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!

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?

Family Workshops at Nepean Visual Arts Centre

I had the pleasure of checking out a family workshp last month with the Nepean Visual Arts Centre (located at the Nepean Sportsplex.) The workshop was called "Trim Your Tree," and no, this didn't involve saws ;) This two hour workshop led us through two holiday ornaments for decorating the house and tree.

Family workshops are offered for one fee per family (maximum 4 participants,) but I had brought my 7 year-old alone. There is no age range, but your children should be interested in sitting for 2 hours and able to concentrate on the project. A 3 or 4 year-old may not have that patience.

We started with the feature craft - hand-painted Reindeer! We were supplied with the pre-cut/glued reindeer, and a huge table full of paints and decorations were at our disposable. There were four different reindeer samples to look at, but we were encouraged to be creative! Steps were broken down into manageable tasks, and my 7 year-old had no problem at all following along.

After the reindeer were painted, they got their faces and were adorned with bells, ribbons, stickers and stamps. We then took a break, and the workshop facilitator came in with delicious cookies and hot chocolate with marshmallows - YUM!

We finished the afternoon off with an ornament for the tree. My daughter was sad it was over, and said "when can we come back?" I loved the one-on-one quality time with her, and getting creative without having all the mess in my house was a bonus! 

Looking ahead, NVAC will be offering "Parent & Me" pottery classes in 2017. I'm excited to sign us up. If you're looking for last minute stocking stuffers, a gift certificate to NVAC or NCAC (Nepean Creative Arts Centre) would be make the perfect gift. Or sign your child up for a workshop or class, and make them a cute gift card that they can open on Christmas morning!

How do you like to get creative with your kids?

Holiday Activities for Kids in Ottawa

The holidays can be the perfect opportunity to spend quality time together as a family, but once the festivities of Christmas and Boxing Day are over, children can get a little stir crazy! With that in mind, here is a list of holiday activities for kids in Ottawa that will keep your kids busy, entertained and make for some incredible memories too! 

At the end of the post you will find a giveaway for THREE of the activities listed below (keep reading to find out which ones!).

1) Visit a Museum

museum-of-history-christmas

Ottawa has many great museums, and my kids really enjoy the Children's Museum at the Canadian Museum of History. I'll never forget a frigid day spent there last year, checking out the latest exhibits

2) Check out Christmas Lights Across Canada on Parliament Hill

Last year almost 20,000 people gathered on Parliament Hill to take in the sights and sounds of Christmas Lights Across Canada multimedia show (playing until Christmas Day).  In addition to the show, don't forget all the lights! Go for a walk in Confederation Park to see thousands of holiday lights on display. The lights are on display until January 7, 2017. 

3) Ride a Rollercoaster at Funhaven

Did you know Funhaven now has a rollercoaster? In fact, it's the ONLY rollercoaster in Ottawa! The Crazy 8 rollercoaster was custom-manufactured in Italy this past summer specifically for Funhaven. It was featured at the International Amusement and Attractions Expo in Orlando this November, before being shipped to Ottawa for installation. The rollercoaster is in addition to the other fun offerings of Funhaven including laser tag, bumper cars, a laser maze, mini-bowling, a jungle gym with soft air cannons, and a climbing wall.

 4) Visit Gatineau Playground Park

Grab the kids and head over to Gatineau for some indoor play from December 27th to 30th from 10am to 5pm at the Complexe Branchaud-Briere in Gatineau. This fun indoor playground features inflatables for kids under 5 as well as electric karts. There is also Teen Zone with extreme race inflatables, Just Dance consoles, and seven life size games. There is also a sports zone where kids can try new sports and different activities depending on the day.

5) Spend an evening at Alight the Night

Alight the night

Bundle up and get ready for a walk through a beautifully lit holiday-themed Upper Canada Village. This year Alight the Night features a Mistletoe Maze, a snow block-style maze made up of over 300 giant, white-wrapped bales of reindeer hay. There is also the a ferris wheel, which provides a unique view of the village below. As always, there is also old-fashioned horse-drawn carriage rides.

6) Take them to see The Blizzard Of Oz

After two successful runs of Freezing - The Musical, Ottawa Musicals is thrilled to bring The Blizzard of Oz to the Gladstone Theatre for ONE WEEK ONLY - January 3rd to 8th. This marks their 3rd annual family musical in the style of a panto. The heroine, Dottie, gets lost in a snowstorm and ends up in a strange land. Along the way she meets Bob Cat, Al Loy and The Faircrow. Lost in the big city, they get help from Glenda the Good while they try to stop Wanda the Wicked from taking over the Ruby Slipper Cafe. A twisted story full of music, dance, larger than life characters, jokes for both the young and old, local Ottawa references and more. You will be over the rainbow while you laugh, tap your toes and boo the bad guy in this year’s all new family musical. The Blizzard of Oz runs for ONE WEEK ONLY. Once tickets are gone, they’re gone. 

7) Go Swimming

Fun and affordable, a family swim can be just what you need to soothe tired muscles after a day of skiing. Or maybe it's been too cold for skiing, and your kids need to get their sillies out! Check out the City of Ottawa's public swim schedule - our kids LOVE the wave pools.

8) Go Bowling

Do you have fond memories of bowling as a kid? I promise parents, it's just as fun as it used to be ;) It's a great way to get the kids out of the house for a couple of hours, especially if temperatures are frigid. Check out Orleans Bowling or Merivale Bowling Centre!

