Give the Gift of Togetherness

Playing board games with grandfather

We’ve been conditioned to think of gifts as things, material things that can be wrapped up and tied with a bow. What if gifts mean a little bit more?

“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” ~Dr. Suess, How the Grinch Stole Christmas
(Since my family just watched this last night, and we’ve been quoting it to one another today.)

If we think bigger about what we need and want, about gifts that would really enrich our lives, we need time together. It’s tough to pull together a whole family from their busy lives, especially when one member of the family is gone 12 hours a day.

So, we guard our time together and we give one another the gift of togetherness.

My two teenagers don’t share all of the same interests, but they each agree to share time doing the other’s favorite activities so they can spend that time together. I sit with each of my children separately, and we read books to one another. My son has had an ongoing game group for a couple of years. Both of them play board games with friends.

And, when my husband is finally home, we play games together as a family. We have drawers and closets full of games, but we tend to come back to the same board games and card games over and over. It isn’t the games themselves that we are seeking, though.

We talk. We laugh. We bend and break the rules we don’t like. We help one another. We are ourselves together.

I’ve found that there are games families and non-games families. When we find game families, we show up at their houses with our games, and we blend. That’s what we have planned for New Year’s Eve.

Does it matter to you that playing board games increases attention and listening skills, enhances vocabulary, encourages higher thinking, or teaches good sportsmanship? (This list is from the work of Dr. Sylvia Rimm.) I hope it does. Even when the games you play aren’t played well and fairly, playing together can create lifetime bonds.

Set the habit of family game night now to get the positive ripple effect. You will get to know your children better. Your children will get to know you better. You’ll bond. You’ll engage in the very process of creating your family.

We carry a big collection of cooperative games and puzzles for a big range of ages. Stop by the store to be pick up puzzles, board games, and card games for the family for the holidays. Giving and playing games is one way to give the gift of togetherness. Sure, it’s a thing to wrap, but the point is a lot deeper. The point is the commitment to actually play the game together regularly.

Resources

Dr. Sylvia Rimm, PhD, “Families that Play Together, Stay Together,” SylviaRimm.com.

Ellie Gibson, “Board games don’t just bring us together – they remind us how to play,” The Guardian, 24 November 2014.

“Every Kid Needs Puzzles & Games,” EcoBabySteps, 11 December 2012. Highlights of a few of the games and puzzles we carry at bynature.ca.

“Teaching Children about Herbs for Health,” EcoBabySteps, 28 May 2011. About one of my family games for families: Wildcraft!

“Finding Life Balance: Family Time,” EcoBabySteps, 29 May 2012. About the real need to create the family you want, since it won’t just appear automatically.

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Made in Canada Favourites

Anointment Skin Care Gift Set

 

Feeling all Canadian this weekend? Think about this: when we buy Made in Canada products from local stores, we are making sure that our money works harder for us. We are supporting local jobs in manufacturing and retail. We’re boosting local value for ourselves as well as for those who make and sell what we buy.

At bynature.ca we are careful about every product we stock. We always look close to home first, so we have found a lot of great parenting products Made in Canada. These are a few of our favourites that you might consider next time you are shopping.

Anointment
Handmade Natural Skin Care

Anointment Natural Skin Care Baby Balm

Range: herbal soaps, new mom & baby, beard & skin care for men, lip balm
Home: Sackville, New Brunswick
Cool Fact: The owner lives in a 150-year old farmhouse, where she grows many of the herbs used in Anointment products.

Naked Tank
Nursing Tank that covers your mid-section

Naked Tank breastfeeding tank

Range: Cotton or Bamboo Nursing Tanks
Home: Guelph, Ontario
Cool Fact: One of the co-owners cut up her own tank top to find a comfortable solution that would work with any bra. When that top sagged, she asked her mother to help her make a shirt that worked. Now, that is the Naked Tank.

