A trip to the mountains

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It finally happened. After years of talking about how our small family should just take an overnight trip with the kids to get a break from our daily life, we finally did! This was a first for us- we typically travel with extended family. We had a budget in mind and planned accordingly.

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On the cusp of the Easter Long Weekend, we headed to the rockies. H did not have school on Thursday so we planned to leave Thursday morning (was closer to 11:30 am by the time we were actually on the road), making a stop at Troll Falls, in Kananaskis on the way.

Despite the spring-like conditions in Calgary, it was windy and cold as we headed towards the mountains. Fortunately, my over-preparedness came to the rescue. The kids were outfitted in splash pants, toques and mittens and so we all had an enjoyable walk. H was quick to find a walking stick and just couldn’t understand why the rest of us didn’t want one.

That hike up was my favourite part of the whole trip. It’s not often we all get to be outdoors together (my husband has very little tolerance for the cold). I loved watching Y trudge along the trail, seeing how passionate and excited H was to be among such beauty, and then hearing her passion turn to frustration as she got tired. I saw my first Canada Jay and we marvelled at what a social and curious creature it was. We happened upon some horses from the ranch next door. And as we neared the falls, we experienced firsthand the snowy and slippery conditions that spring is a work in progress. Watching my husband navigate those slippery sides while carrying Y reminded me of when we found ourselves in a somewhat similar predicament on some off-trail slopes in Niagara when he baby-wore a then 9-month H.

On the way down, we took the path less traveled (well actually, we took a wrong turn and took a rather long way back to the parking lot). It felt like it lasted forever with two tired children who were adamant they could no longer walk. But it was beautiful. Those blue skies. Those mountains. It reminded me of why I agreed to move out here almost a decade ago.

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We got to our hotel in Banff, just after 4 pm. The room was a great size for our family and the hotel in general, was a good fit for us. It had a swimming pool (H’s favourite part), gift shop and two-three restaurants on-site. And the fact that it was at the edge of town made for an exciting bus ride to travel into the heart of downtown (Y’s favourite part). I had packed a few activities for the kids that kept them engaged while we did things like pack or nap, because let’s face it- kids will start their days bright and early.

It was nice just strolling through downtown Banff. H picked out a pair of Moose binoculars and Y decided on a moose backpack. We found a park to stop at. It was overcast and drizzly but still so beautiful.

We were fortunate enough to pray jummah in the mountains with the local Muslim community and alongside other tourist families who were from other places in Alberta, and the United States.

The rest of the day was spent between our hotel room and a trip back to downtown (literally only a few kilometers from our hotel). The next morning, we packed up and got on the road. The scenic drive was my husband’s favourite part. Y finally fell asleep so we decided not to stop in Canmore (earlier options we had talked about included Lake Louise, Johnston Canyon, and Lake Minnewanka) but decided to keep on driving because Y had just fallen asleep. We opted for a detour to Cochrane (a small town west of Calgary) instead.

Here we found another beautiful park. I love the return to more natural looking playscapes. I’ve seen them popping up around Calgary and during my visits to Ontario. We did a short walk since H was ready to go get ice cream and then we drove to MacKay’s Ice Cream Shop. We had the chance to enjoy our ice cream in the sun while a senior played the piano. The kids danced and H got a brief piano lesson.

It was a lovely weekend and we hope we can do more trips (day and overnight) as a family together this year.

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DIY Gift Ideas for Children

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One thing I can honestly say that I enjoy doing is putting together gifts for the children in my life. If time and creativity permit, one of my favourite ways of going about this is to put together gift sets/kits that revolve around a particular theme/interest. Below is a list (with pictures) of some of the ones I’ve put together in the past. Many of these have been Eid gifts but would work great for any holiday, birthday or just because 😊

1. Cooking Gift Set– the first time I made these was in 2013 for a few family friends. I was inspired by one young girl’s fascination with making apple pie. I found a good children’s cookbook (with an apple pie recipe of course!) and paired it with a children’s baking set I purchased at Real Canadian Superstore. The set included a baking tray and utensils such as a spatula, beater, cookie cutters etc. I remember how excited the little boy was when he opened it and realized they were real tools! (Not just for pretend play). To round off the gift, I added a few items from the dollar store including measuring cups, measuring spoons, cupcake liners and aprons (they were originally meant for crafting). Variations of this gift have included different main baking sets, including making a cake in the shape of a train, icing tools and other little items I found at the time. The one I’m working on now has a dress up Chef’s costume but depending on your budget, you could find a plain children’s apron and hat set and get it personalized! This has been the most popular set I’ve gifted, giving it (with some variation) five times now with a sixth in the works.

