The Camera

I’ve written about the boy before.  The boy is my youngest son – almost an adult now.  He likes to be considered ‘eccentric’.  To me he is a great example of intrinsic motivation.  Sometimes he refuses to do something simply because it is popular with others but when something interests him he pursues it passionately.

He enjoys school but he doesn’t get great grades – admittedly sometimes they are bad.  He tends to be stubborn and is not swayed by ‘incentives’ so if he’s not interested he can’t be persuaded. I’ve had calls from teachers who don’t always like my responses. When asked to ‘get him to stop making disruptive noises in class’ I’ve said ‘stop letting him get bored’.  I may be enabling him.

He’s good with math and technology but music, art and nature motivate him.  His latest interest is photography.  He’s been saving his money to buy a good camera.  Saving money is hard when you can’t find an acceptable job – one that doesn’t involve fast food or anything that is bad for the environment.

He finally succeeded in saving enough for a Nikon COOLPIX P500 which he purchased last weekend.  We went to Fort Whyte Alive on Sunday so he could practice using it.  These are some of his photos;

He particularly likes the close-up shots;

This is one of my favorites;

I’m using it for wallpaper on my computer 🙂 and looking forward to seeing more pictures as he explores.

A Day Off

Yesterday was the first inservice day of this school year so I had all the children here for the full day.  Even though the older children have enjoyed getting back to school I also think they miss the opportunity to interact with the others here.  All the school-age children attend the same school but they are in different grades so they don’t get to spend much time together.  They were so excited to spend the day together again and the younger children were thrilled to have them here too.

There was little for me to do except observe as they tried to fit in as many of their favourite activities as possible into one day.  It was amusing to watch them rush through a group dramatic play activity, sing and dance briefly in the music area, scurry up the loft steps to read a familiar book and then dash to the art area to hastily create a piece of artwork.  I don’t really think that it was the activities that they were truly interested in pursuing but rather the opportunity to reconnect with friends who they’ve had little contact with since school began.

The weather outside was amazing so we spent most of the morning outdoors.  I was curious to see if they would slow down once we got outside – a phenomenon I’ve noticed before.  It was amazing to watch as they built structures, played games and explored the yard in record time.

Using water from the rain barrel they again filled jars and built towers;

They washed the rocks to make them look pretty;

And ‘cooked’ up a dinner in the wok;

I loved the poles set up around the cooking area so that no one would get too close to the fire – safety first!

Then one of the children built a tipi;

This was new and it was quickly copied by another child;

A third child passing by the first one and elaborated on the design;

Then another tipi popped up over on the other side of the yard;

This tipi building activity was not the focus of their attention.  It seemed to be a common theme that connected then as they engaged in other activities.  Maybe it was a way of saying ‘I’m busy playing here but I see what you’re doing over there too’.  A way to make one more connection in a busy day before rushing off again.

Lunch Solutions

I’ve encountered the first ‘problem’ of the new group schedule. We have too much leftover food.

Last year I had five preschoolers and two school-age children here for lunch every day.  Over the summer two preschoolers were replaced by extra school-age children but they have left now.  My current enrolment includes one infant (who brings his own food), four preschoolers and three school-age children (who stay at school for lunch).

Essentially that means that suddenly I have half as many children here for meals and I’m making too much food.  So, I’ve been considering changing a few of the menu items.  Many of the meals are easy to adjust the amounts to suit the number of children in attendance.  Several of the casseroles can be halved – or returned to original since in most cases I was doubling the recipes.  However some are difficult to modify so they may have to be replaced if I don’t want a fridge full of leftovers.

Another strange phenomenon is that the preschoolers that are here for lunch are eating far less than usual.  I’m not sure if this is a temporary thing due to the change in season and schedule.  This one I’ll just wait and see if it continues then maybe it means they are getting tired of certain meals and we will have to change more of the menu.

Then there is the produce from our garden.  Some things like the peas and corn did not provide anything edible – something I find odd.  Other plants continue to generate so much that we have difficulty eating it all.

I love those little pear tomatoes – we have hundreds of them!

