Hot Wheels & Summer Learning

The summer slide: it’s not just about losing ground.  Get your kids racing their Hot Wheels cars down an inclined plane, and you could help them keep their math and language skills in gear all summer.  And who doesn’t love a toy that gives extra mileage?  (I’m all out of slide and car puns now.  Promise.)

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Hot Wheels has great resources available to parents and teachers to help kids from JK-Grade One maintain their learning through summer play.  From making predictions to taking measurements, there are endless ways to incorporate math and language skills into car play.  Hot Wheels sent us some of their sets, and we took them to school for the kids in my son’s Grade 1 class to build and share in the last days of the school year.  The kids read the instructions, assembled the kits (with a bit of adult help) and then played with the fruits of their labour.  (Your kids can get in on this too!  Hot Wheels has a programme to get their toys into schools.  You can apply here.)

More and more, education in preschool and the early grades is play-based, active, and tactile.  By teaching math and measurement through play, we can engage tactile and kinetic learners who thrive on movement and touch.  By asking a few simple questions during organic car play, we can keep learning alive and active all summer long.  One of the most magical things about putting this kind of thing into practice is seeing how quickly it becomes part of the kids’ own method of play.

If your house is anything like mine, the Hot Wheels cars appear to reproduce like gremlins over night.  Put those toys to work!

  • Ask, “How many cars long is your bed?”  (Estimating, then counting and measuring)
  • Line up some cars in a simple colour pattern and ask, “What colour comes next?” (Patterning, colour recognition)
  • Line up the cars at the end of play time and ask “How many cars in the parking lot?” (Counting, patterning, estimating)
  • Take the play outside!  Use sidewalk chalk to create city streets and landmarks (school, library, hospital).  Give driving instructions to the Hot Wheels driver: “Take the first left.  Drive two blocks.  Turn right.  Where are you?”  (Orientation, instructions, reading and writing)

There are lots of ideas on the Hot Wheels FUNdamentals web site, as well as activity sheets to download.  Both incorporate learning so organically, the kids won’t even know you’re sneaking some learning in with their summer fun.

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Fun for the Whole Family: Interactive Theatre with 6th Man Collective’s Monday Nights

Monday Nights is an interactive theatre experience that is one part choose-your-own-adventure, one part private detective role play, one part choreography, one part gym class and many parts fun.

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The first thing that you need to know about Monday Nights is that it’s not just on Monday nights.  The play is a production by 6th Man Collective at The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen Street West.  It runs nightly (excluding Tuesday) until Sunday, July 26th.  Click here to find tickets.

Members of the audience begin the night by going into the theatre and rifling through the players’ gym bags.  The bags contain clues about the personalities of the four players, and you choose your team for the evening based on what resonates with you among the things you find.  You then sit in the section that corresponds to the team you choose, and put on headphones that hang on the back of each chair.  The play begins with the audience observing choreographed basketball drills and skills while listening to information about their player from the three other players.  Then the four actors lead their teams in games and challenges, and the teams compete for points.  You do not have to participate at all, if you don’t want to, or you can participate by helping to keep score or by competing in a variety of basketball drills.  (Tip: if you are a good player, wait until the end to volunteer, as the skill level required for each drill gradually increases.) The actor who leads the team with the lowest number of points has to do the costume laundry that night!

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My kids (boys, 10 and 7) had a blast.  They both play basketball, so I knew that the premise would interest them, but I wasn’t prepared for how much they loved being involved.  Even my more reserved child put his hand up to be a “volunteammate” several times.  They chose different sections to sit in, which was easy to facilitate because the theatre is small enough that I could see the child I was not sitting with easily.  I sat with Youngest, who wanted to volunteer for every single possible opportunity to hold the ball.  (Your team gets an extra point for getting new volunteers for each drill, so when he got to go up a second time, it cost the team a point!  Luckily he’s really good at sinking baskets and made up for it with points scored!)  Youngest got lots of cheers and support from our section, and he basked in the applause and high fives.  I was certainly not the loudest one cheering him on.

