Summer in the City, Indoors

Too hot?  Rainy?  We’ve got you covered for some fun things to do with kids–inside!

Art

My approach to art education is to get kids in front of art early and often.  I’m always amazed at how my kids will respond to what’s in front of them, and, on one trip to the AGO, when they were given white play dough and coloured pencils to take inside, I got inspiration for how to approach museum and gallery visits: create the creations.

Now, whenever we go to a gallery, we take along our sketchbooks and the kids pick a picture, park and draw.  (Check with the gallery to see what materials are allowed.  I once had to buy an expensive set of pencils from the gift shop because our markers were not allowed!)  Having them occupied with their own creations means not only are they inspired to make their own art, but I get time to enjoy the art on display myself.

I can’t say enough good things about the AGO.  There is great programming for kids, and the current Emily Carr exhibit, From the Forest to the Sea, is a great one for families and is included with General Admission.  Younger children will appreciate the bold strokes and colours of her landscapes, and you can talk with your older kids about the haunting emptiness of so many of her paintings: the effects of disease and a mammoth logging industry that came with European colonization.

"Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky" Emily Carr

“Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky” Emily Carr

We recently went to check out the Andy Warhol: Revisited exhibit at a pop-up gallery at 77 Bloor Street West, where you can meet Queen Elizabeth, Marilyn Monroe, Mickey Mouse and John Wayne.  The exhibit will rotate over 120 of Warhol’s pieces from the Revolver Gallery over its run, which ends December 31, 2015.  Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students and kids.  Find out more at Warhol Revisited.

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Museums

Right down the street from Andy Warhol is the ROM, where you could spend all of a rainy day and more.  And it’s not just dinosaurs!  Follow up on seeing Emily Carr’s totem poles by seeing two of the real things, housed in the museum stairwell, a three-storey space designed to house them and allow you to get right up close to the amazing work.

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Movies

Next week, we will be reviewing a wordless picture book.  It’s not much of a stretch, really, but what about a wordless movie?!  I took the kids along to see a preview Shaun the Sheep without knowing very much about the series on which the movie was based.  I honestly did not notice that the movie was wordless until about half way through!  The visual gags are so great, and the Claymation so engaging, that I didn’t even notice the absence of dialogue.  We took along a friend who loves the tv show, and he found the movie to be a great extension of the franchise he loves, but, as my experience demonstrates, no previous experience is necessary!  Shaun the Sheep will be released in Canada on August 7.

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Mother’s Day Gift Guide

Mother’s Day is coming up.  It’s Sunday, May 10, and we’ve complied a go-to gift guide for mom whether she’s a glamorous grandma or green thumb, a book lover or a foodie . . . or maybe she’s everything all rolled in to one! Do you see something that catches your eye? Forward along to Dad or the kids . . .or better yet, wait for no one and treat yourself!

From Beth-Anne:

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Mist & Fix from Make Up For Ever is now part of my morning beauty routine. It’s a professional grade alcohol-free setting spray with the texture of water that improves your makeup’s staying power. It’s easy to use – hold it about 40 cm from your face and mist continuously for a few seconds and allow to dry. It smells glorious and leaves my face looking fresh and dewy. (starting at $14)

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This handmade pewter pendant is plated in silver and its message, Live Love Teach by Foxy Originals is the perfect way to describe and thank mom. ($20)

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Alex and Ani create and design eco-conscious jewelery. Their latest collection, Persephone is available at select Hudson’s Bay stores and features bracelets and charms with special meaning. My favourite is Guardian of Answers because aren’t moms the keeper of them?

from Nathalie:

I’m going to depart from my usual “Please don’t buy mothers anything with which to cook or clean” rule and say that I’d love to receive these sets of ombre bowls from President’s Choice and Real Canadian Superstore.  They have them in cool blues and hot reds and oranges, and the colours are just so juicy!

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Ombre mixing bowls from PC $25

Ombre mixing bowls from PC $25

And, now that patio season is finally, finally here, you could gift a mother with this awesome retro cooler chest for the back yard or the beach.

Cooler chest from Tera Gear $149

Cooler chest from Tera Gear $149 at Real Canadian Superstore

One of my favourite things to do in the yard with the kids is to roast marshmallows on the fire.  Somehow, spending an evening that way feels like the most luxurious kind of family time.   No hockey, homework or housework to attend to, just sharing the fire.  We saw this great Hampton Bay fire pit at The Home Depot spring preview.  ($79.98)

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I am asking for a gift of experience this Mother’s Day.  I want us all to go to the McMichael Gallery and look at art and hike the trails around the gallery.  I’d also recommend trips to the Art Gallery of Ontario to see the Emily Carr and Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibits, and to the Royal Ontario Museum.  If you think you will visit a museum multiple times, a membership is a wonderful gift.  (For our family of five, a membership costs what we’d pay for just two visits.)  We have family memberships at both museums, and, honestly, it’s some of the best money I’ve ever spent.  I get so much use and value out of our memberships.  It feels like true luxury to be able to just pop into the museum for a quick visit, and to see the exhibits multiple times makes me feel like royalty.  I have taken the kids to see the Basquiat twice already.  The first time we sketched, and the second time we used the play dough that all kids can get in a loot bag from the front desk when they go in.  I got to really attend to the art, and the kids kept busy with their interpretations.  Time spent together is the gift I love best.

