50 Things to Do Outside

Have you seen the list of 50 Things to Do Before You Are 11 3/4 from England’s National Trust?  It’s brilliant.

I’m a big fan of the bucket-list approach to living.  (We are steadily working our way through 1001 Children’s Books to Read Before You Grow Up.  I plan never to be too old for anything in that book.  I love the whole series.)

Give me a list and I itch to get ticking.  Is it even possible to try 1001 Whiskeys Before You Die?  There’s only one way to find out!  It’s the journey and not the destination, right?

What I love about the National Trust List is that it is as much a starting point for infinite adventures as it is a finite list.  It works for the task-oriented, but also for those who like to wander off the beaten path.  It pushes you further into the wild, and it makes you open your eyes to the wilderness on your urban doorstep.

Middlest and I were walking through a ravine the other day, and he said, “People just see the danger in the wild.  They don’t see the good things.”  We started to name the good things.  We ran out of ravine before we ran out of ideas.

conkersI grew up playing conkers in England.  You tie a chestnut onto a string, and then you try to knock your opponent’s chestnut off of her string.  The enormous crispiness of those brown leaves, the prickle of the nut case, and the smell of weather cooling is forever part of my sensory memory.  I don’t know why conkers isn’t popular in Canada, but because it isn’t, chestnuts are just another tree to my boys, and they probably could not name it.  Chestnut, maple, oak: these are trees that I am confident I can identify in almost all seasons, but as Middlest and I were walking, I realized that I could not name nearly all of the trees we walked past.  It awoke in me a desire to learn to identify all of the trees in our neighbourhood.  They are so much a part of our lives, and yet we don’t know all of their names.

treeI’ve taken to carrying my tree guide to the park, to taking new routes with new trees, and while the kids play soccer, I wander around looking at the trees.  Then they wander over and have a peek and help me to identify the leaf shape and find the right name.

And, lo and behold, we all have a name for the fragrant tree that brings us so much joy when it’s in blossom in June and July.  Hello, Linden.  So nice to know your name.

Learning to Draw

Our theme for our posts for July is, loosely, homeschooling: learning at home.  Partly, we are talking about avoiding the summer slide, but we are also looking at how learning at home and outside of the classroom is important for broadening our kids’ horizons.  And, yes, we include our trip to LEGOLAND in the learning category!  You should have seen how the boys looked at each others’ car models and sought advice and inspiration from each other to make their cars faster.

One of my goals for myself and my kids this summer is to create more art.  I am powerfully drawn to art supply stores in a way that totally defies logic because I can’t draw!  All those gorgeous colours of markers, and here’s be barely able to draw a smiley face.

I’d like to change that.

Here are three sets of books that I have found really useful.

animalsEd Emberley’s illustration instruction is an outstanding place to start, not only because the method is so simple and fun but because results are so instant.  Seriously, no one can mess this up.  We have several of his books, but the web site is fun and useful, too.  It has printable sheets and animated instruction.  I really like the step-by-step method, but also how he includes ways to vary the basic image.  We own a copy of his Drawing Book of Animals, originally published in 1970.  It is dedicated to “the boy I was, the book I could not find.”  That broke my heart a little.  Well, your boys and girls can find both the book and the web site and can get busy making art right away.  His fingerprint illustrations are particularly fun, and they even incorporate literacy into the method: if you can write IVY LOU, you can draw an owl.

owl

Another series I love is based on shapes.  Chris Hart has a whole line of illustration instruction books, but the ones I go to all the time are his very basic shape-based ones: Draw a Triangle/Circle/Square, Draw Anything.

drawAgain, the key to the success of these books is step-by-step instruction and instant gratification.  My son’s hockey team, whose logo was a deer, made it to the finals in their division a few years back.  For luck, I decided to give them all lucky underwear (inspiration from the coach, who had a pair) and I went to this book to find a super-simple image of a deer to draw onto the underwear.  Huge hit.

