Posts Tagged 'outdoors'

Holy Toledo! Run, don’t walk to the Toledo Zoo

Girl in pretend egg and boy in pretend nest

My kids loved pretending they were animals.

My brother-in-law always says that with kids, if you’re not on offense, you’re on defense. He’s right, so I put a lot of effort into keeping my kids occupied (keeping my kids occupied = maintaining my sanity).

In the spirit of parents helping parents, I recently discovered the Toledo Zoo. Many of you have probably visited already, but for those who have only thought about it, stop thinking and go. It’s fantastic!

I just took my 4.5-year-old twins. The 90-minute car ride went easily. It was the kids’ first time out of state, so when I told them they were in Ohio, they asked “What’s Ohio?” I explained it’s another state, and we live in Michigan. That’s when my daughter said, “Are we still on our planet?”

Sort of. We’re in Ohio.

Enough Ohio bashing. Back to the day trip.

The directions the zoo has posted online were spot on, so once we got off the freeway, I had no trouble finding it. Also, they participate in reciprocating zoo memberships, so if you’re a member of the Detroit Zoo, bring your card and you’ll get 50 percent off admission. For two adults and two kids, it was $35 to get in, plus $7 for parking.

People told me that you get to be closer to the animals at the Toledo Zoo, and they weren’t kidding. It’s a very hands-on place full of activities and learning experiences for the kids. There’s even a zipline over the giraffes!

A man, little girl and little boy standing close to aquarium tank

The aquarium tanks make it very easy for kids (big and little) to get close to the sea life.

It’s a big place — you park on one side of the road and walk over a pedestrian bridge to the other side of the zoo. The kids saw real elephants for the first time, touched starfish, built a nest and hatched from an egg. The highlight for me was the new aquarium. Beautifully done — and air conditioned — the aquarium has several “touch” experiences and easy-to-see tanks.

This zoo is built for kids. It’s almost a theme park/zoo. They have a splash pad, an indoor forest learning center, and two playscapes complete with rock climbing walls that even my littles scaled without a problem. There’s also a children’s area where kids can play and grown-ups can hunt Pokémon. Seriously. They were all over the place. So were Pokéstops.

Not having any faith in the quality of zoo food or the desire to spend an arm and a leg, I brought a picnic lunch, but there were plenty of eating options. One of the café areas is in the building that used to house bigger animals, like tigers. Patrons ate in the steel-bar cages that long-ago housed carnivores, as the etched stone at the top of the building proclaimed. It was a cool experience.

Be warned, we decided to get an ice cream treat in the heat of the afternoon, so we stopped at a stand. My son asked for his favorite chocolate ice cream. Do you know how excited he was when the lady handed him a full pint? Best. Mom. Ever.

And, yes, there were bathrooms everywhere.

All in all, I’d highly recommend this as a family day trip. We spent the entire day there and didn’t get to see everything. But it’s safe to say, we’ll be heading back.

– Rebecca Calappi is a Publications Coordinator at Beaumont Health and adoptive parent of multiples.

Letterboxing fun

Boy on his dad's shoulders in the woods

Cropped image. Ikmal H Noordin, Flickr. CC license.

It’s summertime in Michigan. The kids are out of school; the weather is warm and inviting. Many of us are looking for a way to unplug and spend some time with nature. But if your kids are anything like mine (and to be honest, like me), they might need a little more incentive to take a walk in the woods than simply “Look at the leaves on that tree.” One thing my kids can’t resist (I wonder where they get it from?) is a prize! Take a walk in the woods to find a reward?! When can we go? So we started letterboxing.

What is letterboxing?

No, this has nothing to do with the format in which you watch a movie. Letterboxing is an activity that involves following a set of clues to find a hidden box, usually in the woods but in some other surprising places as well.

All you need to start letterboxing is a team (my family is “Well Done, Dragon”), a rubber stamp, an ink pad, and a notebook. You then use a letterboxing website (I like Atlas Quest) to search for sets of clues that will lead you to hidden treasures all over the world.

How does it work?

