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


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.