About six weeks ago that I sketched a playroom arrangement on a scrap piece of paper. It was the my response to yet another dispute over someone knocking down someone else’s block tower which was built in a walkway – a result of a small room with multiple play areas.
This was the old room arrangement with the shelves splitting the room in half – it allowed some separation between play areas but was difficult for me to interact with young infants/toddlers on both sides of the room or quickly intervene when necessary;
I wanted the room to have better flow and more open space but still have defined spaces for various types of play. I thought again about all the wasted space above us with our nine foot ceilings and took inspiration from tiny house design to create a new loft space – just for building with blocks, out of all walkways and the reach of infants/toddlers who prefer to destroy instead of create.
Construction took a total of six full 14 hour days over four weekends. Some of the pieces were assembled and stored, installation was done in two phases. The result is a completely new, more functional play space.
A brand new kitchen design is located in the SW corner of the play room. The cupboards and appliances were created by stacking and attaching wooden boxes. The old block bin now contains food and other items that can be used in the kitchen/restaurant/store areas. The table is in the center of the room and has multiple uses.
The music/dance area was slightly reorganized but remains in the SE corner;
The workshop area remains in the NE corner along with some blocks;
And the mini-scenes and entrance to the nature area remain in the NW corner but the dress-up clothes and ‘car’/steering wheel (not visible in this picture) were moved to the space across from the scenes, beside the mirror, adjacent to the kitchen area.
The new 21 square foot loft is over the kitchen area. It is 5 1/2 feet off the ground so the children and I can walk/stand under it. Inside the loft there are bins of blocks and the dollhouse shelf is on the back wall. I still have to find all the dollhouse furniture and people – most of them were removed from the playroom long ago because they were too small or delicate to have out when babies were present. Only older children go in the loft so these toys can be there.
The kitchen area shelves and appliances form a series of platforms that create an enclosed staircase along the side and back of the loft;
Here’s another view of the new kitchen area and staircase. For perspective, the counter height is 24 inches and the fridge is 36 inches tall.
I also added some new storage features inside the fridge but haven’t yet finished painting the inside white.
There’s more new storage under, on, and beside the counter now too;
The children are thrilled with the new play space. From the loft they can ‘see everything‘ – makes me laugh when they include their house, favourite store, and the zoo in their list of things they can see from the loft. Good imagination
Yet, of all the changes, the one that still excites them the most is the addition of this bell by the cash register.
I don’t consider juice to be a replacement for a serving of fruits or vegetables yet I have always had juice on our menu as an occasional ‘treat’. Milk is always served with lunch but once or twice a week I do serve juice with snack (water for those whose parents don’t allow juice). I have never served fruit flavoured ‘beverages’, any type of powdered beverage mix or soft drinks even for special occasions.
Sometimes I have had children who don’t like milk but they will eventually drink it or water if juice is not an option. Sugar sweetened beverages can become a battle ground (I’ve never even served chocolate or other flavored milk). In the 20 years that I have been providing childcare, children refusing to drink anything except juice has never been a problem – until this summer.
I actually found it funny at first – none of the children in this group are new here – they all like milk but they love juice. Their juice chant following every meal/snack had reached riot level. The day they started throwing cups of milk and demanding juice instead was the end of my amusement.
However, I didn’t actually remove juice from the menu. Instead, I now only buy/serve one type of juice – tomato based, eight vegetable juice. It took just two weeks – no one demands juice anymore. In fact, when offered juice or water they all choose water. No one complains about milk anymore either.
Mali and Malta joined our family in July 2006 when they were just five weeks old;
They were sisters and best friends and together adapted quickly to living in a busy childcare home. They usually loved all the attention they got from the children but also knew they had quiet spaces to escape to when they had enough. I often commented on their ‘synchronized sleeping’;
Over the years they got bigger – too big actually – Malta carried a little extra weight but Mali was very overweight;
They were put on a vet recommended diet and dropped down to a healthier weight. They still sometimes beg for food from the children so ‘Don’t feed people food to the cats’ has been an important lesson for the children. It has also resulted in many wonderful conversations about healthy diets for both children and cats. Through it all Mali and Malta remained best friends and still enjoy playing with the children and having alone time too.
