Spring Book Basket

We are definitely a reading house. I can safely say I probably read hundreds of books a year (thanks for keeping me from bankruptcy, Libby!) and my mother was an early literacy coach at the local Parent Child Centre when I was growing up, so I spent a lot of time considering reading material and what makes reading interesting and engaging for kids. We have a reading area upstairs at our house with all of our just for fun books (fiction and non fiction) and both adult and kid books in the same place – because I strongly believe them seeing us reading and browsing and talking about books matters. Downstairs in our main living area with have a reading nook with a small bookshelf for each of them where they can grab whatever they’re interested in. I rotate these when I remember (read; very infrequently). But in the meantime we also have a seasonal book basket next to the fireplace and that often ends up being our most read aloud books as the kids ask for them throughout the day.

I want to highlight a few of these because they are interesting or notable for something so you can see some of our favourites – these are a complete mishmash of old and new, stuff the kids like and stuff the adults like, and general books that apply to something we’re doing.

Best books for M(21 months):

Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson

This one was a huge hit with V at a similar age and M is no different – it’s about the growth of a tree and is all actions. If you’re not great at involving your little in what’s happening in the story this is the book for you because it tells your little exactly what to do before you turn the page. They LOVE making it go and now don’t need us to read the words and will do the action when they see the page. Perfect toddler book.

Spring is Here by Taro Gomi

M is really into this one right now and to be honest I’m not exactly sure why – maybe the super bold graphic images? There’s not much in the way of story but it takes you through the seasons and has some fun actions and there is lots of contrast for the youngest readers.

Best books for V(3.5 years):

An Egg is Quiet by Diana Hutts Aston

This is actually kind of a funny story – we were out in the backyard and out of nowhere a great blue heron flew overhead and landed on our neighbour’s roof. Now this is highly unusual, we live in a big city and I’ve lived in this neighbourhood for 20 years and never seen one here. V was a bit put off by the size and our excitement so she had lots of questions. So we’re on a bit of a bird kick around here and this book is great. V loves to find the heron egg and look at the pretty colours and learn about hatching. I love the illustrations and the learning level is just right for her right now.

The Big Book of Birds by Yuval Zommer

Again stemming from the heron incident, but this is a great one too. V cannot get over the flamingo page where they pee on themselves to cool down. Never fails to make her giggle. Loads of interesting information here, flamingo bathroom habits aside, and it definitely sticks with her, she’s been asking to eat shrimp because it turns flamingoes pink!

Other Picks

The Little Lamb by Judith Dunn

This was actually one of my favourites when I was little and I picked up a copy from Abebooks to be able to share it with V. Not sure why I was so into it but it’s a nice simple story with beautiful pictures about raising a baby lamb and the mischief it gets into. We now use it to practice sounding out words with V since it has good simple words in a clear font.

Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner and Christopher Silas Neal

We’ve been doing a lot of gardening lately and this is helping V process that, she loves identifying the bugs in the dirt and playing with the hose like the Nana in the book does. We have others from this series and they have a great combination of an interesting story with detailed information about the animals at the end, so we can focus on the ones V is interested in without overloading her. Again this covers all the seasons but it definitely feels spring to me and it’s a great grandma/grand daughter relationship book to boot.

End of the day mess….

If there’s anything nicer than a cuddle and a read with an interested toddler I don’t know what it is. I genuinely love sharing books with my little people and always love finding new and interesting things to explore.

Toronto Aquarium Visit

Ok so if you were going to ask me for an optimal age for this I would have a tough time answering that. I’ve spent a lot of time in Vancouver and I find the aquarium there is a much more educational and multi generational experience, with a wider range of activities to interest all kinds of ages. The Toronto aquarium, on the other hand, is a really neat, condensed, visual experience. From an educational standpoint you likely won’t get much for the preschoolers but I do think they will enjoy the experience. Tickets are $39 for adults and $13 for 3-5 year olds, under 3 get in free, and if you buy timed entry tickets ahead it’s $33 for adults and $10 for 3-5 year olds (kids 6-13 are $26 there and $23 if you buy ahead). So first tip; buy ahead.

Second tip; get there as close to opening as you can. We headed down aiming for a 9AM arrival (opening time) and missed by about 30mins due to traffic (and having toddlers), but it gave M some extra morning nap time in the car which was not terrible. This was a Saturday trip in the summer so peak timing for business, we spent about 2 hours there (a little under), and by the end it was busy but not terrible.

The path through the exhibits is pretty easy to follow but it is quite dark in a lot of areas so it definitely helps to have an adult for each kid and/or a carrier for one, especially if your little is a runner! The route starts with Canadian waters which was a nice opportunity to talk about fish we might have in bodies of water around us and in places she’s been and then transitioned to a lot of large scale tanks with an impressive array of fish and it was immediately interesting to V.

Please excuse the phone pictures!

The entire area is quite stroller friendly which is a nice bonus, but I think you’d likely have a hard time keeping them in it – depends on the kid though! Once M saw V up and exploring I couldn’t have wrangled him back in even with two people. The rainbow reef had a lot of the fish types we had discussed in our prep work before the aquarium so great opportunities for getting her to point out which ones she recognized and she was fascinated to see how differently they moved. As usual, her favourite part was getting to point out what she knew to M.

