Playing Babies

Every day the children engage in some sort of dramatic play.  For some it is their preferred activity choice.  Others would rather build with blocks or read a book but will occasionally join the group for some type of dramatic play.

Sometimes they set up a store, restaurant or repair shop.  Often they pretend they are characters from movies or TV shows.  The most common theme though, is ‘families’ – parents and children and pets negotiating through their everyday routine.

The group I currently have enrolled always calls it ‘playing babies’.  This is probably because ‘the baby’ is the most popular role.  In fact, it is not unusual for there to be five or six babies and only one adult.  The gender of the adult is irrelevant but the child in the adult role is always there reluctantly.

Every one of them wants to be a baby or occasionally a cat – which acts just like a baby but it meows.  These babies are always horrible – cranky, demanding, inconsolable babies that trash the house and never sleep or eat the food they are given and they always have dirty diapers.

These babies drive me crazy and I’m not even playing the game.  The poor lone adult is always frazzled and near tears – no wonder no one wants that role.   I wanted to make the adult role more appealing.  Maybe if there were more adults the babies wouldn’t be so wild and disruptive.

I added some new stuff to the basket – several cell phones and some credit cards;

The new items were very popular and for a short period of time there were more adults.  They were somwhat annoying adults.  Some of them were the former babies which were now teenagers.  They were always bickering over which cell phone was the best and threatening to call the police over every disagreement.

They went on wild shopping sprees with their credit cards.  The few babies that were left would throw tantrums in the stores – demanding the adults buy them things.  The adults would clutch their credit cards and laugh “I’m rich and it’s all mine and you aren’t getting anything”.

Which prompted me to point out that using a credit card usually means they haven’t got enough money to pay for something and they have to borrow money and pay it back later.

So now there are no more pretend adults – just pretend babies – horrible, cranky, inconsolable pretend babies.  Yet, they all think the real babies we have here are absolutely adorable.

Beans 2

In my last post I highlighted some of the things that the children had been doing with the beans from our garden over the past few weeks. Yesterday there was no school so all the children were here for the full day.

Cooler temperatures over the weekend caused the leaves in the garden to shrivel and the bean pods are much easier to find.

The children were so excited and gathered as many beans as their hands, and pockets, could hold.  The colour varieties made the customary ‘stew’ very appealing;

Then the first store opened.  The children began selling, trading, and even renting beans to each other;

More stores opened and the children began marketing their beans.  They were setting up displays, offering discounts and special incentives to promote the beans for sale in their stores.

“Cases’ was the name of one of the stores.  Here all the beans were organized and customers chose the beans they liked best to fill their ‘case’.

We spent all morning outside and all we did was play with beans 🙂

Beans

Since we first began gardening we have grown beans.  The children don’t really like to eat the beans but they have tried them.  The main reason we grow beans is to create cozy sit spots.  I have not found anything better than beans for climbing a trellis.  This was what one of our sit spots looked like by mid summer;

By the end of the summer all three of the triangle trellises were so overgrown you could barely find your way inside — making them the perfect hideaway.

I only purchased bean seeds for the first year – we collected the beans from our garden each year and planted them the following years.  Our bean supply is endless.  We have two different kinds of beans.  The basic green beans start as white flowers and have white seeds inside;

The Scarlet Runner beans grow from red flowers and they get very big;

They are very pretty – ranging from light pink to dark purple;

We have more scarlet runner beans than anything else in the garden.  They make terrific ‘loose parts’ and often get used as props in dramatic  play activities and as wonderful additions to ‘stew’;

Last week the children noticed that there were still a few dried beans left from the previous year when we had grown some in pots by the neighbours garage.  The children had already picked most of them but there were some that were too high for them to reach.

The children asked me to get the prized white beans down for them and then they buried them in the gravel — I was perplexed.  I asked them why they had done that. They answered “We hid them so the baby can’t find them.”  I was pretty sure no one was going to be able to find them in all that gravel;

The following day the children dashed outside and started looking for their beans.  After only a few seconds of digging they actually found one!?!?

I was astonished – apparently preschoolers are very much like squirrels in their ability to find their stash.

Next they buried some of the red beans.  I commented that those ones would be easier to find.  The children informed me that they were ‘planting’ these ones and they watered them too.

It is fall and these beans were planted in gravel.  I was going to say that the beans would not grow — but I hesitated.  I could be wrong.  After all, these are magical red beans so maybe they will grow — we’ll just wait and see.

