Best Toy of Christmas: Magna-Tiles

One of the big winners of this Christmas was the set of Magna-Tiles that we gave to Aiden. These magnetic building tiles are easy to use and incredibly versatile. They offer instant satisfaction to your budding builder, which is nice when alternatives such as Lego can take a lot of time to complete. The Magnatiles have been a central toy in our living room since Christmas, standing the test of time better than most toys around here!

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I find playing with Magna-Tiles just as fun and relaxing as Aiden does, and even Damien gets in on the action from time to time… though admittedly he’d prefer just to smash towers than to build them. He did, however, LOVE when we created our own mail system. He would “write” notes, send them in the mailbox, then Aiden would collect and deliver them. Pretty awesome.

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If you do invest in Magna-Tiles (they aren’t cheap), I recommend the 100 piece set. The 30 piece set doesn’t give you enough tiles to do many things. 

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Travel Essentials for Flying with 2 Kids

As you know, we are flying out tomorrow to go to the Disney Aulani resort in Hawaii. No, I haven’t started packing. But yes, I have done a lot of the prep work that will make packing easier. For example, I have already put together a stash of items to make travel easier with two kids. We fly out at night, so we are hoping (but not betting) on some sleep from the kids during the trip. But we’re arming ourselves with a well-packed backpack for each child. 

Travel essentials

  1. PlanetBox Shuttle packed with an assortment of reliable, healthy snacks as well as a few novel treats. We plan to eat dinner at the airport, so we don’t need a full meal on the plane, but snacks are always a good idea. Also a good idea: an empty water bottle per child, an extra bag of snacks for delays or security line-ups.
  2. iPad or phone customized per child. Our kids never get to play on iPads, so this is a treat for them. Though we offer the iPad to Damien in the morning when he wakes up (too damn early), this will be his first time playing apps. We have two iPads, so I’ve customized them per child, with either a movie or tv episodes plus a variety of age-appropriate apps (both educational and gaming).* Don’t forget some kids headphones (though you may want to beware those that limit volume, since planes can be noisy)
  3. New books are great for the airplane, plus they give you most of your nightly reading material for your trip. If you are traveling with devices, you can also install apps such as Reading Rainbow to broaden your library while you’re away. This trip we have a new I Spy for both kids to enjoy, plus a few short story books.
  4. Art supplies are essential in our house. This trip we are packing markers, plain paper, stickers, printed colouring sheets, printed mazes and worksheets from (or an activity book), plus some dry-erase worksheets from school and our Monster Doodles set. Playdoh would work as well, but Damien likes to throw it, so we’re skipping that this time.
  5. Games like Spot It, Rush Hour or I Spy-related games are small and versatile, as are the variety of Haba tin games. You don’t want to take anything with small pieces on the plane, in case they fall down.
  6. Toys that you want on the airplane should be small, like cars or dolls, but versatile for use in the hotel as well. One great tip I’ve read is to pack painters tape to allow your kids to create ‘rooms’ or ‘tracks’ anywhere you are – hotel, airplane – with minimal mess
  7. A warm scarf or mini pillow in case blankets are not available, plus any lovey that your child may need
  8. Extra clothes in case of accidents, packed in a bag, along with an extra pull-up in case nature calls at an inconvenient time.
  9. Wipes and/or kleenex, since messes are inevitable
The last tip is to try to relax! You can’t expect to keep your child on a perfect schedule in the middle of travel. Make sure you pack a bag for your comfort too, whether it’s warm socks or a pillow, or for younger children a breastfeeding pillow. I know the hard way how uncomfortable it is to hold a squirming 2.5 year old for several hours during the night without any support (which is why we’ll never travel with our car seat again). 

*Stay tuned for a review of apps for 2 and 5 year olds! I gathered some tried-and-true favourite apps but also tried to research some new ones. My experience with apps is that there are more ‘hits’ than ‘misses’, so hopefully we have found some new gems!

ActiveMama Heads to Aulani

Tomorrow, we fly out to Oahu to spend a week at the Aulani Disney Resort. Three years ago, we paid a visit to the Aulani resort on our trip to Hawaii, though we stayed at a different resort for our trip. On that trip, we stayed at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, which we loved for its fantastic on-property amenities and its location to many touristy things. 

