Sunday, 13 September 2015

Kid's Nature Activity // Dwarf House Building


My siblings and I used to spend hours in the woods gathering the right natural objects to create miniature homes for the dwarfs, fairies and other magical creatures we were convinced lived in our local forest. Even when we were probably too old to believe any longer, you'd still find us collecting and building- old habits are hard to break, I suppose. Luckily, I have children now so making these tiny bits of magic are totally acceptable from me again :)

While building fairy houses has always been a favourite pastime of mine, this particular setup was inspired by our recent trip to Sandwich, Massachusetts's Heritage Museums and Gardens. In Heritage's incredible Hidden Hollow, we discovered a couple of basins that were filled with rocks, sticks, and leaves.The items were separated into groups and labeled, creating an inviting area for visitors to make their own miniature homes. 



For our own version of this activity,  we started with building a collection of natural items by foraging in my auntie's yard. She lives in Pascoag, Rhode Island and her yard is surrounded by woods. Greeted by 6 wild turkeys, who were kind enough to scatter some of their feathers for us, we knew we were at the right hunting place! We gathered bark covered in moss, flowers like Goldenrod, California Everlasting and Black Eyed Susans. There was Thistle, vines of wild grapes, stones and loads of acorns, nuts and other seeds. The gathering took us about 45 minutes, but we could have easily spent an entire morning scouring the grounds and identifying our finds. 

Adding a wild turkey feather to the collection 
The basket was overflowing with our discoveries
Once we had our collection, we placed the items into groups. I then labeled some old book pages with their names and taped the paper to sticks that stuck out of the ground. Labels were:
Bark
Sticks
Moss
Rocks
Flowers
Leaves
Acorns 
Pinecones 
Feathers  

Filling different sized vessels or utilizing the ground in front of the label, items were placed in their respective piles, in an attempt to create some order from the chaotic basket collection.  Once our labels were in place, we had an area that would encourage visitors to use their imagination with the combinations of building possibilities! 




We then set out to carefully build the dwarf homes. 

A tepee base of sticks served as the building's foundation
Pinecone pillars flank the entrance
Closeup of the moss, rock, feather, sticks and ivy that created the apex
House 2 included a garden and wood chip steps in the yard.

Can you spot House 1 in the background on the left?
Acorn hats and pieces of nut shells served as bowls and plates
A dwarf takes cover under an umbrella sprig of Queen Anne's Lace
Grapes, mushrooms and Goldenrod were growing in the garden
A woodchip pathway led to the doorway of the house
My daughter placed Snow White indoors to protect her from the bugs

My sister found this amazing vintage Snow White & the 7 Dwarfs set at a yard sale a few months ago. How adorable are these figures, especially for this activity?!?! I love the little tools that the dwarfs came with- perfect for a day of working hard in their little garden. 

We immensely enjoyed this activity from start to finish. From foraging our parts, to building the homes, to playing with our creations, it was a great way to entertain ourselves on a casual summer day especially because we could take nice, long breaks from the heat and come back to the next step as needed.



Dwarf and fairy house building is such a fantastic way to use those imaginations! We'll certainly have plenty more of these magical little homes to show you again. Stay tuned! 

Friday, 11 September 2015

Rhody Roundup // 7 Kid Destinations in Southern New England


Summer in New England! It's been a week since our recent family holiday, but I already wish we were back there! And what a special treat to spend so much time with our family and friends. It is great to be back in Dublin and we're settling into a new routine this week with Emme beginning Montessori and Harry starting Preschool. We had really enjoyed a brilliant, memory-filled summer, but I am ready to get back into a more normal schedule here. Before our time in Rhode Island (and all it's neighboring states) feels like a too-distant memory, I wanted to share my second Rhody Roundup blog post. The first post I wrote back in April was on kid-friendly destinations in only RI locations. With family spread out throughout Southern New England, for this post I included a couple of great places in nearby Massachusetts and Connecticut too! 

