Thursday, 25 February 2016

The Alphabet Song - Teaching Letters & Numbers to your Pre-Schooler

When we went for our parent teacher interviews a couple of weeks ago of a big focus of our discussion was on increasing letter and number recognition to assist the minions in becoming reading and math ready in a year and a half when they go to grade one.  Both kids, for whatever reason, are obsessed with being in SK next year and we've told them both that they need to be better readers and counters to get there (subtle manipulative motivation on our part).

Thanks to some research and some awesome suggestions from both Molly and Jack's teachers I am happy to provide 9 simple tips to help improve your pre-schooler or kindergardener improve their counting/math skills and letter recognition, Thankfully none of them involve flash cards.

N is for Ninja Turtles (obviously) - Drawing by Molly age 4.

9 Ways to make your kid a better reader and counter!

  1. Make them sign their namesWhether it's on greeting cards or artwork, get them to practice their signature at every possible opportunity. Beware that one off signatures are probably a better idea than getting too ambitious.  On Valentine's Day I wanted to have each child sign all of their class Valentines for printing practice.  56 cards later only 13 were signed by Molly and 43 by me because Jack claimed he was "too scared to sign his name". The person who got the most "practice" was yours truly.
  2. Point out letters when you're reading to them
    During story time Chris and I routinely point to random letters every few pages and ask both kids to identify our selection.  If it's later at night we opt for more familiar letters, like those in their names.
  3. Label their artwork
    Your kid just drew a kick ass dog, label it with a D for Dog and point it out.  Or give them a D sticker to affix to the picture themselves.  Molly's teacher said just the first letter is ambitious enough for most kids aged three to six (pre-school through Senior Kindergarten).
  4. Remember those letter blocks from when they were babies?  Bring em out!
    Have them build a castle for one of their dolls or toys that only uses the letters in their, or another family member's name.  Ask for the blocks when you're building with them using the colours on them as well as letter names that they are familiar with to help build their confidence.
  5. Point out letters and numbers on street signs
    This is a great activity when you're out or on a lengthy car trip or a walk.  Consider playing a game of I Spy involving numbers and letters.
  6. Make them Count!
    Have them count the number of people in the room who have asked for ice cream, make them count out the number of pretzels you're serving for snack, or the number of tea spoons or cups when they're helping you with a recipe.   
  7. Get some Hello My Name is Tags
    Put them on guests and family members to display names, initials, and ages to help with their recognition.
  8. Increase access to writing instruments and letters
    Bath tub crayons can have them drawing, and writing their names while they bathe.  Use a chalk board or magnets to display what you're serving for supper that night.  Parents beware: Jack's Domo monster has marker all over his mouth because Jackie decided it was a good idea to draw food in his mouth to eat.  Washable writing tools are probably the best bet.
  9. Buy books on topics and characters they love
    Jack loves rockets and space, so we bought him some books on space to read.  He also is in love with the Little Critter books (He calls the main character little Chritterfer which is pretty adorable).  The Little Critter books bore Molly to tears (which she's been very vocal about), her current go to books are a series of Girl Power, 5 minute stories and The Frog and Toad Treasury Storybook.  Another option when children are learning the letters in their names is the personalized "Lost Their Name" book series where a child gets a story focused on learning the letters in their own names.

    Molly's Little Girl Who Lost Her Name Book, A Christmas gift from her Aunt and Uncle

What games or activities helped your children learn to read and count!

To read about encouraging fine motor skill development click here

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Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Hungry Like the Wolf - 10 ways to make your trip to Great Wolf Lodge Better

Shortly after becoming a parent you'll realize that babies and kids have a lot of stuff.  Some of it is necessary like face clothes, towels, and winter boots, while other stuff builds like you're raising a small army of hoarders who collect broken toys, half constructed art projects, and puzzles missing various pieces.  Because of this we try to focus on a build memories, not acquire "stuff" rule for a lot of our gifting.

This means that when the minions receive monetary gifts, a good portion of it usually goes towards a fun activity that wouldn't normally be in our standard budget and not more stuff.  This past weekend our memory was an overnight trip to Great Wolf Lodge.

Image Courtesy of Toronto Teacher Mom

Great Wolf Lodge is essentially an indoor water park hotel with a rustic outdoors cabin in the woods theme with locations in Niagara Falls Canada and over a dozen places in the US.  It includes mascot creatures, like a tree, bears, and a moose that are all a part of their twice daily story time activities, kinda like that evil talking deer in Evil Dead only not evil (that I'm aware of).  Their basic mission is to create a family, memory filled, vacation experience.

