Thursday, March 27, 2014

Working on Phase One

Last weekend my husband and I spent about 26 hours working on ‘phase one’ of the BIG play space renovation. The second phase of the project is scheduled for next weekend. This post does not contain details about the completed phase or the plans for the next phase. This post is about the process.

People have often commented on the childcare environment that my husband and I have created. Some remark that we manage to make every nook and cranny into a functional space. Many claim “I would just love to stay and play here all day – the children must love it”. Other family childcare providers wistfully say “I wish my husband would build/let me build something like this”.

By far the most common statement is “You two really work well together.” This one always makes me smile. They might not say that if they were here through the process. Yes, my husband and I have different strengths and together we can accomplish a lot. I am the planner, the detailer, the visionary. He is the mechanic, the physical labor, the force.

However, we also have very different methods that don’t always mesh (some may say our methods never mesh). Much like the tortoise and the hare we work at different speeds. I know that we have a limited amount of time and therefore I try to consolidate trips and organize supplies. As we disassemble the old stuff I spend a lot of time sorting and arranging the pieces that we may be able to reuse. I group pieces according to the part of the project they belong to. I trial fit pieces even though they are not part of the section we are currently working on.

My husband’s approach is more ‘frantic’. He is constantly darting back and forth making what I consider to be unnecessary trips. He dumps bins and digs through neatly organized piles in his haste to find something he wants. He complains that I am dawdling and we’ll never complete the project before the children return. He threatens to quit and leave all the tools and supplies out as ‘loose parts’.

The radio is on in the background – my husband must have music while he works – I block it out because it is not relevant to what I am doing. Periodically he asks ‘Who sings this?’ These random music trivia quizzes interrupt my train of thought and are distracting. He is both frustrated and amused that I cannot name the artist of a classic song.

He needs to cut a board and asks me for a measurement. I measure the space but there are fractions involved. I need paper – things don’t make sense to me until I write them down. He’s about to have a meltdown. “I’m cutting the board NOW – if you don’t give me a number I’m just going to make something up and that’s the way it will be!” I’ve measured the space and done calculations several times – each time I get a different result. The yelling doesn’t help.

He returns with the cut board, holds it in place and asks if that is what I want – I don’t respond. I didn’t hear him because I’m ‘rendering’. I’m standing still staring at the space and visualizing not only the current piece but also all the pieces that will connect to it – in this phase and the next phase too. I’m picturing children in the space. Can they reach that shelf? Will they climb? Will toys get knocked off the edge? “ARE YOU HAVING A STROKE?” he yells.

I pick up a piece of paper. He flips out. “Don’t you dare draw me a picture!”

“I have to. It’s the only way I can explain it to you.”

“I thought you had a plan already. How can you start a project without a plan?” he asks

“I had a plan but in phase two…”

“WE’RE NOT WORKING ON PHASE TWOOO!” He throws the board on the floor and stomps off. I suggest it may be a good time for a break. He can have something to eat while I’m drawing my picture. I can’t include the rest of the dialogue that accompanies the noise as he puts tools away. I don’t tell him that I’m really considering all the aspects of phase three and phase four….

Sometimes I wonder how we manage to complete these projects but we do. When they are complete we are both pleased with the finished project and eager to see how the children respond. During the process though the end result is very hard to see. I don’t have a photo of the process for this post. Instead, I’ll include one of my favourite paint color – Bison Brown. Mmmm, looks like melted chocolate….


Wednesday, March 19, 2014


Ultimately I’d love to allow all the children to move freely from room to room indoors and out throughout the day.  Unfortunately, due to the separation between the rooms in my home there are some necessary restrictions.  I work alone so I am unable to adequately supervise all the areas at the same time. This is the layout of the main floor;


In the drawing I just numbered the rooms because how I’ve used them has changed over time.  If a ‘normal’ person lived here Room One would be the living room, Room Two would be the dining room, and Room Three would be the sunroom/back porch (it was called a ‘den’ in the real estate listing).

