Category Archives: Outdoor Adventure

Strategies for engaging young minds and bodies in The Great Outdoors.

Kids Love Riding Horses, and Dads Should Too!

Equestrian families know riding and caring for horses can be good motivation for getting kids outside and into something other than video games and bad music. Horses raise the bar, and ennoble kids’ outdoor adventures.  Grooming and caring for horses while practicing riding can be a good way to help kids defeat obesity, set goals, learn proper nutrition as they master horse-person ship to build confidence in and out of the ring.

Horse riding students

Kids, especially preteen girls dream about horses day and night, and they doodle these animals in their sketchbooks. Horses are in our nation’s blood. Canada has wild horses and our culture is filled with equestrian myths and ceremonies, like the Sable Island Horses and the RCMP Musical Ride. These creatures are magical to our children, even more magical than they are to the rest of us. Horses make wonderful childhood companions. Children are naturally attracted to them, and that makes horses great bait for boisterous boys and girls and reason enough to spend the day outside at the stables.

The cast of Heartland on CBC reminds us every week of the quality of life on a horse farm. The drama that perplex these characters fascinate our teenage children. One of the most compelling aspects of the character driven show are insights into Alberta regional horse competitions, and the way the horse people desire the glory of performing and winning trophies at these events.  As our children watch these young people perform and achieve their dreams, it motivates them to seek glory in their own endeavours, be that horses or performing arts, mathematics, creative writing; CBC Heartland is a model that encourages teens to seek excellence in any discipline.

Boy gets riding lessons indoors at riding academy

Children riding horses also come to understand and participate in the many activities involved in caring for a horse,. grooming, hefting buckets and saddles, and cleaning stalls. This  can make for a great upper-body workout as children learn how important good diet, veterinary check-ups, dental work, and regular exercise are to a horse. It may just cause them to consider their own health needs, and the disadvantages of choosing improper feed for their own bodies.

Horses are Huge in Every Child’s Eyes

Learning to ride and care for an animal that’s twice their size can really empower children.  The horse trainer turn riding instructor is primarily a human trainer who can boost the confidence of their young riders through encouragement and compliments, highlighting areas where they’re gaining new skills and rewarding them for showing improvement.

At the end of most six or eight week riding lesson packages there’s usually an option to compete in a horse show which formalizes the training and is a real gauge of proficiency. But competing in public doesn’t necessarily mean entering into formal competitions. For students taking riding lessons there are a dozen challenges everyday, and each horse is both partner and judge. The riding instructor is the facilitator and trainer – the best riding instructors plant goals in their – finality

But when competing the risks and rewards are doubled. The value of perseverance and dogged determination, hard work, the rewards of empathy, how to deal with disappointment and losing, while also experiencing the sweet taste of success are all aspects that come into play.girl poses on horse in riding academy

Our Child has a Pony and Friends at the Riding Club

Sometimes our child is just happy brushing his pony or helping to muck out, and that’s okay. Other days he’ll ask for a ride and we hope his confidence continues to grow. He’s made a good friend in his pony.

New environments are a great way to help them make friends. Riding can lead to social-life benefits and meeting new people that could develop into life-long friends.

2006 Research from American Youth Horse Council uncovered a significant positive relationship between horse skills and life skills development.

Sponsored by the American Youth Horse Council, the research found that equestrian activities do indeed enhance a range of life skills in children. The study looked at youngsters involved in 4-H, Pony Club, the American Quarter Horse Youth Association, and the National High School Rodeo Association.

Results of the study, published in February 2006, found a significant positive relationship between horsemanship skills and life skills.  A sample of 982 youth between the ages of twelve and eighteen, all active in the above youth equine organizations, found that handling, riding, and caring for a horse or pony can develop a host of positive traits in a child, including responsibility, accountability, patience, levelheadedness, empathy, kindness, and self-discipline.

When the whole family gets involved, the time spent together with horses can enhance the bond among family members and become the stuff of treasured childhood memories. Moreover, the benefits of horse involvement are enduring, as a child’s “horse habit” can evolve into a rewarding lifelong hobby.

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oakville custom home builder

What I Learned Making DIY Backyard Ice Rink

“This isn’t the first time I’ve made a backyard ice rink on my property”, says Keith Travers Eastview Homes, Oakville area contractor, “we’re a hockey family.”

Its a breathtaking accomplishment. As I came through the back of Keith’s suburban bungalow, I spotted the attraction in the backyard. Behold twelve hundred square feet of ice, six inches thick, rimmed with plywood boards.

