Friday, August 27, 2010


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


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


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 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


“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….


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.


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.

Away They Go!

After watching and caring for them for a few days we decided it was time to release the frogs.  We knew they were just temporary guests and we couldn't keep them in captivity.  Besides the 'aroma' from the habitat was getting stronger.

So we decided to take a hike to the park by the river -- everyone agreed that was a good place for frogs.  Once there we found a grassy spot to sit and gathered in a circle.

One by one the frogs were removed from their temporary home and released.
They didn't flee as quickly as we thought they would.  Some of them stayed to visit a bit longer as if to say a proper good bye.

There was a brief moment of panic when the baby 'swatted' one of the frogs.  I thought we might have to do frog CPR but it was OK.  The last frog hopped off toward the safety of the bushes and we headed back to our home too.

Loose Parts

Our outdoor play space contains a wide variety of loose parts.  Some items have been donated by parents, some are found items, and others are leftover pieces from various projects.  Whatever they were before it's always interesting to see what the children can do with them.

Sometimes the children work independently, other times the whole group is involved.  Often there is an intricate story behind their creations.

This was a shed on the side of the roadway:
These were part of and elaborate zoo:
And here they are going on a camping trip. Most of the group is waiting in the car but some are hooking up the trailer.
which is on the other side of the yard....

Our Garden

I  like gardens but I don't consider myself to be a great gardener.  I throw things together and see what happens.  For me it is all about trial and error and having fun not right or wrong and that's what I teach the children.

We started our first gardening adventure in 2007 with a 2 foot by 6 foot raised bed and planted corn, sunflowers, zucchini, peas and cucumbers.  The following year we added two more raised beds and tried some other plants too.

This spring, as part of a complete overhaul of the yard the planter boxes were removed and now we've got a 12 x 12 garden.  The best part is that we can actually go right in and be with the plants.
We've got corn, zucchini, mint, spinach, wheat (we grind this up to flour and bake with it), tomatoes, orange peppers, swiss chard, sorrel, kale, peas and cucumbers.

There are pots with sunflowers, beans and strawberries around the yard as well.

So far we've only eaten a few peas and some zucchini flowers but soon we expect some more to be ready.
Watering the garden and hunting for bugs and picking weeds are the children's favorite activities.

Say Please

We had a new child join our group for the summer.  I wasn't sure how the children would respond since they are a very close knit group.  In the last three years the only 'new' children I've enrolled have been younger siblings of those already in my care.  How would they react to an outsider?

I didn't need to be concerned.  They were ecstatic.  The only problems we had were a result of bickering over who got to play with the new child.  It was interesting to watch how they worked out some variations on their favorite activities because there was new input.  Then, something bigger happened.

We were out in the yard and the children were engrossed in a hide and seek game -- more like an Easter egg hunt using rocks.  It was the new child's turn to search and he soon discovered that others in the group had been enlisted to be hiding spots and conceal rocks in their hands behind their backs -- all he had to do was ask if they had one.  When he asked one of the younger children they responded "Yes, what do you say?"  And the struggle began.

One by one the others formed a semi circle and tried to explain the use of manners.  They began role playing with each other saying "You have something I want, may I have it please?" "Yes you may, here it is (pretending to pass imaginary object)" "Thank-you".

Eventually they realized it wasn't that he didn't know what to say but that he was being stubborn.  They began a story telling session and used a stick from the ground as a talking stick -- only the person holding the stick could talk.  I had used this technique with them in the past when interrupting was an issue at circle time but I had never seen them use it on their own.

They made up stories about children in various situations where they didn't get something they wanted because they didn't do what was require.  Some of the stories were very imaginative.  Everyone got a turn to tell a story and even when a story didn't really make sense no one complained or corrected the storyteller.

I could tell the new child was beginning to get frustrated but would it be right to make them stop?  They were not trying to be mean and what kind of example would it set if we gave in to his "Give me" demands.  Suddenly he declared "Maybe in five minutes I'll say please!" and that was it.  The whole group jumped up and started to cheer and applaud.  "He said please! He said please!"

He looked somewhat stunned by their response to his unintentional 'manners'.  They handed him the rock and the hide and seek game continued.  After all, "Say please" was all they had requested.


One Monday one of the children brought four frogs to daycare and enlightened us with stories of how and where she captured them over the weekend.  Apparently there were originally five frogs but one is 'missing'.  I put a plastic cover over the open top of the container to ensure there would be no more escapees while they were in our care.

There was some concern that although they had an adequate environment, they did not have any food.  That evening my 15 year-old son collected several flies and fed them to the frogs.  After the 'granddad' frog ate seven of the eight flies we separated him out of the container so the smaller ones would have a chance -- could have been a lesson in 'survival of the fittest'.

The next day, as the children arrived they checked on our guests and were intrigued by the tale of the frog feeding adventures.  They wanted to see the frogs eat.  When we went outdoors we brought the frogs with us and my son demonstrated how he captured flies and transferred them to the frog container.  The children were thrilled when the frogs snapped up the offerings.
For the remainder of our outdoor time the children scampered around the yard chasing flies.  Not surprisingly most flies do not sit still when a group of children descend on them.  Eventually the children learned to sneak up on the flies and mastered some fly catching techniques.  By lunchtime we had fed the frogs more than 15 flies.

When I announced it was time for our lunch the children seemed surprised.  "How long have we been out here?" they asked.  When I told them it had been a little over two hours they were amazed.  "It didn't feel that long".

The Quest

One day all the children aged 3-12 were digging holes in the pea gravel to see how deep they could make them.  As they were digging many of them were also collecting rocks that they found interesting or unique. Two of the girls decided to use the hole they had made to create an “underground church” and recruited the others to collect the supplies they would need.  They began by using sticks to reinforce the edges of the hole.
Suddenly, one of the girls realized that she had misplaced her “pretty rock” and the whole group stopped construction and began searching for it.  As she provided details about the size, shape and color of the prized rock the other continued to scour the 350 square foot area of pea gravel without any thought to the chances of finding the correct one.  Their optimism was amazing and their efforts paid off when they located the “smooth rock that looked like a broken sea shell”.
They now returned to complete construction of the church.  They assigned roles including “architect”, “designer”, and “supplier”.  They put a sturdy roof on the hole and added steps, decorations, and fancy stonework until an hour later they completed their project.
As they admired their work and asked me to take a group photo I heard “Hey, where’s my rock?"....