Earlier in my childcare career Room One was the living room for my family.  There were two sofas that I used for nap time along with cots on the floor.  Infants napped in playpens in the upstairs bedrooms.  Room Two was used as the playroom/office and Room Three was the dining area for my family and the children in care.  Room Three was also used for arts & crafts, board games, sensory play and group activities as well as storage for small toys and supplies.

That arrangement had both good and bad points.  I liked that my family had plenty of space to use after hours and that all the children’s play areas could be easily supervised while I was in the kitchen.  Both play areas could also be used at nap time with only limits on noisy toys.
The list of problems was longer.  It included;

  • No private space for my own family – no access to bedrooms or living room at nap time.
  • The art/dining area was crowded and had no open floor space so all activities required everyone to be seated at tables.
  • All play spaces were accessed off the kitchen so there was constant traffic back and forth through the kitchen.
  • Cots/playpens had to be setup and put away daily – leaving the children briefly indirectly supervised.
  • The playroom had a large window for natural light but the only ‘view’ was the side of the neighbour’s house.

In 2008 I changed the way I used the spaces.  Room One became the playroom/office/nap room.  Room Two was the dining room/living room and is not used for playing.  Room Three became a dedicated art and messy play area with storage for a wide variety of equipment and supplies. The benefits included;

  • Larger play areas
  • Many quiet time activity choices for school-age children
  • Second floor never used for childcare – more private area for family members.
  • Better supervision during nap time.
  • Limited kitchen traffic
  • Playroom window faces the front street allowing the children to see all the neighbourhood activity as well as the arrival and departure of parents/friends.

There are also some negative aspects.  Using the playroom as a nap area means it is difficult to accommodate children who required an early or late nap. It is difficult to supervise both the playroom and art area so art area is only used by older, independent children or for whole group activities.
The combination of this long, cold winter and the young group currently enrolled has amplified these issues. Usually I allow the children to opt out of any planned activity if they don’t want to participate. With my current group of 1 and 2 year olds that means that any time I plan any activity in the sunroom all four of them have to come along.

It is this forced participation that has been causing angst this winter.  Half of my toddler group love to do artsy stuff, listen to stories and other group activities.  The other half have little patience for any activity that doesn’t involve moving around and exploring independently.  The two groups clash – some get bored/disruptive and others are unable to fully engage in an activity they enjoy.  No one is happy for long in the sunroom so we don’t spend much time there.  This ‘dedicated’ space is so rarely used that it seems to be more of a ‘wasted’ space.

I came up with a plan.  This shouldn’t be surprising – I often change/rearrange the spaces.  However, this will be a BIG change.  So big in fact that I had to wait for just the right time to ‘discuss’ it with my husband (he approves of the design).  So big that there will be several  weekend phases before the entire project is complete (he’s not thrilled about all the work).  So big that it will affect every aspect of my program.

It is such a major change that it has been keeping me awake at night – partly because I’m excited, but also because I’m going through a list of ‘what ifs’.  I like change but this one will be bigger than usual and I want to ensure I’ve considered all the factors.  I don’t anticipate that it will be perfect and nothing will ever need to be changed again but I do believe that the pros will outweigh the cons.

As for the details – for that you’ll have to wait.  Phase one begins this weekend…

Friday, March 14, 2014

Stacking Order

A few weeks ago I bought a new toy from Ikea – I love that none of their toys have any connection to movies/TV shows.  Actually, I bought a few toys but only this one has been introduced into the playroom so far.


Yes, we already have a lot of stacking toys but they are not all out at the same time and each has something that makes it a little different from the others.  This one is a ‘lighthouse’ – the older children recognized it right away.  The toddlers don’t know what a lighthouse is so they just think that top blue piece is in the wrong spot. They prefer to put it like this;


Matching it with the other blue one – they don’t care that it doesn’t have an outer tapered edge, colour is more important.

