Unstructured Art

I dislike product crafts.

Product crafts require you to follow step by step instructions to recreate something that was designed by someone else.  Product crafts require absolutely no imagination or innovation.

Like a paint/color by number, or assembling pieces according to a pattern product crafts can be completed incorrectly.

Art has no right or wrong. It is all about the process of creating something — freedom of expression.

I always have arts and craft supplies available for the children to use.  There are various types of paper, crayons and other drawing implements, as well as a variety of odds and ends and some glue and/or tape.  The children have access to all these things during free play time and like all types of unstructured play the emphasis is on exploration and experimentation.

Sometimes the children create the same piece of artwork over and over again.  Even when there are other options available they continue to use the same familiar tools to create the same type of picture as they have many times before.  It is all part of the process of mastering a technique and they will move on to something else when they are ready to.

Occasionally I schedule a craft activity time for the whole group.  This is usually done so that I can introduce a new item or tool to the children, or provide an opportunity for using supplies that require direct supervision.  Even for these planned art activities there is always an element of individuality.

Our most recent group art activity involved paint, glue, and various paper products.  Given the supplies and instructed to ‘Make Something’ the results are as unique as the children themselves.

More Snow

Snow in winter is the norm here.  Some years we get more than others but there is always an abundance of the white stuff to play with.

I like winter. I love snow. However, this year snowfall amounts are becoming excessive.  I am running out of places to put the snow that I shovel off the walkways.

The path through the garden area seems like a gorge.

The platform on our prairie hill now requires a step down and where are all the toys?

Who needs toys when you have hills and valleys, cliffs and tunnels.

So yesterday when we looked out the window during our circle time weather check there was a lot of excitement about the huge fluffy flakes filling the air and blanketing the ground.  With temperature at a balmy -5 Celsius and no wind we couldn’t wait to get outside.

For an hour we dug holes, shovelled paths, jumped and rolled until it was time to retrieve our Kindergarten friend from school.  We left a little earlier than usual because I anticipated the walk to be a slow with all the fresh snow but even I was surprised once we left the shelter of the yard.

The well-used sidewalks now had knee high drifts for the preschoolers. There was a moment of hesitation as we turned the corner and were confronted by a white curtain. ‘How will we know when we get to the school?” questioned the children when they realized they could no longer see the familiar landmarks.  Visibility had been drastically reduced by the falling snow – we we’re grateful that there were no accompanying blizzard winds.

Our regular 15 minute walk to school took us nearly half an hour.  When we arrived we heard many comments about our troop of snow people.  Joined by the kindergarten child we headed back home for lunch.

The return trip was difficult for some.  Exhaustion had begun to take over.  We’ve had enough snow.  Hurry up spring – but please don’t bring a flood.

Hope

I’ve titled today’s post after the Post A Day topic #18 “What gives you hope?”  It is not what I was originally planning to name it but I think it fits with the post I was planning to write today.

To hope means to expect, to wish, to trust and to look forward to.  It is optimism and anticipation.

I wanted to write about the boy and his guitar.

The boy is my sixteen year old son.  The boy has dreams and a special kind of motivation to pursue things that interest him.  Some of his interests have come and gone – attacked with fervour and then dismissed as he moves on to something else.

This sixteen year old has no interest in learning to drive because “there are already too many cars”.  He will not eat at any fast food restaurant because “it’s not good for you and they don’t recycle the packages”. He enjoys being considered eccentric.

The guitar is his passion. He started playing the guitar about 3 ½ years ago and I think he plays wonderfully – but I’m his mother so I’m biased. Every spare minute of his day is spent practising his guitar, learning new songs, creating his own arrangements and researching guitars and music.

His musical interest is vast.  He likes most styles except maybe pop – remember, he likes to be different.  He is inspired by Edgar Cruz and Tchaikovsky is one of his favourite classical composers.

His guitars are basic – cheap, entry level guitars for beginners.  He wanted something better and started saving his money to buy a good classical guitar. This guitar would be something he chose not one we picked up at a big box store. He has done his research and explained to me the difference between the styles – who knew there were so many?

For Christmas we topped up his savings so he would have enough to make a purchase. It wouldn’t be enough to buy his dream guitar but it would be a step up from what he had.