20Finally, I have fallen in love with a great series of books that encourage artists not only to make art but to find a style that suits them: the 20 Ways to Draw series from Quarry books.  The illustrations are a lot more advanced, but the books demonstrate various styles for illustrating the same object, from simple to more complicated.  There is no step-by-step instruction, but there is a lot of inspiration!

20-ways-draw-penguin-244

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TMN-logo_Square1A reminder that voting is open for the best mom blog of 2014, for which we are thrilled to have been nominated.

Please head over to Toronto Mom Now and check out the other nominees.  You can vote for your favourite three.  Voting closes on Monday, July 14.

 

Legoland Fun for All

Lego ROM!  Amazing.

Lego ROM! Amazing.

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

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

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

Waiting to get in.

Waiting to get in.

 

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

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

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

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

photo (3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

-       The washrooms are clean!  Hurrah!!!!

-       There are NO in-and-out privileges.

-       Adults are not permitted entry without children.

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

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

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

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

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

Mad Mums’ Martinis

I hosted a Mad Mums’ Martini afternoon for some other half-day Kindergarten kids and mums.  This is the aftermath:

mad

Note that the jello salad is almost all there, the spam is untouched and the vodka … well, not untouched.

One of us wore pearls and heels.  One of us wore a twin set.  One of us wore one of 200 dresses in her closet from the fifties.

All of us had fun.

Because sometimes in this crazy journey we call motherhood, we have to make a detour for the carnival.

 

Countdown

Sing to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands”

There are 14 days of school, shout hooray!

There are 14 days to go, shout hooray!

There are 14 days to go,

Tell everyone you know,

There are 14 days of school, shout hooray.

I happened to overhear a version of this from a Kindergarten room at my sons’ school the other day.  (There was something more earnest and learning-positive in the middle in the teacher’s version.  I just made up something that scanned for the purpose of story-telling.)  It’s been stuck in my head ever since.  Counting down, counting down, counting down….

It’s not quite clear to me why the JK and SK set need such precise knowledge (or, indeed, daily reminders) of when the last bell will ring, but I had mixed feelings when I heard that song.

June always wears me right out.  The final push, the dash to the finish line.  It’s so very difficult to keep everyone motivated, to keep the ship running tightly.

Eldest is half-heartedly studying for exams that his teachers and principal seem at pains to tell him are not all that important.  I guess the idea is to downplay things so that the kids don’t get anxious, but we could use just a touch more anxiety over here.

Middlest is working hard finishing work for his extra-curricular classes, but once that’s done this week, he’s off the hook until the last bell rings.  The classrooms get awfully hot and stuffy.  Great work does not get done in June.

Youngest is in SK, so he’s just waiting for the days when he can play soccer all day at soccer camp.  Summer Nirvana.

I am quite genuinely looking forward to the last bell, too.  We always have a pajama day on the first day of summer, with sugary cereal and unlimited screen time and no set bedtime.  In other words, feed yourself breakfast kids, and leave me alone with my books.  My summer nirvana.

I’d love to let the kids coast gently into that summertime bliss…

But wait!  Before the final bell rings, before we can laze around in our pjs, before we can spend full days at camp doing exactly what we love best, we have to get ready for a major renovation to the second floor of our house.  The renovation begins the very same week the kids finish school.

No rest for the weary.

So in this final dash to the finish line, we will be spending our evenings purging toys, packing up the bookshelves, storing away the hockey gear, and getting ready to seal off the playroom and the laundry room.  (Yikes!  Sealing off the laundry room is not high on my list of things to look forward to.)

I am genuinely looking forward to that purge, but, oh!, the energy it requires.

There are 14 days to go before the hammers fall….