Keith Travers in his D.I.Y. backyard ice rink in Toronto

Proud of his accomplishment, Keith boasted “You’ve got to come back in the evening when its all lit up and we have all the neighbour kids over playing hockey, and free skating”. He pointed out the mercury vapour lamps (same as in the local arena but smaller) that he has affixed to poles on the perimeter.

“Next year I’m gonna add some benches on both sides.” Keith says, “That’s one thing I learned. There’s always a crowd here by the steps.”

Keith’s backyard is perfect because the contractor made it that way; the area was specially leveled and landscaped and all the small trees were removed when he first bought the property a few years ago.

The rink boards were cut last year. They’re 4×8 plywood sheets ripped lengthwise into eight foot long boards. Keith could have used cheaper materials, particle board OSB, but he had some 3/4 inch plywood left over from a job and he knew the ice rink was a project he’d be repeating for years to come. The braces, two on each board, are more perishable; they’re made from salvage cut from old pallets and other bits of scrap wood.

Keith learned last year to run the hydro for the lights first- the power cords are safe from sharp skates under snow and ice, right on the ground. Keith also evolved a sound system this winter; he has two small stereo speakers plugged into a radio in the kitchen.

TIMELINE of a backyard ice rink – first you clear the area and run power for lights and put up the boards.

“I leave the grass long in the fall in case we get a good snowfall, and I can do the snow pack method to save the liner.’ There are two methods of making a liner. First, if there’s a lot of snow the you can use the snow pack method, which involves tramping down the snow with your boots until its hard packed and will hold the water.

Or you can buy some very large sheets of thin plastic and fashion your own pool liner or in this case a ‘rink liner’. Painters’ drop sheets are too thin and the wrong size. They won’t work unless you can figure out how to bind them together with duct tape to create a watertight surface. The thicker the plastic, the easier the tape applies, right up until the plastic is too thick.

The hardest part for Keith this year was just waiting for the ground to freeze as the weather by the lake is so variable.

It wasn’t until late December before Keith had the courage to call the water truck service. He ordered three thousand gallons of water to make a six inch slab, and if readers are seeking to replicate this rink they can use this handy pool volume calculator to calculate their own needs. Keith learned last year that six inches is the ideal (or most efficient) ice thickness to avoid pressure cracks and create an immovable solid ice mass.

pool volume calculator

 

 

Safety is always top-of-mind when making a kid friendly backyard attraction.

Keith has evolved a more kid-friendly ice rink this year even though he claims his rink is entirely injury free. Despite the flawless safety record, or maybe to help ensure it continues, the building contractor took the time to eliminate protruding stakes and sharp edges that can cause more harm to anyone slipping, losing their balance and falling. The wooden perimeter rises about a foot above the ice surface and this year the corners and top edges are smoother and all the stakes have been hammered down flush with the top of the boards.

And finally, lets not forget, ice rink makers have to think ahead to the spring melt. Where is all that water going to go? Keith runs a line to his neighbour’s in-ground swimming pool, which is right next door and downhill. He made a deal with this friend after concerns were raised that the melting ice rink could otherwise flood both their basements.

Keith Travers – DIY Ice Rink in backyard.

Does having a property with a big backyard improve the quality of life for a young family in the summer and in wintertime? Absolutely.

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Outdoor activity, even napping, in winter leads to happier, healthier and more resilient kids…

kids-tobagganning-in-winter

Kids of all ages love to ride the toboggan down slippery, snowy hills


Well, its finally happening…

The cool, crisp air of yet another onset of winter has finally arrived. While it would be easy to light the fireplace and snuggle up inside for another long, cold winter— rather than retreat inside, we should actually be spending more time outdoors. Walking, hiking, playing, skiing, snowboarding, learning, exploring discovering and even… napping. Yes, napping. Outside.

kids-nordic-skiing

Nordic (or Cross Country) Skiing is a great way to have fun, get fit and actually enjoy winter.


While it is easy to think that winter is long, and cold and hard to endure year after year, it really is more of a state of mind than a set of circumstances we have to endure. When you take the time to actively engage in activities that force you to dress up and get outside and move around for extended periods of time, winter can actually be really fun. If you set your mind to it, it becomes a great opportunity to seek out and find ways and things to do that build resilience, shorten the season, and put you in great shape emotionally, physically and mentally.

Outdoor learning is alive and well in Sweden – a priority even. The team at the Swedish think tank Movium has been able to advance a national agenda in support of outdoor play and learning, mobility and independence.

girls-nordic-skiing

Get the kids outside skiing early on in life and you will give them a gift that lasts a lifetime.


