Monday, December 27, 2010

Musical Intelligence

Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences captivates me. During my work on my CBA portfolio I was thrilled to have the opportunity to research and write a paper on this fascinating theory.  Had this theory been around when I was a child I imagine people would have said that I excelled in musical and naturalistic intelligences – but they would have been wrong.

Music in particular is very difficult for me.  I thoroughly enjoyed many years of piano lessons and hours of daily practice.  I sang in youth group and church choirs.  I played the flute in the school band and as a duet with my mother at the piano.  I played the piano to accompany a good friend – who was a phenomenal singer – as she competed in numerous talent competitions.  I distinctly remember receiving many positive comments and praise for my musical accomplishments but, I have a confession….I do not really comprehend musical concepts.

I have absolutely no sense of rhythm.  I cannot dance or even clap along with the beat. In a group – I’m the one looking around and trying desperately to coordinate my actions to the movements of everyone else.  I can read music and with much practice I can usually play what is written but if it isn’t written on the paper I cannot make it up.

No, I am definitely not musically inclined but, I love music.  Music, and nature fuel my true intelligence – intrapersonal intelligence – self reflection and understanding of my own strengths, weaknesses and emotions.  It is through solitary exploration of music and nature that I can begin to understand me and where I fit in the world.  My likes and dislikes and how I truly feel.

It is not the ‘performance’ of music that I enjoy it is the practice – the hours of private perseverance it takes to learn something that initially makes little sense to me.  Like nature, music instils a sense of awe and wonder that drives my desire to learn.  Performing for an audience is stressful, overwhelming – the emphasis is on playing a piece ‘correctly’ as it is written – the way others expect it to be.  Only when I am alone, practicing, do I truly ‘play’ and enjoy music.

I am inspired and amazed by others who can create or modify a piece of music with seemingly little effort.  My son is one of those people.  He uses printed music but doesn’t rely on it the way I do.  He took guitar lessons for three years and has taught himself to play the ukulele and piano too.  Handed a mandolin and a chord book he was able to play a simple song in only a few minutes.  Knowing that I have grown tired of the materialism of Christmas he decided to play a song for me instead of buying me a gift this year.  He chose to learn “The Gift”; a Garth Brooks song he knew was one of my favourites.  It was a song that he was not familiar with and had no sheet music for but he listened to a recorded version of the song until he had learned the basic melody and then he added bits and pieces to create his own arrangement.  It was beautiful.

I’m not sure if his musical abilities are a result of any special musical intelligence.  As a young child he showed no more musical interest or aptitude than any other child I knew.  However, I do believe that his musical skills flourished as a result of his intrinsic motivation to learn and the methods that were used to teach him.  He was not taught through drills and lessons that focus on right and wrong – play it the way it is written or you’ll fail the test.  But rather, have fun, make it up as you go along, try something different, experiment….play with it.

There is always music in my childcare home.  There are many instruments available for the children to use.  Sometimes there is a CD played quietly in the background – the genre varies greatly.  The children sing, dance and create music freely throughout the day. Some days are really loud and others may not describe it as music.  Sometimes there are impromptu jam sessions and the children try really hard to collaborate and cooperate.  We’ve had a few child initiated episodes of ‘Daycare Idol’ but our musical goals are always the same -- be creative and have fun.  Our music is as individual as we are.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Mystery of Time

Christmas is almost here and everyone is busy finalizing the details of their Holiday celebrations.    I don’t take any vacation time during this time – my childcare home is only closed for the three holidays (Christmas Day, Boxing Day & New Year’s Day).  Although some parents work in schools or offices that close for all or part of the holiday season others don’t and therefore still require childcare.

Each day at pick-up time parents are informing me which days their children will be absent from childcare to attend family events.  As I tally up the expected attendance I realize that this year may be a particularly quiet one with as few as two children here most days.  I realized that there may even be some days with no children at all prompting my husband to make a comment about what I would do with my extra time.

Extra time?  There is no such thing as extra time.  I realized long ago that time must be carefully constructed and arranged to accommodate the tasks and activities that need to be scheduled.  Every new event requires careful manipulation of time to create a slot to insert the activity.  If at some point a period of time is not needed for the prescribed activity it will simply disappear if another activity is not there to hold the space.

I believe that blank time slots actually implode and they sometimes create vacuums that suck up nearby time as well.  Let me give an example.  I used to do Wii Fit every morning for up to 30 minutes.  Some days, when I needed more time to prepare for another activity, I would borrow time some of this 30 minute slot and only do Wii Fit for 10 or 15 minutes instead.  Then, one day I didn’t do any Wii Fit exercises and I didn’t fill the slot with anything else.  Guess what – Wii Fit time is gone!  It has been incinerated or simply evaporated but I cannot find it anywhere!

This has happened to other things as well.  Their time slots have been lost and so these tasks and activities just float around waiting for ‘extra time’ that does not exist.

So, as much as I’d like to envision a period full of extra time I know that it is simply a fantasy – something that will never happen — like the items on the ‘to do’ list who’s time I borrowed to write this blog entry.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Twisty Things

A few weeks ago I was browsing at one of my favourite stores – Princess Auto – which carries a unique selection of surplus items.  I don’t go there with anything particular in mind but rather I go to explore – to find interesting items that I can add as loose parts in the play room.

Certainly ‘surplus’ items could be construed as unpopular or ostracized but really it depends on how you look at them.  I tend to peruse the aisles and examine the items that look interesting, unusual, or distinctive.  I try to imagine what the children would do if they found this particular item.  I don’t read the packages until after I have played with the item that way my investigation isn’t influenced by someone else’s interpretation of what the item is intended to be.

On my latest trip to explore I found these ‘twisty things’ – honestly I don’t remember what they were actually called but they were essentially foam wrapped wire meant to be use to gather cords and other loose items on a worksite.  They came in various colors and sizes but I chose the smallest ones because there were four in the package and brown because it’s an earth tone and that’s always my preference.

So, what have the children been doing with these new items?  Well, they’ve been used as drum sticks, magic wands, batons, and of course various weapons which are acceptable as long as they are not used to hurt others.  They’ve been used as leashes, headbands, jewellery and other accessories during dramatic play activities.

I most enjoyed the creativity displayed when the twisty things were used as tools; extended drill bits in both the power and the hand drill, clamps, and interestingly, handles to gather together other loose parts (the manufacturers intended use).

The children have tried to build with them, weaving several of them together to make furniture such as a table, chair or bed – we would need many more twisty things for this to be a successful activity.  Likewise, forming letters has also been popular but there are not enough to complete many words.

As with any loose parts in the hands of children these items are as limitless as their imaginations.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

New Recipes - Good & Bad

As part of the process to revamp our menu I have been trying out some new menu items.  Some items, such as the Tomato Beef Stew we tried yesterday, have been completely rejected by many of the children and will not be included in the new menu.  My family however loved it and was pleased that there were leftovers.

Last week I was more successful.  While searching for new ideas for new menu items I found a recipe for Corn Dogs and thought that might be interesting to try.  However, after reading through the recipe I thought it sounded like it would be an awful lot of work and there has to be an easier way to make corn dogs for my group.

So, I found a corn bread recipe for my bread maker…
  • 1 ¼ cup of water
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • 3 Tbsp honey
  • 2 Tbsp shortening
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 tsp yeast
Measure ingredients into baking pan in the order recommended by the manufacturer.  Place pan in oven chamber and select sweet cycle – I chose the dough cycle because I didn’t want to make a loaf of corn bread.

Then, I split the corn bread dough into two parts – the dough was a very moist so I had to add a fair amount of extra flour to handle it.  I spread one part of the dough into the bottom of a greased 9 x 13 pan and then covered it with wieners – split in half lengthwise. I added a few dollops of ketchup and mustard and then spread the remaining corn bread dough on top.  I baked it in a 400 degree F oven for 25 minutes and everyone ate it.   I called it ‘Corn Dog Bake’ for lack of any creative inspiration when it comes to naming things and served it with coleslaw and milk.

