Tag Archives: Hiking

Autumn Adventures

I started writing this post so long ago then got too busy to finish it – almost winter now, may seem irrelevant to publish it but here I go anyway ūüôā

Autumn is a period of change – the leaves, the weather, our schedule and much more. There are new discoveries to be made and even some new challenges. This year, the weather has impacted our activities more than usual – there has been so much rain. We like rain but when it is combined with cold then playing in the yard can be troublesome because it is so wet and sitting anywhere gets uncomfortable so we prefer to keep moving and go for walks.

Walks provide much more than just fresh air and exercise – on walks we have some fantastic conversations. Years ago I wrote about how our long walks enable us to have better conversations. However, this Fall going for walks has been a little challenging since all my older children have gone to school and I have no hand holding helpers.

In my current preschool group all the children are just one or two years old. The toddlers do like to walk together and hold hands but they are usually so engrossed in their own conversations that they don’t pay enough attention to their surroundings. Also, as ‘normal’ toddlers they often require significant processing time for verbal requests. The delayed response is very stressful for me particularly when it is related to road traffic.

So, this Fall I again began using the Safe-T-Line when we go for walks. I have previously written another post about using the Safe-T-Line. All these toddlers love holding the handles and have taken turns as line leader – some are better as followers.

Even though muddy puddles are a popular attraction for these little ones, ‘goose poop’ seems to be a major concern. Even when there is not a goose in sight every unidentified lump on the sidewalk or pathway gets dubbed ‘goose poop’ and is given a wide berth followed by “Ewwww, that’s disgusting!” and fits of laughter.

One of our favourite walks is through the Elmwood Cemetery – mostly because there are very few cars and very many squirrels, rabbits, birds, and especially geese. On one recent cemetery walk the grass was being mowed and there were large clumps of wet grass on the road. Initially they were of course labeled ‘goose poop’ but then there was an argument about the clumps being too big to have been made by a goose. So, after some discussion it was determined that these were in fact ‘dinosaur poop‘.

Yes, that is why I like taking toddlers for walks. We never find dinosaur poop in the yard. Now we just have to figure out where that dinosaur is hiding. Time to go for another autumn adventure.

Mud Day 2019

June 29th is International Mud Day and here we have been celebrating it every year since its inception in 2009 (the year after I attended the World Forum for Nature Education). Of course, we do play with mud on other days too but rain or shine we have a BIG Mud Day celebration at the end of June – just before I close for my annual vacation so that is why it takes me this long to write about it.

For the past three or four years I have found it difficult to actually make ‘mud’. Yes, I know it sounds ridiculous – there is mud everywhere we go in the spring and summer after it rains – but for mud day I like to buy NEW, fresh dirt to make mud with. I never used to have difficulty finding good soil but recently it has been a challenge. I have bought many different bags of soil in search of ‘good’, mud-making soil. I’ve tried black earth, top soil and garden mix in both cheap and expensive brands from a variety of stores. Some years I’ve had several reject bags that I dumped into the garden instead of using for Mud Day.

The problem with most of these soils is that although they seem nice when I open the bag – cool, moist and smelling fabulous as all fresh soil does – they don’t mix well with water. Sure, when you add a little water to the soil it feels wet but it does not compact or hold any kind of shape. Adding more water doesn’t help – eventually it just become dirty water with bits of debris. *sigh* It shouldn’t be this hard to make mud.

The weekend before Mud Day I bought what I hoped would be good black earth – sadly, a small sample proved it was not. I called Superior Soil, explained my problem and asked if they had soil that would make nice mud. They believed they did so now my dilemma was that they are not open evenings and there were no more weekends before Mud Day. I checked the route on Google Maps – should only take 34 minutes to walk there – easy peasy walk for my little group of hikers.

The next day we packed a snack and left early in the morning so we could still have time to play in the yard for a while after our walk. My mistake was that I neglected to consider that this was not one of our normal routes hence there would be a lot of time spent sightseeing, exploring and asking many questions. Note to homeowners: If you put up little dome tents in your unfenced front yard it makes it very, very difficult for me to persuade toddlers that it is in fact private property and not a public campground.

It took us 91 minutes to get to our destination – I wondered if Google Maps may have miscalculated but I just wanted to get our soil and be on our way because if our return trip took the same length of time we would have a very late lunch. The man at Superior Soil was so charmed by the excited little group that he wouldn’t even charge us for the soil, put it in our cart for us and told us to have fun making mud pies. We had a quick (late) morning snack and headed back. Google Maps was not wrong – the return trip took only 42 minutes with tired toddlers and a heavy bag of soil.

Friday, June 28th was the day we would celebrate Mud Day. I set out a bin of water with some scoops, a wading pool full of our very special soil, a tarp and the ramp. At first, the children were all very hesitant – they tentatively played with the scoops in the water.