While I'd say this isn't the most relaxing getaway for parents, our kids, and kids of all ages were in love with this place.  As we entered the hotel, there was literally a child kicking and screaming that they didn't want to leave, fortunately the minions are happy enough that we said we'd go back next winter.

Here are 10 hacks from our experience that can help make your stay better, and cheaper!

Storybook Centre at Great Wolf Lodge

  1. Don't book during peak times
    This will save you both coin and headaches of March Break crowds, and massive weekend lines.  By booking on a Sunday night we managed to save $100 on our room. 
  2.  Maximize your play while you stay
    Check in is at 4PM (or when your room is ready) and check out is at 11AM the following day, however you can visit the water park any time after 1PM on the day you arrive and continue using the facilities during the day you check out. 
  3. Be prepared for your room not to be ready
    If you arrive with bathing suits under your clothes and a small backpack, you can easily use the water park until your room is ready without having to rent a large locker (simply keep your stuff locked in your car) or rent a smaller locker.  All of the lockers are in the actual water park, so this means that your clothes can get pretty wet from drips and splashes from the slides running all around you.  By wearing appropriate clothes to the park you can avoid looking like a flasher (after my jeans and shirt got soaked on their way into the locker I made my way up to our room wearing knee length boots and a trench coat over my bathing suit, it was a short walk, but I still felt silly).
  4.  The extras seem fun, but expensive
    There are a lot of cool extras, like a magic quest game, adult and kid focused spas, an arcade, on site babysitting, bowling, and a PJ club at night.  All of these have a cost associated with them.  We figured we were paying enough for the room and skipped all of the extras.  The park wristbands are also your hotel keys and can be used to pay for anything in the park, so make sure you know what you're scanning cause it's all going to show up on your credit card bill at check out. Use extra caution if you decide to activate one of your kids' wristbands with purchasing power.  For our stay the water park, and complimentary evening story time were more than enough to keep the kids entertained and happy.
  5. Take advantage of complimentary life jackets
    The water park has a ton of complimentary life jackets, while we didn't make the minions wear these in the splash pad, this made our lives a lot less stressful in the wave pool, regular pool, slide area, and lazy river.  This meant I felt confident in the wave pool with both kids solo while Chris got to check out some water slides too big for the minions.
  6. Bring a lot of food
    While you can't enjoy outside food in the water park, you can eat in your room for a fraction of the cost of purchasing at the lodge. Each room has a fridge and a microwave for personal use.  Bring more food for meals and between meals, even if you plan on eating out or at the hotel. The water park is hungry work, and your kids will quickly go from playing in the water to hangry land based monsters bent on destruction. There are several restaurants at the lodge, but I can't verify any quality as we brought our own lunch and snacks, then had dinner out so we could show the kids the actual Niagara Falls.  If you want to eat at the lodge you can purchase an inclusive meal package at $50 per day per adult or $25 per day for kids.
  7. Bring yourself some libations if you want a drink
    There is a bar in the back of the restaurant and in the "snack shack" at the pool, but they aren't advertised because of the family themed nature of the establishment.  Because we have four year olds who wanted to be in the water ALL THE TIME there wasn't really time for us to have a drink until we got back to the room, post story time.
  8. Bring something quiet for the adults to do at night
    Even though we splurged for a themed "Wolf Den Suite" with enclosed bunk beds, the kids could still hear us and we could definitely hear them. We thought they'd be so tired they'd fall asleep almost instantly, but unfortunately Jack was wired and remained up and singing songs until 10PM. Bring some cards, books, or magazines, to enjoy until the kids nod off. The hotel advertises that they lend board games, just contact the front desk.  The Niagara Great Wolf Lodge does not offer movies to watch in your suite,but has basic TV, so bring your own electronic device if you think you'll want to kick back with a film either before or after the kids go to bed.
  9. The chlorinated water will wreak havoc
    Bring some extra moisturizer, or eczema care cream for sensitive skin and make sure your kids have a good rinse off after their day of play.  Anyone with long hair, particularly kids will want to bring some good cream rinse, an ouchless brush, and some patience to get rid of the birds nest level tangles that will be a result of the chlorine and epic amounts of water splashed, thrown onto it.  I'm not going to lie, there were some tangle related tears.
  10. Stay hydrated
    The water park is intentionally kept at a warm 84 degrees F (29 degrees C) which is great, but you will get thirsty.  Bring plenty of water for everyone to drink before, during and after their stay to ensure hydration.  It's days later and I'm still thirsty!

