Monday, October 28, 2013

Outdoor Babies - With Gravel & Rocks

There has always been gravel in our outdoor play space.  Way back in 1997 when I first opened my childcare home we didn’t have a ‘natural’ outdoor area.  We did however have pea gravel as a fall surface under the wood and plastic play structures.

I’ll admit that back then I was one of those ‘OMG, what if they eat the gravel?’ people.  Consequently I never let babies play in the gravel area.  So today, when parents seeking childcare visit/tour my childcare home and express concern over the letting their babies play with gravel and rocks, I can honestly say ‘I understand’. There was a time when I only let babies play here;


There was a two foot tall fence dividing the deck area from the gravel area and I never let the babies go past the fence.  I even had some wire mesh on the bottom portion of the fence so they couldn’t reach through the fence boards and get a handful of gravel.  I was keeping them ‘safe’.

In fact, it wasn’t just infants and toddlers who were prevented from entering the gravel area.  I considered children ‘old enough’ to play in the gravel area when they could reach over the fence and open the latch without assistance – most children were three or four years old before they could ‘pass the test’.

Looking back now I realize that the ‘test’ was ridiculous because their ability to open the latch is irrelevant to what they may do with the gravel.  In fact, I discovered that the longer I prevented them from playing in the gravel, the more harmful their behaviour could be. Overexcitement in the new environment meant throwing gravel was a major issue.

In the last ten years since I began allowing the infants and toddlers to play with gravel and rocks I’ve discovered that many of them actually never try to eat it.  Those that do occasionally put gravel in their mouths do so for only the first week or so and then move on to more constructive gravel activities.
Activities like making ‘gravel rain’


Testing gravel on an incline plane


Lying in gravel to get the ‘full body’ experience


Gravel is the ultimate ‘loose part’


I thought this little girl’s ‘Rock Eyes’ were very imaginative


Walking on gravel and rocks can be a challenge for young children and gives them the opportunity to further develop their balance and gross motor skills.


Yes, eating or throwing gravel can be an ongoing issue for a small percentage of children but it isn’t limited to infants and toddlers.  By not allowing young children to experience and experiment with gravel and rocks we’re not ‘protecting’ them.  We are preventing them from learning about textures, weight, gravity and more.

With a combination of supervision, guidance and opportunities for experimentation gravel and rocks can offer many benefits for the infant and toddler development that outweigh any concern for safety.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Outdoor Babies - Introduction

I’ve started and scrapped this post several times over the past few months – it has been a difficult one to approach.  I originally planned to discuss the pros and cons of having infants of various ages in our outdoor play space.

In the last six months I’ve enrolled several new infants into our group and I’ve done a lot of reflecting about the intricacies of outdoor play with very young children.  Many of the new parents have voiced concerns about what their babies may do when they are allowed to freely explore the natural spaces in our yard.  After all, it is sometimes wet/cold, always messy, and there are so many possible hazards.

I began by trying to decide whether it was more difficult to allow a crawling baby to explore vs. one that is already walking – and climbing. Then I decided that it depended on the season but as I started to compare ‘winter babies’ to ‘summer babies’ I realized that there was another problem.  Every time I tried to write a generalized comment I’d immediately remember all the children I’ve encountered who were ‘the exception’.

Up to this point I had been trying to base this post on the child’s age and the conditions in the outdoor environment – but there’s more.  The child’s developmental level, temperament, and mood that day are equally – if not more – important factors that will affect their explorations and my response to it.

So, instead of being a single post about taking infants outdoors this is just the introduction.  The first in a series of posts about letting babies freely explore and experience the less than perfect world outside.  I plan to write more about my experiences with babies with sticks, babies with rocks, babies in gardens, babies in snow and much, much more. Stay tuned, and if there’s something in particular that you’d like me to address then please write a comment below….

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Solving Problems - Creating More

It was about 14 months ago that we did a major building project in the playroom space resulting in this combination block storage/housekeeping area counter;


That renovation was done to eliminate a ‘runway’ to the nature area and gain more play space in the housekeeping area.  You can read more about it here.  I loved that design then and I still love it now but it had a minor flaw that became magnified when I made subsequent change to the music/workshop area.

Last winter I reconfigured my office area in the corner of the playroom – I was certain I had written about it but I went through the blog archives and could not find that post.  On the left side of the picture above you can see that the playroom originally had a 3’ x 3’ walkway that leads to a 4’ x 5’ music/workshop area.

This was fine for the workshop and housekeeping areas but when all the children wanted to play instruments and dance there was not much room.  So, I turned my desk which enabled me to add eight square feet to the music area;


The extra space in the music area is wonderful.  Even when building projects from the adjacent block area spill over into the workshop area there is still room for a couple of music lovers to dance too.  The only issue was that the walkway was now very narrow but I figured it would be sufficient since it was just an entrance into a play area.


Still, I did often have to remind children “Please keep moving, this is not a play area”.  I considered making ‘NO STOPPING’ signs or taping diagonal lines on the floor to designate it as a ‘no parking’ area.  Then over the spring and summer we spent most of our time outdoors and I didn’t think about the indoor walkway issue much.

Over the last few months several of our ‘old’ children moved away and new, younger, children have been enrolled.  Now that the remaining older children are at school I only have four children here in the mornings.  The oldest of the four little ones is not quite 2 ½ years old.  The walkway issue is bad – very bad.  In fact, the place where all four walkways converge has become the babies’ favourite ‘gathering’ spot and a dumping ground for toys.