2. Writing Kit – I blogged about this earlier here so I won’t go into too much detail, but essentially I collected a bunch of stationary supplies including pretty paper, pens, pencils, sharpener , envelopes, and threw in some printables so children could design their own postcards and stamps. I included this amazing book I remember reading as a kid (The Jolly Postman) and cute metal mailboxes. I hoped the kits would support my daughter and niece’s emerging interest in writing.

 

3. Design your own Clothing– H’s interest in drawing got me thinking about new ways she could extend her passion. I thought of an idea for her which I was able to duplicate for the other kids in our circle based on it’s versality. For Eid last year, I put together simple DIY kits for children to decorate their own T-shirts. I ordered fabric markers online (one pack per family) and then bought plain white T-shirts for the 8 kids I was planning on giving this to. Since the number of kids in our family friend circle is growing, it can get pricey and challenging to buy gifts that everyone likes so these were perfect for a multi-age group. I also bought some plain canvas bags that can be used in a future activity. The kids really enjoyed designing their own shirts and it was interesting to see how H went about this activity because she was able to observe how the older children planned their designs on paper before they began. I was happy to learn that one of the boy’s loved his shirt so much that he wore in 3 days in a row and two of the girls who were best friends, made matching shirts, which they quickly made plans to wear the next time they saw each other.

4. Play Dough Kits – In my work with children, it’s been impossible not to make my own play-dough, whether it was a task assigned by H’s preschool or a fun activity to do with H or a cool idea for a DIY gift. Three years ago, I made purple glitter playdough to give to H and my niece on Eid alongside a small jar of loose parts (buttons, gems, beads etc) to add to their creations and personalized unicorn stuffies. A few years ago, I happened to be at Real Canadian Superstore a few days after Christmas and they had plastic cookie cutters on sale. I picked some up along with some cool metal tins and figured out I would give some DIY playdough sets as presents to some of our neighbours and friends. The way logistics and time constraints played out, I wasn’t able to create them right away, but I did get to put them together this year. I made “red” cinnamon scented playdough and green peppermint scented playdough with Y this year to include in the sets and added some straightforward tools (wooden popsicle sticks, plastic cutlery) and some loose parts. The sets were a hit, homemade and budget friendly! This year I happened to see cookie cutters and tins on clearance again so I bought some more because they really are a great gift for toddlers and preschoolers!

5. Magnet Sets – I’ve written in the past about using magnets for storytelling. This year, my two best friends were both expecting their second child. Each already had a toddler at home. Both the toddler’s enjoyed the story of The Very Hungry Caterpillar (which child doesn’t?!?) so I decided to make them magnet sets to play with. Given the popularity of the book, I was able to find images online (albeit, pixelated) and printed, cut, laminated, re-cut and added magnets to them so the toddlers could start retelling the stories and hopefully give their mama’s a few minutes to tend to the new babies. Y really enjoyed playing with them too! *Please note this was done for personal use. Be mindful of copyright laws and never use someone else’s work without permission to turn a profit.

6. Detective Set H has no doubt been my inspiration for a lot my creative endeavours. Most recently, she has been intrigued by the idea of detectives. I often find her with a notepad and pen in hand trying to solve mysteries like “Where has the blue ball gone?” She interviews suspects and witnesses and scribbles something onto her pad. She’s been asking me for a magnifying glass (I found one while decluttering our basement that I had purchased during my days as a preschool teacher) and decided to put together a little kit for her. Earlier this year, I bought a cool book called Officer Panda: Fingerprint Detective  and I stowed it away. This was the perfect opportunity to present it to her, so I paired it with the magnifying glass, a stamp pad, notepad and pen to get her going. I thought it would be cool to package it in a vintage briefcase but I came across my old laptop case which would probably be easier for her to carry anyway (but I will keep my eye out for the old combination lock briefcases). I will also make up an ID card for her and come up with some activities like teaching her how to encode things (I have fond memories of sharing encoded notes with my friend Emily in grade one), using magic ink to hide messages, learning how to lift fingerprints and of course, giving her a mystery to solve. Perhaps if this sustains interest, I will do a post specifically about this. 7B77D45D-EC39-45AE-8B57-3EC78CE211DD