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Wednesday, 17 February 2016

The Whole World Is Our Playground - Playground Review Playtown Mississauga

It was a very chilly long weekend and the minions were going buggy.  Maybe it was the rush of Valentine's chocolate, or maybe it's that they hadn't been outside in days because it felt like minus 100. Either way it was time to work off some energy, so we decided to venture out to an indoor play centre to work off some much needed energy and sugar.

My park review disclaimer: If you don't live in the area I hope you enjoy the pics and can use some of the ideas to inspire and explore in your own city. If you have any recommendations for great playgrounds ideally some in Toronto proper (indoor or out or new criteria I haven't thought of) please post a comment on this post or email me at

Playground Name:

2170 Dunwin Drive #6 Mississauga, ON  L5L 5M8 (Erin Mills Pkwy & Dundas Street)

Jack at the fire station

Paging Dr. Molly to the Bunny cages

There is free parking in the lot.  This location is a not near a Go Station.

Theme of Park:
Innovative, interactive and imagination based play town for young children.  .

$11 per child ages 1-12.  Two adults may accompany any one child and kids under 12 months get in for free. There are annual passes available for purchase for $199.

French Fries, Order up, Large size!

Variety of Equipment for different ages:
There are a number of activities and play are geared towards kids aged 3-8 with some great staple play stations.  There is a small play area focused on infants, so they don't get trampled by older kids running from station to station in this recreation of a small town.

Outside the Beauty Boutique Salon

Best Part(s) of the Park:
This playground featured standard staple play areas that kids love including: a veterinary office, grocery store, restaurant, house, fire station, theatre with dress-up clothes and a stage, and mini roadway with ride-em toy cars.  Innovative play ideas that I haven't seen elsewhere (that the minions really got a kick out of) were the beauty salon complete with brushes, toy scissors, toy, hair dryers, bows, mirrors, and doll busts (like toy versions of the real ones used at beauty schools) to let the kids practice their "craft".  Jack got a big kick out of the scanner at the "grocer" that beeped whenever you ran any groceries over it.  The space has party rooms for birthdays, and a kitchen with a microwave where you can bring (and heat up) your own food.  The people running the centre do a very good job of ensuring that there isn't overcrowding, so kids get to play where they want, when they want,  I'd recommend calling ahead on weekends to reserve your space.

This is more an interactive play centre than playground.  Yes, kids will get a chance to run around and use their imagination, but if your lil one needs monkey bars and climbing to work off their energy this isn't the place to visit.  There isn't a lot for infants or small toddlers to do, and while the vast facility is great for kids, it would be challenging for one guardian trying keep an eye on multiple kids, particularly if one was an infant.

Overall Rating:
I give this indoor playground a 3.5/5 score.  I base this on the satisfaction level of both kids in combination with the price paid.  For Molly who likes more imagination based play, this was a great find, however for a kid like Jack who needs a little more physical play I'd like something with a little more opportunity to climb, run and jump.  The staff was fantastically available, but didn't interfere with playing kids, which was refreshing! Kids who enjoy this playground would get a big kick out of Toronto's Children's Discovery Centre.

The slide beside the fire station

To read my review of Toronto's Children's Discovery Centre click here.

To read my indoor playground review for Balls of Fun in Mississauga click here.

To read my indoor playground review for Lil Monkeys Playground in Burlington click here.

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Sunday, 14 February 2016

We're the Kids - Developing Fine Motor Skills

Sometimes I feel like that stereotypical dude.  The one who begrudges his girlfriend's drawer space in his condo, even though they've been dating for years.  I am that guy who freaks out when the eye make-up remover and jumbo sized box of tampons shows up in my medicine cabinet, except my condo is our living room and the medicine cabinet is my beloved book shelves.

As a parent I face a constant struggle to maintain a house that is both kid friendly and doesn't resemble the inside of Pee-Wee's Playhouse.  It is a very fine balance.  In the persistent war on adult space vs. kiddie land, the minions planted a victory flag in our living room this weekend when I relinquished two book shelves in favour of an arts and crafts centre in our living room.

