Over the years, my husband and I have searched far and wide for new places we haven't explored yet. We love to camp and hike, and especially learn about our natural surroundings in our beautiful country. So when we came across a park whose trails were mostly hikes through rock formations and caves, we were hooked.
So what is "spelunking?" One guide had us walk through a cave tunnel alone. He met us on the other side of the tunnel, and exclaimed: "There! Now you are spelunkers! Spelunking is exploring caves without a guide." (Note: We only ever explore caves that have been cleared to be safe and offer guides!
This hobby has led us to some beautiful environments worth seeing. We have witnessed and learned about thousand year old fossils, stalactites, Aboriginal tribes, icebergs, and even bats. It has been an amazing learning experience of the history and natural evolution of Canada.
We are big fans of the Scenic Caves Nature Adventure in Blue Mountain, Ontario (Which was where we had our first caving adventure and realised that this was a thing!) and the Bonnechere Caves in Eganville Ontario. Our next goal is to the visit the Crystal Caves in Bermuda.
Have you ever toured a cave? Do you have any suggestions on where we can spelunk next? Let us know by leaving us a comment below!
When we moved two years ago, it was to a town that had an abundance of parks, splash pads and green spaces... and we could not wait to explore them all.
Enter Stoller Parking, a Montreal-based blog with maps, photos and reviews of (now) over 700 parks in and around Quebec, all honestly judged by Christine Latreille and her family. Stroller Parking has been quite the inspiration to me. First, Christine's blogging skills are amazing: the blog itself is aesthetically beautiful, and her writing is honest and down-to-earth. Following Stroller Parking on Facebook definitely made me want to start my own blog. Second, I was reminded about the importance of spending quality time with our kids - while they were still kids.
"Think of it as a kid’s version of a pub crawl." I joked to my husband.
In the spirit of Stroller Parking, We came up with a plan for our short stay-cation last summer which we lovingly called Park Hopping. (We must have had Disney on the mind since we love the Park Hopper passes.) I mapped out every playground, splash pad, hiking trail and park in our area and created a checklist. Each morning, we would pack a lunch, start out at one park we haven`t seen yet and stay until the kids said they were done playing with everything and we drove on to the next park closest to the one we were already at. (my GoogleMaps app came in very handy for this!)
Our Park Hopping week was full of gross motor development. For my children who are a bit afraid of heights at times, I watched their confidence soar when they climbed up some of the wall climbing equipment.
It opened up dialogue and I learned what their favorite playground equipment was and why.
It allowed us to seek out the best of a situation: after walking away from a seriously dated playground (I actually had to ask the kids not to climb the sole climbing structure because it was rusty and slippery due to moss growing on it...) the kids found a patch of tiny wild strawberries.
One aspect I didn't think of when coming up with our plan was the social experiences that unfolded. My shy daughter came out of her shell and began approaching children in the playground and asking them if they wanted to play: all on her own! She even met some new kids that had just moved and would be attending her school.
The best part about all the benefits our kids are getting from playgrounds is that they are FREE! They are our tax dollars at work, so take advantage of them as often as you can!
Thinking of charting and exploring your town's parks and playgrounds? Check out my
Park Hopping DOs & DON'Ts:
Do pack for the day.
Pack a picnic and bring a bottle of water for each family member: you'll be working up an appetite and you will need to rehydrate!
Protect yourselves with sunscreen, bug spray, hats, and footwear that will facilitate climbing and running.
Bring a few sand toys with you, you never know when the sand will be more interesting than the climbing equipment!
DO make a map and checklist.
Chart your parks! Draw a map with your kids and plot where each park is and add a checklist so you know which parks you haven't been to yet. You can even turn a notebook into your Family Park Hopping Journal and write and/or draw your favorite parts of each place you visit. Add a simple ratings feature. (We used smiley faces and sad faces.)
This little journey of ours is not a race. In fact, a year later, we are still checking off parks on our map. I wanted to make sure that when we do go to the park it's to relax and enjoy each other's company.
DO join in!
When I'm not obsessively taking photos of my kids, I climb right on up the structures with them. It's enlightening to see the world from their perspective and I mean... hello free exercise!
DO take care of your parks
"We have to treat the park like it's our own backyard... because it kinda is our backyard..." is a direct quote from my mouth that I impressed myself with while I picked up some stray bottles beside a splash pad one morning.
One time, I witnessed my former-greens-keeper husband pull all the weeds out of a sandbox.
Is something not up to par in the park? On two occasions, I contacted the city to politely let them know that there was something wrong in a park. One was for a wasp nest we found, and the other was because the splash pad stopped working in the middle of a heat wave. Both calls were positive interactions and I was thanked for letting them know.
