Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Return

Last week was a short week here for the children and their parents. For me it was a diverse and very busy week.  It started with the May long weekend – still too cold to plant anything outside but that was ok because I still had a lot of work to do on the garden before it was ready for plants.

You may remember years back when we first started gardening that we used raised planter boxes.  These were very functional but I considered them somewhat boring – I’m definitely not a ‘square box’ type of person.  So, when we renovated the yard last year I added a real garden area because I think that being ‘in’ a garden is a magical experience.

Last year’s garden was certainly full of adventure but I have to admit that it was not without some design issues.  The raised sides of the old planter boxes had provided much needed support to young and old alike as we worked in the garden.  Without these raised borders there were many – usually accidental – tumbles off the pathway.  The garden plants were not impressed.

We also missed the arched trellis that had joined two of our old planter boxes together provided a ‘secret hiding place’ when it was covered in beans and cucumbers. (I try hard to say that correctly but the children’s “cucamumbers” name is such a cute word that sometimes I use it too).

So, with my husband willing to help me with the not-so-easy angle cuts we built a raised edge between the garden walkway and the outer planting beds.  I added three arched trellises over the little seating areas that had already been included in my original plan.  The centre planting section would have become too small if we had tried to make it into a raised bed so we just made a border using some log slices.

My husband refers to the border around the centre section as the ‘tomb stones’ for all the plants that don’t survive. The children and I are more optimistic.  Last week, the children were very excited about the changes that had been made.  They gravitated to the three arches, often sitting there for long periods and imagining what it will be like once they are covered with plants.  They carried on long conversations with the turtles and Old Man Tree.  We engaged in some exciting sensory activities with Coco Earth which starts out hard and impenetrable when it is dry;

But changes when we add water;

And it will be wonderful for the plants when now that we have mixed it with the soil in the garden.

The children were only here for two days last week before I was off to attend MCCA’s annual conference.  It was an enlightening and wondrous event.  I was thrilled to meet and attend workshops presented by Rae Pica and Bethe Almeras.  Now, refreshed and eager, I look forward to continue work on our garden project and many more exciting new adventures and experiences with the children.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Paperwork

I remember one day – many, many years ago – when I was chatting with a group of family childcare providers.  We were discussing the recent departure of a couple of other providers.  They hadn’t left the field entirely but they had left family childcare.  They had originally worked in childcare centers and had opened their family childcare homes when they had their own children.  Now that their children were older they were returning to work in centers.  They claimed they missed working with others and they desperately wanted their homes back.

I couldn’t imagine ever leaving family childcare – I had finally found my niche.  This was a job that so perfectly suited me that it didn’t even feel like work.  As the discussion continued we began to reflect on what we would miss the most if we couldn’t be family childcare providers.  My answer then was ‘the paperwork’.  Seriously!  I said I would miss doing paperwork and if I ever went to work somewhere else.

That wouldn’t be my answer now – even then I don’t think that was what I really meant.  You see, back then the majority of the ‘required’ paperwork was still done on paper.  I was an avid computer user. I began using computers in the early 90’s – programs were very basic and using them required a significant amount of resourcefulness.  It was fun to design my own spreadsheets for recordkeeping and to create parent handbooks.  ‘Paperwork’ using computers provided a creative outlet and I thought it was exciting.  Back then even doing paperwork was really just play.

Now, everything is done on computers – it is automatic and boring.  There is little imagination required just fill in the blanks.  Someone else has already done the creative part and all that’s left is the work.  Sure, some things can be ‘personalized’ but even that requires little more than the click of a button and if you don’t like it just click ‘undo’. The thrill is gone.

There is also the ever increasing need for written policies and procedures and required revisions — there is a ‘correct’ way to do paperwork and when you do it differently you’re ‘wrong’.   Blah blah blah….’Paperwork’ – even on computers – has become ‘required work’ instead of play.

Maybe this is a good time to point out that one of the reasons that I’m self employed is because I don’t like to take orders.  I could be considered to be a ‘Compliant Rebel’ – I will not openly defy authority but that doesn’t mean that I like what I am required to do — sometimes I can be resentful and I hold a grudge. I am creative, and following instructions is the opposite of being creative so ultimately required paperwork makes me feel stifled.

As a family childcare provider I am considered self employed but there are still rules and regulations that I am required to follow in order to be licensed.  So, I have some freedom and some restraints.  As the amount of required paperwork steadily increases there are days when I just want throw my hands in the air and scream “No more paperwork, that’s it, I quit”.   I don’t because I am…well, naturally compliant…submissive.

So now, I want to mention something good.  For the first time in a long time, the Province is about to unveil something that I am truly excited about; the OnlineChildcareRegistry  actually promises to make my life easier.