 

A Trial Run with a Dog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Packing it in

013We took ourselves off to the first Toronto Flower Market of 2014 as the first stop on my Day Before Mother’s Day Extravaganza.  The idea was to spend the whole day together in vacation mode.  I planned a full day of events with my beloved and our boys, stopping off at various places around the city:

  • the flower market
  • Type Books
  • (unplanned detour to) the ER at Sick Kids with Eldest who broke a bone in his hand the day before, the swelling of which I could no longer ignore, though I had managed to ridicule his claim that it was broken on Friday night.  (“Hell, no, I’m not taking you to the ER on a Friday night.  It will be packed.  If that hand was broken you’d be writhing in pain, child.  Put some ice on it.”)
  • ate falafel and humble pie for lunch
  • bought one-handed food for Eldest who is now sporting a cast (see above re: humble pie)
  • the Science Rendezvous at UofT, where the kids exploded gummie bears, crawled through the blood vessels of the heart, and made frothing toothpaste
  • street basketball
  • gelato
  • soccer in the park
  • dinner at Sports Café to watch the Habs game

It occurred to me that I was packing an enormous amount of fun into a single day, and that aside from ignoring my children’s broken bones, I am quite possibly the most amazing mother on earth, but then I realized that, minus the ER, some folks just call that an ordinary weekend day.  Some folks just head out the door in the morning, and don’t come home until the day is done.  These are People Who Know How to Have Fun.

I enjoyed being one of those people for a day, packing it in.  Not my usual speed at all, but that’s what holidays are for.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Are Coming to Toronto!

tmntThe Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are coming to Toronto, and we are going to meet them!  And you can too!!

Youngest is very excited, and since Eldest is doing a unit on graffiti in his art class, he’s also going to come along to witness the Street Art Battle.  Four graffiti artists will be put to the challenge in a live competition to channel their “inner Ninja Turtle” and pay a fitting homage to each of the Turtles – Raphael, Leonardo, Donatello and Michelangelo – named after renaissance artists.

Fans of the series that airs on Nickelodeon and YTV can watch their favourite Turtles come to life on 7X7 ft. canvases, and then vote online to determine the winning design that will be made available for purchase as an exclusive t-shirt at Walmart Canada this fall.  (Check out the link for more details.)

Here’s what you can do if you come along:

• Meet and take photos with the Turtles: Michelangelo and Raphael

• Share + Show + Get Promotion: Show your #innerninjaturtle on Instagram

for a chance at hundreds of instant prizes including toys, dvds, and be

entered to win an ultimate turtles prize pack ($300 value)

• Face painting

DATE: Saturday, April 5, 2014

TIME: 10AM – 3PM

LOCATION: Yonge-Dundas Square

1 Dundas Street East

And if you leave us a comment about your kids’ love of the Turtles, we can enter you for a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle giveaway. 

How to Cast, Rehearse and Perform a Play with 30 Preschoolers in Three Hours

kingYoungest celebrated his sixth birthday this weekend, and when I asked him what he wanted to do for his party, he said, “Put on a play with my friends.”

A full three years ago, Middlest had chosen to do a play for HIS sixth birthday, a fact that I had all but forgotten.  So what was surprising about Youngest’s request was not so much that he wanted to put on a play but that he remembered that such a thing could be done with friends at a birthday party.

I guided Youngest to the theme of medieval knights and castles because he loves to dress up and do sword fights, but also because I had a dozen copies of Castles: How They Work on hand from a previous party!  The book has since gone out of print, so I had to shop for the rest of the books that would go into the guests’ loot bag.  I found Marcia Williams’s retelling of the stories of King Arthur, which was perfect, but I couldn’t get enough copies of that book, either, so I also picked up her retelling of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

Now, The Canterbury Tales are not exactly every child’s cup of tea, so I read Williams’s version to make sure that this book would be a good pick to send home with the kids at the end of the party.  Not only was it a great pick, it became the foundation of the three plays that the kids performed on the day.