People who letterbox hide boxes in various places and write a set of clues (some simple, some maddeningly complex) that lead you to the prize. You may have to use a compass or work together to solve riddles and puzzles.

Some clues tell a wonderful story, but they all lead you to a hiding place where the author has a box containing a notebook and a rubber stamp. When you find the box, put your team stamp in the notebook in the box, and the stamp from the box in your notebook. Be stealthy; the first rule of letterboxing is not to let other people see what you are doing.

Remember to look at the notebook you found to see what teams have found the box before you. Many of us put our hometowns and the date we made the find — it’s amazing to see how far some people will go to find their prize.

As you continue to find letterboxes, your notebook fills with images from the rubber stamps — many of which are hand carved — as you make a record of your finds. I also like to make notes in our book about which team member made the find, and other cool stuff we saw along the way (like the family of baby raccoons that followed my youngest with her bag of peanuts).

Letterboxing vs. geocaching

I know some of you are reading this and saying, “I’ve heard of this, but I thought it was called geocaching.” Geocaching is different as it involves using a GPS and coordinates to find things.

Letterboxing is tech-free beyond finding your set of clues. Instead of coordinates, you use your brain and your powers of observation to follow clues and solve puzzles. That’s what got us hooked on letterboxing — not just the pleasure of the find, but the satisfaction of solving the riddles and unraveling the clues.

Go out and letterbox

Letterboxing is something you can spend the day doing, or something you can incorporate into another activity. One of my favorite summer days ended when my family stumbled out of the woods dirty, sweaty, and beaming after spending six hours hunting down a series of boxes (we found them all). But there are also many letterboxes hidden in the wooded areas of highway rest stops. In fact, Atlas Quest has a feature where you can search by proximity to a highway route, so we like to get a list of boxes hidden along our route on road trips. There are also boxes hidden in less woodsy areas (look for team Well Done, Dragon’s stamp if you letterbox at Cedar Point or the Rochester Hills Public Library). I’ve even heard that there are letterboxes hidden on each of Disney’s cruise ships but I haven’t had the chance to check that one out. Yet.

So unplug, find some clues to a box near you, and go find your prize. And if you find Box 2 of National Treasure, can you give me a hint?

– Nicole Capozello, Parenting Program Volunteer

Springtime play and learning

Little girl blowing bubbles outside

While the cold, rainy days make you think you should check your calendar for when Halloween is coming, spring is really here. Soon a beautiful Michigan summer will follow. What a great opportunity to get outside and help your kids develop their motor skills under the guise of play. While kids all love their electronics, you’d be surprised how happy they are to go outside and play even the simplest of games.

Get out and play

  • Don’t sell short the importance of playing games like catch or kicking a ball; it helps build upper and lower body strength, eye-hand coordination and balance. You can mix it up too: Change the size of the ball you throw, or balance on one leg and see how long you can each stand before kicking the ball back.
  • Bubbles are great for kids and even school-age kids like them. Blowing bubbles builds oral motor and fine motor skills. The larger bubble wands are great fun for promoting running as you make bigger and bigger bubbles.
  • Kite flying is also wonderful for coordination and special time together.
  • Some more active ideas include roller skating and bike riding. Both activities are a fantastic chance to build strength, coordination, endurance and many happy memories. But don’t forget your protective gear — especially a helmet — for both you and your child.

Academics outdoors

  • If your child needs to work on more academic tasks, get out the sidewalk chalk to practice letters and math. Early learners respond well to large motor activities like drawing letters on the driveway as a way to learn letter formation.
  • Math facts can be called back and forth as you throw or kick a ball. When children have these types of sensory experiences combined with academics, they tend to have great recall and learning.
  • Speaking of sensory play, take advantage of the outdoors and enjoy messy play. Activities with shaving cream or Play-Doh (a carpet nightmare that looks so much better on your lawn) can build sensory and fine motor skills.
  • Fill a large storage tub with water and practice measuring and pouring to build coordination and math skills.

Other opportunities

As summer approaches here are some opportunities for children of varying abilities.