My current waitlist is depressing, confusing, and I’ll admit that it doesn’t work very well. It is depressing because in the last year I have added roughly 150 children to my waitlist – and I’ve enrolled three of them. I’ve had people call when they first learn that they are expecting a baby and they call again two years later when their maternity leave is over and they should have already returned to work but haven’t because they still haven’t found childcare. I don’t like to answer the phone because it could be another young woman with a dream for her future which should begin next week when she’s expected to start university except that she has no one to care for her child so she won’t be going.

My wait list is confusing because of the timing of calls.  Many people call me from work on their lunch break when they have time.  Do you know what my house looks like at lunch time?  I work alone and I’m serving lunch to eight children and some need to leave for school soon and some are cranky because it is almost nap time.  I get calls other times of the day too – when we’re out in the yard, when we’re creating masterpieces with glue and paint, when I’m in the middle of changing a baby’s diaper or in the evening when my husband yells “Don’t answer it – the daycare is closed”. But I do anyway.  And when I have time I try to decipher what I scribbled on that napkin/scrap of paper/fencepost and add it to the official list.  The list that doesn’t really work very well because it’s just a chronological list of when people called but it does little to help me choose who to call for the one space that may be available.

Yep, I’m looking forward to the centralized online waiting list because finally it is something that doesn’t require me to do more work and in fact it will be useful – for all of us.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Our Grain Project

I figure it is time for a quick update on our project to grow other grains in our garden besides wheat — background info here. I had purchase some lentils, Rye seeds, Oats, Spelt, Triticate, Kamut, Barley, and Quinoa from the Scoop N’Weigh store.

We began by taking a few of each of the grain seeds to examine at circle time.  I shared some information that I had learned about the various grains, where they originated and what they were used for.

The children examined the grains and I wrote down some of their comments and observations.
  • The Rye stinks – it smells like rye bread (apparently not a favourite bread)
  • The oats look like the rye.
  • It smells like horse poo. (it does remind me of the smell of a barn)
  • I think it smells like carrots and celery.
  • To me it smells like perfume and dinosaurs. (Can’t argue with this since I don’t know what a dinosaur smells like).
  • The quinoa is so cute – it is tiny and cool – looks like a seashell.
Then we glued the seed samples on the paper with the information to keep for future reference.

The following day we planted some of the seeds as a test to see if they would actually sprout – I was still a little doubtful.  Everyone got a turn to put some seeds in the soil.

The quinoa is so small it takes great fine motor skills to plant these ones.

Then I put the tray under the grow light and we waited.  The quinoa was the first to sprout – took just two days! Only two of the six quinoa seed sprouted though so I’m not sure if it will be a successful crop.

All of the lentils, Rye, Kamut, and Triticate sprouted and grew magnificently as did half of the Spelt.  The barley and the oats failed to sprout at all.  I even planted a second batch of each and they didn’t sprout either.  Still, more than 50% of the seeds we planted actually did sprout so I can’t complain.

One of our grandmothers with a farm connection has promised to get us some oats and soybeans from the country.  Maybe we’ll have more success with those oats. Hopefully I’ll complete the work on the garden (that will be another post) and we can get the rest of our seeds in the ground outside next week.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Flurry of Activity

For the last week the weather here has been marvellous. I spent almost all of last weekend outdoors working on the yard and garden.  I’m hoping that the forecasted rain will hold off long enough that I can get some soil to complete the project this weekend.

This week the preschoolers and I have been spending all morning outside.  I feel sorry for the older children and the parents who must spend a large portion of their day indoors at work or school.  Even when our schedule dictates that we must be inside I see the children gathered around the open window, feeling the warm breeze and longing to be outside again.

The mornings have been cool and while some of the children (and I) wear shorts and T-shirts others have continued to choose to don sweaters before heading out to play.  After only a few minutes of active play in my South facing yard the sweaters are abandoned.  I’ve even had to open the umbrella and put up the sun shade to provide some shelter from the heat – I’m not complaining.

The precision jumping and follow the leader games have continued to be popular.  We’ve rearranged the stumps to form two circles – one on each side of the hill platform.  This creates a figure eight obstacle course.  The spacing between the tree stumps has been expanded since all of the children had mastered the smaller spacing used last year. Jumping from the platform to the logs is a new challenge.
Some of the children are unsure about jumping the distance from one log to the next so they complete the circles by jumping off one stump to the gravel between logs and then step up on the next log.  I was interested to notice that after some success at traveling around the circle, a few of the children began pushing their physical limits and trying to jump the huge distance across the circle.


The distance covered is impressive – so much further than what could be accomplished last summer.  I’m excited to see what new skills this summer will bring.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

From Seed to Plant to Plate - and Back?

