Hiking with Kids – The Fenland Trail

fenland trail

My son’s first hiking experience was the Fenland Trail in Banff at the age of 2. I had decided that I wanted to get Matthew out there, knowing that starting early with kids was the key to getting them to know and enjoy things. When introduced at a young age, it becomes natural and what they know.

fenland trailThere is also value in getting kids outdoors and nurturing their innate curiosity about nature and their connection with the environment. The Fenland Trail, which is just on the outskirts of the Banff town site, was the perfect introduction to hiking as it is a short 2 km self interpretive loop trail, that is mostly flat. There is a self guided pamphlet available at the trailhead that highlights 8 markers along the loop that teach you about the lifecycle of the montane forest. Not only does this help keep kids engaged as they are often looking ahead for the next post, but it teaches them about nature and about the environment of the trail that they are on.

fenland trailPlus the trail itself is beautiful. It winds through a white spruce forest along the eastern edge of the Vermillion Lakes marshland; and part of the trail also runs along the Echo & Forty Mile Creek. And I don’t know about you but I always love a trail that has some kind of water along the hike. It just adds something to it listening to the trickling water as you’re hiking along.

There is also the opportunity to view wildlife on this trail, as you may catch a glimpse of a muskrat or busy beaver in the creek. Elk and deer in the open fields and a plethora of songbirds chirping in the background, such as the black capped chickadee and gray jay.

fenland trailI love this trail for young kids and toddlers because even though it is about a 30- 40 minute hike, you can go at a nice leisurely pace, allowing the kids to stop and pause along the way, exploring and checking things out. Playing by the creek or sitting at one of the benches along the trail for a break or a snack. You don’t have to rush, you can take an hour or more if you want. I think the first time we went it took us 2 hours! but that was fine, Matthew finished the hike having enjoyed it and feeling successful (and yes he still had energy to burn).

fenland trailOne thing that you do need to keep in mind is because it is close to both the creek and the marshlands the mosquitoes can be abundant. So make sure you take your bug spray or natural bug repellent, so you can enjoy the trail without swatting at the bugs! (If you do get bitten you can use Lavender and Peppermint essential oils on the bites to reduce the inflammation and itchiness).

There are many benefits of taking your kids out hiking and the Fenland Trail is an excellent place to start! Once you have captured their desire to hike more and nurtured their curiosity, it will be easy to move on to longer hikes with maybe even a little bit of elevation gain.

As you do progress the kids on their hikes, remember to keep these tips in mind when hiking with kids and most of all have a good time!

fenland trail

Cool fact: Fenland refers to a wetland that is nourished by nutrient-wet groundwater

Check out other great Alberta hiking trails for kids, like the Alder Trail near Bragg Creek.

Fun in the Sun – Natural Solutions for Summer Fun

natural solutions for summer

I love Summer! Those lazy days with no schedule and nowhere you have to be at any particular time. I love the sunshine and the extended time outdoors. What I don’t love is all those chemicals that we put on our skin to protect ourselves and our family from the sun and bugs. Have you ever wondered if there was a better solution?

Anything that we put on our skin gets absorbed into our bloodstream, which in turn enters our entire body. This is through a process called Dermal Absorption which is the transport of a substance (via diffusion) from the outer surface of the skin both into the skin and into the body. So no matter what we apply to our skin, whether they are chemicals or other will become absorbed into and affect our bodies. And think about it, our skin is the largest organ in our body, so when we’re lathering up with that sunscreen or bug repellent we are exposing ourselves to a lot of chemicals we may not want.

Essential oils, combined with other natural ingredients, can provide us with the protection we need without being concerned about what chemicals we are absorbing into our bodies (because they’re aren’t any). When you use all natural ingredients like essential oils, you can support your body in ways that you need and in ways that benefit and may improve your overall health and well being. Not only can essential oils and other natural ingredients protect your skin in the way you desire (your immediate need like sun protection), but you can also benefit from the other properties of the oil you are using as well, like nourishing the skin or soothing and calming benefits.

Natural Solutions for Summer

There are various combinations and recipes out there to create natural products that will protect you in the summer, but all have a basic formula of at least one essential oil combined with one or more other natural ingredients to work together for optimal protection.

You’ll notice that many of the recipes include lavender and peppermint essential oils, which are must have’s for summer time. Both oils have analgesic (may reduce pain), cooling and soothing properties which are very much needed in summer.

Natural Sunscreen

Fact: Out of 2000 sunscreens reviewed, more than 75% were found to contain toxic chemicals.

Some things to consider when creating your own sunscreen are things like SPF and waterproof ability. SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor scale and is measured by a sunscreen’s ability to prevent UVB rays from damaging the skin. For example, if it takes 20 minutes for your unprotected skin to start turning red, then using a SPF sunscreen theoretically prevents reddening 15 times longer – so about 5 hours. Also the SPF number represents the percentage of protection that particular product provides. For instance, something with an SPF of 4-5 offers 75% protection.

There are a number of natural oils that naturally have an SPF factor rating. Coconut oil for instance has a rating of 4-5 SPF and contains antioxidants that help protect the skin from harmful radiation. Shea butter has an SPF of 5-6, Avocado oil SPF of 4-8 and Myrrh essential oil an SPF of 15 – plus ultra healing properties to help take care of your skin. Now using one of these by itself is not enough to provide the sun protection you need but used in combination can create a higher SPF and protection for your skin.