This play has been a highlight of our summer entertainment so far, and I can recommend it highly for a night out with kids.  For an added dimension of fun, go with a group and sit in separate sections and compete against each other.  It was a novel experience, and I had a smile on my face the whole night.  I had fun observing my kids’ enjoyment, and cheering my kids on when they went up to play, but I also really enjoyed taking in all the aspects of character development, props, script and choreography.

I love that the city has such a great range of arts experiences to take in during the Pan Am Games.  Monday Nights fits right in with the offerings at Panamania, and it harnesses all of that cheering, sports fan energy.

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DIY: Hook It Up…But Not Forever: Guest Post by Meg Gardner

Our guest today is Meg Gardner from the blog Loving Albany.  Meg is the mother of three boys, and, brace yourselves, her house is all white!  It’s all white and it works.  Meg’s house is a stunner, and you can get a peek here at Houzz.  She’s sharing with us today her most recent project: a temporary solution for hanging photos and kids’ art–without wrecking the white walls!

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I have three boys aged 9, 7 and 4.  They like to sleep in the same room.  Until recently.  I had to kick the oldest out one night for being too silly at bedtime.  He never looked back.

Which was great.  Except for this.

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He took his new room seriously.  Old toddler comforter?  Be still my heart.  Random stuffies and favorite hats?  Awww.  Taped picture on the wall?!?  I can’t take it.

So we helped him sort things out with a trip to IKEA.

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But those taped pictures were multiplying….

…just as this showed up in my email.

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I subscribe to Houzz.com emails.  It’s an amazing site filled with inspiration and ideas for your house.  From décor to organization – real life, actual, fulfilled projects in people’s homes, as opposed to the Pinterest fails that exist repeatedly in my life.

When I saw this photo, I got inspired.

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My goal was to give him a way to hang the pictures without anything being too permanent.  It’s his room to decorate, but his tastes will change.  And so might his bedroom.  We have a couple more rooms on the 3rd floor, which may be more appealing as he reaches his teenage years.

A Teenager???

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I grabbed a 1×2 piece of clear pine wood at Home Depot and asked them to cut it to size (cuts are free).  I stopped at DeSerres for the Bulldog clips and Michaels for the screw-in hooks, which happened to be white!  Score!

And after contemplating how long he will actually occupy this new bedroom, I decided to use Command Strips instead of screws to attach the wood to the wall.  This package of 4 strips holds a picture frame weighing up to 16 lbs.  Bingo.

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I asked him to help me put it all together and got about 5 minutes of painting.

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After 2 coats and letting it cure overnight, I got to drilling.  Measuring and drilling.  Measuring, calculating, re-measuring, re-calculating.  And measuring one last time before drilling.

Which turned into this.

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The wood almost blends into the wall, letting the pictures shine.

And now for my favorite, the before and after.

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I love walking up the stairs and sneaking a peek into his room now.  If only he’d make the bed…!!!

Ross Petty’s Cinderella – A Great Gift of Experience

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There’s a reason why Ross Petty‘s holiday pantomimes are a treasured annual tradition (their 19th year!) there’s nothing quite like it for geared-to-children but still lots-for-the-adults theatrical fun.  I was delighted when the Yummy Mummy Club gifted us tickets to this year’s production, Cinderella, The Gags to Riches Family Musical – I knew it would deliver lots of high-energy entertainment and that my three boys would totally enjoy it.

It’s not everyday that a parent can, with complete comfort and a warm sense of welcome, take an 8, 6 and 3 year old to a two hour show at the glorious Elgin Theatre.  This alone was a huge treat, but there’s a lot more to this particular kind of adventure.  If you’re looking for a special holiday present, one that focuses on experiences that last rather than things that don’t, check out the show.  Here’s why:

1.  The show takes the art of silliness to new heights.  There are few tones of distress in the show (which is nice for sensitive viewers) largely because the villains are preposterous.  Patty Sullivan and Cleopatra Williams portray the punky step-sisters as perfectly pestering and Ross Petty himself is in top form as Cinderella’s evil stepmother.  Together with Dan Chameroy as fairy godmother Plumbum, the two actors offer strapping renditions of these maternal characters – their towering, absurd presence on the stage provides a backdrop of humour even when they’re not centre stage.