Next time I will do some things differently;
  • Add a little more flour to the bread machine recipe
  • Put the condiments under the wieners instead of on top – placing wieners on the slippery sauce isn’t difficult but spreading cornbread dough on condiments is.
I might try experimenting with some other meat instead of wieners – maybe cooked ground beef mixed with creamed corn.  Bacon might be good too – everything tastes better with bacon ;-)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Snow Play

We have a lot of snow.  It is still early in the winter but we had such a warm fall followed by several heavy snowfalls so the snow built up quite quickly.  It has been a big adjustment for some but the children and I are enjoying our outdoor play time.

As I watch the children play I keep busy by ‘sculpting’ the yard – clearing snow from the walkways and creating low and high spots in the play areas.  I try to enhance their play activities by moving more snow to the areas where they like to climb and dig and moving snow away from areas that could become cozy shelters for imaginary animals or hiding spots for a game of hide and seek. 

My plan also involves some indirect guidance — if I don’t want the children to play in an area I don’t pile snow there.  Children gravitate to snow hills – no amount of ‘stay away from the parking lot/intersection’ commands are going to be effective if that is where the snow plough operator put all the best snow.
As I had hoped (but didn’t tell the children to) they have begun using chunks of snow to build up the area around the tepee.



  
I’ve added snow around our garden hill to increase its size and moved snow away from the entrance and exit of the tunnel.  This creates a great place for rolling and burrowing.

The children have been busy digging in the deep snow on the deck.  They’ve worked together to create a narrow hole that reaches all the way to the ground.  They take turns looking in the hole and experimenting with sound by have one child yell into the hole while the others try to understand the muffled message.



 

 
Outside in the snow the children rarely complain about being bored or cold.  My chubby indoor cats however have abandoned their perch on the windowsill in favour of the spot in front of the heat vent.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Transportation

Many years ago I purchased an older 11 passenger van for the daycare.  It was a wonderful investment because we were now able to go places that we had never been able to visit before.  We went to see animals on farms; we hiked forest trails and explored wild wooded areas.  We went to museums and exhibits on the other side of town – places we couldn’t reach by foot.

Certainly we could have taken the transit bus to some of these places but that would have cut our ‘discovery’ time in half as we would have needed much more travel time.  We could have also chartered a school bus but that can be expensive and I can’t take the babies on the school bus so I have to take them in a separate vehicle and have an adult helper accompany the children on the bus.  The van was definitely a more convenient option.

There were issues with the van too though.  First of all, I wasn’t comfortable driving it.  I should point out that I don’t really like to drive at all.  I consider driving to be a very stressful experience and therefore I avoid driving when there are added ‘hazards’ – things like heavy traffic, unfamiliar territory and most of all – parking.  Add to all this that the van was a ‘beast’ and my driving discomfort was multiplied by the magnitude of the vehicle.  I know, if I drove more often then I’d overcome some of these fears – most of them are simply inexperience but I have a school bus driver for a husband — he likes to drive – and it is easy for me to rely on him to drive for me. The problem here was that we had to plan our outings around his work schedule and depending on his route, some days he was only available between 10:30am and 1:00pm.

Then there was the age of the van.  It was old when I bought it and we knew there were things that would eventually need work.  It had now gotten to the point where there was so much work to be done that I really had to wonder if it was worth the investment.  I mean, really, how can I teach the children to respect nature and protect the environment when we go exploring in an old gas guzzling, oil spewing vehicle?
So, I recycled the old van and purchased a smaller more eco-friendly van that only seats 8 and since I cannot transport children in the front seat I can really only take six children on an outing.  This is ok since during the school year when my husband is too busy to drive us the older children are also in school so I usually only have 4 or 5 children.  This means that as long as I can make it back for lunch a trip to library or a nearby attraction — places well within my driving comfort zones — can be planned more frequently.

I planned a visit to the Science Museum and Neon Lights Exhibit for last Friday.  According to the school calendars one of the schools was closed for parent/teacher conferences which meant I would have six children and no ‘must be home by noon’ or 11:30 Kindergarten pick-up schedule to worry about.  Then, two days before the planned outing I discover that there has been a change in the school calendar and the other school is also closed so now I have too many children to fit in the van!  The dilemma – do we cancel the trip or do we try the transit bus?  It is only a 10 minute trip – we could actually walk if the weather was good and the route was more pedestrian friendly.  We opted for the bus and what an experience that was – the children and I had a blast!

On the way there the bus was full so we had to stand.  A few passengers offered us seats but there still were not enough for all of us and there were absolutely no children who preferred to sit instead of standing.  By the end of our ride many of the passengers were near tears – from laughter – because the children had been cheering and squealing with delight throughout the excursion.  Yes, the van is still much easier but the bus was an experience that we will definitely have to try again.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Layered French Toast

I’ve been going through all my recipes and trying some new ones.  I’m still working on having a new menu by January.  When I introduce a new menu item to the children I have to also make sure I don’t do it on a day when we would normally have one of their favourite meals.  The disappointment in missing a much anticipated meal could affect the response the new menu option.

One menu item I know I cannot replace is the Layered French Toast.  Many times parents have asked me for the recipe and I’ve always said it was on the recipe page of my website but I just checked and realized that it isn’t.  Well, it should be because it has been a favourite lunch for at least six years now.  In fact, the reason I developed this particular recipe/method is to save time because I had to make so much of it and even though my griddle holds eight pieces of bread I cannot prepare French toast as fast as the children eat it.
So, for anyone who’s interested, here is how I make it (please note – amounts are approximate since I never really measure anything).

Layered French Toast
  • 10 large eggs
  • ¼ cup of sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup of milk
  • ½ tsp of salt
  • Thick sliced bread like Texas Toast
  • Applesauce or other fruit
  • Brown Sugar
Whisk together first five ingredients.  Dip slices of bread in egg mixture and place on heated griddle to brown both sides. Continue until all egg mixture is used up – I usually get about 20 slices of French Toast but will need only 18 to fill the pan.  Place six slices of French Toast on bottom of greased 9 x 13 inch pan.  Spread with applesauce or other fruit – I have used grated apples, fresh berries, canned peaches or pie fillings but applesauce is the favourite.  Sprinkle with brown sugar. Add another layer of six pieces of French toast followed by applesauce and sprinkled with sugar.  Top with third layer of French toast.  Drizzle with a small amount of syrup if desired.  Cover with tin foil and refrigerate and reheat in oven when needed.

I make this in the morning before the children arrive and then pop it in a 275 degree F oven before we go outside to play and then it is ready for lunch when we come in since we’re usually out for about two hours.  I suppose a higher temperature would reheat it quicker.  I serve it with salad and milk.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Block Garden



The two five year olds have initiated a block garden activity.  It originally began on November 10th when they used blocks to create poppies for Remembrance Day.  They were joined by the some of the other children and soon had a whole “Flanders Field” full of poppies under the loft.  I unfortunately was not quick enough with the camera to get a picture.

Since then they have been experimenting with other shapes and colors.  Each day following afternoon snack they ‘build’ flowers.  They are very creative and can tell me the specific variety – poppy, blue bell, sunflower etc.

The younger children have been assisting by selecting the appropriate blocks from the bin when the builders need a specific color.  Their flower design was two dimensional so I attempted to expand on the activity by demonstrating how they could make their basic flower design into a three dimensional flower.  They seemed indifferent and did not attempt to recreate it – they did however like to pretend my flower was a trampoline and built small people to jump on it.  I quit playing since apparently I was disrupting their game and should go back to observing.