Co-operative Games
Family Pastimes makes 100+ games

Cooperative Games Yard Sale

Range: Games by age group, multi-age, and game books
Home: Perth, Ontario
Cool Fact: Founded in 1972 because the founder wanted games for his own children that reinforced sharing attitudes. They still use the shop they built for the business in 1984.

Colibri / Sling Sisters
Organic baby products

Colibri Organic Cotton Wrap

Range: Wrap-style baby carriers, wet bags, snack bags
Home: St Adolphe, Manitoba
Cool Fact: These sisters (actual sisters) design and make all of their products in their own facility in Manitoba.

See these and more Made in Canada products in the bynature.ca store in Orillia, Ontario. Until then, Happy Canada Day.

 

Outdoor Games for Toddlers

Toddler play in mud

It’s warm. You’ve got your natural sunscreen ready. And, your toddler is itching to go outside.

What to do? Especially if your toddler is solo, you might want to start with everyday games that are interesting and engaging. Reinvent the familiar in an unfamiliar space. Create an opportunity for hours of open play.

Open-ended play works well as toddlers are learning to push the boundaries very quickly. So, I have come up with a few prompts that encourage your toddler to play without much structure.

Inside Out

Take your inside play things outside. Do you have a play kitchen? Take it outside. Do you have a bunch of stuffed animals? Outside they could become wild animals for your budding young Jane Goodall to meet and study. Musical instruments—or even a collection of pots and spoons—outside become very interesting because little people can make big sounds.

Mudpie Kitchen. You don’t need a specific piece of play kitchen equipment to set up your own mudpie bakery. Set up a work space at toddler arm level with a variety of containers within reach. Provide a bucket of dirt and a basin of water. Go exploring for rocks, sticks, flowers, leaves, and other decorations, and it’s time to bake.

Outside Already

What do you already have outside? Is there anything that could be transformed? Your sandbox could become a treasure chest or an archaeological dig. Your furniture could become an obstacle course when extreme running, jumping, and climbing is called for.

Tricycle Obstacle Course. A toddler who has already learned the basics of peddling a trike or some other wheeled contraption might be looking for a new place to practice this skill. Set up your outdoor furniture, a tree stump, a collection of 5-gallon buckets, and whatever other large treasures you find in your garage. Leave plenty of space to get between the obstacles. Make it interesting enough that there is more than one way to get through. My mother’s method with games like this was to start my children at the beginning and tell them she would count. They would run or ride far away then rush back to her to hear how far she had counted. Both my mother and my children seemed to find this very engaging. They could occupy themselves for an hour as the numbers themselves became part of the exploration when they ask, “If I do this, does it make my time faster or slower?”

Color

Sometimes painting can be messy business. Outdoor painting is a worry free business that can get as messy as it needs to get. Finger painting? That’s for indoors. Outside, how about toe painting–or belly painting for extra giggles. Sidewalk chalk gives a great big canvas. My children loved to use sidewalk chalk on our dark brick house

Big Paint. Sometimes a paint brush just isn’t big enough to capture the wave of color we need. Giant sponges and cleaning brushes, however, make nice, big paint brushes for little hands. Mix sidewalk chalk or powdered paint in buckets of water, making very thin paint, and you have color that your toddler can spread all over the sidewalk, driveway, or wooden fence.

Water

Most outdoor painting leads to outdoor water because it will get messy. Water can be big with a hose or a sprikler or small with a water wall. A water wall is a collection of old containers and tubes screwed onto a back board. When the child pours water in the top, the containers dump water into other containers. What makes a water wall or any outdoor day even better is bubbles. Bubbles are very nearly a requirement for toddlers. Big snaking bubbles and tiny, foamy bubbles.

Car wash. Did your mudpie bakery or your big paint get combined with your tricycle obstacle course? It might be time for a car wash. Set up a bucket of soapy water and a big sponge then line up the trike, toy cars, and anything on wheels that won’t suffer too much from some attentive cleaning. Drive the vehicles to a pile of rags for the final stage of drying. You might call it clean up, but your toddler doesn’t need to think of it that way.