This Natural Sunscreen recipe uses a combination of these natural oils as well as beeswax which gives it waterproof ability.

Natural Sun Screen

1/2 c. oilve oilnatural solutions for summer fun

1/4 c. fractionated coconut oil

1/4 c. beeswax

2 tbsp. Shea butter

1 tsp. Vitamin E oil

2 tbsp. zinc oxide

12 drops Helichrysum essential oil

Place all ingredients except zinc oxide and helichrysum essential oil into a glass mixing bowl. Fill saucepan with 2 to 3 inches of water and turn on medium heat. Place glass bowl in saucepan and stir as ingredients melt. Remove from heat and ad the helichrysum essential oil and zinc oxide. Pour into a glass jar and store in a cool place. Apply lotion to skin before sun exposure. Reapply as needed.

 

 

Bug Bite Relief

Fact: Many topical medicated creams for insect bite itching and irritation have side effects causing redness, irritation and swelling.after bite

Ingredients

2 tsp. Fractionated Coconut Oil

10 drops Lavender essential oil

10 drops Peppermint essential oil

OR

15-20 drops doTERRA Purify essential oil blend

Add lavender and peppermint or purify essential oil to 10 ml rollerbottle. Add fractionated coconut oil to top. Secure the lid to your roller bottle and shake until ingredients combine. Apply as needed.

 

Heat Protectant Spray (for hair)

Shield your strands with a heat protectant spray made with Clary Sage and Geranium essential oils. Easy to make, this DIY spray will have your hair feeling full and healthy.

1 tsp. Fractionated Coconut Oilnatural solutions for summer fun

1 tsp. Sweet almond oil

2 tsp. doTERRA Salon Essential Smoothing Conditioner

1 c. water

5 drops Clary Sage

5 drops Geranium

Small spray bottle

Pour half of water into spray bottle. Add fractionated coconut oil, sweet almond oil, conditioner and essential oils into bottle. Add remaining water and shake well.

To use, apply one spritz to hair and work it through until hair is lightly coated. Style as normal.

 

Natural Allergy Relief

1 drop Peppermintnatural solutions for summer fun

1 drop Lavender

1 drop Lemon

Put into glass of water and drink. May need to increase to 2 drops each depending on person. *Note: not all brands of essential oils are safe to ingest. Research the brand you are using before ingesting.

Or create an allergy relief rollerbottle. Increase the amount of drops to 4 drops each and top with fractionated coconut oil. Shake and roll on as needed across chest and back of neck.

Check out more natural DIY recipes for summer, such as after sun and bug repellent, in part 2 of our Natural Solutions for Summer Fun.

 

Top 8 Essential Oils for Hiking

essential oils for hiking

Hiking is one of those summer activities that I really love. It’s one of those go anywhere activities that is always an adventure, an exploration of the natural space around you and different every time. It’s inexpensive and is available to everyone of all ages and all levels. All you really need is a good pair of hiking boots. (Ok I know to hike safely there’s a few more things you should bring – backpack, first aid kit, water, etc. – but in essence your equipment is minimal and it can be an inexpensive but very enjoyable activity).

Hiking also provides us with many health benefits from strengthening your core, lowering blood pressure and improving your balance. Not to mention the benefits of simply being out in nature (like leaving that technology behind!) I always feel fantastic after a day of hiking, whether it’s been a 3 km loop on a flat trail or a good hike up the side of a mountain. I always feel more alive and invigorated than when I left.

What does not always feel so great though are some of the after effects of hiking. From sore achy muscles (especially if this is my first hike of the season), to possibly a few scrapes and bruises or some insect bites. Even though sometimes that nice all over achy feeling can be a good feeling, I like to avoid the “Oh my God now it hurts to move” the next day.

Last summer, quite by accident, I discovered a combination to help reduce these aches and pains and a few other hiking ‘side effects’ while using my essential oils. I had been an avid user of essential oils for the past year and was discovering more and more about their benefits and uses. I just naturally started to bring them along on trips as I usually needed an oil for something. What I hadn’t though about yet was how I could use them specifically for hiking.

essential oils for hikers

I had just done a hike with the kids around Moraine Lake, which is near Lake Louise. It was only a short hike that day, but we had done a bit of climbing and I was already starting to feel achy. Taking what I knew, I quickly decided to take a drop of Frankincense internally* and apply some Deep Blue to my muscles. (I love Deep Blue, I think it is one of the most amazing blends for aches and pains. I love how it penetrates and gives you that nice cooling feeling). Then I carried on with the evening making supper and sitting around the fire. The next day when I woke up I fully expected to be at least a little bit achy. But to my surprise I wasn’t at all! I was thrilled! and happily put my boots on again for another hike with the kids, this time a 12 km adventure.

Top 8 Essential Oils for Hiking

This also made me think about what other essential oils would be beneficial for hiking and enjoying the outdoors. So I explored more and as a result give you the Top 8 Essential Oils for Hiking (really must have’s don’t leave home without them list).