Address: 5 Canal Street, Putnam, Connecticut

Located in the charming village of Putnam, Connecticut, this mom & pop diner serves up fast, classic dishes over the counter. Try their Steak, Cheese, Mushroom & Onion Roll or their signature Coney Dog, a hot dog with meat sauce and diced onions. Grab a seat in the dining area and watch the Circus Train make it's laps around the ceiling. The kids were mesmerized!


Look up for the train!

After dinner, take a stroll through the quaint village. With its plethora of antique shops filled with quirky collections, to it's unique art galleries, there's plenty to be seen. Bicycle-inspired art lines the sidewalks, adding another touch of whimsy to this darling town. 


Some of the sights in Putnam Village
Nikki's offers a selection of icecream but we opted for a quick walk to the Quiet Corner Creamery for a change of scenery. QCC is a garden nursery turned cafe & icecream shop with a fantastic children's' playground and canopied picnic seating area. Grab a cone of Maple Pecan or Cotton Candy and enjoy the perfect ending to your Putnam trip. 

Address: 67 Grove Street, Sandwich, Massachusetts
This nature lovers gem is tucked away in historic Sandwich, MA. There is much to be seen here, starting with the pristine gardens filled with thousands of gorgeous flowers, trees and shrubs. We particularly enjoyed the variety of colours found on the seasonal Hydrangea. Every pathway offered stunning views, with plenty to be seen. 


Gorgeous Hydrangea
Highlights at Heritage include:
-An antique, hand-carved carousel showcasing an assortment of colours as varied as the flowers in the gardens. 
-A crushed shell paved labyrinth creates a ringed maze, perfect for an impromptu game of chase.
-The collection of vintage vehicles is vast and incredibly well kept. 

-On-going exhibitions, including nine secret shelters to be discovered among the picturesque surroundings.
Colourful Carousel and Cars


Everything at Heritage is worth a look, but it was the Hidden Hollow area that really gained the most of my toddlers' interest. With several themed sensory stations:

-"Gather" features a table of binoculars surrounded by a fairy ring of wooden mushrooms 
-"Look" has basins with pinecones, bark, rocks and sticks, encouraging mini architects to construct fairy houses 
-"Climb" is a bunch of wooden circles spread out amongst the forest creating a maze of routes, with one particular way leading to the grand treehouse that overlooks the entire children's area. 


A peek into the Hidden Hollow
There were xylophones to be played and slate to be water painted. Tunnels to be built and sand to be dug. This special area is truly any child's idea of a natural playground. I only wish we'd had more time to spend here! 


So many fantastic children's activities at Heritage
52 Old Hillside Drive, Glendale, Rhode Island
I grew up on Spring Lake Road in Glendale, RI and spent most of my childhood summers swimming at this lake, so forgive me if this review is slightly biased. Several (!!!) years later, I am thrilled to report that this is still a wonderful summer spot. Reasonable fees offer entrance into the private beach area where you'll find that a play ground, children's boat rentals, and slides into the lake are all available. Picnic tables and seating areas are scattered along the property. Pack your own lunch cooler or take advantage of the walk-up food counter offering summer specialties like corn dogs and doughboys. Two restroom facilities, one with outdoor showers, are also available. 


Slides for the littles, sandcastle building and a view of the Arcade building
The thing that makes this destination a little extra special, differentiating it from other lakeside beaches is it's wonderful Arcade. Stepping into this establishment is the closest I'll ever come to travelling in a time machine back to my childhood. The sounds alone- the ding, ding, dings, constant rings and whizzing balls and bells- would bring you right back to when my grandparents frequented the space. The old school games cater to all kid's budgets with penny, nickel, dime and quarter options. A purse full of spare change can last you ages, as you roam from the 10 cent Sweets Grabber to the 25 cent horse ride, stopping to play with Peppy the Musical Clown Puppet with a dime and then onto the Roller Ball for a quarter. And for the new age Dave & Buster lovers- their are plenty of modern game options where you win tickets to exchange for small trinkets and prizes. 6 tickets for a pixie stick. 15 tickets for a candy bracelet. 75 gets you a toy soldier. 