The Monday after Christmas we headed out to some of the music stores to see what we could find. I tended to point out guitars based on looks – the name on the guitar means nothing to me.  The boy knows though.  He often shook his head as I reached to take one off the rack – not because he didn’t like it but because he knew the price range in which it would fall was beyond our budget.

Several stores and numerous guitars and we still nothing that fit the criteria.  I was beginning to lose hope. We decided to check out Mar-schell’s a small music store in our neighbourhood.

The boy tried a few guitars and then the salesman handed him a Takamine. As he played the first few notes I saw the expression on his face – this was the one.  The boy and the guitar belonged together.  He clutched it all the way home and then began to play – really play.

The boy was up before me every morning during Christmas break.  I’d wake to the sound of the guitar – yes even I could hear the difference between this guitar and his others.

Then, on day four he decided to plug it in to his amp to see how it sounded and there was a problem.  He tried it another amp and still failed to get the results he wanted. Back at the store they checked it out and identified it as a defective pick-up.  Now we’re waiting for the replacement part.

The boy and his guitar have been separated for three weeks.  He still plays his other guitars while we wait.  Together we hope, we wish, we trust and with optimism and anticipation we look forward to the day the boy and his guitar are reunited.  Hopefully soon.

I Spy

I spy is a popular activity for the preschoolers that I currently have in care.  The school-age children are not as enamoured.  You see, it is not that the school-age children do not like the game – but rather, they don’t like the way the preschoolers play it.

My current group of preschoolers range in age from 2 to 5 and most have been with me since before their first birthday.  For these children I Spy originated as an activity initiated – and controlled by – two school-age children who dictated every aspect of the game ensuring that everyone followed the ‘correct’ rules.  Most often the preschoolers were simply props in the older children’s game.

The first time I heard the preschool children engage in an I Spy game on their own was last spring.  We were in the van on the way to a field trip and the school-age children were not with us.  I was concentrating on driving so although I could hear the children in the seats behind me I was not involved in their activity.

When the game first started I anticipated some disagreements since the children were ‘spying’ objects outside the moving vehicle and the other children were guessing objects they could currently see and the original object was far behind us.

As the game evolved I noticed that the children didn’t always describe their chosen object by color – sometimes it was shape or use or ‘starts with’ a specific sound.  The ‘correct’ answer really seemed irrelevant to the game – their focus seemed to be the turn taking and I was engrossed.

Essentially, one child would start by saying “I spy with my little eye something that is/starts with…” and then each other child would guess one or two objects.  Sometimes the guesses were related to the clue, other times they seemed to be random objects.  One child in particular always guessed ‘a dragon’ – this was also the correct answer when it was her turn to provide the clues yet none of the other children ever guessed it and I resisted the urge to do so.

After everyone had a chance to guess the answer was provided and another child was chosen to give the clue.  Everyone was involved even the youngest who’s “I, My, Boo” received many giggles as well as guesses. The game continued until we reached our destination.

To this day, every time this group has to wait someone will invariably say “Let’s play I Spy”.  Whether they are waiting for lunch to be served, waiting for circle to begin or waiting for everyone to finishing dressing for outdoor time ‘I Spy’ is their solution to pass the time.  Recently, while waiting for the other children to arrive for circle the conversation went like this;

  • 2 yo – I spy with my eye something green
  • 3 yo – That? The orange thing over there (pointing)?
  • 2 yo – No,
  • 3 yo – OK, my turn.  I Spy something that is yellow.
  • 2 yo – TV? Book? My Mom? (giggling)

When they are present the school-age children want to intervene and correct the game – this is where I intercede.  I point out to them the turn taking, the equal opportunity, the conversation, cooperation and developing social skills.

The older children are learning too.  Learning to stop, watch and listen before making assumptions.  Learning isn’t all about having the correct answer.

Acceptable Risk

I have surpassed my Post A Week promise as this is already my third post this week – yeah!  I’ve checked out the suggestions for post topics and some of them look really interesting but at the moment I’ve got plenty of ideas of my own.  I’ll keep them in mind for when I have a dry spell.

It has been a busy week – my regular 60 hour work week also had an additional 4 evenings of networking meetings etc which left me little time to ‘play’ with my new computer.  I use the term ‘play’ here because it is through play that we learn.  Since my new computer has a new operating system, new versions of several of my old programs and some new programs too there is plenty for me to learn.