  1. essential oils for hikersFrankincense – supports cellular health and cellular restructure and rebuilding. Perfect for supporting healing those muscles after a hike or any workout.
  2. Deep Blue – formulated to soothe and cool, this wonderful blend does just that. It reminds me of my Grandpa’s old formula of A5-35, but nicer smelling and all natural! Apply topically where needed.
  3. Peppermint – this one does a lot for hikers. It supports opening up your airways, can soothe aches and pains as well as cools and refreshes (place a drop on the back of the neck) when your feeling hot. It is also a wonderful oil for giving you an energy boost – you know if you need it to get up that last little bit to the top.
  4. Eucalyptus – is the oil of wellness, so great all around for hiking to feel well – will also open up your airways. Apply 1-2 drops topically across the chest.
  5. essential oils for hikersWild Orange – is an uplifting and energizing oil. You probably already feel great cause your outside enjoying the outdoors, but that extra little lift wouldn’t hurt, nor that boost of energy to get to the top! Drop 1-2 drops into your hands, rub them together, cup gently over the nose and mouth and inhale deeply for 30-60 seconds.
  6. Cypress – this one is excellent when hiking at higher elevations as it provides circulatory support. Use 1 drop topically across the chest.
  7. Lavender – eases sore achy muscles, supports anti inflammatory and is great for reducing itchiness from bug bites! Apply topically where needed.
  8. Myrrh – has powerful cleansing properties and when combined with lavender (which is also anti fungal and anti bacterial) in a spray bottle makes an excellent foot spray to use in your hiking boots to prevent foot fungus.

**Essential oils can be used 3 ways, aromatically, topically and internally. Depending on the intended outcome (and kind of oil) will depend on how best to use it.

I use these in a combination of ways from preventative to after care. I usually do my frank and deep blue combination after the hike, but often use my peppermint topically across the chest before heading out and I always take a drop of Wild Orange in my hands rub them together and breathe deeply before I start any day.

Depending on what kind of hike I am doing I’ll use the cypress topically for the higher elevation hikes and I always spray my boots with the lavender myrrh combination before heading out.

Of course I bring a little ‘mini’ first aid kit of these oils (and a few others) so I have them on hand should the need arise – like Lavender for bug bites and Terra Shield for bug repellent. I pack them in small dram bottles which does not take up much room in my pack and I have been very glad to have them on many occasion.

essential oils for hiking

Essential oils are such wonderful things! and can do so many things for us in supporting our health and wellness, both on a physical and emotional level. If you’re interested in learning more about essential oils or would like to give some of these a try on your next hike, contact me and I’d love to help you out.

*Note: not all essential oils are safe to ingest. Depending on what oil it is and what brand (as not all essential oils are created equally due to growing practices, extraction of the oil, etc. There are also currently no regulations or guidelines on producing essential oils in Canada) Ensure you research the brand of essential oil you are using to be sure.

The Perfumes of Nature – Outdoor Nature Activities for Kids

essential oils for hikers

One of the many things I love about the outdoors is all the wonderful smells! The smell of a spring rain, wet leaves, the cherry blossoms, the scent of pinecones, even dirt. And I love when the kids come in and they have what I call that ‘outside smell’, where they just smell of sun, fresh air and the outdoors.

Kids also love to smell stuff! In fact, it is one of the many wonderful things about children how they always have their noses in something, they’re willingness to explore and how they naturally just use all their senses when they are learning.

In learning about nature especially, we engage all 5 senses and smell is no exception! In fact, we get the most out of our learning experience outdoors when we are engaging all of our senses. It becomes just that much more of a cool experience. Smell is a unique one as we often take for granted the smells that we experience when we’re outside, and may not consciously notice them unless they are quite strong or overpowering, and though we appreciate all the wonderful smells outdoors,  we don’t always single them out (except maybe when you’re near a cow paddie!).

Taking the time to do an activity with kids that singles out the different smells in nature can be quite a fascinating experience. Having them learn and identify the smells individually helps them to heighten their outdoor experience and learn to appreciate another aspect of our beautiful natural world.

Identifying the Smells of Nature

In this simple activity we are going to help children identify different smells in nature and learn where they would find them.

You will need:

  • 10 small mason jars or other small containersniffing jars
  • blindfolds
  • dirt
  • dandelions
  • rocks
  • bark
  • pinecone
  • grass
  • bird feather
  • pine needles
  • small stick
  • poplar fluff
  • dry leaves
  • any other nature items you’d like to add

*Note: when gathering your nature items only pick items up off the ground, breaking branches or picking leaves off trees is not encouraged and could actually damage or kill whatever you’re taking it from.

Part 1:

Place one item in each of the containers. Have children sit in a circle with their eyes closed smells in nature(depending on the age of the children it may be easier and better to use blindfolds so there is no peeking!). With the children remaining in a circle pick one item to start with. Take the item to the first child and hold it gently below their nose and ask them to sniff. Ask the child to guess what it is but keep it to themselves so the other children can have a chance to guess. They will have a chance to guess after each child has sniffed the item.

Once everyone has had a chance to smell the item, then you can go around the circle and ask each child to share their guess. Once everyone has guessed then you can reveal to them what it was by name only (unless you are choosing not to do part 2).

Repeat this with the next item until you have done them all. Depending on the age and attention span of the children you may want to use less items, say only 5 instead of 10, as this may be too long and too many for younger children.

Part 2:

Once you have gone through all the items take the children on a nature walk and encourage them to smell different items along the way. Ask them to find the items that they just smelled in the containers live in nature, determining if it is the right thing by only using their sense of smell. Depending on the area you’re in you might be able to find all of them or only a few. That is ok, they are exploring and learning through their sense of smell and that is the whole point of the activity!

smells in natureAfter your Nature Walk come back to your circle and ask the children a few questions to help them solidify what they have just experienced.