Youngest's sketch of a Basquiat self-portrait.

Youngest’s sketch of a Basquiat self-portrait.

Middlest's interpretation in play dough.

Middlest’s interpretation in play dough.

 

From Carol

Almost four months ago, noticing I was depleted and in need of a recharge, my husband offered to hold the fort at home while I visit with favourite cousins in California this week.  In what goes down as good old fashioned mistake-making, I did not take him up on this.  At the time, I almost felt too tired to plan for this, and now I’m sitting here in Toronto feeling rather foolish.

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Most of the moms of young kids I know would really relish some free time.  Sometimes with their spouses, or their friends, or alone.  The best gift ever would be sorting out which of these the mom in questions needs most, and try to make it happen.  I bought a Buytopia getaway to Ste. Anne’s Spa in Ontario with this in mind, and Groupon-type offers make short jaunts like this more affordable.
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But the truth is brunch at favourite local haunt (mine is Lady Marmalade on Queen Street East) would be perfectly splendid too.

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May is also the season of growing… if you know a mother who likes to garden, the handmade offerings at Spade and Feather are simple, well made, and gorgeous.  A favourite are the Wild Bee and Insect Houses which translate the essential work of pollination into functional beauty for any garden.  I love them.

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Maximizing space is always on the minds of urban gardeners in particular, and these Felt Wall Planter Envelopes from Spade and Feather are a great option.  They’re eco-friendly (made from Eco-Felt, 100% recycled plastic), easy to hang, and make vertical gardening accessible to everyone.

 

DIY Kids’ Birthday Parties: Looking for Inspiration

We are about to embark on Silly Season: that time of year when my little chickens hatched, one after the other, in April, May and June.  Three months of birthday planning and parties are ahead of me, and I am already behind!

I really enjoy hosting the kids’ parties at home.  Beth-Anne recently posted this list of tips from Alyson Schafer to our facebook page (via The Mabelhood) about hosting a party for kids at home.  It’s got lots of sound advice, and I especially liked how Schafer spelled out present etiquette: decide ahead of time if you will open presents at the party or after.  If you open them during the party, make sure the birthday child thanks each guest individually; if you open them after the party, make sure the birthday child sends a thank you note acknowledging the gift.  I like my kids to open the gifts after the guests have gone home, and I’m glad to know that it calls for an extra thank-you.

In the past, we’ve had parties at which we put on plays, parties with a fencing instructor, and, of course, sleepovers that featured very little sleep.  Beth-Anne has hosted a fabulous Ninja Party, and Carol has written about a horrible birthday party and the perils of trying to make everybody happy.

As I cast about for ideas for this year’s crop of parties, I keep coming back to the loot bags for inspiration.  I love putting loot bags together, and I usually find a book that works with the theme of the party: knights, magic, fairy tales.  My kids make bookmarks with a drawing and a note of thanks, and that goes into the book with each guest’s name printed at the top.  Add a sweet treat, bundle it up, and you’re done!

This year I’m putting the cart before the horse and looking at books that have inspired me recently and that could give me a theme:

charlieCharlie’s Dirt Day

written by Andrew Larsen

illustrated by Jacqueline Hudon-Verrelli

We could get the kids to paint flower pots, fill them with dirt and a plant and send them home with a good read and a green thumb.  Between the painting of the pot and the planting of the plant, there could be the kind of birthday chaos that is best enjoyed with a short shelf life.

lifeLife Doesn’t Frighten Me

by Maya Angelou

Paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat

We’ve been twice to see the Basquiat exhibit at the AGO.  Both times, Littlest and Middlest got busy getting their art on.  The first time they sketched, the second time they sculpted, getting inspiration from the art on the walls.  We could do an art activity and get the kids to create their own signature motif, like Basquiat’s crown.

 

birdsOur Woodland Birds

written and illustrated by Matt Sewell

I can’t get enough of Matt Sewell’s bird illustrations.  They are an amazing balance of being entirely his own style while being reliable enough representations to help you identify the bird.  Littlest and I sat down yesterday to paint, a luxury afforded by the slowly tapering end of hockey season, and he painted an homage to Matt Sewell.  We could give the kids sketch books and pencils and make bird art.

 

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Ideas for March Break Activities Around Toronto

From Nathalie

I took Middlest to see National Theatre Live’s production of Treasure Island recently, and I really like the idea of taking kids to see plays at the movie theatre.  While we sat in a Cineplex theatre in Toronto, we watched a live production of the play being staged in London, complete with a 20-minute intermission.  Of course, seeing the play in the theatre lacked some of the fun and sense of occasion that goes with a night at the theatre, but that informality is exactly what appealed to me with young kids.  We ate our popcorn and drank our drinks and it was all very relaxed.  I’d like my kids to see as much Shakespeare as possible before they encounter it at school, and for the price of a movie ticket, you really can’t go wrong.  King Lear is showing tomorrow, Shakespeare’s Globe on Screen will be showing Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I am dying to see Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet later this year.