Our living room craft centre

How did we make the space?  Let's just say that Mr. Stephen King and Ms. Anne Rice now live in our garage inside a wall of orange lockers.  Sorry guys, at least the door is insulated.

The minions have officially completed their first six months of JK and Chris and I attended our first ever parent teacher meeting.  The focus of our meeting was to discuss the progress of both Molly and Jack, and to determine the things that we need to do to help get them reading, writing, and math ready for their entrance into grade one, just a year and a half away.

We've never been flash card parents, or tiger parents, who are big on structured play, spending most of our time together on weekends having adventures, discovering our city, and the world around us as a family.  On weekdays after school and work Chris and I drink tea, cuddle on the couch with the kids, make dinner together, let the kids play, watch some TV, and then enjoy some story time before bed. It's lazy, but it works for us.  Unfortunately it means we're doing very little towards boosting their formal education.

Nowadays all little kids need to work on their fine motor skills, letter recognition, and social skills to be able to cope at school.  Social skills are developed by playing with other kids, learning how to share, and play games.  But what about the fine motor skills?  Since this is something we have literally put zero effort into so far, on Friday night we went out to the dollar store with the minions and got working on creating a craft, art and learning centre that could be enjoyed in our living room (while we drink tea and cuddle).   This is why Mrs. Lestat and Mr. Misery got their eviction notices.

A whiteboard drawing of Daddy

The idea is that this space will act as an organized, accessible space for Molly and Jack to learn, but not feel pressured to do so.  School is long and they're pretty whipped by the end of the day.  This way if Molly and Jack want to use the items, they can, but if they'd rather wrestle Daddy Monster on the couch, this is also an option. Below is our shopping list for our craft centre.  All of these items should help develop fine motor skills, and give them the extra time they need to learn, all while allowing us to sip tea, sit on the couch, and hopefully prevent our front room from becoming a giant eye sore.

  1. Pipe cleaners (for bending twisting and tying into knots)
  2. Stickers for peeling and sticking.
  3. Safety Scissors (for practicing cutting paper, not hair or furniture, we'll see how that goes).
  4. A white board and dry erase markers
  5. Assorted paper
  6. Colouring books
  7. Magnetic drawing boards with erasers
  8. Foam stickers in the shapes of numbers and letters
  9. Stamps
  10. Crayons, markers and pencil crayons
  11. Modelling clay and playdough 
  12. Plastic bins and buckets for storage
So far the centre has been a success and Molly and Jack are happily working on their skills without feeling pressure.  The sparkled pipe cleaners and clay, along with the white board have been the most coveted items.  My panic attacks on giving up my personal space have been minimal, but only time will tell if I'm scrubbing marker off of walls and trying to fix self-cut hair.

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Thursday, 11 February 2016

The Jewel - Remembering Jewel Kats

Do you know Jewel Kats?  She was a pioneer in the world of children's publishing, who wrote stories to help empower children with disabilities, chronic conditions, and address important life lessons for kids everywhere.  She was the inspiration behind the Archie Comics character, Harper Lodge, the first character in the comic with a disability.

I had never heard of Jewel Kats until my dad clipped an article about the Canadian author last month following her passing, and subsequently put five of her books on order for me to read from the library. As I began to read about Jewel, her life's work, and explore her stories alongside the minions, one thing was clear: she was freaking amazing!  Being able to explore relatable, believable, and inspiring messaging all within the short confines of a children's story is truly a remarkable talent.

Author photo of Jewel Kats courtesy of Anokhi Media

Jewel used her hot pink punk rock accessories, a crutch and walker to walk, and a manual wheelchair for longer distances to get around, and wrote books to inspire children to be whatever they wanted to be.  After a car accident when she was nine years old, Kats had chronic pain, arthritis, and low bone density in her right leg.

Her first book Reena's Bollywood Dream is a story tackling sexual abuse that aptly tells a story in terms that children can understand, leaving the vital takeaways about understanding what is inappropriate, saying no, speaking up to trusted adults, and that sexual abuse is never their fault.

Her other eight books are a part of her "Fairy Ability Tales" series that show that anyone can be a princess if they want to be.  My personal favourite was Cinderella's Magical Wheelchair because it featured a more confident, independent Cinderella who launches her own business, which she continues, even after she marries her Prince Charming.  A close second would be The Princess and the Ruby, An Autism Fairy Tale with her take on the classic The Princess and the Pea, with her own signature, heartwarming twist.   