  • What smells did they find?
  • Did they match the ones in the containers they smelled?
  • Where did they find them?
  • What was their favorite smell?
  • Was there a smell they disliked?
  • Can they think of other smells in nature that they did not smell today?

Doing this simple activity helps children to identify and appreciate the different smells in nature, as well as associating with where they can be found. Doing this activity will not only enhance their ability to identify different smells in nature but will add to the overall outdoor experience.

Discover more outdoor activities for kids – try a sound hunt, flower printing, or playing in the mud!

8 Tips for Gardening with Kids

gardening with kids

I love getting outside with the kids and digging in the garden. They love getting out there and putting their hands in the dirt, planting their seeds and then watching attentively each day waiting for that first bit of green to come up.

They get so excited when it peeks through and though I sometimes have to tell them things like not to overwater their plants, they love the experience and enjoy the success of producing their own flowers or food.

Benefits of Gardening with Kids

mud activitiesGardening with children provides many benefits and learning and you can start involving them at a very young age. It builds upon their innate curiosity to learn and ask why, learning by doing and of course nurturing their love of playing in the dirt (playing in the dirt is actually good for you!)

It teaches them responsibility, environmental awareness, patience and developmental benefits such as fine motor skills and planning and organizing. There’s even scientific and math concepts that you can teach through gardening which I always find so amazing how nature can teach us just by being involved with it. Plus it’s a fabulous bonding experience and it’s fun! Not to mention that your outside getting exercise and soaking up the sunshine.

Gardening with kids can be super easy and with these tips you’ll have success in no time.

Tips for Gardening with Kids

Give them their own spot – this is the most important thing. The kids need to feel like they have their own spot that they can garden in and that you are ok to relinquish control over! You should certainly work with them and guide them on what to do, but you really want to allow them to do it and try a few things as that is how they learn. It’s ok for them to plant a seed too deep and have it not come up or to over water an area. Yes you want them to experience success but it’s also ok for them to experience something not working. Then there’s the opportunity to discuss and explore why. And if you don’t have a lot of space try container or pallet gardening.

IMG_0900Give them their own gardening tools – set them up with their own kids size gardening gloves, garden shovel, knee pad, etc. which are easily found at your local garden center or online sites like Amazon. When they have their own tools to work with it makes them feel more important and that they have more control. Also make sure their tools are durable and strong, invest in the metal ones, not plastic that can break easily.

Start from seed – one of the best learning experiences in the garden is to start right from the beginning. I know in some climates the growing season is short and it’s easier to buy seedlings and plant those. Children will learn more by seeing the growing process right from the beginning – plus they get so excited when they see that first shoot of green peeking through.

In those situations start your seeds earlier inside and then transplanting them to the outdoor garden once it’s warmed up (here in Calgary rule of thumb is nothing until after May long weekend). You could do a combination, some from seed and a few of seedlings, which is what I tend to do, which provides both experiences.

Let them pick what they want to plant – if they get to choose what plants they want then this not only empowers them it gives them a more vested interest in what’s happening. As the parent give them choices that would work in your garden space and that will provide the kids with the most success. Choose from this Top 10 list of Crops for Children which are easy to grow, have short growing seasons and are fun to harvest.

gardening with kidsLet them decorate their garden – let the kids add a little bit of their own flare to the garden by making their own garden stake or scarecrow. Adding a fairy house or some other decorative item to a corner of their garden. Let them be creative!

Show off their work – when showing off the garden – either physically or through pictures – make sure to highlight the kids garden. This will ensue a sense of pride and accomplishment and creates a motivator for them to continue.

Encourage them to work it right to the end – work with the kids to see the garden season all the way through. Get them to help care for the garden even after the fruit has been harvested and teach them how to prep it for the winter and next growing season. This is a valuable lesson in teaching them the importance of all the steps and how each step supports the fruit that they produced and enjoyed. As well as all about the circle of life.

gardening with kidsModel what you want them to do – the easiest way to get them started is to be gardening yourself. Kids watch and learn from the adults in their lives so if they see you doing it they are going to want to do it to. Encourage them when they come over and ask questions, give them small tasks to get them involved and take time to answer their questions.

When I was little my aunt had a huge beautiful garden (and still does) that she worked and enjoyed every year. I loved going to her place and helping her, asking questions. Even as a family we had a small garden plot – and as a result all 3 of us girls love gardening and do so in our adult lives.

Starting with these simple tips will ensure the most success for gardening with kids. As you get going and the kids get older, with more experience you can then introduce concepts like rain barrels and why they’re beneficial, planting specific plants to attract pollinators like bees, humming birds and why that’s helpful to the earth. It doesn’t mean you can’t talk about them now (as you are likely doing some of those things in your garden already) but you can use them as ways to expand and build on their knowledge as they go and so as not to overwhelm them with a lot of information at once.

The best tip though is to enjoy yourself! Get out there and have fun with the kids and reap the benefits as a bonus!

gardening with kids

Have some great tips for gardening with kids? Share in the comments below.

Winter Adventures – Snow Activities for Kids

Blog custom Snow Activities for Kids

Winter is one of those seasons that you tend to either love or hate. The cold, the snow, the blustery wind and ice. Yet there is a beauty in winter that is unrefined, undiscovered and definitely under appreciated.

