Monday, August 14, 2017

Field Trip

For many years I regularly used my 15 passenger van to take the children on field trips.  It had plenty of room for all the car/booster seats, supplies, and even my teens when they came along to help out. Eventually the costs of upkeep for the old van began to outweigh the benefits of using it. When all my original car seats expired I priced out buying five new ones I decided that the expense wasn’t justified for just a few outings a year.
I discovered that I don’t miss taking the children to museums and we can walk to the library and many other neighbourhood attractions.  So, for the past four years we haven’t gone on an outing that required transportation.  In fact, we go on far more walking adventures than we ever did before and they are much more spontaneous (emergent). I do however miss the farm trips and many of the distant hiking trails we used to frequent. So this summer I decided to take my little group on a city bus adventure to the closest one of  the trails – Bunn’s Creek Trail.
For some of the children this was their first ever experience on a city bus.  They were all very excited.  Throughout the 20 minute ride they giggled and cheered and sang songs amusing all the regular bus riders.  We disembarked and began our hike down the 3 km trail.  I loved that my little group of preschool hikers immediately began assessing risks.  ‘Those trees look like bridges – it would be fun to walk on them but if they broke we would fall in the water’;
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I told the children I would take a picture of anything they found interesting along the way.  The first one they requested was this lonely ‘rainbow leaf’;
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They were amazed by the ‘broken beaver dam’;
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Of course they noticed all the thistles growing along the trail.
These boys find thistles everywhere – in parks, back lanes, trails and even gardens.  They like to touch them – they know they are prickly but to them this seems to be an acceptable risk.  I find it interesting how gently they touch the thistles.   Most of the time ‘gentle’ seems to be difficult for this group yet when it comes to thistles they demonstrate that they have the ability to be gentle so yes, keep practicing that!
Then they spotted ‘dandelions’ but they were very tall so a quick check of our field guide and we found out that they were actually sow thistles.
The children don’t think sow-thistle is as prickly as Canada Thistle and quickly lost interest until they found this;
‘Sticky!’
We’ve seen these big leaves of the Common Burdock on many of our hikes but the children have never paid much attention to them or the burrs.  Now these have become the ‘must touch’ favourites on all our hikes.
We reached the park at the end of the trail and took a washroom break.  Everyone wanted to stay on the bridge for a while and look at the creek.
This was the mid point of our hike – we headed back along the trail to where we started.  It was interesting how many of the landmarks the children remembered on our return trip.  They got really excited as we approached the spot where the lonely rainbow leaf was.  Pretty amazing that they can find the same leaf twice in a 6 km nature hike.
We had our lunch in the field near where the creek meets the Red River.  It was so peaceful.  
There was a bald eagle that flew from one side of the clearing and back several times but I was never able to get a picture of him.
The bus ride home was still exciting but much quieter and everyone was ready for a nap when we returned.
We continue to go on long hikes in our neighbourhood but now the children point out all the prickly/sticky plants AND the buses too. Maybe we’ll have to try another bus adventure soon.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