Open Play

Whatever you are doing outdoors with your toddler, don’t fill in time so tightlythat you create stress. Toddlers have new-found ideas and physical abilities to explore. They are driven to explore. Sometimes just going outside together and looking around is enough to spark a deep need in a toddler to explore.

A couple of my favorite gentle reminders for open play and open exploration are:

“Summer in Nature for Your Children” – How simple prompts can launch a child into their own explorations.

“Make Sure You Leave Space” – Importance of our role as parents in doing little or nothing as our children find their way, including finding their own play.

Image © Liseykina | Dreamstime.com

Every Kid Needs Puzzles & Games

Mosaic wooden puzzle gift for child

Puzzles and games are essential for every kid as holiday gifts. Where to find a game that doesn’t encourage competition and bad feelings, though?

Growing up in my family, every person had to receive at least one puzzle for the holidays. As I grew older and more smart alecky, I gave my mother puzzles with thousands of pieces, or glowing pieces, or same on both sides, or some other nearly impossible puzzle. She still worked her way through every one. Now that my mother is gone, I still need to give my mother-in-law and my children puzzles. They drive me crazy, but everyone else loves them. I realize more over time that putting together a puzzle is a meditative activity, and it has always been one of those essential holiday activities in my family.

If you find that your children need that quiet time during a busy holiday season, consider encouraging down time with a puzzle. Also, if they see you doing a more difficult puzzle, they will get more and more curious until they take over. That’s my experience, anyway!

Another of those essentials for my family both growing up and now with my children is board games or card games. My children love playing my old games, and we still add several new games a year to our game closet. Over the holidays, we give small gifts over several days, and one day is always a game for the whole family. Since there are no other gifts to distract us, we have a family game day.

There are a lot of classic games available, but I find that my children become more competitive when they see the opportunity to win. That isn’t really the feel I’m going for with family game day, so we favor the cooperative games. At bynature.ca, we carry a lot of cooperative games and puzzles to fit your family’s interests.


Puzzles for Children


Port Side Pirates Puzzle

Port Side Pirate Puzzle for Children

Looking for an interlocking puzzle? Set sail with these two puzzles based on the Port Side Pirates sing-along book. The 12-piece puzzle shows the pirate crew discovering a treasure chest ashore the tropical island. The 24-piece puzzle shows the pirate crew sailing the high seas aboard their ship. The two puzzles allow for a range of difficulty included all in one box.
Age: 3+


Wooden Mosaic Puzzle

Rainbow mosaic wooden puzzle

If you are looking for a puzzle that will last longer than an interlocking puzzle that is used a few times, try our high quality wooden mosaics. Our large puzzle has 192 colorful triangle an trapezoid-shaped pieces. Arrange them in the bamboo tray or go rogue and put the rainbow of colors together any way that suits you. Includes a travel and storage bag.
Age: 3+


Cooperative Family Games


Elves and Ogres

Ogres and Elves cooperative game for kids

The Royal Elf Family is coming to visit their Mountain Kingdom. They want the Elves (players) to fill their treasure chests with the different gems they mine. Ogres, however, have heard about the visit and plan to grab all the valuables for themselves. Work together to get Royals & Ogres alike to share the goodies. The game requires lots of tricky teamwork, increasing in difficulty with rules for 3 games based on age (ages 5-7, ages 7-12 & ages 12+).
Ages: 5+


Snowstorm

Snowstorm cooperative game for kids

When a winter storm hits the city, the players help out residents by completing their tasks. The weather is constantly changing so players must keep on top of errands by paying attention to weather reports and moving through snow and ice with cars and service trucks. The game is different every time you play.
Ages: 5+

Last-minute Travel Games for Kids

Child in a car seat

If you don’t have a quiet book, and there isn’t time to sew a homemade bingo game or buy a nice travel toy before you head out onto the road, try a few of these quick-fix car games to keep your child engaged and happy through a long Labour Day drive.