The following day they added veggies to the garden – red peppers, carrots, eggplant and more.  They were excited and I was captivated by their creativity.  Then I realized that this was not really a block building activity – it was mosaic art.  They were using the various colors of square blocks to create pictures.

I just returned from the library with several books on mosaics.  I have begun to gather some possible supplies to add to the art area.  I am inspired by the possibilities and I hope they will be too.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Our Indoor Garden

Our indoor gardening adventure has begun.  It was about a month ago that we first put soil in containers and planted some seeds.



It took another two weeks for me to get the plant light up so when our seedlings first sprouted they got a little ‘leggy’ looking for enough light.  After they were moved under the light their growth improved.  I brought some bigger plants from the windowsill to fill the space since our seedlings are not yet very big.


The netting in front of the garden space is to keep the cats away from the plants – and the fountain.  I love fountains (I have several) but the cats are infatuated with siphoning all the water from them so I usually give up trying to use them.  Having plants by the fountain would be an added buffet option for the cats but the netting is a deterrent.

The indoor garden was progressing well and all the plants were thriving.


Then I noticed some small flies around the bigger plants.  Further inspection and a little research resulted in the conclusion that we have a white fly infestation and the battle to save the plants has begun.

Quarantines have been set up.  Mass pruning and plant washing schedule have begun and white fly traps have been set (yellow cardboard coated in Vaseline).  Only time will tell if it will be enough to save these plants or if we’ll have to start over.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Owl Ornaments

 

I found some adorable owl ornaments at Superstore.  They were in the Christmas decoration department but I didn’t buy them for Christmas.  They were made from pinecones, feathers and twigs and I thought they would be perfect for the Nature area.

I didn’t have time to put them in the nature area right away so I left them in their package (so the cats didn’t eat them) and set them on the windowsill in the dining room.  I stopped by often to look at them and tell them how sweet they were.  The first time the children came into the dining room most of them had the same reaction.  They giggled and squealed about how cute the owls were.

As the majority of the children ate their snack they also chatted with the owls.  One child, however, barely ate.  He kept his body turned slightly away from the windowsill with his hand cupped beside his face blocking his view of the owls.  Every once in a while he would put his hand down and look at the ornaments, groan, roll his eyes and turn his chair just a little farther away from the window.

I asked him why he didn’t like them — what was it about them that bothered him? He responded by banging his fist on the table and snarling – “They keep staring at me!”  I found his response to be interesting – and a little humorous.  I wondered if he would feel the same way about the owls once they were moved to their new home in the nature area.

That evening at supper I mentioned the incident to my husband and was surprised to find out that he too found the owls ‘creepy’ and was hoping they would be relocated soon.  So, now I’m really curious.  They’ve been moved to their ‘natural’ environment.  What do you think — creepy or adorable?


  

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Twiggy

This fall we added a new pet to our daycare family.  ‘Twiggy” is a stick insect and the children and I have been learning about our new visitor.  First, we learned that most stick insects are female so we assume Twiggy is also – we won’t know for sure unless she lays eggs.

She was quite small, only about an inch long, when she arrived here.  She was brought by one of our daycare parents who had obtained her from a family friend.  Originally housed in a pickle jar we now have a small aquarium for her.

We feed her romaine lettuce which we know she loves since some mornings we notice she has eaten almost an entire piece over night.  Stick insects are nocturnal so most often she sleeps during the day.  Locating her in the aquarium is sometimes like playing “Where’s Waldo” since she is very adept at camouflaging in her environment.

It took us quite a while to pick a name for her.  During the first month she was here the children came up with many suggestions including;

Ariel, Chloe, Stick, Green, Woodstock, Willow, Floffy, Cedar, Twiggy, Clover, Bamboo, Freaky, and Iggy

Eventually we chose Twiggy as the favourite name with Willow coming a close second.  I was quite amazed by their creativity when it came to choosing a name.

Twiggy has moulted twice now and is almost three inches long.  The children and I are astounded by how quickly she expands after she sheds her old skin.  I managed to capture a few pictures of her last moult which occurred just before the children arrived one morning.  They were able to witness the final stages.






We particularly like the way she ‘dances’.  We’ve learned that this swaying and shaking is another one of her camouflage techniques as she imitates a branch swaying in the breeze.

So far we haven’t tried to hold her.  The information we’ve read states that stick insects don’t move quickly but I’ve seen the way she darts across the aquarium when I put my hand in there and I’m afraid we could loose her if we took her out.  For now we’ll just continue to watch and be amazed by our playroom companion.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Our Daily Walk

Hiking is a popular activity for us.  We enjoy field trips that allow us to wander through fields and forests.  On glorious summer days it is not unusual for us to spend hours in parks and ‘wild’ places investigating and making discoveries.  We’ve explored every part of our neighbourhood and experienced the changes through the seasons.

Still, in September when we were faced with a daily trip to the school to pick up a Kindergarten child I was a little apprehensive.  We cover several kilometres on many of our excursions so distance wasn’t my concern – time was.  I was worried that the children would be bored – following the same route day after day could become mundane.  Bored children can be cranky, disruptive children.
On our journeys I usually encourage the children to explore, take their time, and wander off the trail to examine things that interest them.   This daily jaunt wouldn’t allow for that.  Whenever the school is our destination I have the children follow a specific route as ‘training’ in preparation for grade one when they may be walking this route alone.

So, every day for two months now, we have been making the daily trek to the school and I have made some interesting observations.  The children are not bored and they do not complain.  I don’t try to amuse them – they make up their own games.  They are imaginative and observant.  They notice things like ‘the broken truck’ which is always parked in the same spot and when it isn’t there they notice that too.

They count crows and squirrels along the way and compare whether they saw more or less than the day before.  They say hello to the people we meet along the way – the joggers, and dog walkers, and mailman – getting to know the people in our neighbourhood.  They try to ‘swallow the wind’ and notice the temperature difference when we are in the shadow of a building.

They sing songs and chant in rhythm with their steps – repeating a single phrase over and over until another object attracts their interest and they change the chant to reflect that. “We are walking down the street. We are walking down the street. I see a white car. I see a white car. Did you hear the train whistle? Did you hear the train whistle?”  It goes on and on.

They are definitely not bored.  Maybe they were at first but boredom enables creativity making everyday tasks into exciting adventures.  They are not relying on me to entertain them – they are learning math, music, independence, survival skills and much more.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Child's Story

It has only been two weeks since our storytelling venture began and I think we are off to a great start.  We don’t have a specific order for who tells the story each day because I understand that sometimes you just don’t have any idea for a story and as with any activity here, participation is optional as long as you respect the others that do want to. I find it interesting that the older preschoolers are the ones that most often opt out of a turn at storytelling.

The children get really excited as storytelling time gets near.  They whisper amongst themselves about whose turn it is going to be – who has a story idea – so as we sit down for circle they already know who wants to tell the story.  They have already decided that on school inservice days the school age children – who are not usually here for circle time – will be the story teller.

Another aspect that I find fascinating is the way the children incorporate portions of previous stories into the one that they are telling.  Sometimes it is the name of the character – ‘toothpaste’ has been popular — or the problems they encountered, the storyteller often use parts of other stories to create their own story.  I don’t see this as ‘stealing’ or copying the ideas of others but rather ‘proof’ that they were truly listening to and comprehending the stories told by their friends.  This is an amazing accomplishment especially when you consider that we are not using any graphics or props for these stories.

So, as promised, here is one of my favourite stories so far – as told by a three year old;

“My friend Nutty is a squirrel.  He saw his friend Catty the caterpillar.  Nutty dressed up like a zombie for Halloween.  His friend dressed up as a helicopter – a very colourful helicopter – like a rainbow.  They went out to get candy at people’s houses.  After Halloween Nutty went back to being a squirrel.  Catty couldn’t be a caterpillar anymore because he was a butterfly.”