  • If your child struggles with handwriting skills, consider Beaumont’s eight-week summer handwriting program (for pre-writing, print or cursive). The program expands to 10 weeks during the rest of the year.
  • Have a picky eater? Try the Munchers and Crunchers group.
  • We also offer therapeutic swim programs, adapted martial arts, adapted dance, adapted yoga, and several sensory groups for children on the autistic spectrum.

Beaumont is proud to offer services in Macomb now, as well as our West Bloomfield, Royal Oak and Grosse Pointe clinics. Check out our website.

– Debbie Adsit, OTRL, is the Supervisor, Pediatric Rehabilitation at the Beaumont Center for Children’s Rehabilitation. She can be reached at (248) 655-5687.

Gardening for bees and children

Boy and girl laying in field of dandelions

Unaltered image. William Prost, Flickr. CC license.

Spring has finally handed Old Man Winter his coat and hat and sent him on his way. Life in our yards reemerges as the grass turns green, robins return, and bees begin buzzing. But one sign of spring isn’t always welcome: the humble dandelion.

However I dare to say: Let’s celebrate the little sun-like flower heads!

What? The scourge of green landscapes everywhere?

Yes! These bits of yellow dotting our lawns are a most welcome site to pollinators (and children) who endured the barren, winter months. Dandelions offer hungry bees their first source of nectar each spring, sustaining our pollinators until the abundance of the season blooms in full. And have you ever met a small child more joyous than one picking dandelion flowers, making dandelion chains, or blowing their white fluffy seeds?

European settlers intentionally brought dandelions to America for its nutrient-dense leaves (which are also a gentle diuretic), its liver-cleansing root, and its flowers that can be made into wine. It seems the plant is quite comfortable here, employing its long tap root to break up compacted soils everywhere. It’s fitting that this European native plant supports the European honeybee so perfectly.

Across the country — and the world — people are concerned about the continual and dramatic decline of bees, monarch butterflies, and other pollinators. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates a nation-wide loss of 42 percent of managed honeybee colonies in 2015 (some states lost more than 60 percent). Native pollinator numbers are harder to track, but a recent article in BioScience states that half of the 46 or 47 species of bumblebees in the United States are in some level of decline. The Xerces Society estimates 80 percent fewer monarch butterflies in North America than the average population over the past 21 years.

The good news: Anyone with a yard can contribute to helping these important species. The first step is to offer food in the form of nectar and pollen. Embrace pollen and nectar-rich flowers like dandelions, clover, goldenrod and aster that appear in your yard. The next step is to not poison your visitors once they do accept your invitation; in other words, avoid all lawn and garden pesticides. This will create a healthy place for children and pets to play as well. Don’t worry; gardens and lawns can still be beautiful. Visit the Ecology Center’s table and three pesticide-free gardens at the 2016 Grosse Pointe Garden Center Garden Tour!

Here are some additional ways to get started:

  • Go neonic-free. Ask garden centers if their flowering plants are free of neonicotinoids, a class of pesticides, which are particularly lethal to bees and other beneficial insects. In 2014, 51 percent of garden plants tested positive for one or more neonic.
    • Home Depot is now labeling plants treated with neonics. Both Lowe’s and Home Depot have agreed to stop selling neonics by 2019. Ask Ace Hardware and True Value to do the same.
    • The U.S. government temporarily halted the registration of any new neonic products.
    • The state of Maryland recently banned the sale of neonics in stores.
  • Treat grubs naturally with beneficial nematodes or milky spore, not Merit® or other products that contain neonicotinoids. Refer to Pest Patrol: Grubs for more tips on grub control. Wondering if your garden product contains neonics? Check this list of brand name products containing neonicotinoids.
  • Avoid weed and feed products. Believe it or not, they are pesticides. Most contain 2,4-D, a dangerous herbicide linked to cancer in humans and canine lymphoma. Learn how to maintain a lawn without pesticides.
  • Gardening for Bees and Children In 2015 Roundup’s active ingredient, glyphosate, was declared a probable human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. In November 2015, glyphosate plus another additive in some Roundup formulations were found to have even greater potential health risks. Products are coming off store shelves in Germany and France.
  • Plant native perennials, shrubs, and trees to attract pollinators, as well as beneficial pest-eating insects and birds. Visit The Native Plant Nursery of Michigan, this list of bee-friendly wildflowers and flowers, or this list five spring plants that could save monarch butterflies. Remember: Using pesticides will poison all the bugs (including the beneficial ones) and the birds that eat them.
  • Learn more about successful gardening without pesticides with the Ecology Center’s spring checklist for a healthy yard.