Here in Canada, we see signs of movement in that direction. More schools and school boards are encouraging play and learning outside and creating school grounds that are healthy for kids living in cities.

girls-jumping-winter

Running, jumping and all around tomfoolery in the powdery snow is a great way to burn off steam and get plenty of fresh air. Dress them up right and they won’t even notice its cold outside.


Cam Collyer, Director of Programs at Evergreen, shares what Canadians can learn from outdoor education around the world…

backyard-hockey

Back Yard Hockey rinks are a bit of work in the fall, winter and spring, but well worth the effort if you can get a cold enough winter in your area. Here in Toronto, it is hard to believe we can actually do this in the city, but it is possible if you roll up your sleeves and are dedicated to the cause.


What are you waiting for? Bundle up the kids and get outside!

 

Tips on Creating Inspirational Spaces for Kids

treehouse

It always seems that a good part of every weekend is spent working on some home improvement project. Either we’re replacing the leaky kitchen sink, fixing the upstairs toilet that keeps running, or the usual sort of stuff like cleaning the gutters and raking the yard. Sometimes we guys get lucky and can work on something we actually want to work on, like a mancave or setting up a home office the exact way we want. Another project that is worth the time and effort, that is also fun, is making something for the kids.

1. The Tween Cave

As much as we try and deny it, our kids are growing up. The happy little twerp that was glued to your leg is now a moody teen who wants to be left alone in his room. Why not make him a dream room he will love? Ideally, the best place is a basement or an attic. It gives the budding adult a greater sense of privacy, while allowing you to still keep an eye on him.

The key here is to let them have a major say in how the room looks. If they want everything painted black and dark purple, like their favorite band (or whatever sort of music they like) then let them paint the room that color. It will show them that you value their thoughts and ideas. Did I mention that they also have to help? Working on their own room like that will give them a greater appreciation for what they built.

Remember, it’s during these years that a teen will be tempted to do things like drinking or drugs. If they have a cool place where they feel in control, that along with your guidance, make all the difference in what choices they make.

2. A Tree House or Fort

The treehouse has been a staple for boys and girls of all ages for a long time. This is one of those things that has gotten better over the years, because there are more options than ever. If a yard doesn’t have big enough trees to build a treehouse, you can build a fort. Pirate ships and rockets are also an option.

There are tons of YouTube videos that can give dads a step by step guide to build whatever they want. If you aren’t gifted in the carpentry arts, there are kits you can buy. These are relatively easy to assemble, but still give the dad an excuse to bust out the tools and let the kids watch while he builds something. Failing that, there are even professional treehouse and fort builders who will do all the work, but where’s the fun in that?

3. The Classic Playroom

The best thing about a regular playroom is that it can be used all year long, regardless of the weather. There is also a lot of flexibility in what can be done. No matter what the kids are into, building the perfect playroom is a cinch. It can be a rough and tumble superhero lair, or the ballroom in a castle.

Decorating the playroom is easier than most people expect. The main thing is to keep it fun and fitting with the chosen theme. Having custom chairs with the most creative upholstery fabric is a great way to bring a playroom together, and spark a child’s imagination. To them, you aren’t building a playroom. You’re building them a magical place all their own.

Conclusion
The list of things a dad can do is nearly endless. The project can be indoor or outdoor, and depending on the age of your kids, the scope and tone can go from princess in pink to rock stars in black leather. If there is enough of an age difference, you might have to do more than one project. Like that’s a bad thing. Use these few ideas to get you started. Take them, run with them, and make them your own.

camping in Ontario

Outdoor Adventure Show Is Made For Kids

Fresh back from the 2016 Outdoor Adventure Show in Toronto, I can report the attraction was designed with young families in mind and it really is a great place for Heads-Up Dads to spend Saturday with the kids.  It’s cost effective too. Adults pay $14, and children age eleven and under get in free.

There’s no sandbox, bumper cars or bouncy gyms here, and no food courts either, but the whole show is something of a play zone with every vendor offering up something cool for young people. The three-day exhibition has a wide array of adventure options for all age groups right there on the trade show floor.  Many booths have interactive games for 8-12 year olds, mostly puzzle challenges; smart dealers know they need to tie up young family members so they can talk shop with parents.

Here are some of the more interesting ‘youth engagement’ strategies I witnessed,

The Adventure Convention Organizers Included Activities for Young People

tradeshow passport for prizesThe show’s organizers had young families in mind when they created the Outdoor Adventurers Passport wherein kids can collect stamps (paw prints) from vendors for prizes at the end of the journey.  A completed passport could be turned in for both short term rewards and a chance of winning a much bigger prize later. The true benefit is for vendors of course as this tactic effortlessly draws in families with young children; this passport is an ice breaker with an easy greeting ritual and friendly exchange that makes it real easy to talk afterwards.