Of course this produce is great for menu items like the Chicken Gumbo;

And I’ve been baking with those zucchini too so we’ve had some special snacks.  Anyone interested in joining the Family Childcare Committee?  We’re looking for new members and our meetings are delicious. 🙂

Monday Morning Cats

Today I stray from my usual topic.  I’m tired.  I got very little sleep last night – because my cat has insomnia.  You’re probably thinking that cats are nocturnal so they don’t normally sleep at night.  Well, that may be true for other cats but mine are different.

Mali and Malta are sisters.  They have distinct personalities.  Malta is the trouble maker – the leader – the one that initiates everything. She is also very sneaky about it so she doesn’t often get caught.  Mali is generally much more laid-back.  She has two favourite activities – eating and sleeping.  That is obvious when you look at her.

Mali is also obsessive.  When she does get started in an activity (that was initiated by Malta) she goes all out and nothing can dissuade her.  Take ‘eating’ for instance.  The cats have their own bowls in separate areas – so Malta gets some food.  I feed Malta downstairs first and while she is eating I get Mali to follow me upstairs to her dish.  Sometimes I feed her one piece of food at a time so she doesn’t swallow mouthfuls without chewing.  When the food is gone she licks the entire surface of the bowl just to make sure it is empty.  Then she runs downstairs and licks Malta’s empty bowl before running back upstairs to lick her bowl again – and so it continues.  It is her exercise program and it lasts until she decides to go to sleep.

Like most sisters, sometimes they get along and sometimes they don’t.  I bought them a large cat bed so they could sleep together when they want to;

They also have another smaller foam bed with a roof that they like to use sometimes too but mostly for playing.  Last week Mali dove into it during a play session and her weight caused the bed to slide across the upstairs hallway and then tumble down the stairs.  The thunderous noise attracted a great deal of attention and she was very embarrassed.

So, back to last night when Mali couldn’t sleep; I fed her at bedtime as usual but then she stayed up.  I kept hearing noises that I couldn’t identify so I got up to see what it was. I found Mali at the bottom of the stairs with a bag of bagels – full of teeth marks and holes.  Malta was probably there too but she hides.  Mali just sits there, staring at me.

I cleaned up the mess and tried to go back to bed.  Mali came too, but only so she could complain to me because she couldn’t find her bagels.  I finally fell asleep but only briefly.  I awoke due to the fact I had trouble breathing because Mali was sitting on my chest.  I opened my eyes and looked into two huge pools of blackness as she stared back at me telling me that she couldn’t sleep.

I pushed her off and tried to ignore her incessant efforts to get my attention but now I couldn’t sleep either.  What if she was trying to tell me something important?  Maybe there was some kind of an emergency?  I got up and checked the whole house – Mali was thrilled to have some company.

I tried to get some sleep but the antics continued.  There was the scary, snake-like cord on the floor and the strange pile of clothes in the corner.  So many things she’s apparently never noticed before.

I’m tired.  It’s Monday morning and I have cats – but they’re sleeping now.


The first week back to school has come to an end. We’ve had many new experiences.

  • The first day back to school/daycare after a summer long absence.
  • Beginning school or daycare for the first time ever.
  • Making new friends.
  • Getting to ride on the school bus.
  • Having no school-age children come here for lunch (this has never happened before).
  • Getting to stay up for quiet time instead of having a nap after lunch.
  • The introduction of an infant into our group – first one in five years that didn’t have an older sibling here.

We’ve been learning and adapting to all these new experiences.  There have been many exciting stories to share with each other.  It is the introduction of the baby that I have found the most interesting.

Initially, when the baby cried, the preschoolers all clamped their hands over their ears and screamed ‘It’s too loud, it’s too loud” – which of course made it worse.  So we discussed communication.  What do you do or say when you want something?  What do you do or say when you’re hurt or scared?  How do you tell someone else that you have a problem or need something?

Now, when the baby cries, the preschoolers stop what they are doing and one of them will say “Shhh! Listen, the baby has something important to say”.  Sometimes they even try to figure out what he wants but mostly they leave that up to me.

