On the Move

Yesterday the preschoolers were enthusiastic explorers.  They went on many adventures using different means of transportation.  There was the popular off-road vehicle that could conquer any terrain;

Then there was the amazing flying saucer — who wouldn’t love the opportunity to fly through space on a burger bun;

Of course they included my personal favorite way to travel — on horseback;

The only problem with horses is that the need so many potty breaks.  These ones discovered that even horses have to line up and wait their turn to use the potty;

All these adventures fascinated the baby.  He doesn’t crawl yet so he relies on me to place him in the optimum position where he can observe all the action.

But wait…. hey, that is not where I put you…how did you get over there.  Hmmm seems someone has discovered the butt shuffle 🙂

And I’m thrilled that his favorite place to travel to is the sensory wall.

So many interesting things to touch and feel;

And while I haven’t yet purposely added any ‘sound’ items to the wall, someone discovered that a baby hand can make the coolest squeaky noise ever when you slide it across this;

Of course some of us are not as enthralled by that squeaky noise especially after hearing it several hundred times!  Oh well, soon we’ll be moving on to something else.

Good vs. Evil

Weapon play and fighting games – allowed or forbidden – that is a controversial question.  It doesn’t have and easy answer.  I don’t encourage the use weapons and I don’t have toy guns or swords available in the playroom.  However, that doesn’t necessarily mean I won’t let the children pretend to use guns and swords.  Confused?

This confusion is due to the difficulty in defining the ‘fighting’ aspect of the children’s games.  So, I’m going to try to provide an explanation of my views on the subject. First, let me discuss weapons.  What is a weapon? According to the legal dictionary at Duhaime.org  a weapon is “An instrument of combat; something to fight with – used or designed to injure or kill”.  So then, consider these scenarios – all actual dramatic play activities that I have observed the children engage in;

  1.  The princess and her friends have been captured by the evil witch.  They are trapped in a dungeon and tied up with imaginary ropes and chains.  The Knight arrives and to rescue them uses his imaginary sword to cut them free.  The princess creates a magic potion and the group chases down the witch who begs for mercy and promises to be good.  The group ignores her pleas claiming ‘You are evil and that will never change’ and they use the potion to destroy her.
  2. The ‘Family’ is at home. The mother is putting her children to bed.  She covers them gently with blankets and reads them a story and then goes to do some housework.  The father is busy using tools to repair the home. A ‘cat’ crawls into the area where the children are sleeping.  The children start to panic, crying for their mother to come and save them.  The mother rushes over and pretends to spray the cat with the soap. The cat is upset and says ‘But I am a good cat and I want to play with you’.  ‘Too bad, you don’t belong here and you have to stay out.’ the mother says.  The father uses a hammer to threaten the cat and chases it away.
  3. The hunters are hiking through the forest.  They use binoculars to spy their imaginary prey.  Slowly they move forward to sneak up on the bear/dragon/dinosaur.  They work together whispering and using gestures to coordinate their movements and corner the beast — then they kill it with their imaginary weapon.  Sometimes the beast gets one of them first and the game play changes as one hunter gets his injured friend to safety.
  4. Two spacemen are engaged in combat – they narrate their actions so the other knows how to interpret the actions.  They are on opposite sides of the room – several other children are present but involved in other unrelated activities.  One spaceman holds his arms out with his palms open toward the other and says “I am forcing you with my power”.  The other responds “I put up my shields and the beam bounces back at you”.   The first one replies “I’m hit”, he falls slowly to the ground – careful to avoid the nearby structure being created in the block area. He then pulls a crystal from his pocket and uses it to restore his ship’s power and the battle continues.