Everywhere I looked there were young people getting their adventure on; they were climbing rock walls, and in one corner of the show kids were zip lining between platforms overhead.  In this respect young people acquired a different perspective on the event than their parents.

Outdoor Adventure Show rock wall climbing
Kids climbing up the rock wall – photo by Rob Campbell

A Spinning Wheel Mesmerizes Kids and Dispenses Coupons to Parents

SpintheWheel1There were a couple Crown & Anchor wheels which had been repurposed into spin-the-wheel games for coupons.  The one on the right was operated by Tourism Toronto and dispensed SUP vouchers, gift certificates, coloring books and there was almost always a crowd of youngsters in front of this rig.

But the real pedestrian crush occurred in the main aisle just inside the front door where it bottle-necked around the Flight Center and a hot deals travel agency. If you were shopping for discount airfare for your next family trip then this was probably a good place to be. Regarding the crowd I think what happened was the new people coming in the door came up against the folks who’d been around once already and everyone jammed up on Main St there in front of Xcitelife.

Xcitelife is a Marketplace for Unique Experiences for the Whole Family

People could not get down the center aisle without encountering a list of fun things to do at Xcitelife; the booth attendants wore black shirts with red X’s. This is the company motif and the X stands for experience and not extreme. Their charismatic greeters stood near their company flags drumming up excitement for their experience marketplace and they signed up many influential new users.

Xcitelife at the Outdoor Adventure Show

Xcitelife asked families to make a Bucket List; their software helps decision makers source travel solutions in the coming months and years. Check out Earth Girl and another great profile from the show is Martin,  The new members wrote their aspirations on red paper X’s which they pinned to a dream board. The board soon displayed the collective vacation fantasies of the entire show and it was from this arena that a prize winner was eventually selected.

Xcitelife-bucketList1
Paul’s own Bucket List – photo by Rob Campbell

“Everyone wants to live an Xciting life, but too often folks get stuck in the ordinary” says Paul Peic. “At Xcitelife we’ve made it our mission to transform lives through experiences.”

There was no food court, but there was protein available at the show.

D&D Meats from Alliston Ontario, venison sausages

Kids love cured meat! D & D Meats were among the only food vendors at the show. There were granola bars and trail mixes in the survival quadrant, but this booth was the only meat option.  This family-owned cured meat shop from Alliston Ontario had a wide corner all to themselves, and were doing a brisk business selling beef jerky, pepperoni, sausages and kielbasa.

All day long people streamed through the crowded event eddying about in open areas of the trade show floor and milling around the central water pool.  This aquatic attraction was also called the Demo Pool and frequently had young performers showing off their skills in the latest model kayaks.

The crowd also collected in front of three live theatres where experts shared stories and advice. This author came upon the Adventures in Paddling stage just as the float plane touched down on Rabbitkettle Lake on the Nahanni River and a flat water paddler unpacked stand-up paddle boards for the whole family.

Rapid Media Best Kayak Reviews 2016 Paddling Buyer’s Guide, also SUPs, Canoe Reviews.

Adventures in Paddling theatre was surrounded by the latest model SUPs or Stand Up Paddle Boards, canoes and kayaks for sale, and on the far side of the opening stood the Rapid Media booth with giant posters displaying their magazine titles.

Kayak buyers guide, rapid media
2016 Paddling Buyers Guide – photo by Rob Campbell

Elijah Liedtke pointed out the 2016 kayak reviews and then he gave me an insider link to the online kayak reviews, paddling buyer’s guide. which is free and considered one of the big secrets of the show.

Kayak1sharablemoment2Rapid Media had some all-ages engagement strategies at play, and in the age of shareable moments the magazine title cardboard cutouts were really busy, especially the ‘Wild Women’ Adventure Kayak magazine cutout seen at right.

Rapid Media has done well in the paddling space with four popular magazines, Adventure Kayak, Canoeroots, Kayak Angler, and Rapid the whitewater magazine. These publications are gorgeous print mags filled with real life travel stories, photos, videos and professional gear reviews from expert paddlers all over the world. At the show the editorial staff were selling half price annual subscriptions.

Each of the three live theatres was sponsored by one magazine or another, and besides the paddling magazine one was dedicated to scuba diving and another to hiking; and the land trekking theatre was sponsored by Outpost Magazine, which is all about getting geared up and making long distance journeys across vast scenic landscapes.