The baby likes to be where the action is.  Watching the ‘big’ kids play is so exciting!  He doesn’t crawl yet, or even sit without assistance so he spends a lot of time on my knee – observing.  He really wants to go so sometimes we sit on the floor and try to stay out of the walkways.

In the past I’ve contemplated how to get those preschoolers to slow down and watch where they are going.  They are constantly in a hurry when they play.  Their ‘Rescue Me’, ‘Dragon Hunter’ or ‘Safari Adventure’ dramatic play activities always involve some kind of emergency.  Even the ‘Restaurant’ encounters urgent situations that have everyone scrambling to save the day.  And of course the ‘Family’ getting ready for work/school/daycare is the most hectic game of all.

Sometimes I feel like a broken record repeating ‘walk in the house please’ over and over again. So I was a little apprehensive about putting a baby down on the floor. Yet, ‘out of the way’ isn’t where he wants to be so I sit close by; and I watch.

I watch and listen as Child ‘A’ sends Child ‘B’ for emergency supplies.  Child ‘B’ takes off but then stops and, still in character, narrates the situation for Child ‘A’;

“I must be careful over here.  There is a baby lying on the road.  I will move slowly – taking small steps all the way around him. I have the tools and I am coming back.”

The sense of urgency continues in the tone of voice but the action is slow and careful.  I love it!  So does the baby, squealing and kicking, happy to be part of the game.

We are all part of a new exciting adventure.  Together we are learning and adapting.

“I’m Sorry”

Last week I read Teacher Tom’s blog post entitled ‘Hitting’.  It made me cry.

In his post, Teacher Tom outlined how they respond to hitting and other such behaviours in their cooperative preschool program.  He followed it up with a couple more posts that offer additional related information.

As always, his posts were very informative and easy to understand. His ability to articulate difficult situations always amazes me.  His focus is, as it should be, on the reason behind the behaviour — addressing the cause – teaching the children how to respond appropriately – and the importance of remaining calm.

So why did the post upset me?

It was the eighth step that he outlined in his ‘Learning Through Conflict’ plan that bothered me.  The formal apology – and again he so wonderfully explains why he doesn’t feel it is necessary.  I agree with him.

If there is one thing that drives me crazy it is the insistence that an incident isn’t over until someone says “I’m Sorry”.  His line about the initial conflict becoming “diverted into a conflict between parent and child as the former insists on the word “sorry” and the child refuses” brought back vivid images of an incident that happened very early in my childcare career.

At home time, a mom and I were standing at the front door engaged in a conversation.  Her three year old daughter was waiting patiently.  She was not interrupting us.  She was not jumping or climbing or playing with stuff in the cubbies.  She was simply waiting, one hand on the wall for support, one foot on the ground and the other foot swinging back and forth.  She was humming a song, swinging her leg, and waiting – wonderfully.

Then she kicked me.

It wasn’t done on purpose and I was not hurt.  The child immediately realized her mistake and froze. Two tiny hands clamped over her mouth and tears welling up in her eyes as she stared up at me. I put my hand on her shoulder and told her it was ok – I knew it was an accident and she hadn’t meant to do it.  There was really no actual conflict. It should have ended here, but it didn’t.

Her mother sprang into action.  Lecturing about how kicking hurts people and demanding that she apologize.  The child started to sob; shaking and crying and unable to speak.  Her exasperated mother apologized to me for her child’s behaviour, took her by the hand and hurried out the door.

But even then it was not over.  More than an hour later the phone rang and when I answered it the mother said “My daughter has something to say to you”.  She then handed the phone to the sobbing three-year-old who managed to sputter “I’m sorry I kicked you” before putting down the phone and wailing. 

So was it over now? Were the words “I’m Sorry” really necessary?  I don’t think so, at least not in this case. In fact, for me they made it worse.  Teacher Tom says he will not judge you if you insist that your child apologizes – but I might.

The real point I wanted to make though is the importance of letting those involved in the conflict work it out themselves. A conflict is resolved when those involved in it are ok with the outcome.  It doesn’t matter if the observer doesn’t think the outcome is correct or fair.

