The Best Part of Disney World, right in your own city

Written by James Stockford — August 22, 2013

Playground HoppingOur kids never stop to amaze me and I'm getting much better at just accepting what they like and find amusing, rather than trying to guess and make them do things I think they should love. 


For example when we took the kids to Disney World this past winter they loved the characters and they liked the rides and parades and could really care less about the food (other than candy).  But what they really loved, and probably could have spent the entire vacation doing was playing in the giant sandbox and playground at the Animal Kingdom.  There were no ‘Disney melt-downs’ during this time and we were all able relax and enjoy this time together. Which is what the vacation was all about. 


The kids played contently with all the ‘Magical Disney' sand toys, like plastic buckets and shovels (just like we have at home) while my wife and I just sat back in the shade and watched.  It was one of the most peaceful (and therefore magical) moments of our trip.  Nothing like traveling 2000 km from home paying $100/person entrance fee so that the kids could play in a big sandbox.  I swear, I am finally starting to learn when it comes to young kids, you just need to go with it. 


Now I'm not saying the trip to Disney wasn't amazing but what this experience made me realize, is that with young kids it doesn't take a lot of effort or money to provide excitement for them.  This simple playground in the middle of Disney World, the happiest place on earth, provided a new experience and place the kids could explore and play how they wanted.  What they love is to be free, to create and explore on their terms and being someplace new made it even more fun. For this part of the trip they could do their own thing, at their own pace and in their own way.  


In our home city of London, Ontario there are over 111 play structures and 1 within every 800m radius of every residential area. Now we haven’t been to them all but I can tell you when my kids spot a big colorful play structure, especially one they haven’t tried before, it’s all they want to do. Even if we’re taking them on a fun activity like skating at the arena, they will usually get us to promise that they can play for awhile on the outdoor equipment when we’re done.

Why are we paying for skating when we could just let them play outside in the park for free? Who knows.


And the best part about them getting super excited about park swings, equipment and sandboxes is….. we have a sandbox, a swing set and playhouse all in our small City Backyard.  And the kids use these almost everyday, which we love.  But there's nothing they love better, they ask for more, or get more excited about than going to the park to play on the equipment and swings there.  I don't know exactly why but I can guess it's just new and different.


If you look around your city and urban area you’ll notice that each park offers different toys, things to move, places to hide and run on. Let’s face it, even for kids, variety is the spice of life. Even going to different school playgrounds after hours is exciting because they like to meet other kids and just be in different surroundings so they can try and explore new things. 


And as researchers are discovering more and more these days, different experiences and forms of play are very helpful in developing young minds, making them adaptable to new surroundings and experiences. In this world of constant change, I have to think that’s going to be a good skill set to have.


Become a Playground Hopper

So we encourage you to not only take them out of the yard to the local park but go exploring and discover parks around your city.  Every urban area, school and public park will have one.  It's a pretty cheap adventure and the kids will love it and it’s a lot less hassle than taking them to a high priced amusement park.  Someday you won't be able to get away with this type of cost effective excitement so embrace it now and do some park hopping in your city.


Discover all the Playgrounds in Your Area

Looking for new parks and different play equipment to explore with your kids?  A lot of great parks are built in the middle of subdivisions or other rural areas of the city that we never see. 


One of the best resources I found for locating these hidden gems was the City of London Interactive map.  It allows you to pick parks and/or play structures and then plots all of them all over the city.  Then you can pick the one you want to check out and zoom right in (click the park first then zoom in to take a closer look).  Most major Ontario cities will have a tool like this to at least locate some new playgrounds closest to where you are.


London Interactive Map

Kitchener Interactive Map

Toronto Map


This site offers a listing of some Canadian Playgrounds and a lot of USA Playgrounds. Check it out and share your playground pictures and information.



Playground Hopping Tips and Ideas

  • take snacks or stop someplace new for a treat
  • look for playgrounds with a sandbox or other ways to be creative
  • take a picnic blanket, picnic lunch, a camera and make it a real adventure
  • identify new play areas and structures when you’re traveling around the city for other reasons
  • find parks with nice natural areas where the kids can simply explore
  • check out new playgrounds ahead of time without the kids
  • take a ball for additional exercise (burn extra energy)
  • Organize with other family friends or just go on your own and meet new people.  There's nothing like watching and sharing stories about your kids that brings people together and starts you off with something in common. 
  • Stopping by a local park on long road trips is an easy way to get the kids out of the car and burn a bit of energy.  It's also a great way to experience new places and maybe even some new people.  It doesn't take long and many offer bathroom facilities.  Just have a look at the city's interactive map before you travel.