Photo Courtesy of Archie Comics.

A number of years ago Kats approached Archie Comics writer Daniel Parent at a Toronto Fan Expo directly asking him why Riverdale didn't have a disabled character.  Parent gave Kats his contact information and they connected. In 2014, the character Harper Lodge, who seems to have some definite similarities to Jewel Kats in terms of looks and style, was created.

Jewel's dream was an induction into The Canadian Disability Hall of Fame.  You can make a donation in honour of her memory to SickKids here or nominate her for the Hall of Fame after you check out her work here.

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Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Get While the Gettin's Good - Best Kid Programming on Netflix Canada

Winter seems to have finally arrived.  Last night Molly came down with a fever, chills, the usual winter borne illness that forces everything and everyone in our house to slow down.  I know I'm going to be burning some "midnight oil" to catch up work wise tonight.  I am also very thankful for the time I have cuddling on the couch, drinking warm mixtures spiced with ginger and honey, reading favourite stories, and enjoying our own personal kid-centric Netflix marathon.

Looking at the weather forecast for the coming long weekend I can see that the super icy weather is due to hit its peak all weekend long, a lot of people are going to be looking for some kid friendly programming that they haven't seen a million times.

Here is our list of four great options offered on Netflix Kids, Canada that you've probably never heard of, or didn't bother to watch.  Enjoy and stay toasty!

Song of the Sea
After Ben's mother mysteriously disappears while giving birth to his younger sister Saoirse, his family feels permanently broken. His sister is left voiceless from the trauma, his dad is sad and lonely, and Ben has never forgiven his sister for her arrival taking his mother away. One day, shortly after Saoirse's sixth birthday, Ben and his sister are sent on an amazing, heroic journey to save the fairies (selkes) that Ben has only ever heard of from his mother's stories.  This beautiful story, with frame worthy artwork to match, has become a fast favourite of everyone in our house.

Image courtesy of The Simmons Voice and IMDB.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Other Stories
Story time comes to life while Eric Carle's beloved classic is enjoyed, along with a number of other enjoyable, little kid focused tales.  This is something that Jack asks to watch whenever he's not feeling well, and is a great length (half an hour) if you're trying to cook or clean up after sick lil ones while they rest.

The Croods, Image Courtesy of Open Letters Monthly

The Croods
I'd never heard of this movie before we discovered it on Netflix, but the kids love it, and it's highly watchable for adults.  This film is so loved that a sequel is currently under production for release in 2017.  Grug (Nicolas Cage) and his family are Cavemen who are forced out of their caves and comfort zones forever after the arrival of an enigmatic stranger named Guy (Ryan Reynolds).  Funny, and entertaining with relatable family dynamics, coming of age, and power struggle themes.  Voice talents of Emma Stone, Katherine Keener, and Cloris Leachman .

The Adventures of Puss in Boots
This is a Netflix Original series based on the life of the loveable eyed cat Puss in Boots we first met in Shrek. Puss is an overconfident fighter and lover of milk who works to protect an enchanted town and all of its residents.  Two seasons are currently available.  This show will have both adults and kids laughing.  My all time favourite episode is season one, episode two.

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Friday, 5 February 2016

Temple of the Downward Dog - The time we were banned from "Family" yoga class

This week Molly and I went to our first "family" yoga class and today I am feeling the opposite of zen.  Her kindergarten teacher has been practicing yoga with the students during afternoon quiet time, and Molly has been showing me her sick yoga moves ever since.

In my early twenties I'd discovered a Hatha yoga class that I loved at The Yoga Sanctuary around the corner from my then downtown apartment.  This class always transformed my pretty notoriously tightly wound, coffee infused self, into a well stretched mellow puddle of relaxation. Eventually I moved to the west end of the city, changed jobs, and the class sadly no longer fit into my schedule. Nothing I've tried, off and on, in the years since has even compared to the feeling I got after that class.

When Molly expressed an interest in attending a yoga class a few weeks ago I was beyond excited. As a parent of twins I was never able to attend baby and mom exercise classes, because I had one too many children to wrangle, and would need to bring a "buddy" to participate and take care of one of the minions.  It was just too much work.   This, along with hours of one on one time with a specific child, has always been one of the few things that I felt I missed out on being a mother of multiples, I know insert violinist playing sad sack music here for my pity party.