Last winter when we first introduced a new cat into our family I was slightly concerned that the two bigger, bonded cats may pick on the little newbie. Sure, Mali & Malta considered children, and even our old dog to be acceptable housemates but they had never lived with another cat. I wasn’t certain how the ‘old’ cats would feel about another cat in the house but I optimistically envisioned that the old cats would teach the new cat all the house rules and everyone would live happily ever after. I was wrong.
Although ‘Button’ was the name given to the tiny little cat at the humane society and is her official name on her license and other papers, she was soon renamed. We call her ‘Monkey’ most of the time – sometimes ‘Monkey-Butt’ because she is a very mischievous, naughty, sometimes ornery little cat with a big attitude.
She taunts and torments the older cats. She pushes boundaries – growling in protest when removed from places she shouldn’t be and then immediately returning – sitting there glaring as if to say ‘I go where I please, when I please and you can’t do anything about it’. She opens doors and cupboards and has stolen whole sandwiches left unattended for just two seconds. Her early life as a stray allowed her to perfect her hunting techniques and stealth mode – for the old cats there is no escape.
Malta seems very afraid of Monkey – running/hiding from her and refusing to enter a room Monkey is in. I wouldn’t say Monkey is mean – just more like a toddler who keeps poking you trying to get a reaction and then laughing. Mali has become grumpy – like the angry old woman who yells ‘Get off my lawn!’ when the neighbourhhood children play there – Mali hisses and snarls and chases Monkey off counters and other places she thinks she shouldn’t be. Places that include my lap – I have battle wounds from cat fights that have occurred on my lap.
Monkey is not longer the scrawny little stray she once was – she has become a little ‘chunky’. Mali & Malta however have lost more weight than they ever did on their diet. I started giving them regular food instead of ‘light’ food and when they threw that up I gave them food for sensitive digestion. They still had difficulty holding that down and were getting so thin that I was concerned about their health.
I took them to the vet and after a thorough exam and blood tests he ruled out any illnesses. They are however very stressed and have developed stomach ulcers. I now have to give them medication twice a day and they have prescription cat food. I also have a plug-in diffuser that spreads peace & joy & love (cat pheromones) throughout my house.
Fingers crossed, so far there have been no more cat fights or vomit to clean up. Mali & Malta seem more relaxed – we’ll return to the vet next month to see if they’ve managed to regain some of their lost weight. Monkey (finishes licking all the dishes in the sink and leaves a trail of wet footprints on paperwork as she walks across my desk) hasn’t lost any attitude yet though.
For many years I regularly used my 15 passenger van to take the children on field trips. It had plenty of room for all the car/booster seats, supplies, and even my teens when they came along to help out. Eventually the costs of upkeep for the old van began to outweigh the benefits of using it. When all my original car seats expired I priced out buying five new ones I decided that the expense wasn’t justified for just a few outings a year.
I discovered that I don’t miss taking the children to museums and we can walk to the library and many other neighbourhood attractions. So, for the past four years we haven’t gone on an outing that required transportation. In fact, we go on far more walking adventures than we ever did before and they are much more spontaneous (emergent). I do however miss the farm trips and many of the distant hiking trails we used to frequent. So this summer I decided to take my little group on a city bus adventure to the closest one of the trails – Bunn’s Creek Trail.
For some of the children this was their first ever experience on a city bus. They were all very excited. Throughout the 20 minute ride they giggled and cheered and sang songs amusing all the regular bus riders. We disembarked and began our hike down the 3 km trail. I loved that my little group of preschool hikers immediately began assessing risks. ‘Those trees look like bridges – it would be fun to walk on them but if they broke we would fall in the water’;
I told the children I would take a picture of anything they found interesting along the way. The first one they requested was this lonely ‘rainbow leaf’;
They were amazed by the ‘broken beaver dam’;
Of course they noticed all the thistles growing along the trail.