DO your research
Use your town's website for more information about the parks in your area, and if you're close to the Montreal area, DO check out the Stroller Parking website by clicking here: http://strollerparking.ca/
Have you ever wanted to go on a cruise? Last November we finally got our sea legs!
We have dreamed about taking a cruise since we were planning our honeymoon back in 2006, but we always thought it would be beyond our budget. We were afraid to even ask for a quote back then. Twelve years and two kids later, a cruise seemed like the most affordable way to get our family of four down to the Caribbean.
Our good friend, Ilana Schattauer, just so happens to not only have been cruising for over ten years, but she is also a cruise consultant and she blogs about her cruise life at Life Well Cruised. Ilana knew exactly what we needed (especially when it came to our budget) to get some much needed time-off together as a family. She found us an amazing deal on the Norwegian Breakaway.
A few things had worried us, being first time cruisers and all. I can bet that we asked Ilana more than our fair share of the common questions that non-cruisers tend to have. Here are some of the things I was pleasantly surprised about when we got home.
As I mentioned above, I have always worried about the price of a cruise, especially for our family of four. The luxurious pictures and videos I always saw just made everything seem really, really expensive. The ornate rooms and restaurants, the beaches on private islands, the FOOD.
When Ilana approached me with Norwegian's "Friends and Family Sail Free" promotion, I knew we could manage this and not break our budget. We booked an interior cabin - the cheapest cabins on the ship. With the interior, we got one "perk" of our choice as a promotion; the third and fourth passengers sail for free! That meant that all we had to pay for our two kids was the taxes. Also on promotion when we booked was their "Canada At Par" deal. This meant that what we were quoted in USD, we paid that amount in CND, which was a huge saving because the American Dollar was quite high at the time. The best part was that we we were able to drive the 6 or so hours from Montreal to the port in New York City and the itinerary was round trip (With stops in Port Canaveral, Florida, at Great Stirrup Cay (Norwegian Cruise Line's private island in the Bahamas), and in Nassau, Bahamas.) Which meant... we didn't have to spend money on airfare!
In the end, we justified the budget by acknowledging that we were investing in some quality time as a family and memories we will have forever.
Speaking of the cabin - one myth that I have learned that every non-cruiser worries about is the size, "Aren't they like... the size of closets?" I was asked a few times when we returned home. Um... maybe... If I had a gigantic walk-in closet with it's own bathroom!
Interiors have no windows and are a bit smaller than once with a porthole (window), or balcony. However, when all four of us were in the cabin, it was more cozy than confined. It was perfect for nap time with the kids, sleeping, and relaxing.
The Dress Code
I'm probably not the only one who pictured the movie "Titanic" when I thought of a cruise. I mean... the ball gowns, the tuxedos, the feathery hats? I've seen professional photographs of acquaintances’ cruise trips where the family dressed in gowns and suits to go to dinner. I just couldn't picture this for our family. As an early childhood educator, with a husband who works in the transport industry, and a 6 year old and a toddler, we're a pretty laid back, casual family, whose main vacation experiences were tent camping. I pretty much have to bribe my family into wearing something other than sweats and leggings.
One of the reasons Ilana strongly suggested Norwegian Cruise Line for our family was because of their "Freestyle Cruising" mentality. The dress-code is resort casual: by all means wear that gown if you want to, but we were comfortable the entire trip wearing sundresses and polo shirts to dinner, and our pyjama pants or bathing suits to the buffet.
Don't get me wrong, I wasn't worried about the safety on a cruise ship in particular. As a mom, and because of who I am as a person, safety is something I obsessively think about, no matter how or where we travel. So I had a question for Ilana that I was almost embarrassed to ask, and in hindsight seems really silly. "Are the railings safe, will the kids like... slip under it? Is there any way they will fall into the water?"
Ilana assured me that she got that question a lot and that it was impossible to slip under the railings and that accidentally falling in is very, very rare. She taught us that the railings are higher than ones on land - that they would be taller than our 6 year old, and that most of them would be shatter proof glass and if they weren't, the spaces would be too small for someone - even a toddler - to get through. In all honesty, I felt the safest on this trip, both on and off the ship.
One thing my husband and I have always done when on vacation, or at an event or park... we take our chairs, leave the crowd and find a more quiet spot. When we were on our honeymoon, we would drag our lounge chairs to the farthest point of the beach and it was like being on a private island. At home, our two children range from needing to climb, run or yell to definitely needing their down time too. Embarking on a ship with a capacity of 3,963 guests made me wonder if we would be able to have some rest and quiet.
But, just like on our honeymoon, there were plenty of chances to get a perfect balance of excitement and relaxation on the Breakaway! We went from splashing in the kids water park to finding a small, fun trivia game in one of the bars, to a dance show in the main dining room for dinner, to a calm walk outside to a family dance party at the forward of the ship. We even played a private game of bowling just the four of us. If ever we felt overwhelmed by a crowd, we were able to find a place to fit our moods.