Certainly guidance from a bystander can be helpful sometimes – especially for those with little experience settling conflicts.  Suggestions can be useful if there is an impasse but if those involved are attempting to resolve the issue there is absolutely no need to intervene.

Here, if the children have an issue they are given the opportunity to work it out.  If necessary they can be separated from the group to prevent outside interference.  Assistance is available if required but after the dispute is resolved and there is peace again it is over.

Was their solution fair?  Was it correct?  That’s not for me to decide.  Did someone say “I’m Sorry”?  Maybe not but those words are not what is important.

The Queen

Fall is near.  It is dark when I get up at 5:00am each morning.  I miss the early morning sun that used to shine upon the nature area and greet me when I came downstairs to start my day;

September is a time of transition.  The smaller group and new members mean we are charting new territory.  Planning activities is difficult — we don’t really know each other yet — I want to ease into this new season.

We have been sharing many stories.  Stories of exciting new adventures in school.  Conversations to get to know new friends.  There has also been a lot of reminiscing about the things we did over the summer.  One of the children referred to Mindy (the dog) as ‘The Queen” which reminded us all of our Egyptian period.

It began when I trimmed some of the branches off the willow which had been growing out of control.  I left the cut branches in the gravel area for the children to play with. These branches offered a new dimension.

The willow branches were still soft and flexible — not hard and rigid like the other sticks.    They had leaves attached and they made noise when you waved them.  They made cool flags, and fans.

The children enlisted Mindy to be the ‘Queen of Egypt’ and they were her sevants.  Mindy seemed a little unsure of her role at first — why were they fanning her with branches;

She soon settled into her throne and welcomed the constant attention;

Some of the servants were using leaves and water to wash the rocks around her;

Interesting how the child who dressed the part of royalty preferred to play the part of servant.

Once all the rocks were wet and shiny the servants used smooth sticks to polish them dry.  Who knew that the friction of rubbing sticks on rocks would dry them off?  Certainly not an activity that I would have thought of suggesting but it was definitely intriguing;

The Queen continued to rest as the servants worked hard.  Such a busy group.

As we move into this new season there will be many more discoveries.  No need to rush, just wait and see.


The children have gone back to school but I’m not going to write about that yet.  The weather says it is still summer and my list of possible post topics is extensive so I’m going to stay in summer mode.

Last week the children engaged in an elaborate fishing adventure.  Years ago, when I first introduced sticks into our loose parts area, ‘fishing’ was the most popular use for the sticks.  The children often used sticks as fishing rods, found a spot to sit with a friend and together they would ‘fish’.

This was not really a dramatic play activity — this was conversation.  Talking was the main purpose but they liked to pretend they were fishing while they talked.  When we began gardening, the seating areas in the garden replaced ‘fishing’ as the favorite conversation area.

Last week’s fishing activity was different.  It started when one of the children was trying to tie knots in the pieces of wheat straw that we had put in the loose parts area.  When one of the pieces of wheat was tied to a stick he announced it was a fishing rod.

Another child used a mesh bag attached to a stick to create a net with which he could catch fish too.

Then, using an old pine cone and a plastic pipe a spear was created,

and tested;

There are so many ways to catch fish;

Back at the campsite, the others started a fire;

But before the fish could be cooked, they had to be cleaned;

I’ve never taken the children fishing.  Still, through play they’ve shown me how much they already know about it.

Like Chalk & Cheese

I’ve never heard that phrase before but when I asked Word for a synonym for ‘different’ one of the options I was given was ‘like chalk & cheese’.  I thought it was very fitting since neither chalk nor cheese is bad but they are very different – as are things around here.

I’ve had another day without batteries for my camera because I’ve been too busy to get to the store. Watching the children play has been different – but not necessarily bad — without a camera in hand.  Sure, there have been moments when I wished I had been able to take a picture but there have also been more opportunities for me to interact with the children too.

