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We love us some light play activities at home and at our early childhood center!
We have been having light baths ever since our eldest was a teeny babe. Someone had given her a small sphere shape bath light from Avon, and we have of course added glow sticks to baths.
SAFETY TIP: DO NOT CUT GLOW STICKS OPEN!
I once saw a #fail post when this became a trending pin on Pinterest thanks to the gorgeous photos from Growing a Jeweled Rose. Someone didn't read her instructions, cut open some glow sticks and poured the content's into their kids' bath. Glow sticks contain a GLASS TUBE with a separate liquid, which is why that cracking sound happens when you snap it - the two liquids combine to activate. You DO NOT want that inside your child's bath water!!
So when we had an freezing rain storm causing all school boards to shut down for the day yesterday, having a fun bath activity was added to our day's list of fun things to do. The kids chose the bath light, lavender bath bomb, and mermaid dolls for some magical play.
My daughter was missing her original bath light she received from a friend who ordered it from an Avon catalog YEARS ago. It finally died... but Santa came to the rescue when he left one under the tree this past Christmas. (He knows his stuff doesn't he? Wink, wink.)
If you like bath time and sensory play posts, you may like:
Mud Play: A Little Dirt Never Hurt!
Our Favorite Beach Supplies
The following post contains affiliate links for some of our favorite things. You can find out more about that here.
If your kids are anything like ours they love making forts: Pillows, couch cushions, blankets... anything they can get their hands on. I love to watch their creativity as they find materials, and methods of making it all stay put so they can crawl inside. So this product has been on my daughter's wish list for a while now.
I had read many reviews and heard from friends and fellow educators that the Crazy Fort rods bend easily, so I was interested to see how well the Discovery version would hold up as the inside is reinforced, as you can see in the photo below:
I don't know what I was expecting the pieces to be made of, but it definitely wasn't this: the connectors are made from a hard foam like plastic that is sort of malleable to an extent. (Please correct me if you know the actual name of this material in the comments below!)
I was having a bit of difficulty inserting the rods into the connectors sometimes, but once I got them into place, they stuck and it didn't come apart.
I wonder if it will be easier as we use it more and more as the connectors are malleable...
I grabbed some old Queen sized sheets to cover the structure, which I would recommend to make sure you cover the whole thing. We used a fitted sheet around the roundest part the igloo structure we created and that made it even easier to keep it in place.
Once built, our 3 year old loved bringing his toys in and out, but also putting them on the sheet to make it collapse on his sister as she relaxed with a pillow and blanket inside.
The result: we love when we find family activity products that can get all ages involved, so this one definitely fits the bill!
Do you have a favorite structure / building set? Let me know what else we can try out by leaving us a comment,
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If your family lives in Canada like mine, you know how it can get in the winter time: you feel cooped up inside, and if you do go out, your eyelashes start to freeze. Plus there is only so much energy your toddler can get out in his puffy snowsuit... You start to miss those days at the park when the kids would just run and climb for hours.
Like the playground, indoor play places have lots of benefits for a child's development: gross motor of course, but self-confidence, autonomy, social and cognitive skills as well. As an early childhood educator, and in the past a family activities animator at a resort, play places have always been one of my favorite field trips for my groups.
But... these places come with concern for some parents, which is why I wanted to share some pros and cons I've collected from experience and word of mouth, so that you can decide for yourself if going to one is right for your family.
The number one subject that comes up when I speak to other parents about play places is cleanliness. If I had a nickel for the number of times that a parents has said that they wouldn't take their kids to a play place because they are worried about germs and cleanliness... I have to admit, this isn't an unfounded concern. Since I work in an early childhood center, with my kids attending since they were a year old, and I figured they are going to get cold and flu germs at any public venue - especially the airborne ones. Before eating or drinking anything while at an indoor play place, it's hand washing time right away for us.
Most indoor play place companies have a regular scheduled day where they are closed to clean the facilities completely, including ball pits and tunnels. You can find this schedule on the company's website, but if not, don't be afraid to inquire via phone or email. If you really are worried about this, plan to go right after a cleaning day.