2.  There’s magic too.  Spoiler alert, okay?  There’s a lot of goofy, slapstick humour in the show, but there is also some stardust.  The apex of these is Cinderella’s transportation to the ball.  Two small white horses pull a spherical carriage onstage, and it really is an apparition, a moment of wonder.

3.  The show is Canadian!  Ross Petty purposely focuses on great Canadian talent, including the inimitable Danielle Wade, star of CBC’s Over the Rainbow and the Mirvish production of The Wizard of Oz.  Also, the show is set in Toronto and full of references to our great city – the great ball is held at none other than Casa Loma.  Lots of jokes poke fun at local politics and culture (pretty sure I caught a poke at Ford Nation, among others).

4.  There’s something for everyone.  In addition to the adult humour just mentioned, there’s lots here for the boys as well as the girls in the audience.  The princess theme is still there but muted, and the gags are for everyone.  Recall the evil step-mother and the fairy godmother when considering the dissolution of boundaries, which the show does left, right, and centre.  Did I mention that Cinderella is trying to save her father’s Farmer’s Market from her step-family’s plans to overtake it with processed hypno-chips?

5.  Children are VIPs here.  Not only do you not have to worry about shushing your kids, you’ll be encouraging them to cheer and boo!  Petty-the-stepmother cannot take two steps on stage without being booed down, and responds to the audience for some direct theatrical interaction.  A few lucky kids climbed onstage and were interviewed for the show.  Some of the younger audience members were flopping around in their chairs, especially after intermission, and it was just fine.  Also, booster seats are available downstairs at the coat check – two of my kids used those (although one ended up on my lap in the end – also just fine (no one’s view was blocked)).

6.  You Get to Introduce Your Kids to the Theatre.  The Elgin Theatre is gorgeous and grand.  It was not designed with children in mind, and the opportunity to expose our kids to that kind of venue is a big thing.  I wish I’d taken more time to point out details of the theatre – the balconies, where the orchestra sits, the way the curtains fall, the art on the ceilings – but I was outnumbered three to one so I’m not going to dwell.  Even so, my boys knew they were somewhere special; their eyes were wide open and took everything in.

I watched my kids during the show (of course).  My favourite moment of the night was when my six year old tugged my sleeve and then clapped his hands lightly together with the tips of his fingers pointed upward.  This is my theatre clap,” he explained.

That moment, along with my eight year old proclaiming on the way home that he’d like to see Cinderella again, holds the essence of the night for me.  It was fun and entertaining, and it was a beginning.  If my boys go to the theatre more often because of it – and dare I hope, maybe even sometimes with me – it really will be the best show in town.

Cinderella, The Gags to Riches Family Musical! will be live on stage at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto until January 4, 2015.  Tickets range from $85 to $27 and are available online and through the Elgin Theatre box office.  Special discount codes available for Yummy Mummy Club members here

Snakes and Lattes: Board Game Cafe

annex-whiteWhen we were getting to know each other, a past boyfriend asked me what I liked to do for fun when I was a girl.  The idea I think was this information could be a window into our who we are now, as adults.  He said he liked to draw (which I did not like to do).  I also remember that I did not like playing with dolls, or pretend house, dress-up, or building.  My repertoire of fun was limited:  I liked to read, do puzzles, and play games.

So it surprised me that it was not until last year that I learned of Snakes and Lattes, which claims to be North America’s first board game cafe.  It’s a place where, for a $5 cover, you can sit and play games until the cows come home.  All the gaming while, you can have coffee/tea and snacks, or a casual meal, delivered to your playing table.