Of course sometimes ‘interacting’ seems more like ‘interfering’.  Like yesterday morning as the children were playing outside and one of the preschoolers was wandering back and forth across the yard carrying on what seemed to be random conversations with possibly imaginary playmates.  Although she didn’t appear to be talking to me I felt somewhat compelled to answer her questions when she was near me.

After the third or fourth time I answered a miscellaneous question she stopped pacing, stared at me and with an exasperated tone said “I’m not talking to you”.

“Who are you talking to?” I asked.

She sighed and lifted her hat just enough to expose the piece of bark – with wheat straw antenna – that she had stuck against her ear. “Can’t you see my cell phone?” she replied.

Yes, now I do. I love symbolic play. Now please excuse me while I go make a camera so I can take a picture of your phone…:-)

The other children were busy too.  Several of them were playing with the hoola hoops.  They had started by playing some sort of tag game in which their movements and ‘escape routes’ were restricted to the pathways created by the hoops. I thought it was a cool game, they were cooperating so well and it was such a unique way to play tag in a small space.

Then they began using the hoops to make wings.  Some of the children were butterflies.  Others were birds.  One used four hoops to create a really wide wingspan and announced that he was an eagle.

One of the girls used her two hoops to form a circle and then she curled up inside of it.  “What are you?” I asked.

“Right now I’m a cocoon” she said “but soon I’ll be a butterfly”.

Following this we then had many eggs and cocoons which became birds and butterflies which laid more eggs and spun more cocoons and so on….

You get the picture – even without a camera.

School starts next week so I’ll have few ‘full day’ children here.  Everything will be so different.  I’m going to miss the long periods of free play – the creativity, cooperation and imagination.  I’m going to miss watching them learn.

However, I can’t say the days will be quiet or boring. We do have some of our old friends returning and a young infant will be joining our group. So the learning won’t end, it will just be different.

A Picture

Back in June I wrote a post about program planning after my son and I checked out the hiking trails in Bois-des-esprits forest.  This week we took the children the children there to explore.

The forecast called for rain but that didn’t stop us from going.  It was cloudy and humid but it never did rain.  We hiked every inch of trail from one end of the forest to the other and back again – covering 4 km in a little more than two hours!

As the saying goes “A Picture worth 1000 words’ so I always bring my camera along on our outings to document our discoveries.  When the trail is wide enough we can walk in pairs but on narrow trails we walk single file – oldest children in the front and me in the back so I can see everyone.  This way I am also closest to the younger children to assist them when necessary.  Also, and most importantly, because I can see them all I can note what types of things attract the children’s attention.

They are the leaders.  They let me know when they make a discovery and want to check it out further;

They are the ones who initiate the experiments to find out things like ‘can I lift that fallen tree?’

On this outing it was also my intention to take a picture of every one of the tree carvings that we found along the way.  These pictures were to be examples for the children later when we tried some clay carvings.  So when we reached ‘Woody’ the tree spirit I got ready to take some photos and discovered that the batteries were too low.  No problem, I always bring extras along.  As the children examined the tree or rested on the nearby bench I changed the camera batteries.  Then we heard a sound in the bush behind us;

Deer! First one, then another and another – there were four all together.  One was bigger so we assumed it was the mother.  The other three were smaller and still had spots.

They knew we were there; the young deer were just as interested in watching us as we were in watching them. All young are curious. As the children knelt on the bench, leaning over the back and peering into the trees, the young deer moved closer to get a better look.  It was awesome!

All the while I was fumbling with my camera which continued to flash the low battery warning even with the new batteries I just put in.  The ‘new’ batteries had been in the bottom of the camera case for a while – too long I guess. Sadly, there would be no more pictures today.

We watched the deer for about 15 minutes.  Some of the young ones ventured to within 15 feet of the clearing we were in before their mom decided they should move along.  I would have loved to have gotten a picture with both my group of children and hers.

We continued our hike and in total we saw four deer, three snakes, two frogs, some crickets, two blue jays, a chipmunk and seven tree carvings.  The children tried to mimic the blue jay call and they made up a chant about watching for poison ivy.  Maybe I need to start bringing my voice recorder along on our adventures too – and more than one extra set of batteries.