So, which ones are fighting games?  Which ones may require me to become involved?  I’ll tell you what I see;

  1. The princess was in danger and the knight used the sword as a tool, not a weapon.  The princess’ potion is not necessarily considered a weapon but in this case it is used as one.  I would not ban this type of play however, I would use this opportunity to discuss weather the ‘person’ was bad or their ‘action’ was.  In my opinion this princess was just as evil as the witch.  Retaliation is not a good solution to solving disputes.
  2. This is the worst type of fighting game and I will be putting a stop to it immediately.  The children involved here will vehemently deny that they are using any weapons – but they are.  So should I ban the workshop tools and cleaning supplies?  They will deny that they are being mean and excluding the cat – they will have excuses such as ‘allergies’.  Even if they agree to let him play they will continue to be bullies only more subtle and they will watch me just as closely as I am watching them. In fact, they will probably stop playing this game all together because I ruined it.
  3. I love this game.  The cooperation and camaraderie must be commended and encouraged.  Yes, there are weapons and violence involved but it is not the main focus and there are no ‘people as targets’ – which is something that I discourage.  If I did intervene here it would simply be to clarify their reason for killing.  Food? Survival?
  4. OK, this one is in a ‘grey’ area.  They are using people as targets but the players in this game are in total agreement.  They are being respectful of everyone and everything around them.  There is no actual physical contact – most of the play is through conversation.  The younger children in the room are not trying to join in or mimic the older ones – in fact, most of them are unaware that this is actually a fighting game.  Those that do may come to me and ‘tattle’ which will give us the opportunity to have a discussion about what we are observing as the game continues.  This is a teachable moment.

Basically, it all comes down to respect. If the children are being respectful of the space and other people — involved in the game or not, I will not redirect the activity even if it is a fighting game and they are using weapons. Some may agree with me, others may not.  Like I said at the beginning, it’s controversial.

The Wall

Earlier this month I wrote about a rearrangement of the housekeeping area in the playroom.  You can read about it here.

As I had hoped, moving the half wall has greatly improved the traffic flow between play areas.  The new placement has enhanced the use of the ‘drive thru’ order window making customer service much easier and the old computer keyboards are great cash registers too.

There has also been another interesting development.  Making tents/forts under the loft has long been a popular activity.  The push-in type towel holders that were included in the loft design made it easy to hang blankets for tents;

After I moved the housekeeping area wall, the children made another discovery that reignited their interest in building tents and forts;

In the previous post I had also mentioned that I was considering adding textured items to the blank side of the divider wall.  Many, many years ago we used to have an ‘activity wall’.  It was a wall that we had built in the archway between the living room and dining room of my home.  At that time I was using the dining room as the main playroom so I had built in activities to that side of the wall.  This was how it looked back in 2002;

The old “Activity Wall” contained various little doors with latches that the children could open and find surprises.  There were also wooden bead mazes and other games that the children could use.  The old wall changed over time as some items were removed and others were added.

Then when the playroom underwent a major renovation many of the wall items were eliminated or incorporated in various areas throughout the playroom instead of being grouped together.  Now that the half wall of the housekeeping area has been relocated I decide to add some items to this wall.  I planned this as a ‘texture’ wall instead of an ‘activity’ wall and so far it looks like this;

It has items that are soft or hard, shiny or dull, smooth or rough, plain or patterned and more. There are circles, squares, rectangles and only one triangle – something that the children noticed almost right away.  This is only the beginning; I expect that the items on this wall will change over time too.  We’ll see.

Changing Times

We have a written schedule that provides a very basic outline of our day. Essentially the schedule is just a chronological list of the events of the day.  It looks something like this;

  • Arrival
  • Free Play
  • AM snack
  • Circle/Calendar/Planned Activity
  • Outdoor Time
  • Lunch
  • Nap/Quiet time
  • Free Play (short)
  • PM Snack
  • Free Play
  • Home Time

The posted schedule does list actual times for each event but these are just a formality.  In reality the timing is very flexible.  For example, outdoor time is scheduled for two hours from 9:30 – 11:30 am but it can be as short as 30 minutes or as long as 4 hours if we move other events like circle and meals outdoors too.