When I’m busy I easily get frustrated by power struggles with my computer.  The new operating system has added ‘security’ features to keep me ‘safe’ – or to irritate me. Trying to work through some of these issues also got me thinking how much my computer makes me feel like a child with an overprotective parent.

There I was, 6:30am, already finished preparation for the day’s activities and meals and no children due to arrive for an hour – plenty of time to work on a blog post.  First, I’ve got a picture on the camera that I want to use.  Getting it from the camera to the computer took way longer than expected because of the unexpected hide & seek game we played as I tried to figure out where I should stick that card.

Once the picture was finally moved to the computer I was able to edit, crop and resize the photo fairly quickly because I demonstrated incredible self control to not play with all the cool features that the fancy new photo editing software has.  Then, my computer and I had this ‘conversation’;

  • Me: Save photo.
  • Comp: No, you’re not permitted to.
  • Me: Yes I am, try again.
  • Comp: No, it’s read only
  • Me: No it’s not, I checked
  • Comp: It’s mine and you can’t change it
  • Me: I took the picture — I can change it if I want to.
  • Comp: No, it’s mine
  • Me: Fine, keep that one and ‘save as’ a second one that I can have.
  • Comp: No
  • Me: Look, I’m out of time just forget it! Close program
  • Comp: You have unsaved changes. Would you like to save them?
  • Me: Oh! Yes please.
  • Comp: No, you’re not permitted to.
  • Me: Keep your stupid picture and go away.

OK, it was a temporary setback and we’ve worked it out.  I understand the need for protection – I’ve had my share of ‘OMG I can’t believe I just did that’ moments when I wished I hadn’t been allowed to delete two years worth of important data.  But really?  This was an acceptable risk.  What’s the worst thing that could happen if I modified the picture, saved it, and then changed my mind?

We learn from our mistakes and if we are never allowed to take the risk and make mistakes we won’t learn from them.  Overprotected children can’t learn to recognize the risk – to differentiate between the acceptable risk and real danger.

So I say, let’s play, take risks, make mistakes, try something different and learn.

Popular Lunch

Well, as planned I was able to have our new lunch menu ready for the New Year so we are officially on week two of the menu.  Most of the new recipes had been tested in the months beforehand so I knew the majority of the children would accept them.

Some of the trial recipes, such as the Salmon Strata, were eliminated from the list after completely failing the initial taste test.  I know when introducing new foods to children you shouldn’t assume they won’t ever eat them just because they refused them the first time – sometimes it takes a few (up to ten) tries before you know for sure.  However, when everyone in the group – including me -dislikes a new recipe it is simply not worth the effort to convert them.

A couple of the new recipes were not tested before adding to the new menu simply because I ran out of time and I was fairly certain they would be accepted by most of the children.  Wednesday’s lunch was one of the untested recipes but even I was surprised by the enthusiastic response it received from the children.  Every one of them had two helpings and several of them could not stop praising the dish.

Now before I post my ‘Turkey Tetrazzini’ recipe I should point out that I kept the original name of the recipe but because I always modify recipes I thought I should check and see what exactly real ‘Tetrazzini’ needed.

According to Wikipedia

Tetrazzini is an American dish usually involving a non-red meat (often diced fowl or seafood), mushrooms, and almonds in a butter/cream and parmesan sauce flavoured with wine or sherry and stock vegetables such as onions, celery, and carrots. It is often served hot over spaghetti or some similarly thin pasta, garnished with lemon or parsley, and topped with additional almonds and/or Parmesan cheese.

Ok, so since I eliminated several of those listed Tetrazzini ingredients maybe I should have changed the name but I didn’t so if that’s going to bother you maybe you should stop reading now.  I apologize to any Tetrazzini lovers if they feel I am misusing the name.

Here’s the recipe for My Turkey Tetrazzini;

  • 6Tbsp flour
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable seasoning (mix of dried peppers, onions etc)
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • 4 cups chicken stock/broth
  • 2 cups milk
  • 4 cups cooked turkey, cubed
  • 400 g pkg of rice vermicelli
  • Boiling water
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese

Mix flour and seasoning with broth and milk in saucepan.  Heat and stir until it boils and thickens. Add chicken. In large pot cook vermicelli in boiling water until it softens. Drain. Combine vermicelli with chicken mixture and pour into a casserole dish.  Sprinkle with parmesan cheese.  Cover and bake in a 350 degree F oven for about 20 minutes, uncover for the last 5 minutes or longer depending on how brown you want it.