– Melissa Cooper Sargent, Environmental Health Educator with LocalMotionGreen at Ecology Center. For more information, you can email her at melissas@ecocenter.org or visit http://www.ecocenter.org/lmg.

Safety on the slopes

Boy sledding wearing a helmet

Sledding is a great way to stay active during the time of year that most people tend to stay indoors. In order to keep safe on the slopes, review tips before you head out the door.

  • Bundle up! Here are some tips on how to prevent hypothermia and frostbite.
  • Encourage taking some breaks to warm up and also stay hydrated.
  • Choose a designated sledding hill that is free of trees and away from busy roads.
  • Helmets should be worn by all children under the age of 12. Ideally this would be a helmet specifically designed for winter sports, but a bicycle helmet could be used as well.
  • Discourage riding head first on a sled. Always have your child sit forward facing.
  • Teach kids to keep their arms and legs inside the sled and if they should fall out, move out of the path of others.
  • Never use a motorized vehicle to pull a sled. The most severe sledding injuries we’ve seen at our trauma center were caused by this mechanism.
  • Make sure someone has a cell phone if there is a need to call for help. If your older children are going alone, talk to them about situations that would warrant calling 911, for example a neck injury requiring immobilization of the spine.

– Erica Surman, RN, BSN, Pediatric Trauma Program Manager, Beaumont Health System

It’s Never Too Late to Learn to Camp

Kids and adults around a large campfire

The kids loved telling scary stories around the campfire at our family reunion last month.

Have you noticed how different people have such various reactions to the adventure of camping? Some people crinkle their noses and avoid this “camping” at all costs. Others I talk to are interested, and can innately relate to some of these rustic experiences.

Even though camping is one of my favorite activities now, growing up, my family never camped. My mother would always say, “My idea of camping is a hotel without room service.” Ha! My first time camping was when I was in my early 20s and it was one of the more lavish experiences where we went “up north” (Has anyone ever noticed that this term is such a Michigan thing to say?) to Rose City where my fiancé’s family has property. We stayed in the family cabin where there was a shower, soft bed, electricity and even a TV. This was a nice soft introduction to camping!

From there, my fiancé and I have camped all around Michigan and even got engaged while on a camping trip in Florida. During the summer with the great weather and flexible schedules, we try to make “mini vacations” where we pull out the tent and sleeping bags, and have a campfire in the backyard just to break up our daily routine. My son Grayson, who’s 2, has grown up camping and loves spending time around the campfire with family and friends (even though I secretly think it’s mostly for the s’mores).

What I enjoy most about camping is how it brings everyone together. You wouldn’t think that changing your sleeping arrangement from a bed to a blow-up mattress would make that much of a difference, but it’s more about unplugging and really focusing on the people around you. Turning off the cell phones, skipping the Mickey Mouse rerun, and just being around my fiancé and son gets rid of the buzz of everyday life. I always notice when we go camping (whether in Florida or in the backyard) that things get so quiet. Like really quiet. It’s enough to stop and make me think about how grateful I am for the things in my life; this is especially easy when standing around a campfire making s’mores and roasting hot dogs (organic turkey, of course).

Camping can be a lot of prep work with making sure you have all the things you might possibly need while out in the wilderness, but it’s so worth it when you think about the lifelong memories that you’re making. My son will forever have memories of playing Red Rover with cousins, telling scary stories around the campfire, and the s’mores bar we usually have at any bonfire!

– Stephanie Paetzke, LLMSW, CPST, is the Grosse Pointe Coordinator with the Beaumont Parenting Program.

Let’s Go Tent Camping!

Toddler girl in tent

Unaltered image. Jay Gooby, Flickr. CC License.