I like the colours too.  Finally a toy that has all the primary and secondary colours and arranges them in colour mixing order – green between yellow and blue, purple between red and blue.  Last year I wrote Colour Hunt about how some colours are left out.

I also like that this stacking toy allows the children to try other arrangements too.  Some stacking rings have a tapered center post which makes it impossible to put the rings on in reverse order.  The younger children get frustrated when they can’t push the smaller rings to bottom of the post.
The older children enjoy arranging this toy ‘backward’ or ‘upside down’.  These are some of the patterns they’ve made with this new toy;


So many options from one simple toy.  I wonder how many more they can discover.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Rainbow Sorting

It was just over two weeks ago that I changed the blocks in the playroom.  I put the heavy wooden blocks back into storage and brought out the Duplo blocks.  I also put away the big trucks that were in the block area and brought out the coloured baskets.

We’ve used these baskets for sorting colours before and because the Duplo blocks are so brightly coloured I thought the children may be interested in sorting the blocks into the baskets.  I place the baskets under the block bin and as I was putting the new blocks in the block bin I sorted them by color above the corresponding basket.


Originally I did it ‘just for fun’.  Organizing stuff  is ‘my thing’, the little ones are usually more interested in ‘reorganizing’ but I was curious to see how long it would remain like this.  It wasn’t until I finished getting everything put away that I realized that if I had put the purple bin and miscellaneous blocks on the left side it would have been the correct rainbow colour order.  I just left it that way instead.

The next day when the first children arrived I did ask them to but the blocks away in the ‘correct’ order when they were finished playing with them.  These two school-age children are here earlier than the little ones and sometimes they have already left for school before all the preschoolers arrive.  I wanted the little ones to have the opportunity to see this particular setup.

Interestingly, two weeks later the blocks still look like this.  The younger children don’t tend to take out many blocks at one time and at clean-up time they have been able to put the majority of their blocks in the appropriate section.  The older children and I have been moving the occasional mismatched blocks and repairing the blurred lines between the sections.

The older children actually seem to like having the blocks organized.  They are the ones who are most particular about colour when they are choosing blocks for their creations.  Having the blocks organized by colour means they don’t need to spend so much time searching for the blocks they want.
I’ve also taken this opportunity to get some ‘rainbow’ and colour themed books from the library;


These are our two favourites.  There are few words and plenty of pictures to keep the little ones interested.  I like the nature themes too;


Can’t wait until there is more colour outside – we’re getting tired of just white and grey and looking forward to rainbows and colour outside as well as inside.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Snow Day

More snow.  I’m beginning to wonder if this winter will ever end.

I’ve tried to keep the pathways clear but there is no where left to pile the snow.  Usually I clear the full circle through the garden but this year it is barely one quarter done.  Just enough to walk in and turn around;


The second entrance to the garden is completely blocked but occasionally one of the little ones attempts to go this way;


Some of the snow in the garden was originally on the shed roof but my husband cleared it off the shed and into the garden – good thing the little one are not great climbers or they might attempt to get on the roof;


I have cleared the full circle around the hill in the ‘gravel’ area;


That center snow pile is over four feet tall – if the little ones are on the opposite side they can’t see me.  ‘Where are you?’ is the most popular question.

I usually clear the snow from around the benches and stumps so we have places to sit and play.  This year we just have the single file circle path to walk on.  I have cleared the snow from the tunnel entrances but there’s not enough room for any of us to crawl through;


There is a small pathway to the tipi and the snow around it has created a nice cozy shelter – we like it;


The biggest snow pile is on the ‘grass’ area adjacent to the deck.  The older children like to climb up and slide down towards the deck – there are obstacles on the other three sides so there is no sliding or rolling down them :-(


The little ones have tried to climb up but it is too steep for them to make it all the way to the top.  We have too much snow – and we got a whole bunch more after these pictures were taken.

Of course there is a plus side to the recent snowfall – the rural schools were closed so a couple of our ‘old’ friends came to spend the day with us.  It was a really nice way to spend a snow day :-)