Games Night: 5 More Games For Family Fun Night

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The holidays are sneaking up on us, and my kids are making lists of all the things we’re going to do that don’t involve eating dinners out of Tupperware in the back of the minivan or needing to get out of our pajamas. They crave the change in routine as much as I do. We’re looking up family-friendly movies (and have a few we plan to see in the theatre, too) and piling up games and puzzles to take over the dining room table after Christmas dinner is cleared.

We are a household that enjoys games, both hands-on and screen-based. Each year, we put a new set of board games (see last year’s post for my top five suggestions) under the tree. Here are some family-friendly versions we’ve discovered this past year and a couple of new ones that we look forward to unwrapping during our holiday hygge.

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BLOKUS
Just like one of our other family favourites, Bounce Off, this game requires minimal explanation or time spent working out the rules. It’s perfect for a wide variety of ages, and easy to pull out at playdates. It’s a hands-on Tetris like game and appeals to anyone who likes geometry and strategy.

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SEQUENCE

Got a kid who could use some extra practice with math? This is the perfect sneaky way to make that happen, while still having fun. My parents love playing this game and my sister generously gifted our house and theirs with our own sets.

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SETTLERS OF CATAN

I used to love playing games like Risk and Survival when I was a kid, so it delights me to see my son and his friends gathered around a card table playing this very popular and strategic game. It’s great for communication and provides a good pace for hoovering back lots of snacks, too. There are also several add-on packs that can be purchased.

TICKET TO RIDE

I haven’t had a chance to play this game yet, but all the reviews I’ve heard from family and friends have been positive. Like, Settlers of Catan, it’s a game of strategy. It’s also a game that straddles several age groups and perfect for parents to play with their kids.

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HARRY POTTER TRIVIA PURSUIT

There is a lot of Potter paraphernalia going under our tree this year. We’ve had the travel-sized Harry Potter Trivia Pursuit set of cards since two Christmases ago, but this year we’re going big with the full-scale version. I’m no longer able to compete with my kids when it comes to any Potter trivia. But it warms my heart to watch them tossing out facts about these beloved characters. All four of them are heavily invested in the series, and I know this is going to be a hit for our family.

If you have any MUST-PLAY games to add to this list, please send them my way. We have every intention of going into full hibernation this holiday season. It’s a great time to reconnect and catch up with each other, and I’m really looking forward to the slower pace now that my kids are old enough to hang out without squabbling (most of the time, anyway). Happy gaming!

Like A Fish: A Review of Goldfish Swim School

When you enter the school, it feels like you're on an island getaway, which is the perfect antidote to winter swim lessons

When you enter the school, it feels like you're on an island getaway, which is the perfect antidote to winter swim lessons

If I was to describe our youngest child in a sentence, I'd probably say something like she does life her way. And by that I mean she knows herself, what she likes, and how she wants to get things done

It serves her very well in her day-to-day, and we couldn't be more proud of her confidence, but sometimes she needs a nudge to help her see things from a different perspective. How we deliver that nudge determines how well it will be received. And trust me when I tell you she has given us plenty of opportunities to practise our delivery.

In the past year or so, I've spoken a lot about being in the sweet spot of parenthood with our four kids. They're all school-aged now. They can eat, dress, and participate in extracurricular activities independently. We've finally retired the bulky baby gear like diaper bags and strollers, which means vacations actually feel like vacations — except when it comes to being in the water.

Our little dynamo decided at some point in her early years that swimming — without clinging to a parent the entire time — wasn't going to happen. So my husband and I always end up at the bargaining table with the winner staying dry and the other getting into a bathing suit for the hotel pool. We've tried swimming lessons and made very slow progress — as soon as there's any mention of going underwater or jumping in, she holds her ground (literally). 

We are in the planning stages of our annual summer road trip, and this year's journey will take us oceanside. All kidding aside, water safety and swimming skills are extremely important to us. We want all of our children to feel confident around the water. So when the opportunity came to try a new swimming program, we crossed our fingers and went for it.

Goldfish Swim School has just opened its first Canadian location in our town. The program has been successfully running in the U.S. for several years, and they've established very family-friendly systems and a program that has thought of everything. I booked an appointment to go and see the facility without her, and as soon as I walked in I knew she'd be easy to convince. It's designed with kids in mind and so well-suited to the age they teach (infants to 12 years old). 

When we arrived for her first lesson, I watched her face light up with excitement. She could see that the space was built for kids her size and she immediately felt comfortable. When I say they've thought of everything, I'm not exaggerating. Instead of being in a chaotic, open concept change room, each family can use a gender-neutral room with plenty of space and hooks to keep things off the floor. The temperature is perfect and keeps the shivering at bay. Cold and swimming lessons do nothing to convince a kid that it's going to be fun

The change rooms are fantastic for privacy and usability. 

The change rooms are fantastic for privacy and usability. 

After getting though one day of lessons, she wanted to head into the change room to get herself ready independently. Like I said, she likes to do things her way. There are plenty of large cubicles in the main area to keep things dry and safe until the end of the lesson. 

The head lifeguard comes out and calls the students in for their lesson, by leading them through the open concept shower area. Swimmers take a shower before entering the pool, and parents can observe from the other side of the glass (where it's warm and dry!). 

She felt so grown up doing this on her own

She felt so grown up doing this on her own

Then it's time for parents to head to the observation area and make themselves comfortable (did I mention that you're still completely dry?). There are snacks and coffee/tea/hot chocolate available for parents, and free wifi too!

