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?

10 Things You MUST do before summer ends

It’s already the middle of August (how did that happen)? But summer is not over yet! Enjoy the last few days and weeks of summer with this list of 10 things you MUST do before school starts back up - and with it, everyone’s extra-curricular activities and regular routines.

summer must do list

1)   See the Parliament Hill Sound & Lights Show

The Sounds & Lights Show on Parliament Hill ends in September, but why not take the kids to see it now? The start time is 9:30 p.m., so if there is a day where the kids have napped and you think they can handle a later night, why not grab a picnic blanket, sweaters and snacks and head out to Parliament Hill to watch this year's beautiful Northern Lights show!

2)   Play at a Splash Pad

We have had a hot, hot summer, which means it was the perfect summer to tour Ottawa’s best splash pads! There are hundreds of splash pads within the City of Ottawa, many of which are new within the last 10 years. It’s a great way to stay cool and let the kids run off some of their boundless energy. So, go out there and enjoy them before they are turned off for the season.

3)   Tour the Outaouais

Just across the bridge from downtown Ottawa are some of the region's best hiking and outdoor activities the entire family can enjoy. From the water slides at Mont Cascades to letting the kids explore the mazes of Eco-Odysée or feeding the animals at Parc Omega, there are many fun and exciting things for families to do in the Outaouais!

4)   Jump in a Lake

This might sound silly, but for me there is nothing more refreshing (and signifies summer more!) than jumping off a dock or running into a fresh and cool lake. There are many lakes around the Ottawa area, including some within the city limits. Do yourself a favour and jump in a lake (before we’re once again skating on them!)

5)   Spend an afternoon at a park

Every spring we ask readers to share their favourite Ottawa parks with us. This year we shared our thoughts on the new Millennium Park in Orleans as well as Barnabe and Cardinal Parks in Ottawa East and last year we discussed the popular Walter Baker Park in Kanata. Park play is always a memorable part of a child’s summer, so get out there and spend an afternoon at a park (and then share your favourites with us!) 

6)   Read together on a hammock

The best way to get your children reading is to read yourself! Earlier this summer we shared a post with classic kids books for summer, so head over to your local library and pick up a couple. Then get reading or just lay together in a hammock!

7)   Stay up late and star gaze

Now that the sun is setting a little earlier, why not set up a star gazing haven in your backyard? Even if you’re in the city if it’s a clear night chances are your kids will spot a star or two and there are many websites that have information on star names, including this site that has a printable star chart for kids: http://kids.lovetoknow.com/wiki/Printable_Star_Charts  

8)   Go to Calypso

Calypso Waterpark has water slides and fun for kids of all ages and is the perfect way to cool off on a hot summer’s day! The best part is that there is plenty of free parking and you can pack your own lunch and picnic on site or buy food there! Some family favourite activities at Calypso include Pirate’s Aquaplay and Zoo Lagoon. Claypso is a great way to exhaust the kids on a day that may otherwise be deemed as too hot for outdoor play. 

9)   Take the kids kayaking

Kids as young as four can kayak! It’s true! And while they may not paddle far, their love for the sport will increase as they get older and so will how far you can paddle together.  You can still purchase kid’s kayaks at many local retailers and there are plenty of nice evenings left to spend kayaking together.

10)  Feed some ducks

What child doesn’t enjoy feeding ducks? Feeding the ducks near Billings Bridge made our 50 Things to Do With Kids in Ottawa list this summer, so why not grab some bird seed and head down to where ducks live near you and count the ducks who come to you! A great math exercise for younger kids and a test of patience for older kids.

So, what is on your to-do list of activities to do with the kids before everyone’s fall routine settles in? Leave a comment and let us know.

Ottawa Parks: Barnabe and Cardinal Farms

Every day on our way to daycare, I drive my daughter by two parks on Des Epinettes in Orleans: Cardinal Farms Park and Barnabe Park. She can see the play structures from the car, and asks the same question: "when can we go THERE, mama?"

I finally had some time the other morning to drive over that way (walking to the parks from our house would be too long for both of my girls!) 

Both parks are within walking distance from each other, which makes it an extra special outing for the little ones. We started at Cardinal Farms Park, which is super shaded, and includes a small soccer field and track. The park borders on our local ravine, so you could also explore the "woods" if you had time. Sadly I forgot to take pictures of this park, but there is a bigger structure for the older kids, and then a fenced structure and swings for the younger kids. 

Once they'd had enough of Cardinal Farms, it was a quick 5 minute walk down the street to Barnabe Park. Barnabe stretches long and wide between des Epinettes and Jeanne D'Arc. 

There were two awesome things about this park:

1) It's a short walk across Jeanne D'Arc until you reach Bridgehead at the corner of Jeanne D'Arc and Innes. This is a major bonus for tired parents.

2) There is an old-fashioned water pump at this park! I have never seen anything like it - the kids get to pump water up and down through some plastic tubs. Although this is not the same as cooling off in a splash pad, the kiddos spent lots of time splashing around in there (and "watering" the pavement)

So if you're looking for a different park to check out, try these two in combination one morning. And make sure not to miss your coffee ;)

Kayaking for Kids - They can do it!