It is the order of the events that remains consistent. Times are adjusted as needed to accommodate individual schedules, moods and interests.

Naptime probably has the biggest influence on the timing of our schedule because during naptime the cots and playpens are set up in the playroom – so there is no ‘free play’ room.  During naptime activities are limited to the sunroom – crafts, board games, puzzles, books and some small toys — quiet activities.

Currently, the baby’s nap is affecting our schedule.  You see, he simply cannot stay awake until the scheduled afternoon nap time.  He can sometimes be persuaded to have a short morning nap in the stroller while we are outdoors – but then he doesn’t want his real nap until after 2 pm and he will sleep until 4:30.

That means ‘naptime/quiet time’ has been extended from 1:00 to 4:30 as various children sleep at different times. It means that for nearly half the day there can be no free play in the playroom which is normally considered the main play space. It means that the baby is in the sunroom for part of quiet time – the sunroom is intended as a place where older children can use small stuff independently without interference.

It is not a good schedule.

Now, since the baby doesn’t really need two naps – and sometimes even argues about having that morning nap – the simple answer seems to be to just skip the morning nap.  The problem then is that he ‘crashes’ before lunch and he wakes to eat at 1:30 pm.  Essentially this results in the same issues as the late nap but at a different time.  The playroom is off limits due to naptime from 11:30 to 3:00 and I have a bored baby awake in the sunroom while the others nap.

So last week I tried something different.  I moved naptime ahead one hour so the preschoolers nap from noon to 2:00pm.  It means we have lunch early – something that is possible because this year I don’t have any school-age children returning here for lunch from 12:15-12:45pm.

I changed something else too.  For the first time ever, I made a change to the order of the events in our schedule. Now it looks like this;

  • Arrival
  • Free Play
  • AM snack
  • Circle/Calendar/Planned Activity
  • Free Play (short)
  • Lunch
  • Nap/Quiet time
  • Outdoor Time
  • PM Snack
  • Free Play
  • Home Time

All the children nap at approximately the same time again.  Outdoor time is now scheduled for after naptime and the two preschoolers who attend ½ day school programs in the morning are now able to engage in some active outdoor play in the afternoons instead of only quiet time activities.

It seems to be working well.  Even on Friday when there was a school inservice day and all the children were here for the full day this new schedule worked.  I don’t intend for this to be a permanent change.  I’m certain that by Spring/Summer we’ll want to be outdoors all morning again.  For winter though, an early lunch and naptime and an outdoor time that takes advantage of warmer afternoon temperatures may just be the perfect solution.

The Waiting Game

I don’t schedule ‘sit and wait’ times but occasionally the children are required to wait – usually because they were too fast for me.  For example, they clean-up their toys, wash their hands and sit down for lunch while I finish making lunch and dish up the food.

If they are seated before I’m finished plating the food then they will have a short period of ‘waiting’ time.  Sometimes when they have to wait they will play ‘I Spy’.  I’ve written about this game before — here.

We don’t use the dining table for any purpose other than meals so we have some rules here to encourage appropriate table manners and conversation.  Basically the rules are ‘Keep your hands to yourself and talk politely using words.’  Really, those rules apply other places too but at the table we discourage ‘actions’ and “talk politely using words” is better than “stop waving your arms”.  The “hands to yourself” rule is important here because the children don’t have the option to walk away when someone else is poking at them.

Usually the children are capable of sustaining conversations while they wait.  Often they have stories to share that they forgot about when they were ‘busy’ in the play room or outdoors.  Some may say that ‘waiting time’ is actually ‘thinking time’.

Occasionally if they are tired or overexcited and it may be necessary for me to redirect or guide the conversations.  Usually though they lead the conversations.  When they are not interested in chatting about their day or making plans for later they will play I Spy or something similar.  Recently they began something new – they have been making up riddles.