7. Flannel Board Set – Telling stories is something I enjoy doing. The first time I created flannel board characters was back in 2012 for a practicum placement. The Three Little Pigs story has served me well ever since, with my own children playing with it on countless occasions. I made a DIY flannel board by purchasing some flannel and hot gluing into to a foam board from the dollar store.  Three and a half years ago, I created another set for The Famous Donkey Story to perform at a children’s Eid party. I’ve since used in during volunteer storytimes in the Calgary community. Shortly before the birth of Y, H was really into fairytales (she’s been revisiting them lately, mais en français). Her favourite story at that time was Goldilocks and the Three Bears and she asked me to make her a flannel board story set so one day while her dad was playing a very long cricket game, we got to work (she gave input on colour and design) and I created this, which both kids love! It happens to be Y’s favourite story at the moment. This was particularly special, because during her second meeting with her brother, she performed this story for him (and then a few days later, for the midwife who patiently listened to her entire rendition). I’ve also created flannel board shapes, characters and activities for the children to play with in more open ended ways included food, faces, people getting dressed, snowmen etc.) I created a smaller portable flannel board by using some leftover flannel fabric and hot gluing it to the inside of a legal-sized file folder. When H was a toddler, I could send her with this folder (and the pieces inside) when she was spending the day at her grandmother’s house. I’m currently musing about a flannel board set I can make for Y given his emerging love for playing with what we already have. His current interests include animals and trains.

Every time I’ve gifted one of these, the children have loved them and the parents have appreciated the uniqueness, thought and customization that went into the gift. I love that they are gender neutral and can go in so many different directions!

Ramadan 2017 – Post #4: Setting up a Treasure Hunt

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This is a treasure hunt I originally created for a children’s Ramadan party a friend threw a few years ago. I have modified a few of the clues and encourage you to change around the clues and their locations to better suit your own needs and environment. Here is a brief explanation of how to set up the treasure hunt.

Backstory: You can make up a little backstory that includes your child’s interests if you like to promote dramatic and imaginative play. For example, if they like pirates, you can make the clues look like pirate clues and create a letter addressed to your child on a piece of paper that looks ancient and has been rolled into a scroll (use teabags and a lighter to brown the paper and burn the edges).

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Similarly, if you are okay with creating notions like “The Ramadan Fairy” or some other mythical creature, you can use glitter and jewels…Or, create no backstory and just be honest that as parents, you have created a treasure hunt for your child.

You can download the clues I’ve prepared here: Ramadan Treasure Hunt 2017.  You can either copy the clues onto cue cards or just print and cut the document above.

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Read the initial letter to your child(ren) or if they are independent readers, hand it to them. Then, pass them the first clue (make sure to remove the “answer” portion from the bottom of the clue!) Hide the next clue where the answer for the previous clue indicates. For example, the first clue reads:

In the morning for sahoor,

Healthy foods we must eat

This large, cold place

Stores eggs, milk and meat

The children must determine that the answer is “fridge” and so they go to the fridge to find the second clue (which you have already posted there). To modify the treasure hunt for younger children who may find it difficult to solve the clues, draw hints on each clue (for example, for the clue above, draw a fridge) or better yet, include photos of those areas from your actual house. This way, children are able to rely on visual discrimination and memory recall, not just their cognitive and problem solving skills.

Although the initial treasure hunt I created involved digging for treasure at the spot marked X (outside in the sandbox), the treasure I’m using this time is far too big to bury! I created one Ramadan basket for each of the five children, so while the children are outside looking for the final clue, I will set them up on the dining table at their grandparent’s house (where the last clue will lead).

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In terms of what to include in these Ramadan baskets, I was creating them for a range of ages from just a few weeks old to seven years old. I knew I definitely wanted to include a unique book about Ramadan for each child (something that would be age appropriate).

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I toyed with the idea of getting PJs for the children and also was planning on making DIY “My First Ramadan” onesies for the two babies and pretty Ramadan t-shirts for the older three but I didn’t have time or the resources to figure that out, so I opted for matching outfits for the children!

I also included a mix of toys/activities based on the ages of the children. I had picked some stuff out from Ikea, but once again, didn’t have a chance to make it there so just went to my local dollar store. I included things such as balls, stuffies, puzzles, bubbles, art supplies, stickers, beads, and candy for the older children.

I added each child’s name to the basket and wrapped it with cellophane and ribbon. I can’t wait to see their faces