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Retail Drama

Many, many years ago the playroom was much different than it is today.  I used to have several large plastic toys – all in one themed activity centres manufactured by various toy companies.  Certainly these types of items serve a purpose – many of the ones I had were originally purchased for my own children and they enjoyed using them.

These moulded plastic toys had no sharp edges, were easy to clean, and light enough to be easily moved around – or tipped over.  One of the main problems that I had with these toys was that they were bulky and used up a considerable amount of space.  I couldn’t have them all out at the same time so, like the bins of small toys, I also rotated the large toys available.  Unlike the bins of small toys it was not easy to take one out and replace it with another.  Usually changing the big toys required rearranging the whole room – a task that sometimes took nearly as much time as the creating the built-in play space that I have now.

It was the mixture of bright colors of the plastic toys that bothered me most.  With several large pieces and many bins of small toys the playroom ‘screamed.’  Using wood and natural products to create built in play equipment has allowed me to use more neutral, calmer colors.  Also, much of the space now serves multiple purposes – is open ended – to allow more imaginative play than the themed plastic equipment.

One item that I miss from the ‘old days’ is the storefront.  I’m glad the shocking purple, orange and lime green are gone and the shelves were easy to replace but the cash register was another story.  I have searched catalogues, toy stores, and thrift shops for something that is or could be a cash register.  I’ve found some but they’ve been poorly constructed, too expensive, too large or too small or not appropriate for use by young children.

Now, not having a cash register doesn’t mean the children don’t play games that involve going to the store or shopping but I miss the cash register.  I’ve had a solar powered calculator in the play space which has been popular for many uses including a cash register but it is small.  The children have decided the large base for one of the old cordless phones is a ‘computer’ – it has a small screen and a keypad and has also been used as a cash register.  I rescued an old computer keyboard that my husband was going to throw out, removed the cord and put it in the playroom.  This has become the control panel for a space ship, the emergency command centre and — a cash register.  Now the children have added a ‘scanner’ (wrench with sound effects) to the cash register too – they scan items others choose to buy.

Sometimes even I forget the power of imagination and symbolic play.  No one walks into the playroom and says “Cool, you’ve got a cash register” like they do with the double door refrigerator but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a real working cash register.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Holidays & Special Days

Hooray! -- Halloween is over for another year.  Ok, this may come as a surprise to many but I don’t enjoy holidays – any of them. It’s not the purpose, religious or historical significance of the holidays that I dislike; it’s the hype, the ceremony and the requirements for the holidays that annoy me.

Let me start with Halloween. I dutifully hand out candy at the door to the children, the ones who are excited and laughing and to the ones who are coaxed and prodded up the stairs in tears.  Why are they here -- if they are not enjoying the festivities why do they have to go?  I’ve listened to others complain ‘those teens are too old for trick or treating’, ‘that person doesn’t even have a costume’.  So what?  If they are having fun and being respectful what is the problem?  Discrimination?  Personally I don’t think that saying someone cannot participate is any different than saying they must participate.

Let me use another holiday for an example of how I feel about the participation factor.  Christmas – what are some popular Christmas traditions?  Decorating – Oh how I love decorating! – but not just for Christmas and sometimes not at all for Christmas.  Turkey – I love turkey and especially stuffing but I never prepare it for Christmas – I’m usually too busy.  I cook big turkey dinners on lazy weekends when I have nothing else going on.  Exchanging gifts – this practice I could do without entirely.  This does not mean that I dislike giving or getting gifts.  If I’m shopping and I see something that is ‘perfect’ for someone I know – I’ll buy it for them and give it to them regardless of the day or time of year and with no expectation of getting something in return.  I hope no one ever gives me something because they feel obligated to.  Going to Church or volunteering at a shelter or food bank – if these types of things are important to you why do them just at Christmas?  Then there are the Christmas pageants – I have never been to one I enjoyed because there is always one child – sometimes many – who really don’t want to be there.  No matter how great the rest of the performance is I only see and feel for the ones who’s “No!” was not acknowledged.

Here in my childcare home our calendar lists holidays and special days and I often use this time to talk about the holidays, to learn how they originated and talk about how people choose to celebrate them.  The important word there is ‘choose’.  I find it interesting to learn about the history and importance of special days regardless of whether I celebrate them or not.  If the children are interested in learning more about them or celebrating them they are free to do so – but not required to nor forbidden to.

Here they can dress up in costumes, sing hymns & carols, have Easter eggs hunts, make and give gifts, be thankful or celebrate in any way and on any day they choose to as long as they let others join them if they want to and accept the “no” of those that don’t.  Tolerance, understanding, and respect.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Order And Chaos

Other people have described me as ‘organized’ but I have to disagree.  I’d like to be organized, I strive to be organized, but I certainly don’t believe that I am organized.

I am creative.  I see potential in things – regardless of their actually purpose I can imagine other uses for them and so I collect ‘stuff’.  When my son’s kindergarten teacher posted a sign outside the classroom asking for egg cartons I brought her 50 of them the next day – and that was only a small part of my collection. Collections need space and I don’t have a lot of that.  My 1200 square foot house is home to my family of five, our two cats and one dog and it is also a licensed childcare facility as well.  I use space efficiently and that makes organizing a necessity.

I used to see all unused space as wasted space.  Those show homes with soaring two storey great rooms – wasted space that could be a whole other second floor room.  My two storey house with nine foot ceilings could be a three story house with six foot ceilings.  Ok, that might be stretching it a bit but I have used every nook and cranny to create storage space for my collections.  Over the years my husband has enabled my addiction by building more shelves and cabinets.  Every new space meant more room to house more collections.

While working on my CBA portfolio organizing stuff often got postponed resulting in many ‘miscellaneous’ boxes.  Boxes of random items are bad and I had many of them – organizing stuff was becoming increasingly difficult.  Last year I made a pledge to myself to down size the collections and get them under control.  I decided to make an effort to throw out or donate at least one bag or box of ‘stuff’ every weekend.  Most weekends I have been successful – some weekend I’ve even managed to get rid of several boxes or bags.
Renovation and construction weekends have actually been the most successful because moving things requires sorting and organizing but the process takes a lot of time and energy.  For example, this weekend my goal was to set up our new indoor garden space – clear off the top of the cabinet and hang the light fixture.  Sounds simple enough but there were books on the cabinet — books that belonged on the bookshelf but it was too full.  There were also books and loose papers on my desk and ‘miscellaneous’ boxes under my desk.

So, Friday evening I began organizing and continued throughout the weekend.  At one point there was barely room to walk around the piles of stuff strewn around the room – it always looks worse before it gets better.  Now, one small part of my world is organized.  The bookshelf is neat and tidy – there are no books lying sideways on top of others, no books on my desk, on the cabinet or in boxes.  There are no ‘miscellaneous’ boxes under the desk – all of the boxes contain specific collections and two boxes were eliminated completely.  Loose papers have been sorted and filed; the top of my desk is empty and the indoor garden area is almost ready for plants – I just need to hang the light fixture.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Telling Stories

We have a daily circle time in our regular schedule.  During circle time we have a calendar activity and discuss upcoming special events.  There is also time for the children to share any information about their own adventures with their family and friends beyond our little group.  Today, we are starting something new – creative story telling.

I’ve been impressed by the storylines in their dramatic play activities and toyed with a variety of ways to document this creativity.  I first introduced the idea of ‘story telling’ to the children last week.  We discussed some ‘rules’ – although I suppose they are really just guidelines;
  • There will be only one Story Teller each day — everyone will get a turn just not all on the same day.
  • Use your imaginations – we want to hear creative stories.  I will write the stories down as the children tell them.
  • I don’t want to hear ‘recaps’ of TV shows or movies that they’ve watched.  Here I’m counting on the children to ‘tattle’ on their friends since I don’t know much about some of the shows they watch but I know they often correct each other when they re-enact these stories during dramatic play.
  • Stories can be based on actual experiences but I’m hoping they embellish them and add ‘what if’ or ‘I wish’ components.
  • The stories cannot upset or offend any of the listeners – such as using one of the others in the group as the ‘bad guy’ in the story.