Tent camping is a great way for you to spend quality time with your family without spending a fortune on hotels or airfare. But how do you get started? Here are some tips that can help.

Location

  • For your first camping experience, pick a camp area within easy driving distance of your home. This way if you discover that camping isn’t your thing or the weather turns nasty, you can drive home early.
  • State parks are a great place to try camping.
    • Many state parks were founded because they’re near interesting sightseeing areas.
    • The cost for a site is usually around $25/night and they have well-established sites with plenty of trees for shade. Commercial campgrounds are sometimes built on open fields with very few trees.
  • Use Google Maps’ satellite feature to check out the parks from above. This can help you pick out a specific site when making reservations.
  • Find a park that has activities that your family will enjoy. Look for features like swimming, boating, fishing, areas for sports, hiking trails, bike paths, or playgrounds.
  • Many parks now have more modern amenities like electricity and hot showers so you won’t feel like you’re too far from home.
  • You don’t need to spend the whole time at your campsite. Look for things to do in nearby towns. You may even want to go out for a meal at a local diner.

Equipment

  • Obviously you’re going to need some equipment that you may not own. At a minimum, you’ll want a tent, a two-burner camp stove, some pots and pans, utensils, axe or hatchet, campfire chairs, lighter, bug spray, sunscreen, marshmallow/hot dog sticks, lantern, flashlights, paper plates and cups, table cloth, hot pads, small tubs for dishes, and dish towels. A small folding table is also helpful.
  • Try to borrow camping equipment from friends or family. After you’ve done a few trips, you can start to buy your own equipment. Using someone else’s equipment also helps you find out what works well or doesn’t.
  • Bring your bicycles and helmets. Most roads around your campsite have a low speed limit for cars, which makes bike riding relatively safe.
  • Bring a deck of cards or board games. You can use these during down times or if it rains.
  • Most parks have firewood available for purchase at a reasonable price. If not, you can often buy bundles from places like Kroger or Meijer. Don’t bring firewood from your home stockpile. This can introduce insects and diseases to the park trees. However the store bundles are usually certified clean of disease and insects so it can be transported. Plan on using a couple of bundles per night.

Food

  • Keep meals simple. Sandwiches and chips are an easy lunch and you can take them with you on a hike. Hot dogs or brats make a great dinner and can be cooked over your campfire. On the morning that you’re going home, have cereal for breakfast to minimize cleanup.
  • Try to prep meals in advance. Put together a salad, cut up fruit, or bake cookies before you leave home.
  • Don’t forget the s’more supplies. You can go traditional or get creative. Try Oreos instead of graham crackers or replace chocolate bars with peanut butter cups.
  • After you’ve been camping for a while, get more ambitious with your meals. Look into getting a Dutch oven because you can bake dishes like peach cobbler, chocolate cake, French toast or egg casserole. The Internet has thousands of different recipes that you can try.
  • Bring extra snacks. Being outdoors burns more energy so you’ll find your kids are often hungry.
  • Can’t live without your morning coffee? Remember to bring a coffee pot to put on the stove.

Miscellaneous Tips

  • Leave the electronics at home. Obviously you can bring your cell phone for emergencies or to use as a GPS. But leave the iPads, iPods and laptops at home. The outdoors will provide plenty of entertainment for your children.
  • Pack for the weather but remember it’s often quite a bit cooler in the evening in the woods than in the city.
  • Flip-flops are great to use in the public showers, but avoid wearing them around the campsite as they don’t provide protection from sticks and rocks.
  • Tent sizes often show how many people can fit inside. However this doesn’t take into account room for your gear. So you’ll want to subtract one or two people from the sizes. For instance, a family of three will want to use a tent rated for four or five people.
  • A similar story for sleeping bags. They give a temperature range but you’ll want to add 10 – 15 degrees to the rating to make sure you’re comfortable. It’s no fun trying to sleep while you’re shivering!
  • Only use approved fire rings for your campfire.

Now that you have some basic knowledge, get out there and try camping with your family. You’ll be amazed how your kids will remember the experience for years to come.

– Dave Enerson started camping with his dad as a young child and is currently Scoutmaster of a local Boy Scout Troop.


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