans,  the age and qualifications of the staff, and the rate of turnover for both campers and staff.”  Many camps have open houses which is a great opportunity to learn many of these things and to meet the staff.

Here are some more tips:

1.  Leadership: how long has the director been there? Do they seem passionate about their job, and willing to answer any questions you have?

2.  Site: will your child stay on-site, or be bused to another location? “Going off-site for swimming, for example, would lead me to ask more questions around how they manage off-site visits.  Who is responsible for lifeguarding?” says Brooks. Also, if children are near a body of water, very clear safety measures need to be in place. Brooks advises parents to find out about life jacket policies, and ensure children wear them at all times on the water.

3.  Head counts: how often will camp staff do head counts? How quickly will they learn campers’ names?  “I feel more comfortable when my child’s leader knows her name by day two - to me that shows camper focus and that is very important to her experience,” says Brooks.

4.  What will campers do when it rains?

5.  If the camp is overnight, how are children supervised during the night? Is there a nurse on-staff in case of illness?

6.  References: check with other parents in your area. Everyone will have a different experience, but word-of-mouth is a great way to weed out the camps that are poorly managed vs the ones that children and families return to year after year.

7.  Gut feeling: don’t discount your spidey senses! If you don’t get a great feeling from the camp director or other staff, begin to look elsewhere.

We’re all strapped for time, but doing your due diligence will make a big difference in your child’s experience. They’ll either leave with lifelong memories, or run screaming the next time you mention the word “camp.” That said, don’t stress if your child has a less than stellar experience at camp. Sometimes it’s out of your control – which makes me think of the story of my uncle, who discovered he was allergic to horses…at horse camp :)

Happy Camping!