To give them an example I told the first story yesterday – a variation of a camping trip experience that I had with my family when I was a child.  Today, one of the children will be the story teller.  I expect the stories will be fairly simple at first but as the children gain experience as story tellers they will become more confident and their story telling abilities will grow.

In the future, to expand this activity further I’m planning to have them create illustrations and make actual books of their stories.  Maybe I’ll even highlight some of them here…

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Computers in Childcare

I have been an avid computer user since 1990 and computers have been available for use in my childcare program.  In the past we have had specific computer areas set up alongside the main play space
 
or in a separate area
The computers were always grouped close together and there were more chairs than computers to encourage cooperation and collaboration.  After school this was the social hub for the school-age children and my teens who also acted as mentors for the less experienced users.  Internet access was always restricted unless it could be directly supervised and the program options available were limited to what I felt were appropriate and open ended.

One of the favourite programs has been Pivot Animation -- a simple freeware program that allows children to create videos using stick figures and drawings.  It has no cutting edge graphics, no special sound effects, and no high scores.  They could create freely -- there was no right or wrong. They were learning basic computer skills, mouse control, and understanding the file structure to open and save their own creations.  Drawing these animations requires some understanding of physics and the interaction between objects and because they often worked in pairs or groups to create these animations there was also a social component. 
As my teens have grown to young adults and moved out of the daycare space they have taken their computers with them.  The older computers have become obsolete and not been replaced.  I still have one computer set up in the sunroom but it is rarely used by the children here.  I am finding that many of the children are uninterested in any programs without high entertainment value – time fillers with little useful content – like watching TV (which has never been part of my childcare program).

I don’t believe that any of the so-called ‘educational’ computer programs do anything to enhance children’s learning or creativity – just memorization and following directions.  These programs don’t allow for ‘free play’ – the open-ended learning the children enjoy most in their non-computer activities.  Exploration and experimentation develops creativity, imagination and teamwork without a predetermined goal or ‘correct’ answer.

I do think that computers are valuable tools and it is important for children to learn to use them correctly and efficiently but is sitting a young children in front of a computer screen to play the way to do this.  Sitting them at a table with wood scraps and woodworking tools or screwdrivers and old electronics are wonderful open ended activities that allow children to explore and learn about using tools.  However, these activities require direct supervision and guidance and are not appropriate for all age groups.  Computers as tools – not entertainment -- are no different.  I have considered purchasing one or two small laptops that could be used for a scheduled group computer time but I’m not sure the cost could be justified for the limited amount of time we would actually spend using them.

So for now, the lone computer sits idle in the sunroom waiting for a school inservice day when I’ll have a group of non-nappers who want to practice some computer skills instead of playing a board game or working on an art project.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Seasons, Weather and Play

We go outside to play everyday throughout the year in all types of weather.  On very wet days we sometimes just go for a walk.  On very cold days we may only be out side for 15 minutes but that is usually because it took so long to get everyone dressed that we didn’t have enough time left to play longer.  There are regulations about not taking the children outside in extreme cold temperatures so there are days when we are not allowed to play outside.  I’ve got a weather station in my yard that measures everything including wind chill – when you consider that my yard is sheltered by trees and buildings the weather conditions at the airport are irrelevant. Most often the reason our outdoor play is restricted is due to inappropriate clothing.  I do have a supply of extra hats, mitts, sweaters, and ski pants for those occasions when somebody forgot something.

This fall has been amazing.  It is mid October and we are still experiencing summer-like temperatures.  I have to laugh at some of my confused garden plants.  There are several new zucchinis growing and the beans have sprouted new vines and now have flowers too!  We have been taking advantage of the fabulous weather and getting in as much outdoor play time as our schedule will allow.  I’m hoping though that winter doesn’t hit us suddenly.  The fall ‘cool down’ period is important to help prepare us for the harsh winter weather.

There have been many stories on the news related to the weather.  With temperatures 10 degrees Celsius above the norm for this time of year some people are spending October days at the beach – incredible!  I love it!  Unfortunately not everyone has been taking advantage of this rare opportunity.  There’s a new place in town — an indoor play centre that boasts about their multi level play structure, sports area, bouncer, video games and TV all in one “clean and safe environment”.  Every time I pass this place the parking lot is packed.  I am saddened and appalled that anyone would choose to take their children to a place like this over a day at the park.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Nature Area

Many years ago I constructed a nature loft in the corner of the playroom to maximize the play space by building a low platform with toy storage below.  In the loft I used a combination of real and imitation nature items to bring the outdoors in and create a unique area for dramatic play. .  The children loved to play here – they had picnics, went camping, and pretended to be animals.  This nature loft was small but that didn’t prevent all the children from gathering there together and it also offered a secluded area where children could go to relax and reflect.

A few years later I relocated the playroom to a different part of the house.  As I planned the renovation I knew that I wanted the new nature loft to be bigger and better than before.  I designed it to have two levels – the upper level had trees, flowers and animals like the previous loft – the lower level was like a cave with an undersea theme.   The children really enjoyed the new spaces but unfortunately I found it very stressful.  To allow for the lower play space the deck was 18 inches high – twice the height of the original loft.  The children often carried toys as they scrambled up and down the stairs and I worried that someone would fall.  This concern for their safety prompted yet another renovation – yes, I do make a lot of changes.

This time I chose to make the loft area a library and I moved the nature area to the small room off the main playroom.  Here there was a large window and much more space than there had been in any of the lofts.  The extra space allowed me to add more items – like the old Christmas tree from our attic (a wonderful suggestion from my husband).  I had originally arranged all the trees and plants around the perimeter of the room but felt this didn’t create the sheltered ‘in the forest’ type of environment that the lofts had offered.  So, this weekend I made some more changes.  Our new nature area looks like this;
    
 
I am pleased with the results and today I will find out how the children react to the changes.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Herbs and More

The weather has been glorious the past two weeks.  The summer-like temperatures have made fall activities even more enjoyable.  We’ve been spending as much time as possible outdoors – playing in the leaves at the park, working in the garden, or just basking in the sunshine.

Last week the children enjoyed picking the herbs from the plants that we were not bringing indoors.
 

This week we’ve spent some time cleaning up the garden in anticipation of next spring.  We had a great supply of tomatoes and cucumbers this year but many of the other plants produced little even though the plants seemed healthy.  Some, like the sunflowers, were a complete failure.  I’m not sure why – maybe too much rain.  I know we never needed to water the garden even once this past summer.

Other than bringing in a few of the herbs for winter I’ve been trying to figure out a way to continue our gardening adventures indoors.  Last evening I attended an ‘Indoor Veggie Gardening’ workshop at Sage Garden Herbs – one of my favourite places.  I wanted to stay (and shop) longer but I came home excited about the possibilities for a bona fide indoor garden.

Dave covered many topics including lighting, soil, plant selection and general plant care.  I was most interested in the soil section – I believe this is where our outdoor garden is lacking too.  As I often profess that I do not ‘teach’ the children but rather ‘co-explore’ with them, I too must recognize that there comes a point when ‘guessing’ just doesn’t work any more.  There has to be more research and fact for these ventures to be successful.

So, armed with my new knowledge and supplies I’m now making plans for our indoor garden.  With any luck we should be able to have a great sensory garden to delight us through the long, cold winter.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Time-Out?

If you ask any of the children here if they ever get put in time out at daycare they will probably say yes.   This bothers me because I really dislike the use of ‘time out’ as a form of guidance because as it is commonly used it really is simply a punishment – meant to hurt or reprimand without any chance of understanding the issue or learning from it.