The Ultimate Playground Explorer

Want to go Playground Hopping Internationally? Alex Smith's blog shows the coolest playgrounds around the world. It’s sure to inspire you look for those hidden playground gems in your area.



So get out and enjoy a little Disney Magic in your city by taking your kids on a Playground Hopping adventure this weekend.



Is there a good park in your neighborhood?  Some unique or a place your kids love?  Let us know by leaving a comment at the bottom.

Family Friendly Honey Farm

Written by Julie Stockford — July 11, 2013

One of the insects that I have always been nervous around are bees.  Even though I don’t have an allergy, when I see the black and yellow or hear the buzzing my anxiety level rises. 

So why would I suggest checking out an apiary?  Well, the fruits of their labour are sweet, sticky and delicious and they are actually very cool to watch.

 Family Friendly Apiary

Last week we took the kids to a local apiary called ClovermeadThis particular Apiary is not only a bee farm but it's also an “Adventure Farm” .  There are lots of activities there that make this type of outing not only fun but also provides educational and physical activities for the kids aswell.  There are displays showing honey producing equipment both historical and modern day as well a bee hives.  There is also lots of information available on bees and the honey making process.  The staff is very friendly want to make sure that everyone has the best experience possible. 


Before you even enter the adventure farm, one of the cool features that my kids loved was the washrooms.  The walls of the washroom are real beehives which are enclosed in plexiglass with a tube leading outside for the bees to come and go.  You can watch them crawling around filling the honeycombs which my kids thought was really cool. 


honey farmShortly after we arrived the owner (and beekeeper) Chris Hiemstra was opening a bee hive.  We walked into a small building and in the center surrounded by a net screen was Mr. Hiemstra holding a honeycomb just removed from the hive.  He was open to answer any questions and he showed the kids a new bee coming out of the comb.  You don’t get much more connected with nature than actually seeing the production of one of nature’s sweetest gifts.  This type of experience also reminds us how everything in nature, including those ‘pesky’ bees, play such an important part in the world we all share.


At this particular farm there were a variety animals too, like chickens, a peacock, sheep and a host of others to view and interact with and the kids especially loved feeding the goats.  Just a little taste of London’s countryside.  The kids also had a blast jumping on the giant jumping pillow, racing rubber ducks and zooming down the zip line.  And one of the kid’s favorite activities was the pedal carts that they could drive and race around the track under their own power.


Another cool thing about Clovermead is the “BeeTown” that they have created.  Many of the buildings have been built using recycled material from around the Aylmer area (one of them is from our family farm).  They take down old barns and buildings no longer used and restore them or reuse their materials to create these old fashion looking buildings.  To me this is just another way that the owners of Clovermead show environmental awareness and pride in their local area. 


Clovermead is a great destination and a wonderful experience for the kids.  They have some great events (bee beard competition) and a wonderful fall festival.  They also have a cute gift shop where they not only sell little trinkets but all of their honey and spreads (which are also available to sample).



Apiaries like this are a fun and unique place to visit and explore.  As well they help us understand and gain an important respect for a potentially intimidating insect that serves a much greater purpose than we think about most of the time. 


Looking for a unique summer activity that combines fun, education and physical activity in a welcoming and kid friendly outdoor environment?  Then why not take a trip down to Clovermead Apiary and Adventure Farm. Located just 30 minutes southeast of London, Ontario.



Check out the following list to find an Ontario Apiary near your city.




honey photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Family Fishing Week

Written by Julie Stockford — July 06, 2013

There is something very exciting about feeling a nibble or tug at the end of your fishing pole. Trying to figure out the right time to tug the pole and snag the fish, reeling it in, wondering how big it is going to be and feeling the fight as you do so.  And that’s what makes fishing fun from an adult’s perspective. 

Now when we took the kids fishing last summer, they had fun digging through the little dirt cup to get the worms, looking through the tackle, exploring around the shore and constantly trying to scare us that they were going to fall in the water (they had life jackets so it would mostly have just been inconvenient). 