Seriously! Most of this group had been here for at least one other Mud Day and we’d been planning this for weeks – why the reluctance to dive in? With a little coaxing they added a bit of water to the soil and then moved small amounts of mud to the ramp. Twenty minutes so far and we’ve only got a few dirty fingers!

Finally someone got their feet dirty;

OK – now we are mixing mud! Yes, Superior Soil makes beautiful mud ūüôā

Someone thought the water bin could be used to clean their feet – LOL – there is mud everywhere now;

This one thinks she is getting clean – nope! That water bin is mostly mud now too.

After a slow start they all really got into it – no more reluctance to get dirty. We enjoyed two hours of wonderful messy mud play.

Winter Yard 2

We plan go outside to play every day throughout the year in all types of weather. In winter there is only one restriction that I put on our outdoor time – we don’t go on long hikes. We do still go on some shorter walks on warmer days but on cold days we just stay in the yard.

In winter the weather conditions are unpredictable. Even on short walks we’ve discovered that what feels like a lovely mild winter day can suddenly feel like a blizzard when you round a corner and face the wind. Toddlers in particular can go from comfortable to too cold in a very short period of time and the return trip will be nearly impossible if we’ve wandered very far.

My yard is sheltered from the wind and faces South so it gets plenty of sunlight. There are very rarely days that we feel are too cold to go outside to play – in fact, this year so far there have been no days that we didn’t venture outside for at least a little time. There may be days that are too cold to sit or stand outside and do nothing, but the children don’t do this and neither do I. When we are outside I spend the majority of my time ‘sculpting’ the yard.

Yard sculpting is a continuous process which some of the children enjoy helping me create but most just ‘use’. There are some children who would still love playing in the snow if I did nothing to the yard at all. Others – especially the littlest ones – sometimes find the snow and ice frustrating. I don’t want them to become discouraged and end up sitting somewhere shivering – learning only that winter is simply a miserable cold season.

I have a fairly small yard – only about 650 square feet – so I make the most of it by ensuring there are some special places and enough variety that no one gets too bored. There are many different spaces and activities to keep the children engaged, moving, exploring and most importantly enjoying their winter play experience. The little ‘cave’ under the cedars which provides a natural shelter from the hot summer sun also provides shelter from the cold winter wind.

The tipi is a constructed shelter which also serves as a storage area for loose parts. All our warm weather toys are not available here in the winter but we still have our pots, sticks and pipes.

Instead of toys I’ve added some coloured blocks of ice. I thought the children might like to use them for building blocks but so far they mostly just use them as hockey pucks.

As the children run and play I use my shovel to clear snow from some areas and pile it in others. I don’t just have one path from the house to the gate, I have multiple interconnecting trails that allow the children to go over and around obstacles. There are places to climb, jump, roll or slide and places to build and dig;

There are six circles to run around, five tunnels to crawl through, a bridge to go over, many steps/stumps, four different elevations to provide a variety of viewpoints, some flat open areas for building or playing group games and two hills. All together there is roughly 250 feet of trail with many forks and endless route options.

When I’m not shoveling I’m packing the trails. My Fitbit has auto-recognized a 30 minute hike while I repeatedly walked all the circles and loops around my yard. It is not unusual for a little toddler train to follow along behind me while I traverse the trails. When people marvel at the super long summer hikes my toddlers are capable of, I point out that summer hikes are pretty easy compared to our winter adventures on ice and snow while bundled in layers of heavy clothing.

Most of the pictures in this post were taken before the last big snowfall so we do have a little more snow than what is shown here – we would still like much more though. Sure, we love the other seasons too but we’re not tired of winter yet so come on Mother Nature – let it snow!

Summer 2017

Fall is definitely on its way – today is cool, wet, and dreary. ¬†It has been a wonderful summer. ¬†There were many things I meant to write about but never did – probably because I was playing outside. ¬†Today I’m huddled in front of my computer, cat sleeping on my lap, waiting for one load of laundry to finish so I can start another. ¬†Seems like the perfect time to write a quick summer recap.

In the yard we built a new composter and fire pit and added a gazing ball (lovely good-bye gift).

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We had some old pieces of cribbing that I let the children paint;

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They now arrange the pieces in various configurations for follow the leader games and other gross motor activities;

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Sometimes they make teeter totters but so far I haven’t managed to get a picture of them doing that. ¬†They often make benches too – even though we have eight ‘real’ benches in the yard they seem to like theirs better;

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We went on a long (9 km) hike to the Forks and back.

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Watching the boats, ducks, and geese was great but couldn’t beat this;

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Standing on the path under the train bridge watching/listening to the train above;

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That was pretty amazing.

With colder weather approaching I’ve turned my focus toward our somewhat neglected indoor play space. ¬†Plans have been made and work will begin soon. ¬†By Thanksgiving we should have a new – tiny house inspired – loft. ¬†So excited!