The main appeal of the cafe, of course, are the games.  We’re going leaps and bounds beyond Monopoly and Battleship here, although of course the tried and true are here and popular enough.  There are hundreds and hundreds of games, from traditional favourites to new weird and wonderful that neither of us have ever heard of.  When the options start to overwhelm, you can consult a Game Guru, aka an employee who knows a strange lot about the bazillion games on offer and will guide you to choosing something that you’ll like.

One of the nicest things about Snakes and Lattes is that it appeals to all generations.  I have a friend who is a big more of a board gamer than I am, and this cafe is for her both a destination on date night and for her children for (the whole of) a Sunday afternoon.  You gotta love the democracy of a good game.

I also love – and here my biases are pretty well-defined – that these games are played without screens and with other people and not in a basement.  It’s almost quaint, the idea of a board game, which for me is extra reason to applaud how successful this cafe has become.

Another thing about this place, it’s open like all the time during the week – an ungodly 7am on weekdays (what is it, a bakery?) until “late”.  Weekends commence at a more normal 11am until “late”.

Predictably they sell games too, although the real appeal is getting to play games in a public place with other people willing to do the same thing – kind of like an adult opportunity for parallel play.  It’s a friendly place, with a nice vibe, and if anything can take the possibly ever so slightly nerdy edge off of board games, this is it.

ps.  If you have not tried it, and like politically very wrong humour that targets everyone, Cards Against Humanity is a memorable choice , and good for a group, especially if there is wine.  Or tequila.

pps.  Snakes and Lattes did not ask me to write this and I got no free games out of it.  Darn.

Yoga With Kids

270Along with pretty much everything else, yoga has been on a hiatus lately and I’ve been feeling it.  But I fit in it yesterday.  I was with my youngest babe, and for whatever reason, he suggested it.  It’s been a good long while since we’ve done any yoga and honestly I don’t even know how he would know to ask for it.  But I’ve been meaning to get back to it anyway, and there’s no time like the present, so in popped the video.

I did this even though in exactly six minutes I had to pick up my older boys from school, but I figured six minutes is a huge improvement on the nothing I’ve been doing, and my body would benefit from anything.

And then I had the happy (and kind of surprising) experience of mentioning it to the boys after school and hearing:  “Yeah!  Yoga!  Let’s do yoga!  Yoga, yoga!!”

So we traipsed up the stairs and into the bedroom where the computer is and got started.  There is absolutely no room for four of us; there’s barely room for two.  We squished two (sometimes three) on the floor, and one (sometimes two) on the bed.  Yes, my children did yoga on the bed.

Yoga with the kids is also more vocal than when I do it alone.  I heard:

I’m the best at this!

Is this supposed to hurt?

What does she mean take 5 breaths?  I already took 5 breaths!

My feet smell too bad.  I’m too close to my feet.

There’s space right here on Mommy!  See?

Who wants to play the game where we run and bump each other?

Meditation is not the name of the game when I do yoga with the kids, but it’s hard to imagine enjoying it more.  I am in awe of what practicing yoga can do for the body, mind and spirit, and yet there really is something to be said for a good belly laugh (or six).  I’m thankful for all of it.

Ripley’s Aquarium and What Came After

065The newest big attraction in Toronto was introduced several months ago:  we finally have our own aquarium.  Ripley’s Aquarium has gotten good reviews, in spite of tickets that are quite pricey.  With an aunt and nephew visiting from out of town, and three kids keen to go, and my own lifelong wonder of the creatures of the deep, we went.

There were the requisite sharks, stingrays, schools of beautiful and sometimes astonishing fish, a petting station (horseshoe crabs), and a particularly ethereal selection of jellyfish.  There  were also less requisite attractions, like play apparatus designated for children in bright colours, like tunnels and slides.

And it was very crowded.  I think the aquarium was good, but my attention was so focused on not losing a child that I couldn’t entirely take it in.  I imagine the kids could only absorb so much too.  I found myself fantasizing about being able to return and actually see the exhibits, rather than peer at them.