M was interested in the visuals but not too engaged in listening to what he was looking it, unsurprisingly. This did offer lots of opportunity for different types of movement – there are areas with crawling tunnels and lights on the floor that made for a happy crawler if you don’t mind a bit of dirt (don’t forget the wipes!). There is also an excellent chance someone will want to lick the glass. Not speaking from experience, of course.

Next up was the shark area, which involves a moving sidewalk through an aquarium tunnel with sharks and other marine life swimming overhead. Super cool for both adults and kids but a bit tricky for early walkers so you’ll want to keep an eye out for that. It’s quite slow moving so not too much concern there but can be tricky to transition between the moving/not moving area so it takes a minute for the littles to get used to. Shark spotting was really fun for everyone and V loved seeing them in person and even recognized differences between some of them from her model sharks we used in her sensory bin.

The jellyfish zone is really interesting to look at and gave a great crawl zone for M but it is quite dark and was definitely a little trickier keeping both of them close while they were excited seeing the lit jellies. The area with the rays caught both kids’ attention for quite a while, I think the way they swam so differently was a big draw. Personally, I also liked that some of them seemed quite smiley.

There’s also a touch area which provided some interest for V and endless frustration for M who wanted nothing more than to go in for a dip. Definitely not designed for the teeniest visitors (for good reason, you do need to be gentle while touching so this is definitely a know you kid moment, if it’s too much this is a good one to skip past)

The last hurdle was that there is a quite large play area near the end with a two story slide area. This gets quite busy and it’s pretty tough to follow your little up as an adult so unless they are quite good at following instructions or you have an older kid with you to help supervise this may be a trouble zone. Nearby there are some cool see through tunnels with fish underneath and a pretend submarine area to explore that are more toddler and parent friendly. Also fair warning you will be forced to walk through the gift shop at the exit so you may want to prepare your little ahead of time for how you plan to deal with that. V was pretty tired at that point and content to be reminded she had many fish friends at home to play with.

A final note is that we went for lunch on a patio at the Delta hotel very nearby, at Bremner and Lower Simcoe, a very short walk away. Normally I wouldn’t necessarily review a restaurant but the staff at the patio were so incredibly nice – they let us sit out even though it wasn’t open yet while they were preparing the patio for service, the meals had good vegetable and kid options, and at the end when M dropped his teether on the floor they took it away and sterilized it for us. So incredibly kind and makes a huge difference when you’re out with toddlers. A little pricier than we would normally do but definitely worth it given the service.

Toronto Aquarium Lead Up Activities

When planning an aquarium trip with both kids under 3 we wanted to make sure that V, at least, had some idea of what kinds of things she might see and what she could look out for well before the actual trip so we did a week of related activities to help her wrap her head around what she was going to experience.

We set up her toy shelf with a set of activities (the bottom shelf has M’s early activities, which were mostly not themed). This included books, a fish puzzle by Hape from Mastermind, some fish counters that we used for a few activities, and a fish themed art activity with crayons. As usual we let her pick what she was interested in and then helped her to learn about the material she selected. The book in the back is Commotion in the Ocean which was a cute rhyming introduction to a bunch of different aquatic life. Not my favourite book ever but it was cute and we definitely read through it a few times every time she brought it over.

The first activity we used the fish counters for was a simple sorting/counting activity, letting her sort the fish by type and then counting how many there were, talking about the colours and type of fish as we went.

The art activity was a simple crayon resist technique and while she was super excited to get it out she wasn’t too into the actual execution so I helped draw some simple coral designs while talking to her about how the wax in the crayons would allow us to paint over it and still show through but she LOVED painting the wash of blue paint over it and adding the fish stickers and she was really happy with the end result.

To keep M occupied while V and I were working on our art project I had prepped a Ziplock bag with some scraps of green cellophane (seaweed) blue cellophane (waves), hair gel to simulate water and a hint of shampoo for some bubbles along with fish counters for M to paw at and try to find. This didn’t work as I had expected and it definitely didn’t look like water. So while I probably wouldn’t try this one again it did keep him interested for a little while.

I also prepared a few more involved activities on top of the shelf set up. The first one was a sensory activity using aquatic animals from a Safari Toob. I took the animals and trace them on a piece of paper with labels and then mixed them all into a bin of water beads for a cool sensory experience. V was super excited to dive in and loved pulling out the various animals, she also was really engrossed in figuring out which shapes they matched up with so this went even better than anticipated. We talked about each animal as she pulled them out, what noises they made, what they eat, where in the ocean they live.

I also did an outside activity that I don’t have pictures of where we used some foam fish shapes that I picked up at the Dollar Store. I dumped the set into V’s kiddie pool – I had originally planned to use it for a fishing game using a magnet pool and gluing coins to the foam shapes but I ended up going even simpler. She was just as happy to wade in and follow my requests for all the crab shapes, or all the red shapes, or three fish of any colour. Lots of great sorting, counting and colour matching opportunities.