I hopped online and fired off a number of email to yoga studios around the city enquiring about class availability for parent and child classes that would be appropriate for me and my four year old daughter.  I was pleasantly surprised when I found one offered in Northern Bloor West Village that would fit into our schedule to try.  I would actually be using my yoga clothes for yoga again, and not just for sitting on my couch watching Netflix!

Awesome yoga shirt available on Etsy.

Unfortunately the first time we were scheduled to go I mixed up the date of the class, which meant by time we made it to the actual class Molly was beyond excited.  It's not very often that we get to do things together just the two of us, so this paired with the delayed gratification and her trying something brand new brought her excitement level to heights usually reserved for birthday parties or Christmas.

During the small six person class, Molly was the youngest attendee by about two years, and the most boisterous.  She giggled and wandered from her mat a few times (usually when I was in a pose that was more complicated and unable to physically help her into position or grab her before she was out of reach).  She made sounds to go along with the poses frog, cat, shark, and mermaid.  After the class I talked to her about respecting personal space, staying on her own mat, and reinforced that she wasn't allowed to give the instructor a running jump, football tackle-like hug during the class (yeah she actually did that).  She happily agreed, because she is eager to please, and assured me that the wandering and jumping as because she was so excited.

The next day I received an unsolicited email from the Director of the yoga studio informing me that they had received a noise complaint from a neighbour downstairs and that Molly, and kids Molly's age, were no longer welcome at the family class.  As a sort of peace offering they provided me with the name of another studio (presumably their mortal enemy featuring classes geared towards terrible children) to visit instead.

I'm not going to lie, Molly was annoying during the class, but never overly loud even when she was ribbiting like a frog, and for the most part this impacted me more than anyone else.   I went into the class knowing that the experience would be about making sure that Molly enjoyed herself and I wouldn't get a stretch myself like I would attending an adult class.  I assume this would also be the case for any parent in a family yoga class.  Secondly, I have been to other, adult focused, yoga classes where people are instructed to call out "HA!" at decibel levels far greater than the animal noises coming from my little girl.

Imagine how loud her "Dragon" pose would be?

Here's where I'm going to get a little sanctimonious: I warned you my child was four, and while I appreciate your proactive approach dealing with the matter head on, you ruined something for me, something I waited four and a half years for, and I will never, EVER solicit your business again, but I am not going to let you ruin it for my daughter.  Molly wants to be a grown up more than anything, as she attempts to rush her way through her own childhood in a way that breaks my heart sometimes. I never want her to feel punished for acting like a kid, because, wait for it, she is FOUR YEARS OLD.  I am going to tell her that your class was cancelled, period.  Not that she was too young or too "naughty" to ever come back, because she wasn't, she was a kid, attending a class that I mistakenly thought was supposed to create an appreciation for yoga in children. I am going to look for other options, possibly a yoga DVD or a different class that lets kids, be kids.

Chris thinks I'm overreacting, and I probably am.  I was able to calm myself down slightly by envisioning what would have happened had I attended the class with Jack instead of Molly.  I imagine a swat team would have arrived, cuffed us, rolled us in our mats and dragged us out kicking and screaming.

Yoga is more fun when you quack like a duck, or hum the jaws theme.  This is my Mama Bear pose, "ROARRR!" Namaste, bitches!

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Wednesday, 3 February 2016

The Whole World is our Playground: Allan Gardens Playground and Greenhouse

We are continuing to enjoy a wildly mild winter, which means we've had to mix up some of our traditional winter activities, like greenhouses, alongside playgrounds, since we haven't been able to wear off any excess energy on the toboggan hills.  When Molly mentioned she wanted to visit a greenhouse last weekend, Allan Gardens immediately came to mind as a great option with both an indoor floral wonderland with a playground steps away.

My park review disclaimer: If you don't live in the area I hope you enjoy the pics and can use some of the ideas to inspire and explore in your own city. If you have any recommendations for great playgrounds ideally some in Toronto proper (indoor or out or new criteria I haven't thought of) please post a comment on this post or email me:

Playground Name:
Allan Gardens

19 Horticultural Avenue, Toronto ON (Carlton Street and Jarvis Street)

There is metered parking in the area, and on weekend you can find some limited side street parking for free.    The playground/ greenhouse is also less than a 10 minute walk from College Subway Station.

Theme of Park:
Modern Urban Playground meets tranquil nature based retreat.

You can visit daily from 10AM-5PM at no cost.  Donations can be made online to their annual giving campaign here.