We have grown wheat in our garden for the last three years.  I originally got the wheat seeds at a meeting of the Manitoba Nature Action Collaborative for Children – MNACC for short. I didn’t know anything about growing or harvesting wheat but I thought it would look nice in the center of the raised beds – to contrast all the other plants — and it did.

In 2008 when we first planted wheat in our garden I didn’t really have any type of goal in mind, no lesson plan, no purpose other than growing something different in the garden. In the fall when we harvested the last of our vegetables we also collected all the wheat heads. I was actually thinking about using the wheat for crafts or decorations but first I let the children take some of it apart and examine it closely with magnifying glasses.

We did some research, identified all the parts of the wheat plants and what they were used for.  I even used my food processor to grind up some of the wheat and make – very coarse – flour.  And then, one of the preschoolers decided that we should use our new flour to make cookies!  So of course we did because that’s what child-led curriculum is all about.  Our very crunchy ‘wholegrain’ cookies were also very good according to the children.

In 2009 as we planted the wheat in the garden the children were already discussing how we would be using it in the fall.  They had big plans.  “This time”, they said, “we would be making muffins!”  I was more experienced too and used my coffee grinder to turn the wheat into flour – it does a much better job than the food processor.  The muffins were excellent.

2010 was a dismal year. Most of the summer had been cool and very wet.  Our garden produced little of value – several tomatoes, a few cucumbers, one zucchini, some inedible corn, kale that was eaten by something else and only a handful of wheat.  There would be no baking this year.

So, as I was contemplating what we would do for 2011 it occurred to me that the term ‘multigrain’ comes up often in our discussions about food and nutrition but what exactly does it mean? There are other grains besides wheat — maybe we should try to grow some other grains too.

This could be interesting but I wondered where in the city could I get a variety of grain seeds from?  I’ve never seen grain seed at any of the places that I purchase our vegetable seeds from. Spur of the moment I fired off an email to the agriculture department at the University of Manitoba explaining my dilemma and asking for suggestions.

The response surprised me.

They didn’t suggest a nearby farmer or a feed store or any type of ‘agriculture’ type place. They suggested the “Scoop N’Weigh” store on Taylor Ave (sorry, they don’t seem to have a website so I can’t link to them but now that I’ve been there I have to say that it is a totally awesome place). I was stunned.

Honestly, it had never occurred to me to go to a bulk food store to buy grain seeds.  I mean, I wanted seeds for my garden not seeds to eat!?!?! – OMG – For years have I been trying to get children to see the connection between our garden and the food we eat AND I COULDN’T SEE THIS!   Sigh.

This is the end of this post.  It’s not the end of this project – we’ve got some new grain seeds and we’ve begun some experiments but I still need some time to wrap my head around this new concept. I still can’t believe I didn’t see this – and part of me is still doubtful that the seeds will even sprout.  I still have some information to process.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Running & Jumping

OK, so the title is a little deceiving since in my small yard there isn’t really a lot of room for actual running.  However, we compensate by engaging in activities that require agility and precision.

Designing and traversing obstacle courses are favorite activities around here and the children are pros. The hoola hoops and traffic cones were reintroduced into the yard this week and the children were so excited.

First the cones were used alone

Then they combined them with other things

Of course there was the ever popular ‘no hands’ approach to the obstacle course

And ‘patterns’ from the decorator
Wonderful turn taking and follow the leader games



It has been a busy, active week outside in the yard and all I had to do was put out a few new items, stand back and take pictures.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Free & Loose

I planned to write a post first thing this morning before the children arrived but somebody desperately needed attention and so I abandoned my computer and paperwork.  Seriously – who could resist?

So now I have to spend my evening at the computer and hope that cat doesn’t show up again. :-)

I’m an advocate of loose parts but I also need to be organized and sometimes those two things collide.  In the gravel area of the yard there are sticks and pipes, pinecones and pieces of bark, scraps of wood and other miscellaneous things.

Toys and other equipment are stored in bins in the deck box or the shed and brought out when needed.  The loose parts are always out – loose – hence the name.  This ever-changing supply of random items is strewn about the yard and sometimes makes it difficult to walk.

I find myself wandering around making arbitrary piles of unused things to get them out of the way and create walkways. I can’t really ask the children to ‘clean up’ because this stuff doesn’t have a spot where it belongs and besides, the mess is not bothering them.

Then, last weekend, as we were working on various projects outside my husband asks ‘What are you going to do with this?’ Oooh, I had forgotten about ‘that’ – A modular plastic cube thing that we picked up at the last Giveaway Weekend event.  I think it was supposed to be a desk at one time but I just thought the cubes might come in handy for something, sometime.  Until I could of a good use we just put them in the crawlspace and they’ve been there all winter.  Until now when I did this;

I don’t expect the children to keep it all neat and organized like this.  They will be free to move the pieces around the yard as they please.  Build with them. Dig with them. Whatever they need or want them for. But we can also put them somewhere when they are not being used and that will make me happy.  And maybe the children will like it too because the next time they are working on a building project and someone says ‘We need another small pipe’ they’ll know where to look first.