For many, time out means ‘You’ve done something to anger/upset me/someone else so go to your room/seat/corner and think about what you’ve done’.  Really? No child I know is ever going to benefit from this.
Some children may spend this time thinking – that they are bad/useless/terrible no one wants to be around them and they need to suffer.  Many will spend this time festering in their anger – burying it away or redirecting it toward someone or something else. Some children have been through it so many times that it has become routine – they’ve rehearsed it and know exactly what to say/do to get parole.  None of these children are learning anything beneficial.

Here, time out is really time with me.  Maybe the child just needed a little time get away from the situation to cool down so we sit and I ask questions and listen.  Maybe the child is out of control – having a fit/meltdown – fine come to this safe area I’ll be here if you need me.  You can scream, cry and stomp if it makes you feel better but you can’t hurt anyone else.  When you’re ready you can talk to me and I will listen.   Whatever the reason that the child is away from the group they are not alone.  I am nearby – calm and available.  There are no lectures, no threats, and no judgements.

So, I started writing this entry with the intention of saying I don’t use time out.  I wanted to find a better name for it.  ‘Time In’?  ‘Reflecting time’?  Nothing I could come up with was going to work easily.  Saying ‘Time Out’ has become a habit for me and the children.  Then, I had a revelation – I’m not a sports fan but I know they use the term ‘time-out’ in many sports so I looked up their definition…

In sports, a time-out refers to a break in the match for a short amount of time to allow the coach to communicate with the team, determine strategy or inspire morale.

Hmmmm, maybe I do use time-out.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Owl

This past spring the snow melted earlier than normal.  This was great for me because we had so much work today for our back yard renovation and we got a head start.  When you consider that the children and I play out in the yard every day there is a limit to the amount of destruction and construction that can be going on out there.  The whole project had to be broken down into smaller jobs that could be completed on evenings and weekends.

One day as my husband and I were working on one of the phases of the renovation I noticed an unusual sound from somewhere in the neighbourhood.  At first I thought it was a child playing with some type of whistle.  Over the next few weeks the more often I heard the noise the more inquisitive I became as to what it was.  The children had heard it now too and were curious too.

I decided it was not a child with a toy – the sound was very rhythmical.  The tone and the repetition were precise.  I was certain now that it was some kind of bird but my knowledge of birds is limited so I didn’t have any idea what type of bird it could be.  Then, one night as I lay in bed with the window open I heard the sound again and thought ‘an owl’?

The children and I checked out the owls calls on the Nature North website. We didn’t know there were so many different kinds of owls in Manitoba.  The sound clip for the Burrowing Owl was a perfect match to the sound we had been hearing so we did some more research on Burrowing Owls.  They are one of the few species that are active both day and night – that explains why we hear it all the time.  They like to live in cemeteries and golf courses – we are one street over from the cemetery.  And, they are endangered!  How exciting would it be if the children and I found an endangered owl in our neighbourhood!!!

Armed with binoculars and pictures of owls we headed off to the cemetery.  We hiked and listened and looked.  We found many squirrels and crows and some nest boxes strategically placed throughout the cemetery.  Funny how we never noticed these nest boxes before, we had come here many times but now we were being more observant.  “Look, I see a bird” giggled one child pointing at a grave marker with “Byrd” engraved in the stone.  Great, now we’ve got a literacy component to our adventure.

We went to the cemetery several times over the next few weeks.  We even found one owl – an Eastern Screech Owl – in one of the next boxes with just its head sticking out of the hole.  That was very fascinating but didn’t explain the noise we had heard.  Interestingly, we also never heard the owl call when we were in the cemetery – only when we were in my yard.  Why?  Then one day, as I watched the children play in the yard I glanced across the lane at my neighbour’s garden and focused on the owl statue perched on the shed.  Just then, a car drove down the lane and I heard ‘the owl call’.   Motion sensitive garden statue – really?!?!  It’s not even the correct sound for the Great Horned Owl.  Somebody didn’t do their research.

So, we didn’t find an endangered owl.  Was our owl adventure a failure?  Certainly it was not.  We got to explore our neighbourhood and make discoveries.  We learned a lot about owls that we didn’t know before.  Most importantly we practiced following our curiosity, investigating and understanding the world around us.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Menus & Meals

When I first opened my childcare home in 1997 I chose to provide all meals and snacks for the children.  Each week I planned and shopped for that week’s menu.  Most of the food was cut up and prepared early in the morning before the children arrived.  Many of the lunch items were cooked or reheated in the oven which enabled me to pop them in the oven before we went outside and like magic they were ready when we came in for lunch.  This method allowed me to focus all my attention on the children during the day but added an average of 12 hours to my work week – outside the 55 hours the daycare was open.

Colleagues often asked me why I still provided lunch – most licensed facilities did not.  Parents were delighted that I chose to but after discussing the issues with them they agreed to a trial period of parent provided lunches.   I still provided milk to drink and raw vegetables with dip as a supplement for all lunches to ensure those food groups were not left out.

The first week I didn’t have to plan and prepare lunches ahead of time I was thrilled to have much more ‘extra’ time.  I was able to spend a lot more time planning activities instead of meals.  Surprisingly the raw vegetables were a real hit.  Unfortunately there were also many drawbacks.  Bagged lunches became repetitive and boring.  Much of the food being sent could not be considered nutritious.  Hurried parents resorted to picking up a sub or ‘egg thing’ from a fast food restaurant on their way to daycare.  Picky eaters quit eating lunch almost entirely.   A vast amount of food was being wasted or sent back home and some children complained they were still hungry after lunch.

The worst thing about this whole experience was that time I spent storing, unpacking, heating, and repacking seven individual lunches added up to as much as two whole hours of our day.  Lunch related tasks that I had previously done in the morning before the children arrived now had to be done when they were here — time I would normally have spent on more constructive activities with the children.  I never had time to sit down with the children at lunch and I sometimes skipped lunch completely because there was not enough time for me to prepare my own food.  There was no way this could be considered an improvement for any of us.
After only two months I went back to providing lunches for the children.  To address my issue of time spent planning meals I chose to write a four week revolving menu.  There was a pattern – Mondays are ‘miscellaneous’ meals like tomato soup & pizza bread, Tuesday’s are sandwich meals, Wednesdays are casserole meals, Thursday’s are hot sandwich meals like chili buns, and Fridays are meat & potato meals. All of the meals are quick and easy and many of them can be prepared ahead of time and frozen until the day they were needed.

This has worked well for all of us but except for a few minor changes the menu has remained the same for several years but the children and I are getting tired of many of the items.  Over the next few months I plan to try out a few ‘new’ recipes and get feedback from the children.  As always, I won’t expect everyone to like everything – that never happens – but majority rules.  By the New Year I hope to have a completely revamped menu.  The menu favourites will be posted on the blog too so stay tuned as we begin our culinary experiment.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Playing & Writing

After my last blog entry I did some reflecting on how I could adjust our daily schedule to give the preschool children fewer interruptions now that the older ones are back to school.  The school schedule is so restrictive to real productive play.  I’ve pushed snack a little later in the morning which allows the children a full hour or more of uninterrupted free play in the morning.  So far this has seemed to ease the number of “We just got started’ complaints that I get when it’s time to clean up for snack.  There have been a few minor problems as we adapt to this new schedule but I’m certain it will be better for all.

While reflecting on the children’s schedule I also took a look at my own.  I started this blog with the intention of writing daily entries or at least several each week.  Unfortunately I haven’t been doing that and it’s not for lack of ideas.  I should have foreseen this.  It is the same problem I faced when I was working on my CBA portfolio.  Just as children need long, uninterrupted periods for free play, I need long, uninterrupted periods to write.

