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?

Parenting tips: What to bring to the cottage

by Amanda I grew up in the country where dirt biking, wood piling and frequenting lakes where a regular part of my childhood. We lived extremely close to many lakes and most of our family members and friends either lived on a lake or had a cottage. We had access to many great spots for spending our days.

There is nothing like jumping off a dock into refreshing water, cutting in and out of the wake as you water ski and wearing a bathing suit all day long as you bbq and relax in the outdoors.

Whether you are visiting a local beach, heading to a friends cottage or renting this summer here are some of my favourite (and need items!) to bring along with you if you have children in tow.

  • Bathing suits and towels (of course!), hats and sunscreen.
  • Water shoes- even if there is a sandy beach and the water bottom is smooth you never know if you will discover a new area that is a bit rougher or be walking through the woods with uneven ground or rocks.  They are also nice for hot days when some surfaces get extremely hot where your little one may be walking. We put our son's water shoes on and he wears them to the cottage and we know we have them with us should he need them.
  • Sand toys. No beach nearby, just water? No problem! Use buckets, shovels and beach toys in the water, use buckets to clean off feet after walking back up to the cottage, use them to collect rocks, leaves and other nature memorabilia!
  • Sidewalk chalk- this can come in handy and keep children busy for hours as they colour rocks, trees, the deck and more! Super easy clean up the next time it rains or by using those sand buckets full of water to clean it up!
  • Bubbles. Okay what kid doesn’t like bubbles? Seriously!
  • Pool noodles, lifejacket and a ball! This can lead to hours of fun playing in and around the water.
  • Heading out to a cottage for a few days? Head to the dollar store and stock up on a few colouring books, crayons, stickers and other things that can keep the kids occupied indoors if and when needed.
  • Don’t bring too many pieces of clothing, towels, etc. It’s the cottage! Rinse it out in the lake and hang it over a chair to dry!
  • Designate a large blanket or old sheet that you can keep in your car for beach days or sitting by the water to enjoy a picnic.

What are your must have items when heading to the beach or the lake for a day, two or even a week?!

Amanda is a mom to a 2 year old boy and 4 month old baby girl.  When she is not out having fun with the kids you can find her getting her yoga on at www.littlelotusyoga.ca

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Flash back: Surviving the Cottage with kids

We have so many great posts from last year that are still very relevant so we're going to bring some back from time to time.  Here's one Vicky wrote last year about going to the cottage with kids. by Vicky

On a bit of a whim, I booked a week’s holiday at a cottage with a friend and her family. I found it on www.cottagelink.com, and it looked beautiful. One of the features that sold me instantly was that it was owned by a family with young children, so everything we needed was already provided: highchair, crib, change table, toys, toys and more toys, picnic table, wagon, playstructure etc. Also the water was only a foot deep off the dock, so despite not having a beach, it was shallow enough to enjoy with my 1 year old.

This was my first experience renting a cottage with kids. I’ve been lucky to have friends with cottages and have enjoyed many summer holidays by the lake since I was a teenager. But this time was different. It was great to see the kids enjoying the water and playing outside, but it wasn’t what I would call a relaxation vacation. Someone still has to cook, clean and get the kids in bed so it’s not exactly a break for the parents.

That being said, I definitely think I’ll try it again next summer, and I’ll be better prepared for it with this list of tips on how to survive a week at the cottage with kids.

  1. Portable DVD player – your best friend. If you don’t have a built in DVD player in your car, this is the next best thing. Throw a movie on, with headphones, and you’re guaranteed a quiet trip. Also this is great for a bit of quiet time in the afternoon if the cottage has no TV or cable.
  2. Plan your meals ahead of time. Make a quick menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and pack food items you already have at home. Make a grocery list and pick up what you need before you go or in the closest town if that’s possible (or if space in your car is limited). You don’t need to stick to the menu per say, but when kids are hungry you won’t be running around trying to figure out what to cook for lunch.
  3. Do not over pack clothes. I brought WAY too much for the kids – a different outfit for every day, plus extras. What happened was that my son stayed in his bathing suit all day long with a pair of crocs. Shirts can be rung out and hung to dry, and most cottage towns have a Laundromat for emergencies (like being thrown up on, twice!)
  4. Bring long-legged PJs for evenings. Cottages can be sweltering during the day, but get cool at night.
  5. Swimming tires kids out! If you are trying to get a nap out of your kids, get them into the lake just before nap or bed time. If you can also give them a bath in the lake, you’ll speed up the bedtime process (speaking of which can anyone recommend a good biodegradable baby shampoo or soap?)
  6. Bring a box of activities to keep them busy. I brought colouring books, activity books and paints which were all used. Why not try making a nature scavenger hunt that you can work on during the week?
  7. If you are cottaging with friends, it helps to have similar aged kids so they can play together. My 3 year old got bored quickly with the 3 babies he had as playmates.
  8. Explore the nature! There are so many learning opportunities around that will keep kids busy - go for nature walks, look for frogs, or feed the fish bread off the dock.
  9. Expect that normal routines may not be easy to follow when you're away. Bed times may be later in a new environment, middle of the night wake ups will happen, and all this can make for cranky kids during the day. I would say try to go with the flow, and once the kids are in bed crack open a beer or a cooler and relax.
  10. One more thing, if you are going to a cottage this summer with your kids, or thinking about it, please be water wise!