That’s all, and the children loved it.  I served it with a spinach and tomato salad.  Mmmm.

Birthdays

I really planned to publish this post yesterday but my new computer and I had another dispute over who’s in control and I gave up – briefly. Now I’m back in charge.

We are now in what I refer to as ‘birthday season’ since for the last several years our birthday calendar has looked a little lopsided with all the birthdays in the first half of the year.  You may remember from my previous post about holidays that I am not a fan of extravagant celebrations.  This does not mean we can’t celebrate special days.

Although many – probably most, children eagerly anticipate birthdays there are some that don’t appreciate all the fanfare. They are usually the quiet ones who try to stay out of the lime light.  Over the years we have tried various birthday celebrations to try to accommodate all.

So, for birthdays here this is what we do;

  • We have various birthday hats, crowns and ribbons that the birthday child may choose to wear throughout the day if they choose to.
  • Lunch on a birthday is usually pizza followed by ice cream cake.  Occasionally the ‘party’ is held at afternoon snack if the birthday child is not here for lunch.
  • I have a ‘birthday box’ of various items from which the birthday child gets to pick their gift.

It’s simple enough to not overwhelm yet still lets the birthday child have a special day.

 

Post A Week

I’m intrigued by the Post A Day challenge at The Daily Post.  I know I’ll never be able to write a post every day – I have too little time for that.  I suppose if I just got straight to the point I could probably write every day but because I tend to ramble on and play with formatting and otherwise wander off task I simply run out of time.  Actually, writing a blog post is sometimes something I do to avoid other tasks that I don’t really want to do.

Anyway, I’m not going to promise to write every day but I think I’ll try the Post A Week challenge. So, for sure each weekend I’ll write a short Post A Week post using one of the Daily Post suggestions if necessary.  Since I already wrote two long posts last week I figure I’m off to a good start.  I think it will be fun to get inspiration from others involved in the blogging community. If you already read my blog, I hope you’ll encourage me with comments about the posts I write.  I do like comments 🙂

Too Cold to Play?

For many of the children Tuesday was the first day back after the excitement and festivities of the Holiday season.  After eleven days of down time even I was a little apprehensive about readjusting to our regular schedule. Should I keep the schedule open and allow plenty of free time, plan several activities to keep the children occupied all day or have a few things available just in case.

I decided to allow mostly free time since our routine would not truly be ‘normal’ because the school-aged children would not be returning to school until Thursday.  The older children really seem to enjoy the opportunity to play freely with the group and the younger children are usually thrilled to have their input.

Then Monday evening as I watched the evening news the weather forecast called for cold temperatures and high wind chills – I panicked. The dialogue between the news team centered on plans to avoid going outdoors and I fell for it.  What if it was too cold to play outside and I didn’t have a alternative activity?  Outdoor play is a big part of our day and without it the children can become – let’s just say ‘lively’.

So the news report said it would be too cold and even though I know better I was swayed – temporarily.  You see, I know the weather report doesn’t take all the factors into consideration.  First of all, our yard is sheltered.  The back yard faces to the South so it gets plenty of sunlight and the house blocks the cold North wind. The neighbour’s garage to the West and our shed to the East provide additional wind breaks.

Then there is the issue of clothing.  Most people who claim it is too cold are simply not dressed appropriately for the weather.  We dress for functionality not style.  Activity level is another factor;   standing at a bus stop waiting for a bus in -20 C weather can be agony but running, jumping climbing and digging certainly make the cold nearly irrelevant.

So yes, we have continued to play outdoors for about an hour each and every day and none of the have children complained – except when it was time to go inside.  Even I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly the time passed by and we were even a little late for lunch (good thing it wasn’t a school day).

This got me thinking about a new January activity – we’re going to chart the weather.  I don’t just mean the conditions reported at the airport.  I plan to have a comparison between the official weather report and the conditions registered on the weather station in my back yard.  I’ll involve the children in checking and recording the weather conditions at circle time each day – just before we go outside.  Then I’m also going to record how long we spend outdoors and any weather related comments the children make while we are out there.

Stay tuned for highlights of our ‘Is it really too cold to play outside?” exploration.