Over the years that I worked on my CBA portfolio my family became accustomed to my ‘departures’.  When I sat down at my computer on a Saturday morning they knew they were on their own for the day.  There is momentum in my writing — once I start, I have trouble stopping.  Consequently, when I don’t think I’ll have enough uninterrupted time, I put off starting any new entries.

It’s not that it takes me a long time to write each entry but rather that when I begin writing I don’t stay on task.  As I work on one entry I get ideas for others and so I start new ones.  Eventually I have five or six topics on the go.  Along the way I also do some research and plan activities that I can use to enhance the children’s learning.  I flip from one document to another as I write.  I am fully engaged and productive — but the whole process takes time.

For me, writing is play.  Through it I experiment, construct and learn.  So now, just as I found a way to adjust the children’s schedule to allow them a longer free play time, I need tweak my own schedule.  Blog entries are not nearly as time consuming as CBA portfolio entries – I won’t need to dedicate full days to the task.  Two or three hours a week should suffice and I think I’ve found the perfect time.  First thing in the morning before the children arrive – my most productive part of the day – 5:30 to 7:00 am!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Schedules & Conversations

Today was one of those days — I called it ‘busy’.  Parents asked what we did that was so exciting but I couldn’t really answer that because we didn’t really do anything.

According to the dictionary ‘busy’ means ‘full of activity, eventful, demanding, tiring, and hectic’.  It is the last three of these that most accurately describe today.

Now, one of the things I like about Family Child care is the variety.  Sometimes I have more infants and toddlers enrolled so feeding, changing and cuddling take up much of my time.

On school holidays when the school-age children are here all day we often get immersed in elaborate activities that continue for hours, days or more.  I actually find these days to be the least busy as the children take the lead.  I mostly just follow along, ask questions, observe and provide supplies.  These are my favourite days.

Currently I have an older preschool group – no infants – and with the school-age children away all day and one Kindergarten child away half days I have a small group most of the time.  The problem is that we don’t have any blocks of time where the children can really engage in anything.

Our day looks like this; Come in, play, say good bye to the school-agers, play, clean-up, eat morning snack, bathroom break, circle/calendar time, get dressed for outdoors, play outside, clean-up, walk to the school to get the Kindergarten child, come back, undress, play (very quickly), clean-up for lunch, greet school age child, eat, clean-up, bathroom break, say goodbye to school age child, get cots ready, nap time (clean the kitchen), get children up, bathroom break, play, clean-up, greet the school-age children, eat afternoon snack, clean-up, play and the parents arrive.

Now keep in mind that some days – like today — each one of those transitions requires me to repeat instructions to each child individually and sometimes several times.  Then there are the questions and stories and games that go along with the instructions.  It is all the mundane conversations that get to me. My head hurts and I really just want this day to end.

Then at afternoon snack we have this conversation as I hand out yogurt, crackers and juice;
What kind of yogurt is this?
Strawberry.
Mmmm, my favourite.
Mali (the cat) get out of the closet or you might get locked in.
Why are you going to lock Mali in the closet?
I don’t want to.  I opened it to get a bib and she tried to sneak in.  If I didn’t notice I might have accidentally closed the door and locked her in there.
Is she being bad?
No, just curious.
Are you going to lock her up?
No.
Where is my friend?
Not back from school yet.
Are you going to put her in the closet too?
No! Why would I do that?
You locked the cat in the closet.
I didn’t lock anyone in the closet!! Eat your food!!
If I spill my juice are you going to lock me in the closet?
NO ONE IS GOING TO BE LOCKED IN THE CLOSET!!!!….

They’ve gone home for the day.  I want to go to bed.  I haven’t even had supper yet.  I’m expecting phone calls from parents who ask their child ‘what happened at daycare today?’

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Nature Connection

I just returned from the first ever Manitoba Nature Summit.  This event was planned as a ‘meeting of the minds’ for the growing number of us here that are passionate about connecting children with nature.

Organizers wanted to keep it small for the first year but hoped to make it an annual event.  Registrations were slow to come in and attendance was only a fraction of what was anticipated.  The question is “Why?”

This event was held at Camp Manitou – convenient to the city yet still offering the back-to-nature atmosphere we wanted.  The accommodations were rustic and the scenery was spectacular with all the colors of the fall foliage.

The cool evening temperatures made gathering around the campfire even more inviting.  The rain on Friday didn’t dampen spirits but instead provided us many opportunities for puddle jumping and sliding down muddy slopes on our treks through the forest.

I went zip lining for the first time in my life, practiced some archery and went hiking in the dark. What a fabulous way to awaken your senses.

Many of the workshops were facilitated by members of the Wilderness Awareness School based in Duvall, Washington. We were introduced to Coyote Mentoring and the philosophy of the school.  I was truly amazed – if only there were schools like this everywhere.

Our meals were provided by Diversity Catering and, in keeping with our environmental and sustainability values, most of the food was produced locally.  I thought the food was marvellous and I never went hungry.

The question remains – ‘Why was registration so low?’  Were people too busy with back-to-school schedules?  Was there not enough advertising?  I don’t know the answer but I have a theory and to be honest, it upsets me. What if the reason they didn’t want to come was because we’d be outside most of the time – in unpredictable weather — unplugged and roughing it.

How can we mentor children to connect to nature if we can’t let go of our everyday conveniences and get out there ourselves?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Rhythm in the Yard

I am constantly evaluating the learning environment as I observe the children at play.  I make notes of things I’d like to add, remove or modify.  Sometimes I can make the necessary changes easily, other times they take longer.

Bringing elements of music and rhythm to the outdoor play space has been one of my goals.  It started a few years ago when my husband ‘rescued’ two large barrels made of heavy cardboard with a tin base.  We lay these barrels on the deck and the children used them as animal dens, train sheds or other type of shelter that suited their interests.

When not in use these barrels were stored upside down in a sheltered area on the side of the deck to prolong their life.  It was here that it began when one of the children discovered the sound that could be made when they banged on the tin end of the barrel.

Over time the cardboard barrels disintegrated but we kept the end caps – painted them, and attached them to the fence.  Playing these ‘drums’ has been a favourite activity for the children.
Since then I have added some other outdoor sound items like the wind chimes and the windmill which when the wind is right makes a unique sound as it flaps against the cedars.
The children have been busy creating instruments of their own.  With sticks, pails, tubes and more the combinations are as endless as their imaginations.
I was particularly impressed when they experimented with adding various amounts of gravel to this flexible tube and adjusted the placement to achieve an assortment of  different sounds.
One thing is certain – the yard is never quiet.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Discoveries

I have far more toys than our play space could contain so I rotate the toys in and out of the room regularly.  I generally don’t tell the children about the changes because the ‘Hey, look what I found’ reactions are one of the highlights of my day.

Certainly it is noticeable when I put away the blocks and put the train set in the basket instead or replace the farm animals with some from the jungle.  However, some of the changes are more subtle – the square I found at the hardware store and placed in the tool belt or the empty container from yesterday’s snack that is now on the shelf in the housekeeping area.

More interesting than the children’s initial reaction is the way the new discovery can change an old game.  Such was the case this week when the children found the new book.  Actually, it was not that new – the weekly planner book was donated by one of the parents and has been sitting on the shelf with the cookbooks and photo album for a couple weeks already but no one had noticed it.

When they did, everything changed.  It is amazing how one small item can have such a major impact on the group.  Cooking and serving food is a popular dramatic play activity here and often involves packing lunches and heading off to school/work – an activity they are all familiar with.

With the addition of the new book there was no “I want it first” or “when is it my turn” like there sometimes is when a new ‘one-of-a-kind’ item is added.  Instead, it was as if the entire group of eight children suddenly had the same idea.  With a ten year difference between the oldest and the youngest this is an amazing occurrence.

The book was the resource that connected all the intricate details of their new restaurant.  Some children quickly donned dress-up clothes and phoned to make dining reservations.  Others began planning the menu and cooking meals.