And if it’s fine art that tickles your fancy, head over to the AGO, which has fabulous programming for kids to complement their latest exhibition of the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat.

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From March 14-22,  join the AGO for one of nine creative days of exploring the amazing art of Basquiat. The whole family can enjoy beat boxing, dancing and drumming performances; interactive storytelling; art making; films and family-friendly tours of the Basquiat exhibition.  As with every new exhibit, the AGO also runs Family Sundays, from February 8-March 29.  Each week families are invited to explore a new aspect of Basquiat’s work through art-making and hands-on activities (1 – 4 p.m. in the Weston Family Learning Centre).  For a complete line-up of activities, visit www.ago.net/family-events.

If you are in Vaughan, you can hit three great destinations in one fun-filled day.  Start at LEGOLAND, where Carol, Beth-Anne and I took our boys a while back and loved it, then head over to Sky Zone Vaughan to bounce their sillies out.  It’s wall-to-wall-to-wall trampolines, and, yes, they can bounce off the walls.   You can pay to bounce for 30 minutes or in increments up to two hours.  There are special toddler times for the littlest ones, but generally, jumpers should be already walking and be able to follow the instructions of the staff.

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And when you are done jumping, go chill with the cold-blooded creatures at Reptilia.  As Canada’s largest indoor reptile zoo, Reptilia boasts a collection of over 250 reptiles, amphibians and arachnids (!).  Reptilia is also taking the show on the road, and they will at Hillcrest Mall for March Break from March 19-21.    At Reptilia Live! there will be interactive meet-and-greet, and guests can get to see, hold and touch a variety of cold-blooded creatures and learn interesting and educational facts.

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Show times are as follows:

[Thursday / Friday, March 19 and 20]

11:00 – 11:20 | Live animal show

11:20 – 12:00 | Meet and Greet

1:00 – 1:20 | Live animal show

1:20 – 2:00 | Meet and Greet

3:00 – 3:20 | Live animal show

3:20 – 4:00 | Meet and Gree

[Saturday, March 21]

12:30 – 12:50 | Live animal show

12:50 – 1:30 | Meet and Greet

2:00 – 2:20 | Live animal show

2:20 – 3:00 | Meet and Greet

If you go on the Thursday, look for Carol and Nathalie!  We’ll be there with some of our brood.

Toronto for Kids also has a great round-up of camps, shows and activities.  Check it out.

From Beth-Anne

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The Young People’s Theatre is one of my favourite not-so hidden gems in the city. The productions are always top-notch and tailored for a younger audience. Over March Break the classic tale of Pinocchio takes the main stage and to enhance the experience theatre-goers can sign up for the Puppet Lab and learn from experts how to create their very own, unique puppet. Space is limited. For ticket and show information visit Young People’s Theatre.

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For older children, The Heart of Robin Hood is a great bet! I have been a patron of Mirvish Productions for many years and The Heart of Robin Hood easily makes my top 5 list. The real story of Robin Hood may surprise you – Maid Marion is no shrinking violet, Robin’s not as generous as you may have believed and Friar Tuck . . . poor Friar Tuck. The original music is guaranteed to have your feet moving but it’s the transformation of the theatre into Sherwood Forest that is truly remarkable. If you’re looking into introduce theatre to your tweens or teens, this is the show to attend but hurry, the run ends on March 29. For tickets and show information visit Mirvish Productions.

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For the dancers, The National Ballet of Canada’s Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland, looks simply magical. I have not yet seen it but judging how much the boys enjoyed The Nutcracker, it appears it would be a hit. The costumes and the staging are receiving rave reviews and the sneak peeks shown on the website justify why. On stage March 14-29. For tickets and show information visit The National Ballet of Canada.

From Carol

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It will still be wintry, but hopefully just a notch or two higher on the temperature scale, which means perfect timing for skating.  I love outdoor skating whenever we can get it, and Toronto boasts both Nathan Philips Square and the Natrel rink down at at Harbourfront are wonderful urban settings for gliding on city ice.

Or head over to the Brickworks for a smaller, more intimate outdoor skating experience on their public rink, and then head over to one of their drop-in programs for kids over March Break.  Paper mache boat building, both for individual boats and a collective boat, caught my eye.  Suggested donation $5.

Boats make me think of not winter, and I’m feeling ready to move on to our next season with Canada Blooms, our largest flower and garden festival. The many events and workshops fall over March Break, and offer opportunities for children to get their hands dirty getting ready to garden.  Kids will also be able to take home vegetables and flowers to start their own gardens at home.

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For a unique cultural experience, the Aga Khan Museum offers stunning exhibits and collections that explore Muslim civilizations – head over on the Wednesday of March Break to enjoy and explore for free between 4 to 8pm.

Do you have any favourite suggestions for the March break?  Please share them!