Field Trip

For many years I regularly used my 15 passenger van to take the children on field trips. ¬†It had plenty of room for all the car/booster seats, supplies, and even my teens when they came along to help out. Eventually the costs of upkeep for the old van began to outweigh the benefits of using it. When all my original car seats expired I priced out buying five new ones I decided that the expense wasn’t justified for just a few outings a year.

I discovered that I don’t miss taking the children to museums and we can walk to the library and many other neighbourhood attractions. ¬†So, for the past four years we haven’t gone on an outing that required transportation. ¬†In fact, we go on far more walking adventures than we ever did before and they are much more spontaneous (emergent). I do however miss the farm trips and many of the distant hiking trails we used to frequent. So this summer I decided to take my little group on a city bus adventure to the closest one of ¬†the trails – Bunn’s Creek Trail.

For some of the children this was their first ever experience on a city bus. ¬†They were all very excited. ¬†Throughout the 20 minute ride they giggled and cheered and sang songs amusing all the regular bus riders. ¬†We disembarked and began our hike down the 3 km trail. ¬†I loved that my little group of preschool hikers immediately began assessing risks. ¬†‘Those trees look like bridges – it would be fun to walk on them but if they broke we would fall in the water’;

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I told the children I would take a picture of anything they found interesting along the way. ¬†The first one they requested was this lonely ‘rainbow leaf’;

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They were amazed by the ‘broken beaver dam’;

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Of course they noticed all the thistles growing along the trail.

These boys find thistles everywhere – in parks, back lanes, trails and even gardens. ¬†They like to touch them – they know they are prickly but to them this seems to be an acceptable risk. ¬†I find it interesting how gently they touch the thistles. ¬† Most of the time ‘gentle’ seems to be difficult for this group yet when it comes to thistles they demonstrate that they have the ability to be gentle so yes, keep practicing that!

Then they spotted ‘dandelions’ but they were very tall so a quick check of our field guide and we found out that they were actually sow thistles.

The children don’t think sow-thistle is as prickly as Canada Thistle and quickly lost interest until they found this;

‘Sticky!’

We’ve seen these big leaves of the Common Burdock on many of our hikes but the children have never paid much attention to them or the burrs. ¬†Now these have become the ‘must touch’ favourites on all our hikes.

We reached the park at the end of the trail and took a washroom break.  Everyone wanted to stay on the bridge for a while and look at the creek.

This was the mid point of our hike Рwe headed back along the trail to where we started.  It was interesting how many of the landmarks the children remembered on our return trip.  They got really excited as we approached the spot where the lonely rainbow leaf was.  Pretty amazing that they can find the same leaf twice in a 6 km nature hike.

We had our lunch in the field near where the creek meets the Red River.  It was so peaceful.  

There was a bald eagle that flew from one side of the clearing and back several times but I was never able to get a picture of him.

The bus ride home was still exciting but much quieter and everyone was ready for a nap when we returned.

We continue to go on long hikes in our neighbourhood but now the children point out all the prickly/sticky plants AND the buses too. Maybe we’ll have to try another bus adventure soon.

The Destination

Going for a walk or hike is one of our favourite things to do. ¬†Whether planning a short walk or a full day outing we rarely have ‘destination’. ¬†We have some preferred routes but we often deviate from are original plan when we find something interesting. ¬†Walks are time for exploration.

The children are involved in the planning of our trips but I don’t usually ask ‘where’ do you want to go – implying that there is an end point. ¬†Rather, I ask ‘which direction should we head’ and at various points I’ll ask ‘which way should we turn’.

Walking through the cemetery is one of their favourite routes – they like to look for owls in the nest boxes. Last fall on one of our cemetery walks they noticed this park on the far side of the river – “Can we go there?”

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Hmm, some day maybe.  I was not very familiar with the area on that side of the river and although I had a rough idea how to get there I would need to scout the trail without children first.

Earlier this spring my husband and I went on an evening hike to check out the available routes. ¬†The park wasn’t actually difficult to get to – just a short detour off one of our familiar trails. ¬†However, to make a full loop back to my house was not possible that day because the spring river levels were too high and parts of the trail were under water.

Last week the children and I made our first trip to the new park Рnot the playground, I rarely go to playgrounds (read why here). Parks are full of nature and so many things to explore and discover.  We left early and took our morning snack and picnic blanket with us;

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It is a little difficult to see in the photo but the children were easily able to locate the cemetery across the river from our picnic spot;

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The new park also has an amazing forest and riverbank to explore;

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The boys like to look for bears and wolves in the forest – this trip resulted in a very exciting discovery;

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Probably just a dog tracks but HUGE like a wolf!