These boys find thistles everywhere – in parks, back lanes, trails and even gardens. They like to touch them – they know they are prickly but to them this seems to be an acceptable risk. I find it interesting how gently they touch the thistles. Most of the time ‘gentle’ seems to be difficult for this group yet when it comes to thistles they demonstrate that they have the ability to be gentle so yes, keep practicing that!
Then they spotted ‘dandelions’ but they were very tall so a quick check of our field guide and we found out that they were actually sow thistles.
The children don’t think sow-thistle is as prickly as Canada Thistle and quickly lost interest until they found this;
We’ve seen these big leaves of the Common Burdock on many of our hikes but the children have never paid much attention to them or the burrs. Now these have become the ‘must touch’ favourites on all our hikes.
We reached the park at the end of the trail and took a washroom break. Everyone wanted to stay on the bridge for a while and look at the creek.
This was the mid point of our hike – we headed back along the trail to where we started. It was interesting how many of the landmarks the children remembered on our return trip. They got really excited as we approached the spot where the lonely rainbow leaf was. Pretty amazing that they can find the same leaf twice in a 6 km nature hike.
We had our lunch in the field near where the creek meets the Red River. It was so peaceful.
There was a bald eagle that flew from one side of the clearing and back several times but I was never able to get a picture of him.
The bus ride home was still exciting but much quieter and everyone was ready for a nap when we returned.
We continue to go on long hikes in our neighbourhood but now the children point out all the prickly/sticky plants AND the buses too. Maybe we’ll have to try another bus adventure soon.
In Manitoba a licensed family childcare provider can care for a maximum of eight children under 12 years of age. Of those eight children, no more than five may be under six – the other three must be in grade one or older. I love having a mixed age group and the opportunity to build a relationship with the children in my care from infancy through school-age.
Over the twenty years I have been providing childcare in my home I have known many amazing school-age children who have thrived in this setting. Some struggled with peer relationships in their school environment but enjoyed being the ‘leader’ here – idolized by the younger children. Some embraced responsibility and enjoyed helping the little ones. Some were wildly creative and independent and of course there were also some who resented being with ‘babies’.
I’ve watched older children gain confidence and build their self-esteem by mentoring the younger children. I’ve seen younger children develop skills they learned from watching and copying the older children play. I’ve also had some older children that taught the little ones things/words that I wish they hadn’t. *sigh*
I’ve noticed something else – the cost of providing food, craft supplies, activities and equipment for school-age children often exceeds the income I receive for their care. I find that the school schedule is disruptive – breaking up what could be longer periods of engagement in learning activities for the preschoolers. So, for several years now I haven’t made an effort to fill empty school-age spaces.
Summer was the exception. I loved having all the ‘big kids’ here for the summer – working in the garden, going on adventures, making incredible creations, sharing fantastic stories – without the rigid school schedule. It was wonderful to have all this time with the older children instead of just the fleeting moments before/after school when everything was so hectic and there wasn’t really any time to do anything.
Yet, when I only enrolled school-age children for the summer I was finding that the first month was spent getting everyone acquainted with each other, learning routines etc. Then, just when we were starting to develop relationships, summer was over and they were gone. The ‘freedom’ of summer wasn’t quite the same with ‘new’ school-age children instead of ones we already knew. So, for the first time ever – I didn’t fill any of my school-age spaces this summer – and I’m loving it.
The school-age table has been empty;
The little ones are engaging in more age-appropriate dramatic play. They are demonstrating their creativity instead of copying someone else. I haven’t heard ‘I’m bored’ once this summer, nor have I had to spend hours shopping for tons of additional food and supplies.
I’ve also been imagining what the little ones and I could do with that extra space I have set aside for bigger children and all the supplies they need but the little ones don’t. I’ve started to think that it would be really, really nice if the province would let me exchange those three empty school-age spaces for one more preschool space.
Group childcare homes have two licensed providers and up to 12 infant/preschool children – that’s a 1:6 ratio. I have five preschool spaces and although three of those five could be infants I rarely have more than one or two – sometimes even none. If they stay with me until they start school each one year of infant care will need four years of preschool care. Hence, I’d have to kick out preschoolers if I wanted to keep those infant spaces full - I would never do that. One more preschool space would help.