Youngest is mightily fond of farts.  Honestly, I have never met a boy who delights in the gas we pass more than he does.  The Canterbury Tales is well-stocked with stories with farts, but I stayed well away from those for the plays.  Instead, I adapted The Nuns’ Priest’s Tale, The Franklin’s Tale, and The Knight’s Tale to be performed by 6-10 kids in a 10-minute performance.  Thirty kids; three plays; thirty minutes.  That means stripping the story to its bare bones, making sure that there is plenty of action for the kids to perform, and including as much humour and audience participation as possible.

I learned this technique of performing plays with young kids from their fabulous playschool teacher, who regularly works with the kids to perform plays as part of her playschool programming.  Briefly, here’s how it works: the Narrator tells the story, and the kids act it out.  It’s that simple.  In this way, the Narrator has (theoretical) control of the action (this came in handy during the sword fighting scene), and the kids have close guidance of what to do and say.  The kids can create their own characters and story, which is what I did for the party three years ago, or you can narrate a story that you have prepared.

acnt

Here is how I stripped down and adapted The Nuns’ Priest’s Tale:

Chantecleer the Rockstar Rooster

Pertelote the Rockstar Hen

The Fox

The Chickens

In the courtyard of a castle there lived a rooster, Chantecleer, his wife Pertelote, and a brood of happy chickens. Chantecleer was very proud of his very fine voice, and the whole castle depended on his morning call. He and Pertelote would greet each day in perfect harmony, and at the end of the day, all of the birds would curl up to sleep.

One morning, before the sun rose, Chantecleer began to moan and groan in his sleep. The noise woke Pertelote, who then shook him awake. He had had a very bad dream. He dreamed that an orange monster with pointy ears, a long, pointy nose, white, sharp teeth and a bushy tail had chased him around and around and tried to eat him!

Ask Audience: What could it be?

He was sure that the dream had a meaning and that it meant that he should not sing his beautiful song that day.

Pertelote told him that was nonsense. She said his bad dream was because he had eaten too much the night before. She told him not to worry and to hurry up and get ready for their morning song. She gave him his microphone, and they both got ready to sing.

Ask Audience: Are you ready for their song? What will it sound like? Sing along if you know the words.

PLAY first verse and chorus of “What Does the Fox Say?” (heh heh)  Chickens dance and sing.

Well, the Fox did NOT like this song, not one little bit. So he hid behind a bush to watch for his chance to eat Chantecleer and put an end to this nonsense.

Chantecleer saw the fox hiding and was very afraid. Pertelote was afraid. The happy chickens were afraid, and they all crowded together. Chantecleer began to run away, but the clever Fox said,

Stop!

He told him he had come to make friends and to hear his singing, which was famous even all the way to the forest. Chantecleer was very proud of his voice, so he was easily tricked into trusting the fox.  The fox said that his voice would sound even better if he did one special trick. The Fox showed him exactly what to do: close his eyes and stretch his neck way, way up.  So Chantecleer closed his eyes and stretched his neck way, way up.

And the Fox snapped him up and carried him off to the forest. He ran this way and that. The chickens ran after him, trying to save Chantecleer, but they could not keep up.  They stopped to catch their breath.

Oh! Poor Chantecleer! It looked like his goose was cooked, but Chantecleer was not just any pretty chicken. He had brains and he planned to use them.

He said, “Stop, Fox! You have outrun them now. You can slow down and tell the chickens that they might as well go home.” The Fox, who was not the sharpest crayon in the box, was quite happy to boast of his success and he opened his mouth to reply.

FREEZE

Ask audience: what will happen next?

Chantecleer flew free and flew to the top of a tree.

Poor Fox. He tried to flatter the rooster back to ground, but Chantecleer was older and wiser now, and crowed triumphantly at the monster from his dream.

Actors take a bow.

Beautiful literature, it is not.  However, it was a whole lot of fun to rehearse and perform this story with a group of 4-6 year-olds.

Here is what we did to prepare:

Props and costumes: Chantecleer, egg carton chicken masks, toilet roll microphone, fox nose and ears.