Our daughter is now starting to gain more patience waiting for a fish to bite and when she did finally hook one, she loved every minute of reeling it in and seeing what she caught.  It wasn’t the biggest fish ever caught but I think she was just as proud and excited as anyone whose ever caught a trophy bass or muskellunge.  My son was fine with fishing until the fish started to move on the hook, at which point he decided that fishing was not for him but he still had fun wandering around the peer and looking in the water for bugs and frogs.


Family Fishing Week

If you're over 18 years old, most of the year you need a fishing license to take part in this sport of fishing.  Fortunately if you have never tried fishing or haven't tried it for some time, this week is Family Fishing Week in Ontario, July 6 – 14, 2013 and all Canadians are eligible to go fishing, license-free for the week. 

Family Fishing Week provides not only opportunities to fish, but also to learn about proper techniques, ethical angling and how to protect fish and their habitat.  It’s a great way to get the kids outdoors and try something new together.  It is also a great way to explore and learn about all the natural areas and waterways in and around your own town or city.  You may even discover a new area or hobby you’ll want to revisit with your kids at other times during the year. 

Family Fishing Week Events Near You

There are a number of family fishing events happening all over Ontario this weekend and next, many in the large urban areas like Toronto, London, Ottawa and Kitchener/Waterloo.  Many of these events are free (especially for kids), where you can win prizes, take part in friendly fishing competitions, enjoy good food, meet and learn about fishing along with other novice and experienced anglers.  Search the following list for an event close to you.



Taking Kids Fishing

 No matter how many fish you catch, remember to stay safe.  Make sure the kids are properly protected from the sun and have proper floatation devices. 

And remember, “Each child is different, and will respond differently to the fishing experience. Keep an open mind, go with the flow and, above all, have a good time!”  -Ministry of Natural Resources-

Check out the is report for some great 'Tips on Taking Kids Fishing'


Don’t have any fishing equipment? 

No problem.  The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH) has created a program where new and young anglers can borrow fishing equipment from a number of sites across the province for free



Ontario Fishing Rules and Regulations

For all the rules and regulations related to fishing and licensing in Ontario (including License-free Family Fishing) go to the Ministry of Natural Resources Website below.  This website also has some great advice for taking kids fishing and urban fishing in general.




Backyard Camping

Written by Julie Stockford — June 21, 2013

So, I love being outdoors with the kids.  And I love the idea of having a campout and kids love playing in a tent.  However, sleeping on the ground (even on an air mattress) does not sound like my idea of fun.  

backyard camping

Last weekend was our first annual family campout.  Luckily we still have family in rural communities with lots of land surrounding them.  So this was a rather large campout but the idea was the same and could be held on a smaller scale on any sized property.  


We all got together mid afternoon on a Saturday (this time of year is great as the bugs are not really out yet and the weather is great – sunny and warm but not unbearably hot yet).  The kids ran, explored and played games.  There was bean bag toss, tetherball, kite flying, ride-ons, bubbles and balls to play catch.  The adults had as much fun as the kids playing some of these games.  


The adults could sit, wander around and watch the kids play.  We had a potluck dinner (including fire roasted hot dogs and sausages) and everyone sat around on chairs and blankets and socialized some more. 


When the sun started to go down we gathered around the fire again for roasted marshmallows and smores.  The fun did not end at that.  My husband’s Aunt is a very smart lady and purchased some glow necklaces, bracelets and spinning, light up wands (similar to what you buy at concerts or night parades).  The kids had so much fun running around the yard with the lights and this made it really easy for us to keep track of them in the dark.  This was a much safer and longer lasting option than the traditional campfire sparklers that I remembered having as a kid and the kids (and some of the adults) enjoyed them just as much. 


Finally the kids wore themselves out, so I packed them up and took them home to sleep in a bed (my husband slept in the tent).  It was a really fun way to spend an early summer evening and it can all be done in any sized backyard.  Then you have the option at anytime as to whether you want to sleep on the ground or walk a few feet inside to sleep in a cozy bed.  Who knows maybe someday when the kids are a little bigger they will talk me into sleeping outside but for now we will take full enjoyment in the campout experience minus the outdoor sleeping portion, especially when the forecast calls for overnight rain showers.