Sitting here they can see it all – my desk to the South, the music area to the West, the housekeeping area to the North, and to the East there is the hallway to the front door/kitchen and stairs.  They think it is the perfect spot.  These little ones don’t read signs or understand the meaning of diagonal lines on the floor. Even the older children are getting frustrated because the babies are always in the way.

They bring bins and baskets from other areas and sit together to play – effectively blocking all four walkways.  I sit on the floor in one of the ‘proper’ play areas and try to entice them to move.  They look at me, smile, and babble as if to say ‘If you want to play with us you’ll have to come and join the circle’.  I am outnumbered.

I have a plan.  I’ve been working on it all week – measuring, imagining, reconfiguring – I think it is going to work.  The indirect guidance necessary to solve the walkway problem but it also creates another one – my plan requires the assistance of someone with power tools.  My husband doesn’t always read my blog but if he’s reading this post – there’s a long weekend coming up, hint, hint….

Monday, October 14, 2013


Here in Canada today is Thanksgiving Day.  Soon my husband, my children and I will be heading over to my Mom’s for our family dinner.

I’m making a Thai Red Curry Kabocha Squash as my ‘non-traditional’ contribution to the holiday dinner.  My mom asked me to make something using one of the unusual items that I received in my CSA box.  I had never heard of kabocha squash until it arrived in the box last week.  As for the recipe…we’ll have to see how well it goes over later today.

In the meantime I’ll share a couple recipes that have recently been added to our childcare menu.
The first is an afternoon snack item that has proven to be very popular with the little ones.

Quinoa Pudding


2 cups quinoa, cooked
3 cups milk
½ cup brown sugar
3 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
½ tsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp butter
½ cup shredded coconut
½ cups raisins

Combine all ingredients. Pour into greased baking dish. Bake in 350-degree oven until set, about 45 minutes. Serve hot or cold

Admittedly I don’t like the texture of the quinoa – it doesn’t get as soft and mushy as rice pudding but that didn’t seem to bother the children.  It was surprisingly sweet given there is only ½ cup of sugar.


The second recipe was from the lunch menu and may be one of my all-time favourites – probably because it contains many of my preferred ingredients.

Spinach Strata


6 cups whole grain bread cubes
4 cups fresh spinach, chopped
1 cup diced bacon, cooked
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
6 eggs
2 cups milk
¼ cup fresh basil
In a greased 8 cup (2 L) casserole; layer half the bread cubes, half the spinach, half the bacon and half the cheese, sprinkling each layer with salt and pepper.  Repeat layers, ending with cheese.

In a small bowl; beat eggs with milk and basil.  Pour egg mixture over the bread, spinach and cheese layers.  Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.
Bake, uncovered, in preheated 350 F (180 C) for one hour or until puffed and set in centre.

Sorry, I didn’t take a picture of the finished dish – only the partially assembled ingredients.  Mmmm, I’m getting really hungry just looking at them but that’s probably because I skipped lunch to save room for Thanksgiving dinner.

Happy feasting!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Secret Hideaway

We’ve been spending extra time outdoor to take advantage of the above average October temperatures.  With four infants/toddlers under 3 years old our outdoor time is often one continuous game of hide and seek.

There are many nooks and crannies in the yard – I designed it that way.  There is no place  where I can stand or sit and have an unobstructed view of the entire yard.  I must keep moving around the yard to check on the activities of all the children.  I like this.

All the separate play areas provide a wide variety of opportunities for the children to engage in group or individual activities.  I am always near enough to provide assistance if one of the children needs me but the children don’t feel smothered as they would if I were  constantly hovering over them.  Without constant direct supervision the children are more creative and independent.

After one of my quick scans around the yard I was only able to locate two of the four children.  I did a more thorough search and still only found two children.  I had a mild panic attack but I knew they were here – somewhere.  The gates were secure and it had only been a few minutes since I last saw them.

On my third – comprehensive – investigation of the yard I found them.  They were here;


Do you see them?

They are behind the bench.  I only found them because one of them peeked out over the back of the bench between the cedars.  The cedars are backed by benches on both the East and West and the fence on the South.  The North side is open and between the cedars there is an old log;


It was here on the stump that the girls had created a mini picnic area just big enough for two little friends.


This spot has been here for three years but only this week did it became a secret hideaway. :-)

Friday, October 4, 2013

Too Old to Crawl

The youngest baby in our group does not yet walk.  I expect that he will be walking soon – he stands to play but still prefers to crawl or scoot when there’s somewhere he wants to be. Some of the older children have taken to crawling now too.  On seeing this one parent responded by saying ‘Hey, you’re too old to crawl’.

Nope.  In fact, I’m waaay older and I crawl too.

You see, the youngest baby has only been here for a couple weeks.  He’s still a little clingy.  He’s content to play as long as I am sitting.  I don’t need to be close to him but if I stand he will scoot over to me and expect to be picked up. The quicker I respond the less severe the meltdown will be.

Two other toddlers have noticed this and are concerned the baby is getting too much ‘air time’.  They are faster and can generally reach me before the baby does. I drop to the ground and there’s a brief period where all three of them jostle for a position on my lap.  After everyone is certain I’m not leaving or excluding anyone they all return to playing.  It takes forever for me to get anything done.

I cannot carry three infants/toddlers every time I walk across the room – the ice pack on my back is proof that I’m too old for that.  So, I crawl – I’m not too old to crawl.  Soon I will be able to walk again.