We spend a lot of our summers up at our parents' cottages and something both sets of grandparents invested in (I know - we're really lucky to have access to TWO cottages) are kayaks for the kids.

My kids took to it in no time flat and the most common comment I get from friends when they come to the cottage and try out the kayaks is, "Wow! I can't believe they can do that!"

So my message to you is:

Your kids can kayak!

My kids started using the kid sized kayaks around the age of 4 or 5 and while not all of them were proficient at 4, at 5 they could definitely get the boat going where they wanted it to go.

At 8, my older son could handle a full sized kayak if all the kid sized ones were being used by younger children because he'd had enough practice with the little ones.

What about SUPs?

Stand up paddle boards (SUPs) have gotten really popular in the last few years. We have a kid sized one of those too and while all the kids can manage it, most of them seem to feel about it the way I do about the adult sized one - it's fine, but they prefer the kayak. My daughter however really enjoys the SUP and has such incredible balance on it she can practically do acrobatics on the water without falling off!

What if I don't have a cottage?

There are lots of great places to kayak in the Ottawa area and kayaks are pretty easy to transport thanks to roof racks and hatchback trunks (especially the kid sized ones). You can also bring kayaks with you camping! Bon Echo and Bonnechere Provincial Parks are great spots. So, pack some snacks, your kayaks and your lifejackets and head out to:

Dow's Lake Pavilion (you can rent kayaks here too)

Ottawa Valley - there are a bunch of great spots and this guide has all the details you need for your paddling adventure.

Petrie Island - You can launch your kayak at the free boat launch at the west end of the main parking lot in Crappie Bay.

Shirley's Bay - a popular spot and a great place to teach kids how to launch without getting in and out from a dock.

How much do they cost?

Ours all came from Costco and we know a lot of others who got them there.  I've also seen them at Canadian tire, and for a basic sit on top kids' kayak you're looking at about $100. They've been a great investment for our family!

 

"Help Me" at the Park

I feel so lucky that I will be spending the summer playing in the park. This gives me the chance to enjoy so many of the simply wonderful aspects of life so I thought that I would write about my experiences and observations.

This year I have a 1 year old, one that is 2 and three quarters, and two eight year olds in tow. My 11 and 14 year olds and their friends will be hanging around as well. This should bring me some challenges, a chance to practice living in the present and lots of fun.

Help me at the park

Because I am a bit of a parenting nerd, being in the parks also gives me the chance to witness parents and notice all of the different parenting that goes on. Sometimes I get some new tricks to use and sometimes I see techniques that don’t fit with me at all; but whatever the case I always enjoy seeing the different ways that parents and their children relate. It gives me the opportunity to connect and fine tune the way I choose to parent.

I do this by observing other parents, checking out the way kids play together and getting into many conversations with other caregivers about the issues that are being presented every day.

This week I was a bit surprised when another caregiver lifted the 2 year-old that was with me down from a climber. I don’t know exactly what she was thinking but I sure was curious and will guess at a few of the reasons here.

Marley, who is 2 and three quarters, was up on a pirate ship climber and to get down she would have to climb the rope net ladder. This is a new challenge for her. She did get up but never down before and was asking for help. I was sitting about 15 feet away, so not right there. My 8 year-old daughter was right beside her but not strong enough to help her down. She was however able to start to instruct her about what to do to get down… “Turn around and go backwards… you can do it… I’m right here.”

park play

As Marley started to do this the other caregiver said “I’ll help you down”, picked her off the climber and put her on the ground.

Here’s what I think about this…

1.     I think so many people find it hard to watch children in any amount of struggle. The impulse to relieve them of this struggle can be very strong. But the struggle is the motivation to try new things, learn and grow. On the other side there is a reward of increased confidence and more possibilities.

2.     I think that the caregiver worried about the child’s safety and was concerned that she might fall. I can understand this worry but in this situation I was very confident in Marley’s ability.

3.     I think that the caregiver was not paying attention to the interactions that were going on between the children and what they were working out together. In an effort to fix the situation the children were cut off from the learning experience that they were sharing. And,

4.     I think that it is surprising when someone feels comfortable picking up a child without having a relationship. It is interesting to me where people draw this line. When they feel it is their right or even responsibility to physically move a child in a situation instead of having a conversation with them.

I am only assuming here that the caregiver wondered why I had not gone over myself to help Marley down. She may have thought I was lazy or didn’t notice. I’m pretty sure she didn’t realize that I was consciously making the decision to allow Marley to try something new, challenge her self and work out a situation with her friend all while in the careful watch of someone who cares.

I’m sure there was no harm done here but I must say that I am a bit disappointed that Marley didn’t get to realize the full benefits of her experience learning to climb the ladder. I am consoled knowing that she will have many more chances to try something new and feel success this summer and in the rest of her life.

Kaeli Van Regan is the founder of Living Inside Out. She combines her love of life and nature with education in Child and Youth Work, Life Coaching and Energy Healing to provide coaching to expand and uplift the family unit. Check her out onTwitterFacebook and YouTube.