Props and costumes: Chantecleer, egg carton chicken masks, toilet roll microphone, fox nose and ears.

1.  Invite guests to attend the party in costume and tell them that they will have a chance to perform in a play.  Have extra costumes on hand.  (We have years’ worth of Halloween costumes.)  Lots of knights and princesses came to this party.  One child came as a dragon, so I added a dragon to one of the plays.  I needed a brood of chickens, so Youngest and I made chicken masks from egg cartons ahead of time.  All of the chickens wore princess dresses.  No problem.  The play is large; it can contain multitudes.

2.  After all the guests arrive, gather them in a circle and tell them, very briefly, the story for each play.  Then ask for volunteers for the roles.  Kids can also choose to just watch the plays.  The first stage of casting is done.

3.  Work with groups of 6-10 kids at a time.  Rehearse in a space separate from the rest of the kids so that there are no distractions and so that the final production will be new to the kids in the audience.  Tell the story briefly again, and finish assigning the roles.

4.  Now begin rehearsing.  The Narrator stands “on stage” with the kids and narrates the action of the play from downstage, nearly in the wings; the kids act out what is being narrated.  As you go, elicit what their characters would say.  Some kids will be eager to say lines.  Some will not.  You can narrate for the kids who would prefer not to speak.  Some kids will decide that they don’t like the role they chose.  Switch roles.  Some kids will decide they don’t want to perform.  That’s fine, too.

5.  Rehearse each play separately, then assemble all the kids for the Final Performance.  I invited parents to return for the last hour of the party to watch the plays.  Each group takes a turn performing its play.

6.  Have fun.  Expect hiccups.  Roll with it.

The party was a three-hour whirlwind, and while I rehearsed with the kids, my husband and the parents who had stayed for the party supervised those who were not rehearsing.  They grazed at the food table, they played, they did not kill or maim each other with their toy swords.  I knew we would not have time for cake, so after the performance, we sang “Happy Birthday,” then each guest went home with a book, a bookmark made by the birthday boy, and a birthday cookie made by the amazingly talented Christy at DolceDesserts.

photo 1

And then I sat down and did not get up for a good, long time.

Vacation of our Dreams, Times Three

untitledEldest wants to go to Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.  Middlest wants to go on an African safari.  Youngest wants to go to Disney.

Me?  Any and all of the above, with just one child at a time.

If time is a parent’s most precious resource, quality time alone with each child is even more hard to come by.  In the vacations of my dreams, I get to take one child on his own on a life-changing adventure.  And since I’d be more than happy to do all of the above, I’ll let the kids decide.

I am a traveller who is pretty well wed to her itinerary.  I like to plan carefully, cover as much ground as humanly possible, and leave with no regrets of opportunities missed or sights unseen.  One of my favourite passages from Jennifer Coburn’s We’ll Always Have Paris comes after she and her daughter have decided on a whim to do things out of order, swapping the days for museum visits.  After going through the Museum of Modern Art in Rome, she says to her daughter,

 “There isn’t a piece in here that I am not one hundred percent in love with….”

“Aren’t you glad we changed the days?” Katie asked.

“We didn’t change the days; we let the days change us.”

Days that change us is what I’m after.  I’m willing to step outside of my safety zone to do that.

I’d also love to step out of my usual roles.  I am the voice of Chores and Homework and The Almighty Clock.  I am the Referee.  I’d really like not to be The Referee.  Yes, a dream vacation would free me up from the roles that pin me down.

Aside from the benefit of not having to be on sibling rivalry duty, time alone with each boy would make the vacation our own special thing.  I love having our own special thing.  My boys all know that I love them, but there’s no substitute for a private joke, a special treat or an amazing memory for cementing that love.

Oh, I’m loving this dreaming so much I just want to go off and plan it!  Not Kilimanjaro, maybe, but local hike.  Not a safari, but a trip to the zoo.  Not Disney, but Canada’s Wonderland is on our doorstep.  Some in-our-own-back-yard special things.