I was impressed when these three and four year olds noticed Рand correctly identified this bridge by name.  It is one of five bridges we frequently visit but we have never approached it from this side.

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Crossing the bridge on our way back they stopped as usual to look at and talk about this ‘house-shaped’ cement barricade/structure (please leave a comment if you know the real name for this thing).

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When we pass this way we often discuss the river levels at various times of the year. ¬†This day they were talking about how the driftwood got stuck up there in the spring when the river was higher. ¬†Then they noticed something even more interesting in the driftwood…is that a nest? ¬†Why would she want to have a nest there?

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We’ve visited the new park twice now. ¬†On our second trip the children eagerly anticipated seeing this goose again – and maybe babies. ¬†She wasn’t there, however there was a pair of mallard ducks.

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While we were watching them they jumped off the cement into the river below. ¬†The children were thrilled and now refer to this as ‘the diving board’. ¬†I suppose that’s better than ‘house shaped cement thing that I don’t know the real name for’.

Picnics in our new park and the exploration along the way have been full of adventure and discovery. ¬†I’m sure there will be many more to come.

Hiking in the City

It has been just over a week since I returned home after Nature Summit 2016.¬† I’ll admit that for the first few days I did seriously consider putting my tent up in the backyard because I really missed spending all day, every day outside.¬† Summit was fabulous as usual – I got to participate in many outdoor workshops.¬† I went for a ride on a zip line, climbed almost to the top of this;

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And of course I did a lot of hiking through the woods.

I know I really enjoy a nature hike and so do the¬† children in my care.¬† I also know that, even in the city, there are many places where we can hike and feel like we are out in the wilderness.¬† However, a city hike can be pretty special too – especially to a group of boys who can tell me the name and purpose of almost every type of construction vehicle. ūüôā

My little group and I have spent the last few months exploring the the nearby neighbourhoods.¬† Our city hikes vary in length from just a few blocks to up to 8 km.¬† They can take anywhere from a half hour to several hours and it is rarely the children that suggest we’ve been walking too long and it is time to go back.¬† Pretty amazing when you consider that these are 2 and 3 year olds.

So, what do we see when we go on an 8km city hike?  Back hoes, buses, dump trucks and trains.  Cement trucks, front loaders, street cleaners and cranes.  Yes, there is a lot of noisy traffic but there are also many quiet spots too.  In fact, one of our favourite paths takes us through the cemetery.

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We look for birds Рthe children know where all the nest boxes are located (there is a nest box in the above picture but it is hard to see).  We listen to the wind in the trees and watch the river in the distance.  Inevitably the river sparks the topic of bridges Рwhich one will we cross today?  Within walking distance of the cemetery there are FIVE bridges we can go over, and THREE that we can go under.

There are several more bridges we can explore if we pack a lunch and make it a day long hike but that tends to be too much even for this active little group.  Once this past summer we did make it to two distant bridges but the children were obviously tired and there was not much excitement.  Besides, when we stick to the familiar, nearby areas there is a whole more to our hikes than just walking.

In some cases we can cross one bridge and examine the structure of another bridge at the same time.

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There are bridges for people, bikes, cars and trains. Only some of our bridges cross over water.  Others cross over roads or train tracks and give us a whole lot more to talk about.  The children often complained that there were never any trains on these tracks when we crossed over them Рbut twice this summer there was a train here!  So of course we had to stop for a while to watch.

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One time the train was moving so very slowly that we were able to continue our walk, loop around and walk under the same train we had just been standing over.

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Standing under a train bridge while a train slowly squeaked and creaked, clanged and banged overhead was a new experience.¬† Trains on bridges sound much different than cars on bridges. The children also enjoyed yelling ‘ECHO!’ as they do every time we venture under bridges.

We don’t spend all our time on noisy city streets.¬† For contrast we also explore parks and riverbanks along the way.¬† We get to hear and smell the difference between the roadway and the forest.¬† On this particular hike the ‘big’ boys were with us and the ‘littles’ enjoyed showing them all our favourite spots.

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Just as we use the bridges to compare the traffic and trains from above and below we can also do the same with the river.  Standing on the bridge we watch the water flow, count geese and ducks, and watch sticks and other debris float by but there is the noise of the traffic crossing the bridge too.

It is amazing how just a few steps away from a busy road can feel like a totally different world.  What can you hear now?  Our river bank trails offer another perspective of the water.  We can get closer to the water Рbut not too close, this is not a swimming river.

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There is a tree they want to climb.¬† Normally I’d say yes to a tree climbing adventure but a quick risk assessment resulted in a ‘No’ to climbing on this tree;

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Yes, I love a good nature hike but a city hike offers something special too.  We could read books or watch videos and memorize facts about cars and trucks, trees and birds, rivers and roads or we can go for a city hike, experience it, and begin to understand the impact we have on the natural environment.