Tuesday, November 30, 2010


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


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.