Comfortable seats, coffee, groovy tunes and free wifi. It's a parent's paradise

Comfortable seats, coffee, groovy tunes and free wifi. It's a parent's paradise

The pool itself is heated to a balmy 90 degrees and is one consistent depth of 4ft, which helps to keep the nerves calm (for her and me). She was immediately comfortable because she knew she wasn't going to be swimming in the deep end. And the side-to-side lanes are much less intimidating than being in a more open space. Each lesson (after your child's appropriate level has been determined) follows a step-by-step program with specific swim requirements. And parents are invited on deck for the last few minutes to hear about those skills and observe their child demonstrating something (s)he's been working on. 

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In addition to your child's swim instructor, there is also a qualified lifeguard on deck for every four kids, which provides a safe level of supervision for everyone in the pool. It also meant extra high fives and words of praise for my kid and she just loved hearing that she was doing well. She absolutely thrived in the lessons and counted down the minutes until the next one. 

It was so wonderful to see her confident and happy in the water

It was so wonderful to see her confident and happy in the water

What I noticed more than anything else was how the set-up of the program at Goldfish Swim School really encourages and fosters independence. I think she easily made progress in the program, because she felt like she was in charge. It suits her personality, but would also work well for kids who need some extra support.

Taking care of business on her own. She also loved using the automatic bathing suit dryers

Taking care of business on her own. She also loved using the automatic bathing suit dryers

We started out at the school in one of the Jump Start Clinics, which allowed us to come every day for a week and really get comfortable. It was perfect for figuring out whether this program would work for us longterm. The program is set up as a month-to-month payment and it's a perpetual lessons model that let's you choose a schedule that works for your family (including easy to schedule make up lessons). 

We are officially counting down to the start of our summer vacation now and it feels like we'll be at a new level of independence this year. We feel confident that with continued lessons, we'll have taken measures to make sure our kids are safe and happy in the water. And knowing that makes our time at Goldfish Swim School time well spent. 

Showing off one of her new skills

Showing off one of her new skills

Because I'm a local parent and blogger, the wonderful staff at the Goldfish Swim School generously invited my daughter to enjoy a week in their Jump Start Clinic in exchange for my honest review. I was not otherwise compensated for this post and my opinions are genuine. 

For a review by my dear friend about their experience with her extraordinary kiddo, click here (there's an adorable video that you'll want to see!)

Back To The Beginning

Our first glimpse of our firstborn

Our first glimpse of our firstborn

I counted down to the moment of our 20-week ultrasound with so much trepidation and excitement. I wanted nothing more than to see our baby and know that everything was okay. But I also wanted my husband to be able to see him/her, too. I knew it would help him feel like he was more a part of what was to come. 

The road to that grainy snapshot of our firstborn was not an easy one to travel. Or at least it didn't look the way we thought it would. It was much longer than we had imagined, and it was scary with all its unexpected interventions. Still, we knew we were among the lucky ones. 

Each symptom and change to my physical body took me on a wild ride from elation (that I was having symptoms) to terror (that something might be wrong). I had to use a lot of self-restraint to avoid calling my midwife every time I felt a twinge, and many times I called her anyway. I peppered her with questions when I did see her, and I scoured the internet between appointments — I don't know what I would have done without the pregnancy boards I found online. 

Lately, I've been trying to reach a goal of organizing all the photos and other sentimental scraps I've been collecting since the beginning of our story. There are bins of loose photos and papers tucked into different hiding spots in our home. These beautiful reminders have followed us to five different houses, and I want them to be carefully preserved.

Last week, I found this photo of the guy who held me up through all my worries (never getting frustrated with any of them), and I cried. I felt all those emotions again, and it reminded me about something he wrote to our baby-to-be. I had been writing in a journal once a week throughout the pregnancy, and sometimes he would surprise me by leaving a note there. 

It has been a few days since we saw you for the first time. It has taken some time for me to fully take in those beautiful, grainy black-and-white images. The first thing I saw were your tiny little legs kicking and then your fingers dancing and reaching across your perfect, little face. My eyes couldn't leave the screen, as the technician scanned quickly back and forth taking her measurements of your petite frame. It was such a relief and such a wonder. I still can't believe you're in there. Part of me thinks you're just going to show up at our front door; a package brought by the stork! Now that I have seen you, I can't wait to hold you. I love you, baby. 

We didn't know we were having a daughter. We wanted to be surprised. But so much about what he wrote that day is a perfect description of who she is, and I must have read it at least 10 times while I cried some more. Those days were magical and they changed us in so many ways. We often joke with each other about the ageing and worrying that comes with parenting, but there is nothing we would change about the gifts we've been given. We are always grateful. 

When I was asked to contribute to a pregnancy by the week feature for Today's Parent magazine, it was such a wonderful chance to experience those early days again. I contributed weeks four to 10, which are often the ones that bring a lot of worry. But, parents-to-be, those days bring a lot of wonder, too.

You can explore the newly launched feature here: Pregnancy By Week

 

Happy Birthday, Baby

I hear the sound of the stepstool being scraped and shoved across the tiled bathroom floor. I'm in another room helping your big sister with her homework. Your dad is somewhere else in the house, trying to tackle a science fair project with your brother. 

I don't stand up. I don't go to you. 

I'm a different parent than I used to be. Maybe you've benefited from that or maybe you were always this way and we both got lucky because I was ready for you.

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