My Dream

In Manitoba a licensed family childcare provider can care for a maximum of eight children under 12 years of age.  Of those eight children, no more than five may be under six – the other three must be in grade one or older.  I love having a mixed age group and the opportunity to build a relationship with the children in my care from infancy through school-age.
Over the twenty years I have been providing childcare in my home I have known many amazing school-age children who have thrived in this setting.  Some struggled with peer relationships in their school environment but enjoyed being the ‘leader’ here – idolized by the younger children.  Some embraced responsibility and enjoyed helping the little ones.  Some were wildly creative and independent and of course there were also some who resented being with ‘babies’.
I’ve watched older children gain confidence and build their self-esteem by mentoring the younger children.  I’ve seen younger children develop skills they learned from watching and copying the older children play. I’ve also had some older children that taught the little ones things/words that I wish they hadn’t. *sigh*
I’ve noticed something else – the cost of providing food, craft supplies, activities and equipment for school-age children often exceeds the income I receive for their care.  I find that the school schedule is disruptive – breaking up what could be longer periods of engagement in learning activities for the preschoolers.  So, for several years now I haven’t made an effort to fill empty school-age spaces.
Summer was the exception.  I loved having all the ‘big kids’ here for the summer – working in the garden, going on adventures, making incredible creations, sharing fantastic stories – without the rigid school schedule.  It was wonderful to have all this time with the older children instead of just the fleeting moments before/after school when everything was so hectic and there wasn’t really any time to do anything.
Yet, when I only enrolled school-age children for the summer I was finding that the first month was spent getting everyone acquainted with each other, learning routines etc. Then, just when we were starting to develop relationships, summer was over and they were gone. The ‘freedom’ of summer wasn’t quite the same with ‘new’ school-age children instead of ones we already knew.  So, for the first time ever – I didn’t fill any of my school-age spaces  this summer – and I’m loving it.
The school-age table has been empty;
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The little ones are engaging in more age-appropriate dramatic play.  They are demonstrating their creativity instead of copying someone else. I haven’t heard ‘I’m bored’ once this summer, nor have I had to spend hours shopping for tons of additional food and supplies.
I’ve also been imagining what the little ones and I could do with that extra space I have set aside for bigger children and all the supplies they need but the little ones don’t.  I’ve started to think that it would be really, really nice if the province would let me exchange those three empty school-age spaces for one more preschool space.
Group childcare homes have two licensed providers and up to 12 infant/preschool children – that’s a 1:6 ratio.  I have five preschool spaces and although three of those five could be infants I rarely have more than one or two – sometimes even none. If they stay with me until they start school each one year of infant care will need four years of preschool care.  Hence, I’d have to kick out preschoolers if I wanted to keep those infant spaces full - I would never do that.  One more preschool space would help.
Big dream – I know.

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Raccoon

It was early in June that we saw the raccoon.  I opened the blind after the children woke from nap and there it was – sleeping in the tree in front of my house.
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The children were very excited and had so many question. ‘Where did she come from?’ ‘Why is she sleeping there?’ ‘How did she get up there?’ ‘How will she get down?’ ‘When will she come down?’ ‘Why doesn’t she move?’
I didn’t have all the answers.  In fact, now I too was wondering why she didn’t move.  We’d been watching her for close to an hour now.  We had gone outside to take some pictures.  Other people in the neighbourhood had come by to see what all the fuss was about.
Was she really sleeping? I began to feel a little uneasy.  The branch she was on hung directly over my front sidewalk – if she slipped off the branch she’d land in a heap on my steps!  Then she DID move.  She stood up, stretched, turned around and lay down again.
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As parents arrived to pick up their children they too took some pictures.  So much excitement!  The two year old wanted to take the raccoon home – stood on the sidewalk, unzipped his backpack and told the raccoon to get in.  It didn’t comply.
Periodically throughout the evening crowds of onlookers would gather to look at the raccoon.  Sometimes it would non nonchalantly look back.  Shortly after 9 pm it was gone.  I never saw it leave and I don’t know where it went.
For weeks the children continued to check for it – wondering when it might return.  Then it was vacation time so none of them were here for two weeks.  When the children first returned after vacation we were so busy I forgot to tell them what happened while they were away.
On the third day of my vacation we saw someone sleeping on the garden shed in the back yard.
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The children would have been thrilled!  This spot is almost within reach of where we play – but I wouldn’t have let them try to touch her.
On this day the raccoon was much more active than before.  She got up and scratched several times. Tried to rip some branches off my willow and had a standoff with the neighbour’s cat on the garage roof.  The neighbour’s cat sleeps on my garden shed roof every day – except this one.
At one point the raccoon was walking on the fence and I was about to take a picture when it slipped – oops!
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Again, I didn’t see when it left or where it went but it hasn’t been back since – at least not that we’ve noticed – but we still check.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Summer 2017 - The Hill Project