Think about how the kids light up with delight when they see those first snowflakes falling from the sky, excited to get home and play in it, even if it is just the tiniest fluff. They’re not thinking about how they have to shovel it or how the roads are going to be. My kids often can’t wait to build a snowman or make a snow angel, and sometimes I have to tell them there just isn’t enough snow. But they go out anyway and try it or create something else.

I believe the key to appreciating winter is going out and doing fun activities that you enjoy, as well as knowing how to dress and how long to stay depending on the temperature. Because you don’t want to get frost bite or hypothermia no matter how much fun you’re having!snow activities for kids

Also exploring winter in different ways allows you to appreciate the unique things that the season offers, as well as providing some knowledge and understanding. Winter is a really beautiful season full of wonder. Think about the sunshine sparkling off the new fallen snow, glimmering in the the sunlight. The beauty and intricacy of a snowflake and how no two are ever alike.

It’s important to teach our children about the season and how to get out and enjoy it. Because let’s be honest, winter is not going to go away. It will always be here and unless you move – it’s happening. And with the growing rates of inactivity in children, it’s even more important to get them active and outside.

8 Fun Snow Activities for Kids

Use these snow activities to teach children about the beauty of winter and how to appreciate it. Children are naturally creative so these snow activities capitalize on their imaginations while using materials that are common in winter. It also helps them learn and question about what’s happening in the season.

Snow Painting 

snow activities for kidsA very simple but creative activity for children is painting or coloring in the snow. I did this with my preschool class at Trico and they were very engaged in it. We only had about 20 minutes that day but we could have easily doubled that time and kept them interested.

Mix a few drops of food coloring and water in a spray bottle and mix together. Pick a spot of undisturbed snow and spray the color on the snow. Sometimes we use plastic cookie cutters as a pattern and create a design. Do this by placing the cookie cutter on top of the snow and then have the child spray their color inside the cookie cutter. Gently lift the cookie cutter off the snow and voila! a perfect shape. You can also buy snow markers which comes with a colored powder that you add water to and mix in the marker bottle. This is a great idea but it is a one use for the mixture. The great thing about them is you have the marker container after the mixture is gone, which you can reuse again and again. Just add your own food coloring and water mixture.

Ice Castles

snow activities for kidsThis is one of my favorite snow activities for kids. It is like building a sand castle but you’re using ice instead! You have to plan ahead slightly to have your ice pieces ready but it is super fun, especially when you have beautiful colored blocks.

In a number of different sized containers, fill them with water and put in the freezer to freeze. If desired add food coloring to your water before freezing – this makes beautiful colored ice to use. Freeze a variety of shapes and colors – from ice cube trays to small yogurt containers.

Once frozen pop the ice out of the containers and let the children start building. They can create towers, cities or different kinds of sculptures. Encourage them to use the snow to help the ice stick together when needed.

Blow Bubbles

snow activities for kidsHave you ever blown bubbles outside in the winter? This is a really cool activity as the bubbles actually freeze. When the bubbles freeze you get amazing crystals of ice forming with unique designs (something you would’t see in warmer temperatures). It’s very cool because children can actually watch the bubbles freeze and the crystals form in the bubble. It’s a fascinating experience and one that will be different every time.

Snow Obstacle Course

Set up a small obstacle course in the snow. Pile up snow to make hills to go over or around, add in things like hula hoops for hopping or smaller piles of snow for weaving in and out of. Get the kids to help you create the obstacle course and then try it out!

Go Hunting for Tracks

snow activities for kidsGo exploring and look for animal tracks with the kids. Winter is one of the best times to see tracks as you have a great surface to create imprints. Help the kids identify the tracks and even create some of your own. This is best done in an area that is undisturbed by human traffic but to get started could be done around your neighborhood to discover dog, cat and bunny tracks.

Tic Tac Snow

Create a giant tic tac toe board in the snow. Use natural items like pine cones or twigs for the x’s and o’s. Taking turns one at a time each, each child places their natural item in a square, alternating until the board is full or one of them gets three in a row. The goal is to get a line of three of their natural items to win.

Snoball Throwing Contest

snow activities for kidsDraw a large circle in the snow. Have the children each create a pile of snowballs. Depending on the number in your group and the age of the children will depend on how many snowballs. With 3-5 year olds I would suggest they each make 2 or 3 each. Children 5 and up 3-5 snowballs. Draw a line in front of the circle for them to throw from. Again where you place this line will depend on the ages of the children. Have each child take a turn one at a time, throwing their snowball aiming to get it into and as close to the middle of the circle. Each child throws one snowball and then the next person goes, rotating until all the children have thrown all their snowballs. Whoever is closest to the middle of the circle wins.

Variation: Draw a circle in the snow for each child participating. Make sure the circles are all the same size and the ‘throw line’ is the same distance from each circle. Each child then throws their snowballs into their circle one at a time. This reduces wait time and allows each child to only compete with themselves, which is often more ideal with smaller children as they remain more engaged.

Explore with a Magnifying Glass

snow activities for kidsI find a magnifying glass to be a wonderful thing. It is very cool to see the world up close and even more so to make it a little bigger. Children often discover things they may not have before by just looking at something through a magnifying glass. In winter, let them explore by looking at snow, ice, tracks, and other natural items. Enhance this activity by getting them to look at different forms of ice and noticing the differences or similarities, like icicles or a sheet of ice over water (like a puddle). You can do this with snow (fresh undisturbed snow, compared to compact walked in snow) and other natural winter items.