It was early in June that we saw the raccoon. I opened the blind after the children woke from nap and there it was – sleeping in the tree in front of my house.
The children were very excited and had so many question. ‘Where did she come from?’ ‘Why is she sleeping there?’ ‘How did she get up there?’ ‘How will she get down?’ ‘When will she come down?’ ‘Why doesn’t she move?’
I didn’t have all the answers. In fact, now I too was wondering why she didn’t move. We’d been watching her for close to an hour now. We had gone outside to take some pictures. Other people in the neighbourhood had come by to see what all the fuss was about.
Was she really sleeping? I began to feel a little uneasy. The branch she was on hung directly over my front sidewalk – if she slipped off the branch she’d land in a heap on my steps! Then she DID move. She stood up, stretched, turned around and lay down again.
As parents arrived to pick up their children they too took some pictures. So much excitement! The two year old wanted to take the raccoon home – stood on the sidewalk, unzipped his backpack and told the raccoon to get in. It didn’t comply.
Periodically throughout the evening crowds of onlookers would gather to look at the raccoon. Sometimes it would non nonchalantly look back. Shortly after 9 pm it was gone. I never saw it leave and I don’t know where it went.
For weeks the children continued to check for it – wondering when it might return. Then it was vacation time so none of them were here for two weeks. When the children first returned after vacation we were so busy I forgot to tell them what happened while they were away.
On the third day of my vacation we saw someone sleeping on the garden shed in the back yard.
The children would have been thrilled! This spot is almost within reach of where we play – but I wouldn’t have let them try to touch her.
On this day the raccoon was much more active than before. She got up and scratched several times. Tried to rip some branches off my willow and had a standoff with the neighbour’s cat on the garage roof. The neighbour’s cat sleeps on my garden shed roof every day – except this one.
At one point the raccoon was walking on the fence and I was about to take a picture when it slipped – oops!
Again, I didn’t see when it left or where it went but it hasn’t been back since – at least not that we’ve noticed – but we still check.
As usual my summer ‘vacation’ project list was very long – too long for the two week time slot I allotted. The back yard was not actually on the list at first but in June I suddenly had an idea to solve a concern I had about ‘the hill’ (sometimes called the bridge or tunnel). This is a picture taken last summer of the view of the hill/bridge/tunnel from the tipi;
The hill was originally created back in 2010 when the old play structures were removed leaving the gravel area looking quite bare. I didn’t want another large structure but I did think the space needed something. The hill originally had a slide on one side, the tunnel was very popular, and the native prairie plants provided some much needed greenery in the yard at that time.
The slide and log steps never stayed as secure as I would have liked so they were soon removed. For a few years the platform and tunnel were very popular for many dramatic play and gross motor activities like ‘Motabular’ (the children named that activity). As the interests of the children enrolled changed, play on the hill also changed and two years ago I added some rocks.
The children liked to use the platform to ‘play hockey’;
And sit on the ‘bridge’ to go fishing;
But there were many disputes over who would be on each side. There were also problems with reckless behaviour like racing up and down the hill or jumping off the bridge without first looking for obstacles or hazards. Additionally, the structure was beginning to show its age. I decided it was time for the hill to go.
My first step was to gather some supplies (thanks Annika);
Then I spent two days removing rocks, transplanting plants, moving pails of soil to the other gardens, disassembling the bridge and cribbing and raking gravel. It was beginning to take shape;
I used the new stumps in addition to the old ones to create a full circle with little space between the stumps. The majority of the gravel was raked to one side of the inner circle to three distinct levels. Outside the circle the gravel in the ‘walkway’ is about 8 inches deep and fairly well packed as we haven’t dug here in years. Inside the circle there is no gravel, just an old blue tarp on one side and nearly two feet of gravel on the other side. The slope between the two sides is held in place by all those big rocks that used to be on the hill. So now the gravel area looks like this;
And from the other side;
The view from the tipi now;
And in case you were wondering what happens when it rains….I said it was an old blue tarp – it has holes in it so the water drains out.
Within seconds of entering the yard on the first day back after vacation this is where the boys were, happily chatting about what they did on their vacation;