Outpost Magazine at Outdoor Adventure Show

History Exhibits Tell Stories at the Outdoor Adventure Show

Iroqoius Village tribal experience

First Nations storytellers enthralled kids by relating the Voyage of the Iroquois. The area attendants were dressed in native Canadian regalia, and the walls of their particular open attraction were filled with images taken by passengers inside the giant twelve person canoes. These pictures are from summer trips that spend two or three weeks paddling the historic trade routes of the Voyageurs!

Kids could indeed soak up a lot of history from the installations at the show, and at one exhibit in particular there was displayed stone axe heads, arrowheads and spear points from the Stone Age. At noon in the Survival Theatre on Saturday there was an expert from Parks Canada who was able to show crowds how the First Canadians could hunt and kill great beast with primitive weapons. One guy seen below actually assembled arrows and spears in front of a live audience.

collecting arrowheads from native Canadian settlements

Kids of all ages love the Toronto Adventure Show and the best part are experts like this guy who share first hand knowledge.  This is a family show that’s fit for outdoor adventurers of all ages – more information about the 2016 Outdoor Adventure Show on Toronto Guardian.

Five Reasons To Plant a Fruit Tree With Your Family

There are probably a hundred or more good reasons to plant a fruit tree with your family, here are five.  Familial aspects aside, all of this falls into a greater green world order and general coming-of-age by an environmentally apologetic humanity.  The greenest people of earth are the children; they’re part of a hyper carbon conscious future that embraces Garden City Transformations.  Kids know that fruit trees are one of six Elements Needed to Make a Garden City in Toronto and elsewhere, in every metropolitan center, in every country, in every continent all over the world.

kid_fruit_tree1Planting fruit trees in a big city is sometimes restricted by municipal bylaws. The city doesn’t plant apples, pears or cherries by choice, and property developers are restricted from planting them by city ordinances for a whole lot of reasons; maintenance and liability are the predominant arguments against city planners planting fruit bearing species along streets and sidewalks.  Homeowners can plant anything they want in their backyards however, and can obtain fruit trees in nurseries here in Canada, and in Ontario and those include Henry Fields Nurseries and Sheridan Nurseries, neither of which specialize in any particular fruit tree varietals (like most nurseries in Europe do) nor will they deliver to your residential property.

One of the secrets of planting trees in the city is to also buy a big bag of soil and make a burm around the seedling. This helps the small tree survive the heat of summer and the cold of winter. Professional tree planters dig a deep hole and then fill it with black garden earth from vegetable composting programs and then put the original soil back on top. In Toronto you can buy a big bag of soil from Weedaway for about $120, and have it delivered right to your home.

Five Reasons to Plant a Fruit Tree with a Young Family

1.  The fruit tree will grow as your family grows and the memory of planting the tree becomes a powerful growth myth that will be part of each child’s psyche – the memory of planting the tree becomes synonymous with making an investment and nurturing growth and performing small physical improvements over time. The tree can be sourced locally or bought from an online vendor that will deliver in Europe and the USA, but no such businesses exist in Canada.

2. The fruit tree is handy biological reference to study and explain, and it can take on the characteristics of a pet with almost no maintenance or additional expense of keeping an animal – so its the perfect family member.  The tree’s first blossoms make it easier to talk about nature’s many and various reproductive systems. Registering the tree, means the kids can volunteer later on at charities that visit private homes and tour city parks picking fruit for charity driven gourmet baking initiatives and wildscaping programs. Los Angeles has a fruit picking outreach program for kids called Fallen Fruit, and Portland Oregon has an apple tree harvesting program for their inner city youth that is famous because it at has been featured in motion pictures.

apple press is fun exercise for kids3. The fruit tree is part of the fabric of nature and has lovely blossoms in the spring that attract buzzing pollinators and floral photographers. A fruit tree  in the springtime is a lovely photo backdrop and the fertility metaphor is a subtle and strong reminder of the promise of prosperity.

4. A  fruit tree attracts cool wildlife and colourful birds. A robust apple tree will bring deer out of the woods, and cherry trees attract squirrels and other storyfull rouges. This is good for kids as animals sell adventure- good for adults as sophisticated songbirds serenade our souls.

5. You can make fruit juice with family members many years later, maybe your grandchildren.    Juicing is great way to get vitamin C into a child’s body, and most kids LOVE IT.  Fresh juice is amazingly more healthy than canned juice and way more fun- it can be frozen into ice cubes and kept as treats for rainy days and they won’t even know it’s good for them. But more importantly its the activity as a unique and productive exercise that they remember all their lives.

Picking the fruit and making juice completes the investment metaphor. Kids doing work under the tree completes the life metaphor. Watching kids work with specialized equipment is a concept for a new TV series.  Kids making fresh juice in the backyard is pure fun and drinking that juice is one of life’s greatest rewards.

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