Variety of Equipment for different ages:
Both indoor and out there is so much for adult and kids alike.  Inside there are plenty of plants and flowers, a koi pond, turtles, and a toy train.  Outside is a variety of play structures, one main area designed for smaller, pre-school kids, and the other, more challenging structure, for older kids.

Best Part(s) of the Park:
This playground is great to visit on a cool crisp day, because you can go inside to warm up.  The outdoor playground embraces a touch of nature with the incorporation of Bienenstock type (nature) based play alongside more traditional playground equipment.  Molly and I spent quite some time using the logs as balance beams together, and both kids enjoyed the park's four seater see-saw.  Added bonus: with a location close to the Loblaws flagship at Maple Leaf Gardens you can take your little hockey fans to centre ice (still marked on the floor of the supermarket) while you purchase snacks for your outing.

While some kids who are afraid of dogs might get a little timid around the dog park at the front of Allan Gardens, there is no need to worry.  Both the dog park and the playground are fenced in to keep the puppies and kiddies separated.

Overall Rating:
I give this playground five stars,/a near perfect 5/5 score. So many options, and a central location, what could be better?  As an aside, there are washrooms in the greenhouse (they are located in the "Palm Room" which is valuable information to have when your four year old announces they need to pee NOW!!!).

To see our photos from our trip to Centennial Park Conservatory click here.

To see the pictures from our trip to Allan Gardens last winter click here.

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Monday, 1 February 2016

Kung Fu Fighting: Movie Review Kung Fu Panda 3

The minions have been fans of Kung Fu Panda, Po, and The Furious Five for as long as they've been watching TV (so for about two years now).  They were so little when they first fell for the movie that Jack professed his love for the movie by telling me about how he wanted to learn "Kung Food" when he was older.  Despite us feeling pretty lukewarm about Kung Fu Panda 2, we decided to head out to the theatre to check out the third movie in the trilogy after the kids excitedly clamoured about the movie posters all over the city featuring Po.

Kung Fu Panda image courtesy of Forbes.

What's in it for the Kids?
This movie seems to be aiming at getting the laughs and attention from the kids instead of trying to reach out to the adults by offering dual level comedy.  There are wonderful family related themes in the trilogy's messaging surrounding parental roles when Po discovers he has two dads.  Also, there are super cute, cuddly pandas everywhere!  Parental warning, this is a Kung Fu movie, so there is a lot of fighting, as well as some exploration into life and death in "the spirit realm".

What's in it for the Adults?
Like all Kung Fu Panda movies adults can appreciate interesting fight scenes and alluring animation depicting the nature, landscapes, and cityscapes in this imaginary version of an ancient China based universe.  The voice work of Kate Hudson as Mei Mei, the raucous and over-confident, ribbon dancing panda is a solid and entertaining addition.  Celebrity favourites Jack Black, Seth Rogen, Angelina Jolie, David Cross, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan, and Dustin Hoffman all reprise their beloved roles, and Bryan Cranston joins the cast as Po's long lost father Li.

Best Parts of the Movie
This movie got a lot of laughs from the kids.  I saw this movie with children aged four to nine and they were all thoroughly chuckling and jumping out of their seats during particular scenes. It was nice to see a focus on the lighter side of Tigress (Molly's favourite character) and having her work alongside Po, being forced to take a less active role in strategy, yet remaining a solid ally, strong, and confident, female role model.

Worst Parts of the Movie
I love JK Simmons (AKA the dad from Juno, and Vernon Schillinger from Oz), but he really seemed to phone in the villain role of Kai.  It felt like he couldn't decide on playing the bad guy a little bit funny or totally bad ass, and it really took away from the impact of his role.  There was a pretty significant dip in the plot about half way through the movie, and I nearly nodded off for about ten minutes, but then it clicked back in full throttle for the rest of the movie.

Overall Rating
I would rate this movie 3.5/5.  It's a lot better than Kung Fu Panda 2, and almost as good as the original film if you're a kid,   When asked about the best parts of the movie Molly said "everything" (as she's prone to do) and Jack said he liked Kai best (so maybe my thoughts on JK Simmons as Kai are off base from a child's perspective). I asked the minions if they wanted to own the movie they both provided a definitive yes.  Worth watching, particularly for the kids.

To read about villains and the ways they fit into a child's moral development of black and white issues click here.

To read my review of Inside Out click here.

To read my review of the 2015 Cinderella click here.

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