9) Snowshoe or Cross-country ski in Gatineau Park

The snow this year is perfect for winter sports! Gatineau Park has one of the largest networks of trails in North America and has over 60 kilometres of snowshoe trails, varying in difficulty (rated from easy to difficult). Many trails lead to unique historic buildings and scenic views. Dress warmly, pack some hot chocolate and plan for an exciting day of outdoor play.

10) Go Skating

Our recent frigid temperatures mean many outdoor community rinks are open, including the Sens Rink of Dreams located outside of Ottawa City Hall on Laurier Avenue. For a complete list of outdoor rinks and their conditions, visit the city's interactive online map.

Giveaway

For one lucky family, we are giving away:

A Friends and Family Combo to Funhaven (including 1 game of laser tag and $5 bonus FunCards per person, and access to the climbing wall, jungle gym, and bumper cars);

AND a family 4-pack of tickets to see The Blizzard of Oz;

AND a family pass (5 people, max 2 adults) to the Canadian Museum of History!!

Use the Rafflecopter below to enter - you can submit as many or as few entries as are allowed! Contest closes at noon on Friday December 23rd. You must be a resident of Ottawa, and available to use the tickets to The Blizzard of Oz, January 3rd to the 8th. Good luck!!

Family Fun Activities: Pokemon GO

Pokemon GO came out at the beginning of summer and it's been really popular ever since. I've wanted to write this post for a few weeks, but to be honest I was just too busy playing the game to sit down and write!

Some people seem to think that Pokemon GO is just another time wasting game but based on what I've experienced and witnessed, it's actually a great way to get your family out of the house and active together. Today I'm sharing a few of the reasons I think it's a great family activity.  

I'm not going to get into TOO many details on how the game works in this post, but if you want me to break it down into a "what is it and how do I play?" post, leave a comment and I'll do that next week!

1) You gotta move

In order to find the Pokemon (unless you're using some kind of "cheat" which you really shouldn't be) you have to get up and walk around and explore new places. You can't sit in your house and find lots of Pokemon, you need to go for walks.

Not only do you need to go looking for Pokemon, but you get eggs that you need to incubate, and to incubate them, you need to walk (there are 2km, 5km and 10 km eggs for example.) So, we go on evening Pokewalks and when my kids need to get outside but are just in a mood where no idea appeals to them, I'll often give them the phone and a destination to walk to and see if they can incubate an egg (this obviously depends on the age of your kid though).
 


2) You get to explore new places

Want a reason to go and look at monuments and talk about the history of a city? Play Pokemon GO with your kids because monuments, statues, murals, etc. are generally PokeStops (a PokeStop is where you go to get supplies such as Pokeballs, which you need to catch Pokemon, potions to revive and heal your Pokemon when they've been in a battle, and other cool things).  You need to go to PokeStops to keep playing the game and PokeStops can be really fun to explore.

We have walked around Confederation Park, Pembroke, Cobden, Renfrew, World Exchange Plaza and Sparks Street, and the deal is that whenever possible, we stop and see just what the PokeStop is all about.

We've seen cool statues, fountains, read the war memorial statues and explored the waterfront in Pembroke and my kids and husband went on a crazy bridge in Renfrew (I have a fear of bridges, so I stayed on land and took a photo, :)

3) Combine it with other activities

Some people have told me they think geocaching is better. I think geocaching is amazing and since my husband doesn't really enjoy Pokemon GO he has taken the opportunity to be out in new places to find the caches that are often in some of the similar places as you can find many PokeStops. We're getting to do both at the same time and the kids really enjoy both aspects of it.

Other ways you can combine it with activities is to go to farmer's markets or see if anyone is hosting a Lure Party. (A Lure Party is when a PokeStop has someone activate a lure which attracts more Pokemon. If you see a PokeStop with pink dots hovering around it, someone activated a lure so you're sure to catch more Pokemon than usual there. Sometimes business owners will activate the lures to make coming to their store or business fun for the whole family. I know some farmer's markets have done this, as well as business associations. It's a fun and smart way to combine activities - one person shops (my husband) while I catch Pokemon and let my kids help. :)

Use it as an opportunity to teach 

There are a lot of things that come up when playing Pokemon Go with your kids that are great lessons to teach.

Don't walk and play. The phone will buzz if there is a Pokemon around so know where you're going, walk with eyes ahead, and then stop and look down when needed. You hear all kinds of stories about people walking into traffic. This can happen with far more than just Pokemon GO, use it as an opportunity to talk about being safe.

Some people feel that people are trespassing to play Pokemon GO. Again, this is an opportunity to teach your kids about trespassing and privacy, and about the importance of not going places you aren't supposed to be. Playing together adds the opportunity to do this.

A few words of warning:

- Pokemon GO drains your cell battery really quickly. Make sure to have a full charge before you go out and maybe even bring a battery pack along with you.

- Pokemon GO data usage isn't horrible, but be aware and check in on how much you're using so you don't end up suddenly using your data for them month. It seems quite similar to other map apps so if you keep those on during long drives, this wouldn't be different.

- It can be addictive to the parents as well as the kids. So I hear anyways ;)

Over all, I think the Pokemon GO can be a really fun family activity and it's motivating to many people to get outside and moving. In my opinion it's a great example of how games can make life MORE social, because we have met up with friends in parks to go Pokemon hunting together. Games don't need to make you sedentary and antisocial, they can motivate you to get out of the house when it otherwise would be hard, move, and hang with friends!

Do you play Pokemon GO?