Generally I don’t love going to busy venues, so when I make these treks I tend to feel accomplished – like Something Happened – and I hope the children enjoy them.  It’s summer, and my kids are not heavily scheduled, and I do like finding interesting opportunities for us to experience and learn together.  It was too busy at the aquarium to really learn as much as we could about what we were seeing, but it was worthwhile exposure, and There’s nothing like a white seahorse creature that looks like a bunch of leaves to feed curiosity.  It was successful overall.

And yet I doubt the aquarium, its glamour notwithstanding, encapsulated the primary learning opportunities that arose that day.  These likely took place at the much more prosaic Chinese restaurant we dined at afterwards, where my son turned the lazy Susan quickly, and it knocked over a tall pot of tea towards me. I fell off my seat trying to get away but failed, and now have second degree burns over much of my left thigh.

I suppose there’s a science lesson in there somewhere.  The kids saw how I treated (or tried to treat) the injury and know I didn’t sleep well because the burn continued through the night.  (At 3am, I asked my husband whether the ibuprofen and Tylenol tablets I was taking together we’re still good because they weren’t doing much.  “It’s Tylenol, not morphine,” he replied.)  My kids can see the scarring and my reaction when they touch my leg, and I suspect we all have a new respect for heat.

But it’s when I realize that a boy feels blameworthy for the injury that the learning recedes and the knowing comes forward. It’s then when, in spite of the dishes and the blog post and the new project deadlines waiting for me, I clear a space.  In the dark, I stay with my baby and whisper to reassure, and then just to talk, and we wait for sleep to come.

Sharks, rays, tea, burns.  Learning, knowing.  Full, full days.

Legoland Fun for All

Isn’t it a great feeling when your kids get along with your friend’s kids?

In the four years we have been blogging together, our boys have never met each other but last week we all met at Legoland Discovery Centre and within minutes our boys were laughing and playing together like they’ve been friends for years.

Legoland Discovery Centre invited us to try out the newest addition to the Vaughan Mills site: the Ninjago Laser Training Camp and since Carol, Nathalie and I are not as fluent in all things Lego like our boys, we brought them along.

Lego ROM!  Amazing.

Lego ROM! Amazing.

Our morning started with a group photo before we entered the Lego Factory.  An interactive entrance to the museum, the factory lets kids see the steps that go into shaping a Lego brick.  They can also measure their height and weight in Lego bricks, and create art with Lego bricks on ipads.

After this introduction, we hopped aboard the Kingdom’s Quest tunnel ride and were handed laser guns.  This group of boys was giddy at the opportunity to point, shoot and tally up their score.  The mothers all sighed.  We’ve long given up on fighting the appeal of “gun play.”  Truth be told, Carol got the best score.  “Hey!  I’m pretty good at this!” she said.  Props for mom when the truth was revealed.

The boys then spent about thirty minutes constructing their Lego Racers and testing them out on the Royfoss track.  It always amazes me to see what kids are capable of creating with no adult involvement.  As a group they cheered each others’ cars on and made the necessary improvements to improve their performance.

After that they worked up a sweat racing through the multi-level play zone while the moms enjoyed each other’s company on the sidelines waiting to experience Merlin’s Apprentice.  Seated in pairs (children under 120 cm must ride with an adult on all Legoland Discovery Centre rides), we pedaled up, up and away!

Before viewing one of the four 15 minute 4-D movies, we got in the line for the Ninjago Training Camp.  The boys were excited to tackle the lasers and discussed at length their strategies with the enthusiastic operator who encouraged the boys to try the more advanced ninja and sensei levels.  They were all too happy to oblige.

The maze doesn’t last long but it is addictive, meaning our boys returned to the line-up several times over to increase their score.  Points are awarded by making it through the maze without “breaking” any of the laser beams.  The boys used their creativity (and their oh-so-flexible limbs) to hop, crawl and slide their way through.  The moms were not quite so limber but in all fairness were saddled with purses and extra sweatshirts.

When it was time to say goodbye, with the promise to get together soon, the boys made their way through the exit and of course . . . the gift shop.  Each boy chose a small token to remember their special morning by and mothers were thankful for the minutes of quiet playtime said purchases bought later that afternoon.  We left feeling that we could easily have stayed longer and not run out of things to do.