As usual my summer ‘vacation’ project list was very long – too long for the two week time slot I allotted.  The back yard was not actually on the list at first but in June I suddenly had an idea to solve a concern I had about ‘the hill’ (sometimes called the bridge or tunnel).  This is a picture taken last summer of the view of the hill/bridge/tunnel from the tipi;
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The hill was originally created back in 2010 when the old play structures were removed leaving the gravel area looking quite bare.  I didn’t want another large structure but I did think the space needed something.  The hill originally had a slide on one side, the tunnel was very popular, and the native prairie plants provided some much needed greenery in the yard at that time.
The slide and log steps never stayed as secure as I would have liked so they were soon removed.  For a few years the platform and tunnel were very popular for many dramatic play and gross motor activities like ‘Motabular’ (the children named that activity). As the interests of the children enrolled changed, play on the hill also changed and two years ago I added some rocks.
The children liked to use the platform to ‘play hockey’;
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And sit on the ‘bridge’ to go fishing;
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But there were many disputes over who would be on each side.  There were also problems with reckless behaviour like racing up and down the hill or jumping off the bridge without first looking for obstacles or hazards. Additionally, the structure was beginning to show its age.  I decided it was time for the hill to go.
My first step was to gather some supplies (thanks Annika);
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Then I spent two days removing rocks, transplanting plants, moving pails of soil to the other gardens, disassembling the bridge and cribbing and raking gravel.  It was beginning to take shape;
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I used the new stumps in addition to the old ones to create a full circle with little space between the stumps.  The majority of the gravel was raked to one side of the inner circle to three distinct levels.  Outside the circle the gravel in the ‘walkway’ is about 8 inches deep and fairly well packed as we haven’t dug here in years.  Inside the circle there is no gravel, just an old blue tarp on one side and nearly two feet of gravel on the other side.  The slope between the two sides is held in place by all those big rocks that used to be on the hill.  So now the gravel area looks like this;
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And from the other side;
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The view from the tipi now;
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And in case you were wondering what happens when it rains….I said it was an old blue tarp – it has holes in it so the water drains out.
Within seconds of entering the yard on the first day back after vacation this is where the boys were, happily chatting about what they did on their vacation;
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Friday, June 2, 2017

The Destination

Going for a walk or hike is one of our favourite things to do.  Whether planning a short walk or a full day outing we rarely have 'destination'.  We have some preferred routes but we often deviate from are original plan when we find something interesting.  Walks are time for exploration.
The children are involved in the planning of our trips but I don't usually ask 'where' do you want to go - implying that there is an end point.  Rather, I ask 'which direction should we head' and at various points I'll ask 'which way should we turn'.  
Walking through the cemetery is one of their favourite routes - they like to look for owls in the nest boxes. Last fall on one of our cemetery walks they noticed this park on the far side of the river - "Can we go there?"
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Hmm, some day maybe.  I was not very familiar with the area on that side of the river and although I had a rough idea how to get there I would need to scout the trail without children first.  
Earlier this spring my husband and I went on an evening hike to check out the available routes.  The park wasn't actually difficult to get to - just a short detour off one of our familiar trails.  However, to make a full loop back to my house was not possible that day because the spring river levels were too high and parts of the trail were under water.
Last week the children and I made our first trip to the new park - not the playground, I rarely go to playgrounds (read why here). Parks are full of nature and so many things to explore and discover.  We left early and took our morning snack and picnic blanket with us;
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It is a little difficult to see in the photo but the children were easily able to locate the cemetery across the river from our picnic spot;
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The new park also has an amazing forest and riverbank to explore;
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The boys like to look for bears and wolves in the forest - this trip resulted in a very exciting discovery;
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Probably just a dog tracks but HUGE like a wolf!
I was impressed when these three and four year olds noticed - and correctly identified this bridge by name.  It is one of five bridges we frequently visit but we have never approached it from this side.
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Crossing the bridge on our way back they stopped as usual to look at and talk about this 'house-shaped' cement barricade/structure (please leave a comment if you know the real name for this thing).
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When we pass this way we often discuss the river levels at various times of the year.  This day they were talking about how the driftwood got stuck up there in the spring when the river was higher.  Then they noticed something even more interesting in the driftwood...is that a nest?  Why would she want to have a nest there?
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We've visited the new park twice now.  On our second trip the children eagerly anticipated seeing this goose again - and maybe babies.  She wasn't there, however there was a pair of mallard ducks.
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While we were watching them they jumped off the cement into the river below.  The children were thrilled and now refer to this as 'the diving board'.  I suppose that's better than 'house shaped cement thing that I don't know the real name for'.
Picnics in our new park and the exploration along the way have been full of adventure and discovery.  I'm sure there will be many more to come.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