Nature Summit 2012

This past weekend I attended the 2nd Manitoba Nature Summit.  I worked with an amazing committee to organize this event.  The first nature summit was held in 2010 and I wrote about it here.

The 2012 Summit was bigger and better than the first.  I already miss the Nature Summit experience and I can’t wait to get started on planning for 2014.  I can not relay the experience through a simple blog post but I will share a a few pictures with you.

There were some exciting workshops – and they were not held in a hotel conference room;

We had time to partake in a variety of activities like archery;

mountain biking and hiking etc;

We were introduced to ‘fox walking’;

and practiced it ourselves walking barefoot through the field and forest;

We ate wonderful food from Diversity Catering – this was just a snack;

Evenings were spent going on night hikes or singing and telling stories around the campfire;

The early morning sun promised another day of fabulous weather;

Saturday began with an inspiring keynote address from Severn Suzuki who told us about how her early experiences in nature led her to address the 1992 UN Earth Summit.  We connected with her through a video conference in order to reduce our impact on the earth;

The Nature Summit ended with an emotional closing ceremony;

An experience that cannot be put into words.

Nature Summit 2014 seems so far away but I know it will be worth the wait….

Upgrading Spaces

Back in August I mentioned that I had spent the weekend working on ‘phase one’ of a playroom  remodel and that I would show it to you when it was completed.  There are still a few bits and pieces that I want to add but both of the big weekend projects have been completed so here goes:

The old music/workshop area was working well;

My problem with this space was that it was a little cramped if the children decided to form a music group and dance.  Now, I can’t perform miracles and create a bigger room but I could reorganize the shelving to increase the usable floor space like this;

One thing you can’t see in the picture above is the mirror that is on the wall on the right hand side — the children love dancing in front of a mirror but the old music area had no available wall space.  This part of the project was phase one – phase two involved the old housekeeping area and the walkway;

The walkway (area with grey coloured mats) was necessary to get to the nature area but if children were building in the block area they often blocked the walkway.  In such a small room having a dedicated walkway was a waste of 12 square feet of playspace.  I began working on a plan to combine the walkway with the block area – more building space – and in the process we got a new housekeeping area too;

On the left side of the above photo you can see the music area mirror.  The block storage is in the area where the walkway used to be and the entire floor space under the library loft is now open for building;

The clear plastic panel on the back of the block shelf allows a viewpoint between housekeeping and block areas.  Also, because the counter area is combined with the block shelf there is more floor space in the houskeeping area too – bonus!

When the new housekeeping area was built we used a bigger bowl to make the sink – and my husband put in a drain too – thank-you 🙂

We left space under the sink to add a drain pipe and a water line (non functioning) but they haven’t been added yet.  In this photo you can see the space under the sink counter and the view into the block area;

The stovetop and oven were not included in the counter area and instead they have been relocated over to the area by the refrigerator and laundry centre;

Now I want to get some silver paint to upgrade to ‘stainless steel’ appliances 🙂

Summer Group Dynamics

Many people are surprised when I say that I look forward to summer time when the all the children are here for the full day.  I’ve even considered taking my vacation in the spring instead of summer just so I could have even more full days with the children. Unfortunately, closing for vacation in spring, during the school year, would be troublesome for bus schedules and school/work routines so I don’t.  I do, however, take only two weeks of vacation time in the summer instead of three, four, or even more that many other providers choose to take.

Summer is over now and the older children have returned to school.  This year I say that with a sigh of relief.  This summer was very long – and complicated. This was the summer that I wished I had taken more time off.  This was the summer that almost did me in – there were some days that it took so much effort just to unlock the front door and greet the children with a smile.

So why was this summer so troublesome?  There was only one new child in the group; the others have been here for at least a year – and up to six years.  Over the summer I spent a lot of time observing their interactions and reflecting.  There were a couple of children that tended to stand out – not in a good way.  It would be easy to label these children as ‘difficult’.  It would be easy to say that if they were not here then everything would run smoothly.

Easy would not be correct.  Although many of them have been attending here for years this ‘group’ has not been together before.  I actually have 11 children enrolled in my eight childcare spaces because some only attend part time.  Some attend only during school hours while others only attend when school is out.  Some have spent plenty of time together but not recently – and they’ve discovered that their ‘best friend’ has changed since they were together last – they have new interests.  There was a lot of turmoil within this group.