I find these riddles interesting or amusing and, although I’m usually busy with meal prep, I’ve managed to write a few of them down;

  • Child 1 – I have long ears
  • Child 2 – A rabbit?
  • Child 1 – No, there is more.  I am yellow and brown.  I step on things.  I’m in the Lion King Movie.
  • All the children – A giraffe!
  • Child 2 – My turn.  I have feathers
  • All the children – A bird?
  • Child 2 – No, I have things sticking out of my head.
  • All the children – A PEACOCK!!
  • Child 2 – Yes!  (note-peacocks are currently one of their favourite creatures but maybe we should learn some more about them).
  • Child 3 – I roar
  • Child 1 – A lion?
  • Child 3 – I have a long tail
  • Child 1 – A dinosaur?
  • Child 3 – Yes! You win!

Sometimes it is hard to stay focused on getting lunch ready 🙂  I’m considering pursuing riddles further – perhaps as a group activity or craft.  For now though, it is a great game to play while you wait.

Wonderful Playground

I recently went to check out the new playground over by the Living Prairie Museum.  I don’t know if this playground/park is actually part of the LPM property or if it has a different name.  It is located just outside the prairie fence and seems to be more of a ‘manicured’ park but it has a ‘nature’ theme so I love it!

In fact, I would love my yard to look like this playground.  Thanks Kristi for letting me know about it or I may not have ever gone to explore it.  Now my absolute favorite part of the park is this;

That is such a perfect climber for a ‘natural’ playground.  I’m already tring to figure out where/how to get something like this for my yard too.  Here’s another view;

There is another area of the playground with rocks and stumps — I love this area too.  I particularly like that it combines both the natural and imitation elements. I don’t have nearly enough room for this in my yard but I can dream 🙂

I’m not certain if work on this playground is complete yet because there are still some ‘remnants’ laying around;

I consider these ‘bonus’ items — I want them too!  Then there is the big pile of dirt and sod that I believe is from the areas they cleared for the sand and bark around the play zones.  I’m secretly hoping they are actually going to leave the dirt pile there as an additional play feature.  I think someone else has the same wish;

‘Cleaning up’ would mean destroying this little guy’s home 😦

Special thanks to my son for coming to explore with me and for taking these pictures with his fancy new camera.

Sponge Art and More

Yesterday the preschoolers experimented with sponge painting.

I provided some shaped sponges, paint and paper and a brief explanation of the process.  The rest was up to them.

Interestingly it was the youngest member of the group that seemed the most confident – instantly diving in and working independently.  He was the first to start and the last to quit.  Honestly he probably would have been content to do this all day if the others hadn’t been so persistent about quitting.

The older children were more focused on the product they were trying to create.  Some put so much time and effort into applying the paint to the sponge that by the time they tried to stamp it on the paper most of the paint was already dry — leading to a bit of frustration with the project.

Others complained about the jagged edges of the shapes and insisted on doing touch-ups with the paint brush to define the shapes better.  In fact, they prefered to skip the sponge part and just paint with the brush instead.

The finished results were as varied as the methods of the individual artists.

The window sill in the sunroom is the perfect place for leaving the artwork to dry.  The abundance of sunlight is also great for other things too — like later in the day when I was summoned to come and see this discovery;

Yes, that is amazing isn’t it 🙂 Even more impressive because you discovered it without assistance.

Right or Left?

I watched with amusement as my teenage son attached his camera to the tripod.  I wasn’t the trial and error method he used to accomplish the task or the way he talked to himself as he tried to figure it out that amused me. It was my husband’s growing frustration that made me laugh.

You see, my son’s dilemma may be hereditary.  I know the rhyme ‘Righty tighty, lefty loosey’.  I also know that I should turn something clockwise to tighten and counter clockwise to loosen but, when I am actually turning something I sometimes have difficulty associating the thought with the action.  I think it is a problem with hand/eye/brain communication.