Are you a parent of a little toddler just starting to move around more? Some play places have a smaller zone sectioned off with smaller equipment meant for their youngest clients, so you don't have to worry about older kids running around and rough housing.
Once, while we were on a little road trip, we stopped at a play place to blow off some steam. We happened to just swing by so I had not done my usual research of reading reviews or looking at pictures online. As I was going through one of the tunnels with my daughter, I noticed a screw pointing out of a piece of plastic of the tunnel. I notified the person working behind the counter, and then we high tailed it out of there. The point of my story is to do your research of where you visit like I should have: in addition to making sure there is a cleaning schedule (see above), inquire how often the equipment is inspected. If you walk in, and the equipment or facilities aren't up to your standards, ask to speak to a manager and tell them what you think needs work, ask for your money back and leave.
Tip: Indoor climbing play places do not allow shoes inside, and socks are mandatory. I always pick out a pair for my kids that have the little rubber treads on the sole so they don't slip on the hard surfaces of the tunnels, mats and flooring.
I'm sure I am not the only parent that gets overwhelmed with the size of the play place and where you're kids happen to be. We only frequent locations that have a scanning system. Our favorite has bracelets with bar codes for each family member. To leave the premises, the children bracelets have to match those of the adult. Once scanned, they will buzz you through the gate.
Tip: These locations can be huge. As my kids got a bit older and were able to go off and play on their own, I usually spend my time walking around structures and observing my children - remembering what color shirt they were wearing so I can spot them faster as they move at the speed of light through the tunnels and slides.
We have been to many of birthday parties at indoor play places (see below for more about that), so we know just how crowded these places can get on the weekend!
When we had year admission passes at our local place, I always planned to arrive when it opened, what ever day of the week it was. Often we had the place to ourselves for a good hour or so. If it started to become to overwhelming, we would leave.
Tip: If you are planning on going on a week day, call the location ahead of time and inquire if there are any schools or daycares attending that day, and plan accordingly.
Most locations (especially here in the Montreal area) charge for parents as well as children, but usually at a smaller price. This may seem unfair to some who plan to watch their children from the sidelines as they play, and the more parent supervision, the less need there is for them to pay employees to do it. However, I've witnessed lots of families using the games with their children, and even climbing on the structures.
There are ways to save depending on the company. Look for deals on their websites as some have special days where parents or grandparents have free admission, or cheaper admissions for all on ped days and holidays. I have also seen some great prices on yearly passes, that work out to paying off after your third visit; which means you attend for free the rest of the year
When you end up paying for the entire family, I recommend making it a day trip. Which brings me to my next point...
All play places are different in the food area. A lot have restaurants and do not allow food brought in, while we have been to a couple that have a peanut free picnic zone.
A lot of the restaurants can be focused on kid friendly junk food, so it's not the healthiest option. But if you consider the amount of exercise your family is getting, you might not mind it as a treat.
I always preferred the ones that have a picnic area - I'd pack mostly healthy food, and then buy a big bag of chips from the counter to go with our sandwiches for a treat that was more cost effective.
A glance at an indoor play place price list for parties can come at a shock for some, especially for those with their first born, just starting to plan those "friends" parties as children get older. It'll all come down to personal preference on the amount of money, time and effort you want to put towards a birthday party. There are options that include everything from meals, snacks, the cake, a private room... even favors or loot bags! If you want all of that taken care of for you, it may be worth it to you to pay that little bit extra.
Out of the 10 kids birthday parties I have thrown, my favorite by far was the one I threw at our favorite play place for my daughter when she was three. It was easy to plan and came out to just about the same price compared to if I had planned entertainment and decorations at home. The best part was that the kids were entertained the entire time; and I didn't have to worry about my own house (and anxiety level) as they ran around and screamed and climbed. Since we just showed up, set up a treat table, and then left, we came home to a clean house, and had time for a nice long nap!
Did I leave anything out? Do you have some advice or experience to share about frequenting play places? Let me know in the comments below!
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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/
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.