If you want to take it one more level, get the children to draw what they saw through their magnifying glass on a piece of paper or journal. (Either have clipboards and pencils ready to do it outside or get them to do it once they return inside. If possible best to do it outside in the moment as they can not only see the item but their memory is the freshest).

Enjoying the snow can be more than the traditional snowmen, snow forts, skiing, toboganning, snow tubing, etc. Not that their is anything wrong with those activities but in some cases they are not always accessible. Expanding children’s horizons and understanding of winter in a unique way makes them love and appreciate this beautiful wonderous season. Plus there are minimal materials and equipment needed and are easy to do in your own backyard. These activities are great for adults too! so get out there and enjoy it with them.

snow activities for kids

What is your favorite snow activity and why? Share in the comments below.

Winter Adventures – Snow Tubing

Blog Winter Adventures Snow Tubing

Snow Tubing is a fabulous outdoor winter activity that has taken many ski resorts by storm! This exhilarating concept of cruising down the snow covered hill on an inner tube is not only fun but a great family activity.

A secondary activity to the toboggan, snow tubing originated sometime back in the 1800’s. The concept of cruising down the hill in a tube slowly gained popularity over the years and really took off in the 1990’s when many ski hills decided to offer an alternate outdoor activity for the increased non skiers that were coming to the hill.

snow tubingAnd let me tell you snow tubing is an absolute rush! We had the pleasure of trying snow tubing for the first time at Winsport’s Acura Tube Park here in Calgary. Boasting 9 lanes and Western Canada’s largest tube park, it is quite different than hopping on the toboggan and zooming down the hill. First off, it is safer as the tube park is set up with lanes, so when you go down the hill you have your own wide space to zip through. Plus it is staff supervised and they moderate when people go, making sure the lane is clear before the next person zooms down.

Second, you can save those legs going up and down the hill with your tube each time because you ride the magic carpet to the top. This allows you to stop and enjoy the ride up as well.

snow tubingThird, the lanes are groomed and maintained. So though you may experience some dips and curves they are none of the bumps or bare spots that you might run into on the traditional toboggan hill. Easier on the tailbone and the rest of the body!

The kids were super excited to give it a try. Children have to be at least 42″ to ride by themselves but children 36″ or more can go if they ride with an adult. Chloe was a little trepidatious but totally wanted to go by herself regardless. Luke, as he does, just watched everyone else go first, getting the lay of the land, seeing what to expect, and was quite confident to go on his own once it was his turn.

snow tubingWhen it’s your turn the staff actually give you a push and launch you down the lane. Either giving you a spin or sending you straight – which they ask you what you’d prefer before they do. Being a little cautious myself I asked for straight the first time I went, but honestly you want to spin! (Just remember to wait a minute or so when you get to the bottom cause you might be a little dizzy). It is so much more fun. Spinning and zooming safely down the hill really is exhilarating. I screamed every time and loved it!

You can also go down in groups of up to 4, where each person is in their own tube but you are all holding onto another tube in your group. This can also be lots of fun and another way to share the experience.

snow tubingPasses for the park are quite reasonable, starting at 18.99 for youth and can be purchased in 2, 3 or 4 hour rides. You also have the ability to reload your cards at a reduced rate for future rides. And they currently have an unlimited Family Pass on sale for the rest of the season – we’ll definitely be getting one of those!

The only downside is even though the park has 9 lanes it can get quite busy at the top and hard to determine which line for which lane you are in. Since they are newly opened, they are still working out some of the kinks in the running of the park so that it is smooth and efficient. But they are doing a great job! the staff are so fun and friendly and most people are pretty understanding about being patient and waiting their turn.

Snow tubing is a fabulous alternative to tobogganing and I feel a bit safer as it’s more controlled (you also don’t need to bring any equipment). And with the new bylaws here in Calgary only allowing toboganning on 22 designated hills it provides another great option for kids and families. I also love that it’s local! There are other snow tube parks in the mountains outside of Calgary like Norquay, Nakiska and Lake Louise but if you don’t want the addition of the longer drive then this is perfect! So zip down to WinSport and check it out before the season ends.

Want to experience Snow Tubing at the Acura Snow Tube Park for yourself? Check out their unlimited Family Pass currently on sale.

5 Family Fall Festivals to Attend this Year

fall festivals

Fall has always been my favorite time of year. I love getting out and enjoying the season, whether it be simply heading outside enoying the fall colors, a walk or out to one of the many Family Fall Festivals in and around Calgary.

I love taking the kids out to the many different festivals and events that celebrate Fall in and around Calgary. And there are definitely a lot to choose from! Pumpkin patches, corn mazes, apple festivals, harvest festivals and more. I actually didn’t realize just how many there were. I knew of the more common and popular ones but when I started researching I was surprised to find 20 or more to choose from. And there was a nice variety from free to ticketed events, days or evenings with activities that appeal to every age.

fall festivalsI was very excited about some of these and couldn’t wait to get out and attend, experiencing first hand what they were all about. Ones like the Torch Handbuilt Motorcycle Festival, the Heritage Inn International Balloon Festival and BBQ on the Bow all sounded fantastic.

We do though have our favorites. Ones that we tend to go to each year due to the fact that they appeal to everyone in the family and are very well structured family events. At each of these, there is always something of interest for everyone.