Along the way there were several imaginary incidents – a broken pipe, a kitchen fire.  A quick change restaurant patron was suddenly a plumber or a firefighter.  They even had an organized escape plan to get everyone out of the restaurant safely!

All I did was add a book and sit back to wait and watch.  The best days are the ones when they don’t really need me at all.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Parkour

Most people seemed surprised when I mention Parkour and childcare together.  I’m sure that they imagine dangerous stunts and reckless behaviour that is completely inappropriate for a childcare environment.

To be honest, that was my reaction too when my teenage son first engaged in this activity.  I warned him never to practice within view of any of the children or even talk about it when they were present.

Then, I spent some time watching him practice and listening to him and researching the topic on my own…and I changed my mind.

Sure it entails running, jumping, climbing and a bit of acrobatics but the focus is on control and precision.  Instead of being competitive it involves collaboration, responsibility and play.  In fact, the more I learned about it the more I thought – this is a great activity for children!

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying I’d encourage toddlers to jump off buildings but the basic skills training can be adapted for all ages – and they think it is fun to exercise.

All summer my son has been playing in the yard with us and showing the children some of the skills and training he can do in our small space.  The children are practicing and learning about spatial awareness, balance and their own physical abilities.  They are setting personal goals, problem solving and overcoming obstacles.  It’s perfect!


 
This three-year-old lands like this every time but never falls back — she has learned to lean forward and balance.

 
Even the two year old can balance on one leg on a log.  What fun!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Adventure Garden

Our garden had run amok. With a combination of diverse weather and busy days with little time to spend in our garden it had become overgrown.  The children occasionally ventured a few steps inside but no further.  If the zucchini and cucumber plants were not so prickly they may have enjoyed playing in the 'jungle'. 

Other creatures were more impressed -- especially the multitude of cabbage butterflies. 

 They were destroying our kale but I didn't mind because the children loved chasing them around the yard.  Nonetheless I decided it was time to do some pruning.    

As I worked my way along the paths, I trimmed leaves and tied branches up to the trellis.  The children were close on my heels -- whispering excitedly about the progress that was being made.  They were also thrilled about the discoveries we made as we ventured further into the garden.


The paths are still not very wide and the plants are taller than the children so the garden is indeed a place for adventure and discovery.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Pioneers

Yesterday we went on a field trip to the Historical Museum of St Jame-Assiniboia.  There we toured the William Brown house -- an authentic Red River Frame home built in 1856.

The children were fascinated by the artifacts and the life of the pioneers.  They were most interested by the kitchen and all its amazing gadgets.  The most horrifying aspect was sharing a small room -- and bed -- with as many as four other family members.

They all agreed that although it was fun to visit, they would not like to be pioneers.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Hill

We first began making plans to renovate our yard last fall.  We knew many of the elements that we wanted to include;  a bigger garden, some seating areas, and a small hill with a slide and tunnel.  We had the basic ideas but we didn’t plan any of the details and since the snow melted we’ve been slowly putting the pieces together.

There has been a circular area in the pea gravel reserved for the hill and the children have often asked when it would be built.  To be honest, I’d planned to have it done long before now but I kept running into minor roadblocks which delayed construction.  Well, as August arrived the hill began to take shape.

Like most of my projects I won’t ever consider it to be ‘completed’ because everything here is constantly changing.  This hill, however, will be a very slow process because it is a ‘living’ hill and thus we have to wait for it to grow.  I have planned to have native prairie plants  covering the hill — their amazing root system will help to make it strong.  I have to thank Shirley at http://www.prairieoriginals.com/ for all her help and suggestions for plants for this project.

So far I’ve only got a few small wildflower species started and the rest is covered with landscape fabric to prevent the soil from washing away.  I placed some pots of day lilies to temporarily add some greenery but I don’t want these here permanently.  Don’t laugh at them — they’re survivors — I had thinned them out of the front yard and for three weeks they lay in a pile beside the deck with only the soil that stuck to them when I pulled them out.  I only plopped them in pots as an afterthought when the hill looked like it needed ‘something’.  In my mind I can see the hill covered with wildflowers and surrounded by butterflies, birds, and of course, children playing.

 

The ‘tunnel’ is made of clear plastic panels through which I hope someday the children will be able to see roots and worms and other cool stuff.  Right now I just like the pattern the sun makes as it shines through the boards on the platform above the tunnel.

  

After only a week the children are just beginning to create games and stories that use the hill but already they see its potential.  As the hill evolves so will their adventures.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Rain

“Water Day” is an eagerly anticipated summer event.  Each summer I schedule at least one day with  a variety of outdoor water games and activities.

The day before our special day we went outside for our usual outdoor play time.  The weather forecast predicted a 30% chance of rain but a little rain doesn’t stop us from going outside.  We managed to get about 30 minutes of dry playtime before we felt the first few rain drops.

At first none of the children even paused  or appeared to even notice the rain. We often stay outside in light rain if it is not too cold. Only a few minutes earlier there had been bits of sunshine peeking through the clouds so we were not expecting the rain to last.  We were wrong.

Within minutes the rain became quite heavy.  The children began to giggle and looked to see what my reaction was.  I shrugged and said “Let’s stay out a bit longer”.  They were thrilled.  They ran and jumped and laughed and got wet.  They were children having fun.

There was no sign of the rain letting up and none of the children had extra clothing so reluctantly we went in.  Several hours later when their parents arrived to pick them up every one of the children had the same story to tell. “We had an early water day — we played in the rain and got wet but we’re dry now”.  Until tomorrow….

Literacy

The ability to understand written and spoken language is essential in today’s society.


In the playroom of my childcare home I allow the children of all ages to choose and handle books independently throughout the day.  I include a variety of books from small board books to heavy catalogues with glossy pages.  Books are used as part of play and social activities.

I do not schedule a specific time of the day for me to read stories aloud to the children – reading and listening can be done anytime throughout the day regardless of age or ability.

Children are not required to sit and listen to me read a story.   I encourage them to interact with each other and the objects in the room as I read.  Being able to connect the story to personal experience is an important part of understanding the language.  Even those children who are playing elsewhere in the room may be listening and visualizing or acting out parts of the story. I believe that children’s literacy skills can be enhanced by allowing them to move around and engage in other activities as I read.  An active young child who is required to sit and ‘pay attention’ may be learning that books and reading are boring and actually tune out the words even though they appear to be listening.

I have attached labels to various objects throughout the room and in the housekeeping area I include empty containers from familiar objects in place of toy replicas.  In this way, young children can learn to associate the text with the real objects instead of only seeing it on the pages of books.  The printed labels and words on the items the children play with allow the children to combine the text, the spoken words and the visible object as they manipulate these items.

Literacy is more than being able to read and write words — understanding the meaning of words is equally important.  Young children need to be able to physically explore in order to fully comprehend written and spoken language.

Fireworks

During our outdoor play time one of the children built an interesting structure.  When I asked what it was she replied “A fire” The other children had been playing a follow-the-leader/obstacle course game and asked her if they could use her ‘fire’ to set off their ‘fireworks’.  She agreed so they built an extension to channel the fire to the fireworks station.
The obstacle course was redesigned — over the balance beam, across the walkway, jump on and off the log, and complete a circle on the stepping stones.  One by one they tried the course while the spectators watched from the log seats.

After each successfully completed course the imaginary fireworks were triggered and the audience applauded.  They adapted the course for the age and skill level of the participant.  The baby didn’t have to complete the whole course without touching the gravel area as the others had to.  If the course was too easy for some they had to complete more laps in order to trigger the fireworks.  Bonus fireworks were awarded for doing spins or fancy tricks along the way.

This is the power of free play.  An independent building project evolved into gross motor activity that enhanced social skills and creativity for the whole group.  It was better than anything I could have planned.