For more tips on how to plan a family vacation on a budget, check out Ilana's article: "Yes! You Can Plan an Amazing Family Cruise on a Budget!
I could talk about this vacation all day... be sure to stay tuned for more posts about our last family vacation to the Bahamas with Norwegian Cruise Line, and our dreams of going on another cruise by subscribing to our blog above, and following us on social media:
Do you have a dinosaur lover in your family? You`re not going to want to miss this adventure then,,,
Last week, I took a time-out from my own classroom so I could spend it with my daughter in her first grade class as they went on their year-end field trip.
I have to admit, my passion for volunteering in your child's school wasn't my only motivating factor - I have been wanting to go to this place for YEARS. Take a look at our photos and you`ll understand why!
If you have any dinosaur lovers in your brood, you must make the trip to this home-run operation. It is about 90 minutes from both Ottawa and Montreal.
I got the chance to speak to the owner, Paul Dupuis, for a few brief minutes as the children were unable to contain their excitement about seeing these dinosaurs.
Over 25 years ago, Mr. Dupuis started a not-so-little project to entertain his dino-loving kids - they began building a life-sized replica of a dinosaur on their acreage. And they just kept making them!
Someone suggested that he start a business with their creations and within just two years of opening "Prehistoric World", the project paid for itself.
Now (semi) retired, he continues to welcome families and classrooms into his outdoor museum to learn more about the prehistoric era.
Each dinosaur is built to size: as you venture through the forest, every so often you round a corner and you really can get the feeling what it was actually like to live in prehistoric times as you come across these gigantic beasts.
It`s just amazing how you can walk around the bend of the path and you're suddenly being towered over by what looks like a real life dinosaur.
If you have ever wanted to know what it felt like to be in Jurassic Park - this is it!
And can we just talk about the path throughout this park for a minute? It's like it's straight out of a story book - magical!
Mr. Dupuis has informational plaques about each dinosaur long on the way. They will tell you the name of each dinosaur, the meaning of the name, and various facts.
One of the coolest features is the giant sand pit where you`re able to dig for life-size fossil replicas.
What to bring:
We very much plan on going back so we can enjoy it together as a family.
Pricing: entry fees are as follows:
Make your way there by clicking on the map below:
My own mother will probably faint when she reads this but... I love mud play!
Even though I grew up in the country, I did NOT like to get dirty as a young child. When I went into early childhood education, I vowed to change the way I saw dirt, because I learned how beneficial it is for children's development… and health! Researchers have proven that a bacteria found in mud can actually boost our immune system and mood!
We have participated in "International Mud Day" a few times by hosting an event during our summer programming at our early childhood center, but mud play is something you can do any time!
My mother-in-law recently reminded us just how easy, cheap and engaging mud play can be. My husband's parents have just finished building their new home and the last thing left to do is the seeding of their lawn. While all the adults didn't have the chance to have a time-out as they were busy moving furniture and unpacking boxes, The kids sure did! Grandma stuck them in the back yard with sand toys and sprayed the dirt with her hose.
What came next was literally hours of free play! The kids were occupied and engaging in play that encompassed several different development levels. Observing my kids that weekend (as I took a timeout from unpacking), I watched my daughter practice her gross motor skills by hopping over the puddles and mounds of dirt, and saw my son calmly experiment with how the water flowed when he dragged his sticks to make little rivers between puddles.
Remember when I said that I hated to get dirty as a child? Do you have a child like this? Here's how you can encourage and inspire them (and yourself!) to explore mud play gradually:
Gardening: Involve your kids with the planting of your flower beds in the spring. Plan out a vegetable garden by drawing up a map for your backyard, plant seeds in peat pellets, dig out your garden plot, then transfer your little seedlings.
Paint with Mud: Sometimes it's best to ease your way in to playing with dirt. So before you use your hands, use an old paint brush to paint on some paper. (A thick watercolor paper would do the trick.) Build your way up to getting messy by painting yourselves next!
Make a Mud Kitchen: Pick up some old kitchen utensils at a garage sale or thrift store, or if you're brave enough (I wasn't haha!) bring your child's cooking toys outside. Have fun making an old fashioned mud pie with them. If you want mud play to become a regular thing, search those garage sales and invest in an old sink to leave in your sand box!
Grandma had so much fun that weekend watching the kids play and she didn't even mind one bit when it came time to wash up in her brand new bathroom. She's now seriously considering delaying the landscaping company from starting the grass seeding process.
Do you play in the mud? What’s your favorite way to get messy with the kids? Leave me a comment below!
Melissa is a mom, wife, and early childhood educator who blogs about her journey looking for new experiences for family time.