Top 5 Family Fall Festivals

Calgary Corn Maze – Autumn Pumpkin Festival & Flashlight Nights

fall festivalsThere are a number of pumpkin patch events around Calgary but the Calgary Corn Maze is currently the one closest to us. They boast pumpkin games and crafts, as well as the pumpkin explosion! (this is something you just have to see). You can also enjoy fun farm activities as well as pick your own pumpkin from the pumpkin patch to purchase and take home. Plus you can still explore the maze, which is pretty beat down by this time of year but the kids still love cruising through it!

Flashlight Nights are on Friday evenings where you navigate the maze in the dark. If you arrive early you can still take in many of the family fun events before heading into the maze. It’s super fun to navigate in the dark and definitely gives you a whole new experience.

Illuminasia at the Calgary Zoo (unfortunately this event is not running this Fall but hopefully it will return as it is a beautiful event)

The first time we attended this Illuminasia I was absolutely amazed. These handcrafted authentic Chinese Lanterns are gorgeous and definitely a sight to see. They are so beautiful as they “light up the zoo and set the stage for an experience like no other.” They fall festivalsare amazing. We went 3 times last year and enjoyed it every time. The Stage Show is not to miss as it is very well done and entertaining for all ages! It is a fantastic cultural event. There are other added activities such as Learning How a Lantern is made, musical performances, garden displays and learning about the national animals of China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam.

Heritage Park – Fall Themed Weekends

Heritage Park has always been a favorite in our family. In the fall they are open weekends only until Thanksgiving and offer different themes for each of their weekends. Events such as the Harvest Sale and Railway Days feature different family activities and events around their theme. My kids love Railway Days as we all love trains! Of course as it gets closer to Halloween they offer a great kid friendly event, Ghoul’s Night Out.

Okotoks Harvest & Blues Festival

fall festivalsThis is a weekend of concerts, exhibits & activities to celebrate harvest and blues music! There are free family activities on Saturday, that include carnival games, face painting, wagon rides and a full blues concert from the back of a flatbed truck! There are also evening concerts (ticketed events) that feature various blues performers.

Calaway Park – Halloweekends

Open weekends in the Fall, Calaway Park celebrates Halloween all season with their Halloweekends. This family friendly Fall/ Halloween event is a great way to head out of town (just a little bit) and enjoy the Fall season. Wear family friendly costumes and stroll down Hallo Street, if you dare. Enjoy tricks and treats and spooktacular rides.

These family friendly fall festivals alone will keep you busy and the kids busy every weekend til Halloween, not to mention the other great festivals that I haven’t even mentioned yet. I certainly love our favorites but I would also recommend branching out a little bit and trying something new. I kind of make it a goal each season to go to one that we haven’t been to before and see what it’s all about.

One event that is coming up this weekend is Alberta Culture Days. Celebrated around the province this a vibrant, three-day celebration with a variety of events in your area. Not having attended this one before I am looking forward to checking it out this weekend!

fall festivalsI find that there are so many opportunities to get out and explore our city and surrounding area. Not only enjoying this beautiful Fall season but also learning a little bit more about our culture, heritage and community.

What Fall events are you attending this Fall?

Building a Nature City – Outdoor Activities for Kids

outdoor sensory activitiesOne of the many benefits of outdoor nature activities is that they engage all five senses in children’s learning. Outdoor sensory activities like touching sticks, smelling the flowers, hearing the birds, seeing the grasshoppers, even tasting the dandelions!

Children (and adults) learn best and retain the most when they engage their senses. And an outdoor environment is one of the best places to do this! There is a plethora of sights, sounds and tactile experiences in nature, and a lot of times we are experiencing this without even thinking about it. Children just naturally gather sticks, rocks and flowers. They can’t help but be drawn to pick them up. How many times have you told your child to put that stick down or drop those rocks?

In this activity we are actually going to encourage children to pick up natural items and then take their exploration a bit further by creating a city with them.

Building a Nature City – An Outdoor Sensory Activityoutdoor sensory activities

You will need:

buckets

playdough (homemade or from the store)

flat bottom boxes

natural items (to be collected)

The first thing I did to get ready for this activity was make natural herbal playdough the day before. I found this recipe on The Imagination Tree and loved not only the idea of adding the herbs, which provide such a wonderful smell, but the use of real lemon juice in place of cream of tartar. Though I did this myself without the kids, you could easily make this into another activity with the kids (another great outdoor sensory activity) prior to building your nature city. Of course you can use regular playdough as well if you do not wish to make your own.outdoor sensory activities

Briefly explain what you are going to do – gather items, use the playdough, build city with items in your box. Then begin…

  1. outdoor sensory activitiesGive the child a bucket to hold their nature items in, then go out together and gather items. Encourage them to gather a variety of things and only pick up items that are already on the ground. We want to instill in them that pulling live leaves off or breaking branches can hurt the tree, or picking the flowers (with the exception of dandelions) can prevent them from growing again.
  2. Once they have gathered their items return to a spot outdoors where they can have a ‘work space.’ This should be a flat space, like the deck or concrete patio. You could even set up a large piece of cardboard or wood to create an area for them to work.
  3. Give the child a flat box bottom to build their city in. I searched around our house and found that gift boxes work well. You want one where the sides are not too high and the bottom is fairly sturdy. Ideally if you have one of those cardboard trays from your local garden center these work best.
  4. Let them take the amount of playdough they want to create the base of their city in their box. They use the playdough to stick their nature items in to build their city. (I left the bag of playdough there for the kids to take as they needed).
  5. Taking the natural items they collected have them build and create whatever city they have imagined and see the results.

outdoor sensory activitiesWhen I did this with my children they were super excited and engaged in ‘building’ for quite some time. Both were very focused on their cities and they modified and added to them as they went. Luke started out with something very simple but then saw Chloe make a tee pee and decided he needed one of his own. They were at it for a good 20 minutes or more and this was in addition to the time we had already spent collecting our natural items.