The view of Pinball row
Lots of fun to be had inside the arcade
This spot always makes me feel incredibly nostalgic, but even without the childhood memories, my family & I easily enjoy a full day of fun and sun at Spring Lake Beach. 




201 County Street, Attleboro, Massachusetts
Compared to the bigger zoos like nearby Roger Williams & Southwick, Capron is smaller in size and its quantity of animals. But if you want an easy, pleasant afternoon out, Capron Zoo offers just that. We checked out animals like the Kangaroo, Leopard and the Kookuburra, got soaked in the splashpad play area, cooled down with an ice pop and then headed to the large playground located just outside but adjacent to the zoo. Sounds like a great time, right?! 


Running through the splashpad, feeding goats and llamas, the Lemur area

Time to cool off!
2 Southwick Street, Mendon, Massachusetts
Heading to Southwick's is a wonderful day out. With over 150+ animals on exhibit,  this place is so much more than just animals! It offers a sky ride for viewing all the animals from above, discovery centers and live presentations, specialty food stops, several animal interaction and feeding areas, a variety of carnival rides, a playground with sandpit and even live Elephant & Camel rides. 


Seed sticks for the parakeets, camels to see, the playground, racecar rides

Deer Forrest, horse rides, Thelma & Louise the hippos, a parakeet closeup
Wallaby's, Black Swans, Armadillos, Rhinoceros and much more were on display. And with so many knowledable staff on site, we learned a great deal extra, like how the Bengal Tiger sisters, Taj and Kya,are actually twins even though one is white and the other is normal coloration. 

With so many ways to spend your time here, our favorite exhibit of all was the Deer Forrest. This 35 acre forest allows visitors to get up close and feed the friendly Fallow Deer. The kids were fascinated by how close the animals would come up to us, but it was my sister, mom and I who felt as if we were each a version of Snow White in her enchanted forest. This area of the park truly felt magical!


Patiently waiting to feed the friendly deer
970 Ocean Road, Narragansett, Rhode Island
No trip to RI in the summer would be complete without visiting the beach. It is nicknamed The Ocean State after all! With so many wonderful beaches along it's vast 400+ mile coastline, visitors to the small state are never short on options for a sand & saltwater-filled day out. We were fortunate to spend a full day (9a-7p) at Scarborough State Beach with 25 relatives for a mini-reunion. Entering at the Knowlesway Road entrance, where vehicles pay for the ease of come & go parking, you can set up tents, bring in your bbq grills, and take advantage of the washroom and shower facilities. The kids caught butterflies in their nets, built sandcastles, but mostly they just enjoyed each others company down by the ocean. 
Cousins splashing in the Atlantic

Digging a moat for the castle
Other excellent beach options in Rhode Island include:  Misquamacut, Roger Wheeler, First Beach, Narragansett, Gooseberry, and so many more. 

Monkey Joes 
1360 South Washington Street, North Attleboro, Massachusetts
This indoor playspace was a nice break from all our other sun-filled, outdoor adventures. While I first felt a little guilty sending the kids indoors on a nice day, I soon realized that they were still going to be majorly active, through climbing, running and jumping on the large selection of bouncy houses. Bonus points that I got to sneak away to shop at some of this ex-pat's old favourite stores. Located in a shopping plaza off Route 1 in North Attelboro, MA, it's conveniently situated in close proximity to Michael's, Target, Toys R Us, DSW, Old Navy, Walmart and many more stores. While I shopped my husband monitored the kids at this air conditioned playspace for 2.5 hours, breaking for lunch in the onsite cafe. I joined them for their last half hour and it was a great time!

Need more ideas for RI destinations with children? Check out my original blog post here. And thank you to everyone who made our trip so special! We can't wait to come back again for another visit. 
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