Licence Plate Hunt

It’s a classic. Games involving license plates are an obvious favorite when you are driving with children. The way to play depends on your child’s age and ability. Before a long trip, I went to a school supply store and bought a large stack of black-outline maps. When the children saw a license plate, they had to be able to read the state name then figure out where it was on the map. The goal was to fill in the whole map.

NOTE: To make writing and drawing easier in the car, we grab a serving tray for each child to give them a hard surface. Trays store easily under the seat or next to a child, so they won’t add bulk.


Are We There Yet?

On the long trip when I had 50 blank maps, I came up with all sorts of map games and projects. We were driving from one side of the country to the other. Every day, I had the kids start out with the same map and draw in a line showing our progress. Your map could be as large or as small as you like, depending on your trip. You can even draw your own map that shows you going over a river and through the woods to Grandma’s house. When you get to the river, mark the path that far. Once you reach the woods, keep marking your progress.


Rainbow of Cars

For a younger child who can’t yet read province or state names, you can play a similar scavenger hunt game by starting with a blank color wheel and a pack of crayons. When your child sees a red car, fill in the red section of the wheel, and so on.


Color Switch Drawing

While you have the crayons out, try a game of Color Switch. Ask your child to draw a house (or a lion or a scene of fall leaves), but they can only use a crayon the same color as the car in front of you. For a faster-paced version, they must use the color of the car next to you. Those cars change frequently, so you could find that they are switching colors every few seconds.


Hi, Cow!

For an easy game that encourages everyone to look out the window, try Hi, Cow! Every time your child sees a cow, they could eat a peanut (or a wasabi pea, in my children’s case) or put a penny in a jar to save for a souvenir. It’s a flexible game, far less about what happens inside the car than about seeing what is outside of the car.


Name that Tune

I play 80s songs from my iPod, and we quiz our children on the titles and bands. Some things are important to know. Everyone in the family could also play this from the radio, but someone has to have a fairly comprehensive knowledge of popular songs. If you already sing a lot of songs together, you could sing the songs rather than using the radio or a music player.


Sing Off

My extended family plays a game at holiday parties where we divide into teams and each team sings a Christmas song then the next and the next until a team can’t think of any more Christmas songs and they drop out. To adapt this game for the car and for a young child, have them sing any song they remember. Everyone can join in and sing. Then ask the next person to sing a song and go around until no one can think of more songs—or until you arrive without your child really noticing the trip.


Rest Stop Olympics

Young children can get especially restless on a long drive. Did you children watch the Olympics last month? A game of Rest Stop Olympics can keep them focused on the next leg of the trip as well as giving them the physical activity they need. The event at one rest stop might be A Timed Tree Running. This was one of my kids’ favorite games at the park. They run to a tree, ane I time them. Simple. The stop after that could be a 20 Cartwheel Marathon or Roll Down the Hill Like a Sausage. If you tell them in advance what the event will be, they can train in the car. This is a fun way to add some physical activity when you have a day of sitting a lot.


Puppet Show

For a very small child, give them a puppet show, or have them give you a puppet show. Use seats as stages and make a show of any story


Endless Stories

My family loves telling stories. My husband started before the children even remember telling them adventure stories starring themselves. He always added heroic versions of recent activities. After they went digging for rocks, for example, their adventure heroes had to cross an ocean and fight pirates to get to a rock quarry, then they had to figure out how to get back home. They had read Odysseus, so every story became a heroic adventure. My children, now teens, still tell one another stories. They call them Option Stories, and they have several accounts (storylines) going at once: one in Avatar (The Last Airbender) world, one on a desert island, one as a Greek god, and so on. The teller frequently comes to a point when the listener has to make a choice: will you take the plane or fly, will you go right or left, will you where the cloak of invisibility or the wings. You could do a short, one-trip-long version of these stories, but part of the reason they are so important to my children is the fact that it is all the same decade-long story. It’s one continuing adventure. So, if you start a story, you may be committing to it long-term.

You don’t need to rush out and buy new toys or games for your car trip. Grab some paper and crayons, a few puppets, and you are ready to make your own games, even when you have to sit in the car for hours.

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