Looking for a fun summer activity for the kids?  Not sure if you’re ready to take the kids camping?  Why not setup your own backyard campsite.  Here’s all the camping stuff you’ll need to get the real camping experience;

  • tent or some sort of shelter - even a blanket fort will do, especially if you don’t intend to sleep outside (check Pinterest for some really cool‘backyard camping tent’ideas),
  • blankets or sleeping bags - to lay on,
  • flash light - best to have at least 1 for each kid, our kids love headlamps,
  • snacks - either food to roast over a fire or just some good old fashioned camping snacks like trail mix or granola bars,
  • activities or games - exploration tools like magnifying glasses and bug catchers make the kids feel like they’re on a real outdoor adventure and traditional toys like bubbles or balls will keep the kids entertained while you all enjoy just being outdoors.



Want a greatpicnic blanketfor your next backyard campout?  It’s water-resistant, comfortable and comes with its own carrying case for easy travel and packing.  Great for laying out on the lawn star gazing or sitting around the camp fire at night.                                       

                           picnic blanket, camping blanket

Maple Syrup Festival Season

Written by Julie Stockford — March 09, 2013

maple syrup harvest

The groundhog has made his prediction but no matter when spring actually makes its appearance, the pending change of seasons means one thing for sure….maple syrup.  There are many different festivals in Ontario to go and visit, many just outside of your city.

Check out http://www.ontariomaple.com to find a Maple Syrup Festival near your city. 

Last year was our first experience at a maple syrup festival with the kids.  We went to the Crinklaw Farm, which is just at the South-West end of London, Ontario.  We walked around and took a horse drawn wagon ride back to the sugar bush.  Our tour guide provided us with some interesting history about the family farm and how maple syrup production has changed over the years.  We got a chance to see and learn about how the maple sap is harvested.  We also watched a few demonstrations showing both the old fashioned method for converting sap to syrup as well as their modern production facility.  Did you know they still use wood to heat the sap and turn it into maple syrup?  And the trip wouldn’t have been complete without a delicious pancake breakfast with fresh, warm maple syrup.  We actually had breakfast in the old barn which was a really fun experience for the kids.  It was a great experience to share this important part of Canadian culture with our kids and a great opportunity to get them outdoors during this time of year.

The nice thing about these festivals is that they are usually reasonably priced, educational (did you know that maple syrup is full of antioxidants?) and can be as big of an outing as you want to make it.  You can spend an hour and have breakfast or you can spend most of the day wandering and exploring.  The kids can go at their own pace, sampling the maple sugar treats and experiencing a bit of life on the farm. 

One thing to keep in mind though, these festivals are offered during a very limited period so check the dates and check them out.  In Ontario we’re right at the start of maple syrup festival season and it will be pretty well over by mid April, so find a festival near you and take the kids out for some fresh air and sweet, natural Canadian treats.

photo courtesy of stock.xchng

Kids Love Winter

Written by James Stockford — February 14, 2013

Winter Kids


One of the greatest things about living in Canada is the great variety we get through the four different seasons.  I know many of my fellow Canadians do not always embrace the snow and cold but I haven’t met a kid yet that had any problem dawning a big snow suit, boots, hat and mitts in order to tackle a fresh pile of soft white snow.  Kids just don’t see winter like many adults do.  What kids see when they look outside and see a fresh blanket of snow, they see a fresh new world where everything looks different and is just begging to be explored and changed.  And if you remember back to your own childhood I’m sure you can recall some fond winter memories yourself.  Those days skating outdoors, building a snow fort or waging war with the other neighborhood kids in an all out snowball fight. 