A Change of Pace

Learning to ride a bike is a childhood milestone and all children enjoy riding bikes.  Many people believe that statement to be true but I am not one of them.  Yes I, somewhat unwillingly, learned to ride a bike when I was about 6 years old. My younger sister was already a bike expert speeding around the neighbourhood and my father was insistent that I would learn too.
With an awful lot of coaxing I eventually did manage to wobble around on a bike but I never really enjoyed the experience.  Every time my sister got a new bigger, fancier bike she was thrilled.  My father would offer to get me one too – ‘Please don’t’ I would say – but he did.  Maybe he was hoping some day I would be ‘normal’ but probably he just didn’t realize that my quiet demeanor hid the torture I felt when forced to ride a bike.
I have very few fond childhood memories of bike riding excursions.  I do remember crashing, falling, and jumping off my bike.  Yes, there were many, many times that I purposely chose to jump off a moving bicycle because landing in a ditch seemed to be a better choice than staying on the seat.
A friend recently suggested maybe I don’t like things with wheels – she knows I don’t enjoy driving a car either.  I do drive – when I have to (and I’m much better at driving a car than riding a bike) – but I’ll never turn down a ride if someone else wants to drive.  Likewise, if walking is an option, I will always choose to walk.  I think maybe I feel so uncomfortable when driving or riding because I am disconnected from the earth.
In the last few years my husband has begun to join me on hiking adventures – this has been wonderful because he is willing to drive to distant trails that I have not had to opportunity to explore before.  Often on our hikes he would remark ‘This would be a great trail to bike on if you had a bike’ and I would reply ‘No,no it would not’. *Shudder*
My husband enjoys biking much more than hiking so eventually I relented and agreed to get a bike so we could occasionally go biking together.  He was much more excited than I was, checking out all the store flyers and bike displays, pointing out various features of each model.  My main concern was ensuring I’d still be able to touch the ground when I was on the bike.
Finally he picked one out and went to get it on his day off work.  I was in the back yard with the children when he came home and unloaded it from the car.  As he wheeled it through the yard all the children oohed and awed and excitedly asked ‘Cheryl, whose bike is that?’ ‘Mine’ I replied without much enthusiasm.  ‘Are you going to ride it?’  ‘Not right now.’  It had been more than 25 years since I last rode a bike. They say you don’t forget how to ride but I had my doubts especially since I was never very good at it and I’ve tried very hard to forget.
Later that week I tried a few practice rides up and down our back lane – cue fits of laughter.  When I reached the end of the lane I got off the bike, picked it up and turned it around to head back.  My husband/coach yelled down the lane ‘You don’t need to get off to turn around, the lane is wide enough, just keep pedaling and turn the wheel.’  Seriously? I would need the lane to be four times that wide before I’d make it all the way around without falling. 😛
On the weekend we packed the bikes in to the van to drive to a nice, paved, car-free bike path.  I think I did a bit better. There were only a few times that considered jumping off and even then I just put my feet on the ground and skidded to a stop.  Yes, sometimes when I panic I forget the bike has brakes.
Periodically my husband/coach would point out something interesting in the area surrounding the trail.  I’d reply, ‘Can’t look, trying to stay upright’.  Sometimes he’d suggest something new for me to ‘try’ – like standing on the pedals etc.  ‘Nope, don’t want to die today’.
It’s frustrating, I imagine that is how children feel when asked to move on to the next new skill/task when they just want to continue at the level they are currently at for a little longer.  What’s the rush, they’ll move on when they decide they are ready.  Pushing too hard or too soon might make them quit completely.
My bike ride was certainly not a stellar performance.  In fact, even my FitBit failed to recognize it as anything. It will auto-recognize a trip around the block at toddler speed as a ‘walk’.  It will auto-recognize a walk with a stroller as an ‘outdoor bike ride’. However, my first afternoon bike excursion left it confused – it had no idea what to call that.  A three-year-old, without training wheels, stopped his bike on the side of the trail to watch me -silently.  Other people I’m certain went home with stories to tell their friends and family.
Still, I rode my new bike on my terms – when, where, and how I wanted and most importantly, I will do it again.  I will never be an expert rider.  Biking on trails will never replace hiking on trails but it is an interesting change of pace.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Spring Roundup

