We have many different types of blocks.  I can not have them all out at the same time — there simply isn’t enough room.  I rotate the various block sets so we have a chance to try them all.  The wooden blocks are the most popular.

‘Towers’ are the favorite thing to build.  Sometimes it is all about the height;

Sometimes there is more detail;

Often, once we master a new feature we like to include it in all our buildings;

And combine features together;

Until they become more than just a tower — this one is a ‘camera’

This ‘tower’ eventually became a ‘wall’;

And this one is an amazing caslte;

But the towers don’t just get built in the block area.  There are some in the housekeeping area too.

And outside where there are exciting new elements available;

But my favourite thing about towers is that they are magnetic.  No matter who starts building a tower it will ultimately become a group project.  From “Can I help you?” to “Can you pass me that piece?” to “Hey, maybe we can use this.” towers build collaboration and cooperation.

The History of Our Yard

Fourteen years ago when I first opened my childcare home this was what the backyard play area looked like;

There was also a ‘deck’ area – old pallets covered in plywood – that is not visible in the above photo.  You may also notice the lack of soft surface under the play structure but the cribbing is there because adding pea gravel under the play structure was something I had to do for licensing.

Back then my view of outdoor play was essentially unstructured, high energy, physical activity.  My own children had played here – two of them are in this picture.  They usually played outside by themselves for hours.  I rarely ventured out with them until ‘supervised outdoor play’ became part of my childcare program.  Then I regularly watched the children play – and I was afraid.

Seven years ago my yard looked like this;

There was a large deck area with riding toys and space to play organized games.  There were no toys in the gravel area – just the climbers. After all, someone might trip over a toy if it was buried in the gravel.  It was here in this playground that we had the only injury that required medical attention.  I pondered over the question on the incident report “Was there anything you could have done to prevent this injury?”   I had been three feet from the child that fell from a two foot high platform onto twelve inches of pea gravel.  Maybe I shouldn’t let them play outside.

Actually, the children probably wouldn’t have argued if I had decided to ban outdoor play from the program.  They didn’t like to play out here for long.  Often it took only about 15 minutes before someone asked if it was time to go inside yet.  I took a long look at the outdoor play space and started to see everything that was ‘missing’.  All the things they liked to do inside that they couldn’t do outside – and I’m not talking about TV and video games.

This is my yard today;

Places to climb and crawl;

Places to balance, jump and explore;

Places for science experiments and imagination;

Places for art, music, and sharing stories with friends;

And so much more.  It is a lot like indoors – only better.  Now we can’t wait to go outside.

The Makeover

I regularly make changes to our learning enivironment. Sometimes changes are necessary to address a problem we are having within one area.  Sometimes the changes are due to the addition of a new item.  Whatever the reason for the modification these little changes add up over time and occasionally an area looses its functionality and it is time for a complete makeover.

This was the case in our workshop area.  Originally it had been just for tools. The tool racks were pegboard doors from an old cabinet — I reuse/recycle whenever possible.  The size of these doors determined the height of the shelf for the piano keyboard.  The width and depth of this new storage area were determined by the size of the cots which are stored behind the tools/under the piano.  It always bothered me that there was unusable empty space above the cots.

Over time, the small musical instruments were moved here when the sunroom became the ‘quiet time’ area. The tools and musical instruments were combined in the same area.

Later, the large piano was replaced with a smaller one to make room for the indoor garden and home to our stick insects too.  What was once ‘the worshop’ had become ‘the worshop/music/science/garden area and everything was unorganized.  It was time to fix this.

During my ‘vacation’ I reorganized this area to make it more functional.  Now it looks like this;

Tools and musical instruments are separated.  The extra space between the cot storage and the science area became a shelf for the piano.  The pegboard hooks were rearranged to display the tools and musical instruments more efficiently.

In case you were wondering how I get those pegboard hooks to stay secured to the boards — I use plastic coated wire on the back of the boards like this;

Now everything is organized again — at least until the next time I change something 🙂

The Rope

Today I planned to write about some of the changes that I made to our learning environment during my vacation but when I checked through the pictures on my camera I realized that there were still a bunch of pictures from the last week before my vacation.  So, before I forget again, here’s the story of the rope…

My nearly 17 year old son has been enamoured by the Wilderness Survival book we bought and has been practicing various knots.  He joined us outside one day and showed the children how to measure distance using a rope with knots tied at one foot intervals;

Then the children asked him to tie the rope to one of the logs — they had a plan;

The log was on one side of the yard;

And they stood on the other side — and working together they pulled really hard;

And successfully tipped over the log;

But what were they looking for?

Aha! The prize;

It’s the Little Things

My vacation is officially over and the children return today.

I think my vacation was successful – The fact that I haven’t written a single blog post for more than two weeks should give you an idea how busy I was.  Seriously some days I didn’t even check my email until 11 pm – and I didn’t do any paperwork at all!

I know, many of you think I’m crazy to ‘work’ through my vacation but really, isn’t the purpose of a vacation to take a break from your regular routine and do something that you enjoy?  That is what I did.  For me, swimming or relaxing on a beach is a form of torture – as is any type of spa treatment.  I’m far too independent to tolerate being catered to – I have difficulty letting the clerk bag my groceries for me. As much as I enjoy gardening, hiking, exploring, and visiting museums etc, those activities are not ‘different’ from my everyday routine.

So, what did I do on my ‘vacation’?  My list was extensive. I knew I probably wouldn’t complete it all but I didn’t want to run out of things to do and end up being bored 🙂  One by one big jobs got completed;

  • Tear out two poorly utilized closets.
  • Take down built in shelving.
  • Frame new storage unit.
  • Install storage bin system.
  • Build new kitchen cupboard unit.
  • Paint, paint, and paint some more.
  • Install knotty pine ceiling.

Busy, busy, busy. Cleaning out the pantry was a bonus since there was little time for grocery shopping so when we were hungry we were forced to use up the miscellaneous items we could find in the cupboard or freezer – or order pizza.

Most of the big jobs were completed in the first week.  I started dropping hints that maybe we’d have time to do the floors too.  The scowl and “Can we finish this job first before you plan something else” retort let me know that he wasn’t ready for that comment.  I’m not sure he’s aware that I’m usually planning several new projects as we are working.

By the 13th of July there was nothing left but the ‘little things’ – the touch-ups, the odd jobs, the things I didn’t plan for in advance.  I started dreaming of the new flooring again – after all we still had five days. But those little things really add up. Sigh.

After two days of working on those little things I hardly made any noticeable progress.  It was depressing.  Everywhere I looked there were more odds and ends to put away, small jobs to finish, and I had things to prepare for ‘back to work’ too.  The little things are hard but they are so important.  No matter how impressive the big project was it is not complete until the little things are done.

I don’t have any new flooring – yet. There are only two weeks until the next long weekend and I have big plans….