Both of their cities turned out very well and were quite creative and unique! They really enjoyed it, especially Luke who actually thanked me the next day for doing that with them because “I really enjoyed it,” he said. I thought that was pretty cool.

Sensory play and exploration is an important part of a child’s development as children learn through their environments. Sensory play stimulates the brain and helps them develop and refine the use of their senses, which is super important for all types of learning! This outdoor sensory activity allows kids to engage all of their senses by touching the natural items (are they rough, smooth, sticky), smelling them as they are working, seeing the different colors and breathing in that good old fresh air while they are creating! They’ll likely discover bugs while they’re out there or notice/ hear a bird fly by. They may even taste the playdough, (which was all natural with herbs) like my daughter did. We always were a family who likes the full experience.

Regardless of what your child’s experience with this activity they will definitely get something out of it. Whether it be the texture of the sticks, enjoying the sounds, they will be engaged, creative and using their imagination while reaping the benefits of a full sensory learning experience!

outdoor sensory activitiesAnd don’t forget to take pictures of their creations once they are done, as they will truly be works of art.

Next week we discover all the colors of nature through this easy do anywhere activity.

Seeking and Sorting – Outdoor Nature Activities for Kids

outdoor nature activities for kidsChildren naturally love to be outside. Running, jumping, playing, climbing are all elements of outdoor play. We should not underestimate the value of outdoor nature activities for kids  and playing outside as it has many benefits.

Children who spend more time outside learn to appreciate and care for nature. Their natural curiosity encourages them to explore and learn in ways that we may not even realize. They develop physical and gross motor skills, burn calories, get their Vitamin D and contribute to their aesthetic learning as well. Think of all the colors, sights and sounds out there engaging the senses – from bird song to the feeling of bark under their hands or mud squished through their fingers. These activities are all contributing to the development and growth of your child.

outdoor nature activities for kidsThough free unstructured play in the outdoors definitely has it’s place and benefit, you can enhance your child’s learning experience by doing simple and exploratory outdoor nature activities with them. Deepening their appreciation of nature, teaching them basic skills/ concepts as well as growing their curiosity. Outdoor nature activities for kids can introduce them to something they may not have thought of before or learn about something that they may just take for granted. For instance, the feeling of the bark of a tree – some are rough, some are smooth, while others have a powdery substance on them. Then this can lead them to asking why? why are the barks different? Or looking at and finding all the different colors there are in nature – there is not just green and brown, exploring a little through different activities can show them the many colors of nature and where to look for them.

outdoor nature activities for kidsOver the next 6 weeks, we will explore different outdoor nature activities for children, featuring one activity each week; their benefits and how easy they are to do. You do not need a lot of equipment, just curiosity and a sense of fun and exploration. Depending on the age of the children, will depend on how deep you take their exploration. I find the best is to start simple and then take cues from the child as to where to go with it next and how long to spend on it. Something that might keep one child engaged for 20 minutes, might only engage another for 2. That’s ok, length of time is not important – it is the experience and what they get out of it. Besides the child who is engaged for less time might find another activity of more interest to them and spend longer with that one.

Seeking and Sorting

Children naturally love to collect stuff. They often run outside and collect dandelions, rocks, leaves, etc. This activity uses this concept to start to grow their appreciation as well as some basic math and counting concepts. You can easily do this with a group of children as young as 2 years old or one on one.

  1. outdoor nature activities for kidsGather the children into a circle and show them what it is you want them to collect. Depending on the age of the kids I may ask them to find a specific number or simply to collect as many as they can. For instance, I hold up a dandelion and ask them what it is. If they do not know then I tell them.
  2. Once they have identified what it is I ask them to go and collect 3 of these and bring them back and put them into a pile in the middle. Once they have done that, I will move on to the next item, say a stick. I emphasize that they are only to take sticks from the ground, as we want the ones that are attached to keep growing. I will ask them to collect 4 and bring them back and place it in the pile. Depending on the age group will depend on how many items we go seeking. With preschoolers I usually choose 2-3 items.
  3. Once we have a great big pile, we may pretend it’s a campfire and sing a campfire song. Or I tell them one interesting fact about the items they’ve collected, like pine cones hold the seeds for the new trees.
  4. Then I will get them to sort them into 3 piles, all the dandelions in one, all the sticks in one and all the pine cones in another. Kids not only love to collect, they also love to sort! Sorting activities for children teaches them how to organize, how to determine alike and different as well as beginning math skills.

outdoor nature activities for kidsThe great thing about this activity is it provides the foundation for other activities that you can now use the items you’ve collected to do. Activities like Woodland People, Building a Nature City and Nature Collages all utilize the items you’ve collected and bring in a little creativity and imagination.

Try out this Seeking and Sorting Activity this week and share in the comments below how it went and what favorite things you found!

Next week we’ll build upon this activity by Building a Nature City, that uses what we’ve collected.