Maybe I over think it.  Staring at the screw/knob or whatever it is — my hand poised over it – pretending to turn it first one way, then the other.  I am distracted by my husband’s exasperation when he can’t tolerate it any longer.

“Turn it right” he says “Clockwise”

“I know”

“Then do it!” he says, louder this time.

“I’m thinking” I reply, “And you’re not helping”

Tentatively I try turning it

“The other way!!!!” he yells “Don’t you know right from left?”

“Yes, but I’m thinking that although I’m turning it to the right, if I turned the whole assembly over and looked at it from the bottom, the same motion would be turning it to the left – so I could be loosening it.”

My husband is speechless – he looks like he might be having a stroke.

Back to my son and his camera – he starts turning the knob on the tripod but then hesitates.

“That’s right – correct” my husband acknowledges.

The boy replies “but I’m holding it upside down so I should turn it left”

I burst out laughing.  My husband is annoyed – possibly jealous that he can’t relate.

Anyway, in the workshop area of the playroom I have this;

I thought it would be a great tool for the children to develop eye/hand coordination and fine motor skills.

Every once in a while someone will get one of the nuts tightened at the top or bottom of the threaded rod.  They’ll ask me how to loosen it.  In response I will tell them to turn it the opposite direction to what they had been turning it.  They are usually pretty good at understanding opposites.  They’re preschoolers – they still have some difficulty with right and left or clockwise and counter clockwise.  I could teach them the rhyme but I don’t think it would help – either of us.

I think it is better to let them figure it out themselves.  Try something new, make mistakes and try again – without interference.  Right or left, tighten or loosen, correct or wrong.  It doesn’t matter. They are practicing and they will discover a method that works for them.

The knowledge, the grade on the written test, doesn’t matter without the opportunity to use it.  What is important is the ability to figure something out.  To learn from mistakes.  To practice.  To persevere.  To face a problem and conquer it.  That’s something you can’t do if you’re worried about being wrong — worried about pleasing the observer.


It has been hard to believe it is really October.  We were still wearing shorts and experiencing record high daytime temperatures.

Still, the mornings and evening were becoming very cool and the sun was setting early. The leaves were turning colors and beginning to fall to the ground.

I took the preschoolers on a walk to collect some leaves.  When we came back we made some leave pictures;

I don’t think they were trying to make anything in particular with their leaves – it’s all about the process not the product.

Some of the children put a great deal of effort into leaf selection – being very particular about leaf shape and color and making sure there were no defects.  Others were more interested in production speed and the quantity of leaves they could attach to a piece of paper.

Such a simple activity.  Enjoying the season and all it has to offer.

Happy Thanksgiving Canada! 

The Grain Project 2

We have finally completed our grain project that we started way back in May.  I don’t think it was as successful a project as growing wheat was in the past.  The Kamut, Triticale and Oats were the only grains that we were really able to harvest.

The soybeans (centre of photo) seemed to do well — at least to the point when this picture was taken – but since they are not really a grain we didn’t include them in the harvest.

The biggest problem with this year’s grain project was the lack of cohesion.  Attendance was sporadic and we had so many changes to the group.  Some of the children that were here for the planting were not here for the growing and harvesting.  The summer children that were here for the growing and havesting had little interest in the project because they did not understand the history behind it.

Still, we did manage to complete the project.  We did not use all the grains.  Since the oats were the most abundant crop we used them.  The children separated the oat kernels from the rest of the plants.  It took a really long time over several weeks because it was a very tedious process.

The wheat was much easier to work with than this;

After some research we discovered that ‘steel cut oats‘ would be a more plausible product for us than rolled oats.  We did do some comparisons with our oats and store bought oats too;

Then for snack yesterday we had oatmeal made from a mixture of our oats and some steel cut oats that I purchased since we didn’t have enough patience to process all of ours.

MMmmmm!  Having tried these I will never go back to quick oats again.  However, most of the preschoolers were unimpressed — claiming this oatmeal was ‘too chewy’.  🙂