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This year, our goal in choosing a vacation was simple: we want to relax. We don’t want to visit anything or do anything, unless we decide to. We don’t want to feel the “pressure” to be tourists, in other words. We worked with a travel agent to find a vacation that best suited us at this time of year, looking at everything from cruises to Disneyland to Club Med to resorts in Mexico and Hawaii. I wasn’t keen on flying longer than 5 hours, and something like Disneyland just seemed like too much work with 2 kids. Damien always wants to be picked up in line-ups, so we’re just not there yet.

On the Mexico vs Hawaii discussion, it’s really a question of all-inclusive vs a closer destination. When we came down to the final decision, comparing the very family-centric hotels we were looking at, Aulani was the clear winner. When it comes to amenities for kids, nobody does it quite like Disney. 

Aulani really has everything (and even more than it had 3 years ago). A crazy number of pools. Waterslides. Water parks (big and little). A lazy river. A man-made reef for snorkelling. Kids clubs. Evening activities. Good food. Yes, it’s an expensive hotel (though January is a great time to go). Yes, the food is crazy expensive (but we knew it was decent food and our breakfasts are included in this trip). Yes, we were in effect ‘paying’ for a complimentary kids club for Damien without him being of age to be there solo. Yes, my kids aren’t really into that many Disney characters. BUT, the return is still very high. We can stay on property and yet still have a varied schedule for the week we are there. We know this is not just a hotel with amenities for kids, this is a hotel that was designed for kids. The staff go above and beyond to make the stay magical. The kids are going to LOVE it (and so are we!)! 

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Stay tuned to ActiveMama on Facebook or to Instagram for all the updates of our vacation!! If you are planning your own trip to Hawaii and want to do some touristy things, you can read our adventures from 3 years ago here.

Christmas 2014: The Highlights

This year, our Christmas was the most relaxed it has been since the kids were born. Both boys were excited about Christmas and Santa, loved all the events we went to, and suffered very few tantrums. The boys are at an age where things (events, social gatherings) are definitely getting easier!

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We did a lot during the Christmas season. My extended family only celebrates on Christmas Day, so the rest of Christmas is spent with our more immediate family (which includes the two grandmas). As Aiden was keen to always bring up, we first celebrated Hanukkah, with candles and even some chocolates and borrowed dreidels for Aiden’s class.

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During the month of December, we did a lot: the Shipbuilders Christmas Market several times, the Vancouver Christmas Market for the first time, Bright Nights at Stanley Park, the Polar Express, Canyon Lights, The Holiday Hi-Light Festival, Scuba Claus at the Aquarium, and more. For me, Christmas is about these memories we create as a family, at events, watching movies or even just driving around to see the lights. These are the moments that make Christmas special. 

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On Christmas Day, we opened presents and, despite our efforts, still ended up purchasing too much. Apparently Damien would have been happy with only some chocolate (as he repeatedly exclaimed during opening his stocking, “This is not chocolate! Where the chocolate?”), but loved his keyboard.

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Aiden was in more of a rush this year, pushing himself and Damien to keep opening, though Damien was content to slow down and play and eat instead. But with Aiden’s insistence, they kept looking for “more presents!”, a key indicator that we gave them too much!

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Despite all that, there was a lot of gratitude this year and a lot of great play from some well-thought out presents. The boys had a great day, visiting family, connecting, and even eating (which is rare at big meals!). A wonderful year of memories. 

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How was Christmas for you?!

Can You Spot It?

Damien has a new obsession: Spot It. This game, designed for ages 7+, encourages players to find matching pictures between their card and the main deck. Each card has a match, but only one match. We have the standard edition, which contains 3 simple words in addition to pictures, but which doesn’t pose too much of a challenge for my 2.5 year old. I would say it’s easy to skip the Junior version. 

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Spot It comes in may different themes, from Animals to Alphabet, and is a super small and portable game. Damien is surprisingly good at the game, though not always very fast. In his first week playing it, he would often call out matches that didn’t exist, but now he only calls out accurate matches. He seems to memorize the deck card in the process of finding the match in the other, an interesting strategy that, while sometimes time consuming, results in perfect recall of that card. For example, if I find my match first (say I had the anchor on the card below), and the next card had an eye, he would yell out ‘eye’ and hand me the card, since he remembers it would be my match, even though I’m careful to keep him from seeing my cards. 

So, it’s a funny game to play with him. It has really gone a long way to improving his memory and observational skills. He is now, quite logically, also obsessed with I Spy books for the same reason.