What are your tips for an enjoyable cottage vacation?

Vicky is the mom to 4.5 year old son named Joel and 2 year old daughter named Mieka. You can read her blog at blog Some Kind of Wondermom.

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Be Water Wise

by Amanda This week is National Drowning Prevention week and as an Instructor Trainer with the Lifesaving Society of Canada and former trainer with the Canadian Red Cross I cannot stress enough that EVERY SINGLE DAY you should be water wise and aware!

Drownings happen, they happen more often than we would like and it's generally when we least expect them to happen.  Did you know, according to the Lifesaving Society’s Drowning  Fact Sheet, that drowning is the second leading cause of preventable death for children under 10 years of age.

Who is most at risk for drowning? Toddlers and young children are most at risk followed by men between the ages of 18 and 34.  Young children do not have the physical ability for swimming nor do they mental ability to understand the dangers of water.  They are curious, the water looks interesting or fun and before you know it an emergency has happened.  I call it an emergency and not an accident because accidents are something that cannot be prevented.  Drownings can be prevented.  In my opinion there is no reason for a drowning to ever occur. 

It comes down to the Lifesaving Society’s message “IF YOU ARE NOT WITHIN ARMS REACH YOU HAVE GONE TOO FAR”, it's a simple message that needs to be taken more seriously. I have seen many times parents who quickly leave their child by the pools edge to grab a lifejacket, favourite toy or a towel to wipe the chlorine away from their eyes. It takes a split second. I have jumped into a pool to quickly grab a curious toddler more times than I can count. If the child would have been within arms reach of an adult I would not of had to jump in for the rescue.

Teach your child a few simple rules when around the water, whether it's the local wading pool, the bathtub, cottage or community centre. Start from a young age, before they are even able to communicate with you so it becomes second nature to them. Repeat, repeat, repeat! Repetition is key to assisting your child to remember the rules of the water.  Then remember Monkey See, Monkey Do! Display water safe behaviour that you would like your child to mimic.

1. Stop! Look! Listen!  They STOP before entering the water. LOOK around to see if there are any hazards around the water and to make sure you, or another responsibility adult who they know, are right there within arms reach.   Then LISTEN for the adult to tell them they are able to enter the water.  Also make sure that the adult always enters the water first, protecting the child from any water drop offs or deep water levels.  You may also create actions of having your child STOP with their hand up making a stop sign. LOOK, make a motion of looking through binoculars or gazing around the water.  LISTEN, place your hands to your ears to show that you are listening for your name and to be told its safe to enter.

 2. Stop! Look! Go Slow!  With the same actions as above for the STOP and the LOOK, teach your child to always enter the water SLOWLY. Whether the water environment you are in is familiar or not conditions may have changed since the last time you entered.

 3. WITHIN ARMS REACH!  Your child should understand this concept so well that if you happen to forget they should remind you or follow you out of the water. 

The next time you go for a family swim and are splashing around with your loved ones please remember that even though its a fun activity its a dangerous place to be. Be safe and water wise!

Amanda is mom to Dominic, 2 months, and can be found blogging about life, product reviews & giveaways at Namaste Mommy, PTPA Panel of Moms & Tools for Schools.  When not feeding and changing diapers Amanda is busy with her company DeGrace Energetics & Little Lotus.

p.s. Amanda is having a great giveaway on her blog at http://namastemommy.wordpress.com for the PTPA Award Winning Cuddly Wrap It's a great way to keep your baby close while running after your other children around the water!