So, here are some of my observations – I’ve given the children bird names because I can’t use their real names and I didn’t want to number them;

Finch is curious, energetic and at times – defiant. Robin is imaginative and often oblivious to the conduct of the rest of the group.  These two have little interest in most group activities but will participate for short periods before wandering away to something they find more interesting.  Sparrow is wildly creative and independent, always has elaborate plans and is proficient at free play.  Sparrow enjoys cooperative group activities but gets frustrated by conflict and will usually return to solitary activities instead.  These three require very little guidance from me.

Canary is bubbly and full of energy but relies on others to make activity choices. Often Canary has difficulty staying on task.  Canary can become deeply engaged in cooperative play activities with Sparrow if not distracted.  Others sometimes take advantage of Canary’s trusting nature and they encourage undesirable behaviour.  Canary can be easily redirected and is never rebellious.

Jay is a keen observer who is very concerned about status and focused on results – definitely product over process.  Easily overwhelmed, Jay is drawn to group activities but rarely participates – preferring to watch or be watched.  When frustrated, Jay resorts to disrupting play in an effort to divide the group into smaller, more manageable clusters.  Jay can play cooperatively with one or two others in a non-competitive activity – preferably something constructive but not challenging.  Jay is very sensitive and views any suggestion or advice as a personal attack.

Pigeon….so wants to be where the action is, hates to be alone and is willing to do anything, absolutely anything, to be a part of the group.  Others often view Pigeon as annoying and therefore avoid contact which intensifies Pigeon’s efforts to be noticed.  Pigeon has little self control and cannot refuse a dare – no matter how outrageous.  Pigeon has great difficulty with unstructured activities but enjoys adult led group activities.  If the others allow it, Pigeon makes a wonderful addition to any group activity.  One rule infraction and Pigeon seems to feel the day is a total loss and any further attempt to behave or cooperate is now pointless.

Crow is extremely intelligent but easily bored and has little interest in most free play activities.  Crow follows instructions impeccably when participating in adult led group activities or working independently.  Within the group Crow’s favourite role is that of ‘puppet master’ – controlling others activities as a form of entertainment.  Crow has superb leadership capabilities which should be used more constructively.  Initiating or encouraging others inappropriate behaviour seems to be a great source of amusement for Crow particularly with Falcon as an accomplice.

Falcon is the oldest/biggest/strongest of the group and also highly competitive. Falcon does not like to play independently or cooperatively.  Falcon excels at constructive activities.  Whenever others are engaged in a cooperative group activity Falcon swoops in and modifies the activity into something where Falcon is most successful and the others either fail or quit playing.

When Crow and Falcon collaborate world domination is possible – and Jay and Pigeon are guaranteed to be casualties.  The others are safe if they have somewhere to play independently – if not, then they will be part of the fallout too.

This was my summer group.  I will not say any one of these children was the sole cause of disturbances nor were any of them completely faultless. It was the group dynamics and it was a very difficult group. Working on ‘prevention’ is so much easier than dealing with the ‘aftermath’ but both were very time consuming endeavours.

I was constantly analyzing and anticipating – trying to determine whether we needed more structured activities or more free play, more group activities or time to be independent.  How could we balance the needs of all the children in this group?

Certainly there was a ‘best’ scenario: Finch and Robin playing independently, Sparrow and Canary playing together in an elaborate imaginary world of their own,  Jay helping Falcon to create another great superstructure and Crow sitting with Pigeon working together on a planned project.  Yet, I couldn’t keep them separated like this indefinitely.  Besides, avoiding conflict will never teach us how to deal with it.

We had some really great times this summer and some terrible, horrible, wish-this-day-never-happened times too.  I didn’t keep score but for the first time I’m very, very glad that summer is over and school has started and the group dynamics have changed.

Cooperative Building

Nearly two months ago I wrote about the new wood pieces that I added to the loose parts area.  I was eagerly anticipating them being used to create some amazing structures but found that for most of the summer they were rarely used.  The pipes, seen here, were so much more popular that the wood seemed to be forgotten.

Occaisionally one of the children would go off to a corner of the yard and quietly build something independently.  There were roadways for cars;

And some unique structures;

Then one of the children decided to try to build a tall structure and came up with this design;

The other children became interested in this project and discovered that by working together they were able to create a much taller tower;

An amazing 92 inches tall to be exact;

With a T-Rex to stand guard;

But eventually it fell down – something they even planned for – ensuring no one was in the path of the anticipated collapse;

And then together they started all over again….