It’s been 5 years since our last vacation and this summer we are taking as much time as we can to go away as a family. It just so happens that these getaways have all been to cottages in the Muskokas and we’re heading to our third, and final one, on Saturday. If you’re a regular cottager, you probably have this all figured out but for those of you who are new to it like we are, here’s what I’ve learned from our first two experiences:
Prepare for the drive
It’s one thing to take the kids in the car for day trip and a whole different experience when 2h+ is spent in bumper to bumper traffic. Interesting is one word to describe our northern drives so far. Include pillows, light blankets, water, easy snacks, movies etc. Even though your car will be filled to the brim with all the stuff you’ve packed for when you reach your destination, the drive can be as stressful or as fun as you make it based on what you bring for the kiddos. There’s nothing like being surrounded by the cottage crowd on the 400 with no EnRoute in sight when you hear “I’m thiiiiirrrrrsssstyyyyyy!” or any of the thousand other awesome things kids say when you’re stuck in a car. Oh, and make them use the bathroom every.time.you.stop.
Bring open ended Art supplies
Crayons, markers, water colours, scissors, glue, tape, and lots of different kinds of paper. You’ll be amazed at the amazing things your children create when they have nothing but time to fill. I particularly like the mixed media work my daughter did that includes a dead fish fly. No seriously, I love it.
It’s her version of the cottage, water, trees, a butterfly and the fish flies we found on the screens every morning, and it’s perfect. As an aside, Ikea has amazing water colour sets that include brushes and little water cups.
Bring books & games. Lots of games.
I made the mistake the first time of only bringing books, toys and art supplies. The toys were used very little, the art was good for quiet mornings & mid afternoons when people were sleeping, but it was the games that turned out to be awesome any time. They have to be age-appropriate, of course.
We have 2-7 year olds so I picked up Connect 4, Trouble, Guess Who? and Uno. Uno was the big hit for older kids and parents. We still have daily Uno games after dinner. The kids (and my hubby) love it.
Bring [foldable] baskets.
I know, you’re thinking I’m looney tunes on this one, but it’s sooooooooo helpful. In our first cottage, it was making me crazy that the kids’ stuff was everywhere. But it makes sense. It isn’t your home so it doesn’t have a place. Bringing your own baskets gives a place to the things you bring. We used 3 baskets last time. One for toys and games. One for art supplies and books.
The last one was for dirty laundry. Yep, laundry. Keeping my kids’ clothes under control at home is a challenge. At the cottage, it was ridiculous. A laudry basket outside the bathroom made it easy to throw in anything that landed on a floor. Luckily for us, both places had laundry so it also made it easy to put a load in when the basket was full. I found our baskets at Loblaws Superstore in the home section. They’re somewhat soft & fold flat for easy transportation so you just keep one packed full of the toys/books/games & art supplies for the car ride and separate them when you arrive.
Help them have fun
There will be times that you need to help the kids find something to do. Be creative. It doesn’t have to be perfect, making memories is all that matters.
Here are some of the things we did: Treasure Hunt, obstacle course (using whatever was available), relay races, make your own picture books, sand castle villages using dollar store animals & dinosaurs, sand tunnels and water systems that emptied into the lake, swimming races.
Prepare for Emergencies
This is the not so fun one. Print directions and a phone number for the nearest hospital with an Emergency Room and have a well-stocked first aid kit including pain medication, good tweezers, thermometer, disinfectant and good bandages. My son got a sliver in his foot and a day later it was infected. Fine, right? Not when it starts travelling up his leg it isn’t. Yikes! Thank goodness for cell reception, data plans, my cousin who was travelling with us and our love of Grey’s Anatomy. We circled the redness with a pen and wrote the time on his foot to have a visual reference in case it got worse.
Then, I hopped in the car with my little guy and off we went to the Emerge in Parry Sound that we found online. Unfortunately, it was a particularly bad day for car accidents because when we arrived we learned that the walk-ins, like us, would have to wait 8+ hours to be seen due to the number ambulances coming in. My son didn’t have a fever so I took him ‘home’ to get a good night’s sleep and then went back the next morning. Sure enough the infection had spread outside the line we’d drawn the night before so
a horrible extraction and antibiotics were necessary. Anyhow, the whole experience made me realize how vulnerable we are in unfamiliar places without the right tools & knowledge. Yes, it’s unlikely that they’ll get another infected splinter or any other major injuries, but I’m not taking any chances.
We’ve fallen in love with cottaging and have our sights set on having a cottage of our own in the future. There’s nothing more peaceful than waking up and looking out over the water. Nothing more relaxing than having nothing to do and no schedule to follow. I can’t think of a better way to decompress with the family. And I can’t forget the S’mores. We keep finding ways to make them better and better, if that’s even possible.
What are your favourite ideas for cottaging with kids? I’d love to hear them.