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?
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?
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?

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.