Spring is such a busy time for me.  As usual I've been collecting pictures to use in blog posts but not leaving myself enough time to actually write posts :-( 
So, here is a roundup of what should have been three posts;
I made a batch of homemade glue for an art project but then realized the recipe made much more than we needed and it doesn't keep for very long. So, I dumped it in a big bin along with paper bits from the shredder, wool scraps, glitter and paint powder.  The children enjoyed mashing it all together - no pictures of that part because it was way too messy to have a camera nearby.  
Initially the mixture was extremely sticky and some of us were not impressed by the sensation of having our hands coated in the goo.  Eventually the paper absorbed enough of the glue and made the mixture easier to handle.
Later each of the children took a portion of the mixture to work with; 
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Or form into mini balls and throw around the room;
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They pressed the mixture into the shape of the bowl and then we let it dry;
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It took a lot longer than anticipated - nearly a week before they were dry and ready to take home;
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Outside, now that the snow is gone, the boys have been begging for me to open the 'summer toys' bin. So far I have resisted - knowing there will be a big issue over who gets the one Batman figure (which may mysteriously disappear).  They've managed to keep themselves busy with the loose parts and eggs;
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The longer periods of outdoor time have meant some are very tired by nap time (or earlier).  One however, has been using quiet time to become a jigsaw puzzle expert. He has now completed ALL of my 100 piece puzzles several times and can finish two of them in one afternoon.  
I decided maybe we should try something a little more challenging - so I brought out a 500 piece puzzle.  This part took him two days with no assistance from me;
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He did find the trees and mountains a little more difficult so I assisted with sorting some of the pieces. He is persistent and refuses to give up without finishing.  By the third week - after about 12 hours of actual work - he had done this much;
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I think that is very impressive for a four year old :-)  I'm not the only one who has been busy.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Waffle Blocks

There is not nearly enough space in the playroom for all the toys I own so the majority are stored in bins in the basement.  Puppets, blocks and animals are sorted into groupings of similar items so it is easier for me to select the ones I want to bring out when I rotate toys. I have a spreadsheet which helps me keep track of when toys are added to or removed from the playroom.
I usually manage to get every toy into the playroom for at least a few weeks each year – more often if the children have favourites or request a specific toy.  Occasionally there are toys that don’t get brought out because they are not developmentally appropriate or interesting for the children enrolled at the time.
Last month when I put the castle blocks and the puzzle people back into storage I brought out the stacking cups and Waffle Blocks instead.  One by one as the children arrived and entered the playroom I heard “Ooooh, what are those!?” or similar comments.  I was a little confused as these are old toys so I checked the spreadsheet again an realized that it had been more than two years since the last time the Waffle Blocks were out!
This group of preschoolers really enjoyed the Waffle Blocks – they played with them almost exclusively during the entire five week period of time these blocks were in the playroom.  I liked that there was a lot of cooperation and creativity when they played with these blocks.
In the past I’ve had some groups that found these blocks boring – making nothing more than a cube or two and maybe adding a roof.  Other children have had difficulty forming the  cubes ‘properly’ and easily became frustrated, constantly asking for assistance.  I’m not concerned about ‘proper’ cubes so I tend to let them figure it out.
It is somewhat difficult to make weapons out of Waffle blocks which may have forced this group to expand their interests a little more.  Also, because I don’t have a lot of these blocks, if they want to make something BIG they have to work together on one structure.  I’ve considered getting more Waffle blocks but then I watch the children problem solve ‘not enough blocks’ and think maybe less is better.
I was particularly impressed by the architecture involved in this  creation;
Waffle blocks have never been one of my personal favorite construction toys but I was definitely pleased with what this group of preschoolers managed to do with them.