Interestingly though, when the children went out on Monday, the squeal and exclamation “Come. Look what happened – it’s amazing!” didn’t refer to my weekend organization.  It was in reference to the growth of the native plants on the hill.

Yes, Mother Nature is amazing.  That’s why we help her out by recycling. This weekend is another Giveaway Weekend.  I wonder what we might find.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Quick & Easy

I want to write a post but I’m a little short on time so it will have to be an ‘easy to write’ post.  I’ve got five loads of laundry in various stages of completion and I need to get paperwork organized for my re-licensing tomorrow.  I probably should have done some of this work yesterday but Mother Nature begged me to go outside and play so I did.

So what should I write about?  Yesterday’s yard work project is not yet complete and it will probably not be a short post so I won’t write about it now. I considered writing about our Mother’s Day crystal flowers activity but I’m still undecided if it was a ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ activity so I’ll have to do some more reflecting before I can write about that.

Wait, I just remembered that there was a request for a recipe and I haven’t emailed it yet.  A post about recipes would be easy and since it has been five months since I revamped the menu it is probably time for an update.

Some of the early favourites – like the Turkey Tetrazzini – from our new menu have begun to loose their appeal. It is not that the children don’t like them any more but rather, they don’t get excited and cheer anymore.  Many of the menu items receive mixed reviews – loved by some, hated by others.  This can be difficult since I cannot replace the menu item nor leave it on the menu without upsetting someone.

So, the requested recipe falls into this category since not all the children will eat it and others have been begging their mothers to make it at home too.  Some of the children don’t like ‘spicy’ food so this may be part of the problem but I actually consider the recipe to be quite mild.

Taco Soup
  • 1lb ground beef (cooked and drained)
  • 1 can mixed beans
  • 1 can cheddar cheese soup
  • 1 can tomato soup
  • 1 ½ cups salsa (I use extra chunky extra mild)
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 tbsp taco seasoning
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • Chopped tortilla wraps
Mix first 7 ingredients together and bring to a boil.  Lower heat and simmer to blend flavours. Stir occasionally.  Add sour cream shortly before serving. Use chopped tortilla wraps instead of crackers or croutons.

I have to admit that this is probably my favourite soup recipe and it is so quick and easy.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Burgers & Fries

Yesterday the children engaged in ‘restaurant’ themed activities for most of the day.  It originated before school when the older children were still here.  I have a few pieces left from a themed playset that belonged to my own children when they were young.  The children use these toys together with miscellaneous other items for a wide variety of food related dramatic play activities.

This time they started making ‘McBurgers” and “McFries” – I’m not sure if they just created these names or if they are terms used at home but I’ve never heard them use the names before today.  I also noticed that the majority of the children chose customer roles leaving the workers scrambling to fulfil all the meal orders.  Usually when they play there are far too many cooks in the kitchen and there is considerable advertising required to attract customers – it is quite interesting.

After the older children left for school the remaining children – aged 2 to 5 – continued the game but now there were fewer customers so I was enlisted to play.  

I requested ‘healthy’ food and was quickly offered a salad. Upon opening my lunch box I was surprised to see meat and buns mixed in with the lettuce and tomatoes.  “Why is there a burger in my salad?” There were fits of laughter as the cooks replied “It’s not a burger, it’s a booger.” EWWww!  

Sorry, I can’t eat salad with boogers in it.  To compensate they offered me chocolate pudding, chocolate milk, chocolate ice cream and a chocolate donut which they said I could just lick the icing off – they know my weakness.

It was at this point that one of the children introduced a new role was and the building inspector showed up.  Personally I think maybe the health inspector was warranted but apparently I hadn’t made enough of a fuss about the food quality.

The building inspector brought his tools and did a thorough inspection before announcing that the restaurant must be closed immediately before the whole building collapsed.  There were so many issues that the only option was going to be to tear it down and build a new one.  

The back hoe driver arrived and there was a riot as restaurant staff made a desperate attempt to save their business.  A special meal was quickly prepared for the back hoe driver.  A coupon for a free movie ticket was included as extra incentive and the back hoe driver was convinced to join the other team.

Now out numbered the building inspector conceded defeat but he was definitely not happy about it.

We had a lot of fun.  I was interested to see the children initiate new roles into a familiar game.  However, I was a little disturbed by the corruption, conspiracy and use of bribery to get what they wanted.  So young to have this mastered already.  Makes me wonder what kind of an example we are setting for out children.