Category Archives: Activities

Stuff you can do with your kids inside or out that will get them off the couch, away from the TV, and into a place of wonder and amazement.

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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10 Unforgettable Fly Fishing Locations in the U.S.

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Lists aren’t easy. We know because it was hard setting a limit when we reviewed five of Alaska’s foremost rivers. It’s probably impossible to narrow down the country’s best fly fishing to just 10 locations, but we’re giving it our best shot.

1. Manistee River, Michigan

Its 200-mile run through the northern regions of the state’s lower peninsula ends at Lake Michigan. The river produces great salmon, trout and steelhead action especially downstream from Tippy Dam. We really enjoy the year-round crystal clear water.

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2. Penobscot River, Maine

Let’s swing east to the west branch of this river known for its world-class salmon fly fishing. The 11-mile stretch between Ripogenus Dam and the Abol Bridge presents some of the wildest angling available. We strongly suggest this one for fishing, not relaxing.

3. Connecticut River, New Hampshire

New England’s longest river offers more than 400 miles of fly fishing adventures. Whether you drift or wade, cast your luck, and sharpen your skill chasing trout, salmon and sturgeon. The Connecticut always looks its best when it’s wearing fall colors.

4. The Florida Keys

Obviously, this one isn’t a river, but we really recommend the action off Key Largo. Bogie and Bacall would definitely approve and join us for some of the finest saltwater fly fishing in the Western Hemisphere. We sound prejudice because we are.

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5. Little Red River, Arkansas

As we head back up and across the country, we have to stop in north central Arkansas. Since their introduction in the mid-1960s, ‘bows and brownies have earned their reputation as the state’s favorite sporting fish. Be sure to try the river’s stretch between Greers Ferry Dam and Pangburn.

6. San Juan River, New Mexico

We love the high country and endless plateaus in northwestern New Mexico. We go crazy for huge river trout below Navajo Dam. The San Juan River makes it on our list because it consistently produces fish in one of the American West’s most beautiful settings.

7. Glenwood Spring, Colorado

We’re including one more non-river location. This is the Rocky Mountain State’s center for amazing fly fishing action. The Colorado and Fork rivers roar through town, the area enjoys 300 days of sunshine every year, and even winter fishing is fun in Glenwood Spring.

8. Yellowstone River, Montana

You know it’s the longest undammed river in the country. You know the headwaters are filled with cutthroats. You know downstream teems with huge populations of big ‘bows and brownies. We know we’d hear from you if we didn’t include this one.

9. Snake River, Idaho

Head for the Snake’s south fork, and enjoy year-round fly fishing just 45 minutes from Jackson Hole. We favor the canyon run through Magic Valley for cutthroat, brownies and rainbows. The scenery is breathtaking wherever you fish on this legendary river.

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10. Kvichak River, Alaska

From Lake Iliamna down to Bristol Bay the Kvichak River is spotted with some of the best fly fishing lodges in the world. The river flows wild and wide and did we mention that the world’s largest red salmon run happens right here every year? Enough said.

You might not agree with all our choices, but you have to admit it’s a pretty good list. It’s certainly reason enough to keep expanding your angling horizons and checking locations off your fly-fishing adventures list.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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

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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.

Growing things together with your kids outdoors

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If you’re anything like me, I’m on some level always feeling that I’m not spending quality time with my kids like I want to. But at the same time, I’m also somewhat incapacitated. Between work, the stuff on the calendar, and meeting the kids’ basic needs, I often collapse at the end of the day in one exhausted heap.

One thing we’ve started doing as a family is working outdoors together. From planting a garden to landscaping to planting new trees on our property, I’ve found it rewarding.

The nature of gardening and landscaping is that it is an ongoing process, not a one-time thing. You’re planting new life. It needs water, sunlight, and care. So at the outset, you’re committed. You’re going to get out there with the kids on a regular basis.

If you’re like me and can only handle so much (or not any) playing dollhouse or Star Wars light-saber fights or painful “Fine” responses as you try to engage your teen, this is a game-changer. I’m going to lay out 3 important lessons that getting outside as a family instills in your kids.

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Unless you were born with a green thumb, working with plants is going to take patience. You’ll need to learn how to plant and care for plant life.

Getting a garden started takes persistence and patience. It’s not done in an hour. You have to prepare the soil, plant the produce and herbs you are going to grow, and prune and water what you’ve planted.

It can be tedious at times. In a world in which research papers are as easy as a google search and in which 200+ tv shows and movies are at my kids’ fingertips on Netflix at any given moment, working outdoors is a valuable character-builder.

Not everything worth having, can be acquired quickly. Often those things of greatest value take time and patience. It’s not always as easy as Tweeting an acquaintance for a job recommendation. Sometimes it is, but I want my children to be prepared for the times when it’s not. For those times when waiting is required in order to see results.

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THE IMPORTANCE OF FAMILY

Your children know what is most important to you, by how you spend your time. Spending quality time with them will show them that they are important to you.

Working together with your spouse and kids will deepen the bond you all have. It will draw you closer. And this close bond will create trust.

When my girls are in the face of intense peer pressure, this foundation of trust will assure them I will always be there for them. That no matter what, I have been there and will be there for them.

Having a supportive and dependable family structure is vital for kids. These traits are indicators for success down the road. This falls on your shoulders.

HARD WORK

My kids are skilled at finding the path of least resistance. Left to themselves, they would play video games all day, never bathe or change their clothes, and never clean up after themselves. An onlooker may wonder if the chores we subject our kids to our actually physically painful to them, judging from the sighs and grunts that leave their mouths.

All that to say, diligence and hard work do not come naturally. In part, it is up to us as parents to help foster these quality traits in them. They may hate us for it at the time, but in the long-run, they will thank us.

The most effective way to teach your kids to have a good work ethic, is not just to force them to work hard, but to get in there and work with them. Set an example. Get your hands dirty. Show them how it’s done.

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CONCLUSION

Whether you are planting a garden in the spring or taking a Saturday morning to plant a tree to shade your front porch, these are projects that will guarantee family time and teaching opportunities in days to come.

Make the most of your time. Take advantage of those opportunities. You will blink, and these years will be passed. Slow down and determine what you want to instill in your kids now.

How about you? What benefits have you found from working outdoors with your family?