There is something magical about winter for kids and trust me there’s some really nice benefits that I was reminded of last weekend while playing with my kids.  Here just a few of the benefits of kids playing outdoors in the winter;

·         your kids stay clean

·         the snow covers up a lot of the things kids would normally get into in the backyard

·         they require fewer toys and therefore less clean-up

·         they can be creative when building forts, snow men or whatever out of the snow

·         when they’re in big snow suits they can’t run away from you as fast

·         the big snow suits and soft snow provides a lot of cushioning for falls

·         fresh air, sunshine and exercise help fight off colds

Winter didn’t used to make life harder, when you’re a kid winter provides outdoor activities that are only possible for a short time each year.  Winter weather for kids is something to take advantage of when it’s here.  So this weekend I encourage you take your kids outdoors and try to see the world through their eyes.  Go for a winter walk, lay in the snow, help them build a snowman or a snow fort (I actually do more shoveling building forts than I do cleaning off the driveway).  And believe me, when you start to enjoy winter with your kids you’ll see it in a much more positive light, and you may even get excited next time they’re calling for flurries.

photo courtesy of stock.xchng

Tobogganing in the City

Written by Julie Stockford — February 07, 2013

photo courtesy of stock.xchngThere is nothing as fun as watching your children experience something for the first time.  Our kids received snow sleds for Christmas this year, so after a nice fresh snow we decided to break them in the other weekend.  We went to a small park near our house that has a small hill and a large clearing at the bottom.  The kids were bundled up (snowsuits, helmets, mittens), it was a sunny, not too cold day and the hill was perfect.  We pulled the sleds to the top of the hill and the kids hopped on.  One little push and the sound of laughter heard as the kids zoomed down the hill was one that parents live for.  After about an hour of sledding (we were getting just as much exercise pulling the sleds and the kids up the hill), we headed home for some hot chocolate.

Want to find the best toboggan hills in your city?  Then check out tobogganhills.com.  A site created by Toronto ‘tobogganist’, Sebastian Dwornik.  This is a great site for finding tobaggan hills in lots of major Ontario Cities (or the world).

As fun as tobogganing is, it is always important to consider the potential dangers, especially for young children.  Here are a few safety tips to consider;

    ·         wear proper head protection,

    ·        never toboggan near a road or body of water (even if it looks frozen),            

    ·         toboggan in areas free of trees, fences or other obstacles,

    ·         dress warm.


photo courtesy of stock.xchng 


Written by Julie Stockford — January 31, 2013

Growing up on a farm gave me a childhood filled with endless space and with that unlimited opportunity to get outside and play.  As a parent now raising 2 young children in urban Southwestern Ontario I now realize how much I took that space for granted.

Since moving to the city my husband constantly looks for outdoor experiences for us as a family to enjoy.  I admit I am a little too much of a homebody and the thought of packing up the family to go to a provincial park sometimes seems like more effort than it is worth.  However when in the right mood I will say that I have thoroughly enjoyed those outdoor excursions.   In our pursuits, what we’ve found is there are a lot more outdoor opportunities right in and around the city than you would think.  We were also pleasantly surprised to discover how many traditional outdoor activities we were able enjoy with our kids, right in our own small urban yard.  

This past summer our daughter’s amazing thirst for knowledge and love of all things living (even the creepy, crawling kind) inspired us to start offering and promoting different activities to make outdoor play an inviting, safe and educational experience. 

Bird Watching in the City

It began with a generic gift received at an extended family Christmas party.  A backyard bird book with lots of colorful pictures peaked her interest.  She began running to grab it to try to identify a bird she had just spotted in the backyard.  This snowballed into a homemade bird watching kit for her birthday complete with binoculars, whistle, her own pocket bird guide and bird food.  She loves to watch what birds she is able to attract to our backyard.

Vegetable Garden Project

Most kids love to play in the dirt and ours are no different.  Whether it be them thinking they are helping by pulling weeds, or collecting worms, beetles, ants to study, if I have a trowel in my hand they are right beside me.  This year we decided that we were going to transform an unused portion of our backyard into a raised vegetable garden.  I tried to really think based on limited space what vegetables would be fun to go and pick for a snack, add to salads and enhance cooking.  The project although not as successful as I had hoped (dry, shady conditions and hungry chipmunks) we had a great time watching the plants flower and sprout vegetables.  Two of our favorites were snacking on the cherry tomatoes as soon as they turned red and eating fresh peas out of the pod.

This project inspired other garden projects that are not only fun but also educational as well and can be done in limited space.

Through this blog we will share our family’s outdoor adventures in and around the city.  And ways to transform your own urban outdoor space into a fun, educational and safe environment for your kids.  Our hope is that our experiences and suggestions will inspire you to try, expand upon and create outdoor experiences that you and your kids will enjoy and remember for many years to come. 

Enjoy the journey!


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