Thinking of making a visit?  Here’s what you need to know:

–       Shoes and bare feet are not permitted inside the play zone.  Socks must be worn.

–       The snack shop has a variety of healthier options but many options are not nut-free.

–       The washrooms are clean!  Hurrah!!!!

–       There are NO in-and-out privileges.

–       Adults are not permitted entry without children.

–       Tickets are less expensive if purchased on-line ($18 each) and children under the age of 2 are free.

–       The centre is not large and can get very crowded at peak times (holidays, school breaks, summer vacation, etc.)

–       Many of the activities are geared to younger children (under 10)

–       We spent three hours there as a group, and Carol stayed for another two hours and said her boys would happily have kept building for yet more time.  Out of ten, her eldest gave it a “10 google” (off the charts).

–       None of us had been before and all of us would happily go back.

If it isn’t snowsuits….

slide2imageIf it isn’t snowsuits, it’s sunscreen.

Although this winter felt like the winter that would never end, we are well into spring now, and that means more hours under the thinning ozone in the sun and in the dirt.  I am no fan of sun or summer, I have to say, being allergic to the sun myself and averse to the morning battles with the kids over sunscreen.  I know that I am in the minority, wishing for winter again, but these sunscreen battles give me the blues.  (Readers!  Please tell me what you do!!)  Eldest spent 15 minutes Sunday trying to argue his way out of sunscreen.  I wanted to tear my hair out.

At least washing it all off at the end of the day has been joyful.

The folks at Kandoo sent us some samples of their kids’ line, and my youngest kids are loving their shampoo and bubble bath.

“Mmmmm.  This smells good!” Littlest says as he lathers up and washes away the sunscreen and the grime of the dusty days.  Middlest agrees whole heartedly.  No coaxing, no wheedling from me.  No complaining, no hesitation from them.

Lather, rinse, reapeat has never been so easy.

Now, if only someone could recommend sunscreen they would so gleefully smear on….

A Trial Run with a Dog

photoA few weeks back, I pondered if I was ready for a dog.  Eldest had come back from a dog sledding trip positively bursting to get a dog.  I did not say no; I suggested some further investigation was in order.

When his uncle and aunt had a baby a few weeks ago, Eldest suggested that, as a shower gift, he would look after their dog for a week.  I thought it a great plan: a chance to help out and a chance for a trial run with a dog.

Well, I am thrilled to report that Eldest knocked it out of the park.  He got up at 6 every morning this week to walk the dog.  He came straight home from school to walk him.  He fed him dinner promptly at 6.  He took him for an abundance of walks.  He lavished him with attention.  The dog slept in his room each night, so none of the rest of us had a moment of disturbed sleep.

All three boys are so happy to share his company.   The dog herds the youngest two to school, and he is reluctant to leave them there, staring longingly at the doors after the bell has gone.  There is much joy and rejoicing on the occasion of every reunion.  We went for a lovely long walk with him after dinner last night, and when Middlest gave me a dandelion clock to make a wish on, I wished for more nights exactly like that one.  I am extraordinarily proud of Eldest, who demonstrated absolute readiness to take on the responsibility of a dog.

His mother, however…..  His mother is.  Just.  Not.  Ready.

Even with Eldest’s excellent performance, and the abundance of joy in our house, and a dog with the friendliest, most relaxed temperament, I have found it so very draining to have another dependent living being on my radar.  I am on edge.  I feel like I have not been able to recharge my batteries all week.  I cannot really account for it based on how low stress a dog this is, but there is no arguing with the spike in my anxiety.  I had no idea I was so close to the edge of my limit, but the dog has shown me that this whole time that I have been operating with the sense that I am on top of things, I’m still basically a hair’s breadth from a meltdown.

It has been a huge disappointment to discover my limits this week, especially since Eldest did all we could reasonably require (and more) in terms of demonstrating his maturity and responsibility.

But this is what trial runs are for: exploring, experimenting, testing our limits.