A Little Rant

I call January ‘The Birthday Month’.  Including my family members and the current group of children in care there are five birthdays in January.  This year one of the January birthdays is a significant one – an infant becomes a preschooler.  This brings me to my beginning of my little rant.

In Manitoba childcare a child is moved from an infant space to a preschool space when they turn two.  For me, as a licensed family childcare provider with an Early Childhood Educator II classification, that also means that the daily rate that I can charge for that child drops by nearly $10 per day.  I still have the same children in care for the same number of hours per day but my income is lowered by over $200 a month.

Considering that I have five preschool spaces of which no more than three can be infants my income can vary greatly.  If I have three children under 2 years old and two children aged 2-5 my monthly income will be more than $600 higher than if all five preschoolers are over 2 years old.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand why the parent fees for childcare – rates set by the province – are higher for infants than for preschoolers.  In centre based care there is a different staff to child ratio for the various age groups. Infant groups are smaller so their staffing costs are higher per child.

However, in family childcare costs are higher for preschoolers than they are for infants.  Preschoolers eat more food, they use more craft supplies, and if we go on a field trip there will generally be an admission charge for the children over two years old.  As for the workload – infant care is a different type of work but it is not more work than providing a quality program for a preschooler.

Having said all that, I would also like to mention that my personal favourite age group to work with is the 2 to 3 year olds.  So, I guess you could say the decrease in my financial income is balanced out by greater enthusiasm and excitement.

Some family childcare providers are not willing to accept the financial loss.  I get phone calls from parents whose child is about to turn or has recently turned two.  They have been told by their current childcare provider that they no longer have a space for them.  I tell them to call the Manitoba Early Learning and Childcare Program and complain – this is not considered an acceptable practice.  It is not a widespread problem but it does exist.

The opportunity to build a caregiver/child relationship as a child grows from infancy, through preschool years and onward is one of the greatest benefits of family childcare.   A caregiver who dismisses a two-year-old child for the financial benefit of enrolling another infant is no different than the one who lets the children watch TV all day because it is cheaper than providing a quality childcare program. Fewer expenses, less work = higher income.

Then there are also the unlicensed childcare providers – who have no enforced regulations and who often charge rates that are higher than those allowed by licensed providers.  How many parents whose children are in unlicensed care know that these homes can have a maximum of four children under the age of 12 years old including their own?  How many of these unlicensed providers (and parents) realize that their homeowners insurance doesn’t cover liability for the children in their care?  Do they have the required business insurance?  Who checks?

That’s my little rant.  I don’t have any solutions.  I don’t know how to fix a system that sometimes provides greater financial reward for practices that are not always the best.  It’s a good thing that most childcare providers don’t choose money over children.  The truth is that poor quality childcare programs can still exist because the demand for childcare far exceeds the supply.

Fairy Magic

When our dog was a puppy we took her to obedience classes.  One of the suggestions made was to ensure our strong willed puppy ‘knew her place in the pack’ by always giving her her food after we ate our supper.  Due to her whining and begging through our meal we often sent her outside until we finished eating.  Then, when she came back in her food dish was full.

She is not a puppy anymore – she is 12 years old but she still remembers the ‘food fairy’.  When she is hungry she begs to go out then wants back in right away.  She immediately checks her food dish and if it is still empty she begs to go outside again.  I’ve tried to explain ‘time’ to her but she still has faith in the magic of the food fairy.

A few weeks ago the children went outside to play and discovered that the yard looked like this;

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I told them that the ‘ice fairy’ must have come to decorate the yard.  They were so excited – collecting and sorting all the coloured gems of ice.

Since then it has snowed several times and most of the coloured ice has been buried.  This week I made some more – it didn’t take long in our -40 C weather.  It hasn’t really been that cold in my yard.  My weather station has registered between -21 and -24 and the yard is sheltered from the wind.

So the ice fairy came again to decorate the yard.  The children were excited but….they laughed and said ‘Yeah, Cheryl made more ice’.  Apparently I failed to persuade them of the existence of a magic fairy that brings coloured ice.

If the dog could talk I’m sure she’d be able to explain the power of fairy magic.  Until then the ice fairy will continue to brighten up the yard and as spring arrives we may discover all those buried gems too.

The Piano Keyboard

There was a time, very early in my childcare career, when we had ‘music time’ as a regularly scheduled group activity.  I’d bring out various musical instruments and together the children I would listen to music, play with the instruments, sing songs and do music and rhythm exercises.  It was a structured, adult led activity that required all the children to participate in a music activity at a specific time.

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Over time I rearranged and expanded our play space so that it could include a music area – place where the musical instruments were always available and could be used by one or more children at any time.  We no longer had a scheduled music time but the children could initiate a group musical activity.  I was available to guide and assist but the children were not required to participate if they were otherwise engaged.  Some of the children spent much of their time immersed in musical exploration.  Others would come and go depending on their mood and other interests.

The music area also included a small piano keyboard which became one of the favourite musical instruments.  Many of the children learned to play their favourite melodies on this little piano and some began to make connections between printed music and the corresponding keys on the keyboard;

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This little piano was popular but it was also annoying.  This was not a true piano keyboard – simply an electronic toy with major limitations.  It had a repertoire of recorded songs to listen to but not play along with.  While a song was playing if anyone touched a piano key the song would stop – how frustrating!  It also listed several different instruments but each one was simply a slightly different irritating digital tone which sounded nothing like the instrument it claimed to be.

Recently I replaced this toy piano with a better keyboard – this is the newly purchased item that I referred at in my last post.  It has 90 recorded songs – that we can play along with – and 150 rhythms and 400 beautiful tones that sound similar to real instruments.  It is a wonderful addition to our music area;

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OK, so some of the tones are not so beautiful – or even musical – but they are interesting.  The children have made many discoveries about this keyboard through experimentation with little help from me.  In fact, on a couple of occasions I’ve had to ask them how they did something.  One of these instances had nothing to do with music.

They were engaged in a ‘army’ dramatic play activity and used the ‘helicopter’ and ‘gunshots’ tones.  They discovered that if they selected ‘helicopter’ and held one key down the helicopter tone would continue playing and they could select a second tone.  Of course the ‘gunshot’ tone was then used to shoot down the helicopter.  Not an activity I would have initiated but it did require a fair amount of cooperation and collaboration from the group of children involved.

I’ve printed and posted the entire list of songs, rhythms, and tones so they are available for those who can or want to learn to read the names and select specific songs or tones.

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Currently the most popular song choice is Pachelbel’s ‘Canon’ which has elicited discussions about what makes certain songs popular.  We’ve done some research into the history of many of these songs. The children have identified some of the recorded songs as being ‘from’ movies and television shows and are surprised to discover that these songs are ‘so old’.

Another song that produces a lot of excitement is ‘The Wedding March’ which is always played during the numerous toy weddings and often the children use the other instruments to play along as part of ‘the band’.  This is just one of the many ways the children can incorporate music into their free play activities.  They are so much more engaged in musical activities when they have control over when and how the music is used.

What’s This For?

There are toys that have returned to the playroom – things the children have seen/used before but not recently.  Every weekend I rotate toys in and out of play.  The children often refer to returning toys as ‘new’ but really they are old.

There are new toys in the playroom too.  There is one newly purchased item that I will talk about in a separate post.  The items that I am referring to now are ‘loose parts’ – random things that I sometimes purchase but most often then are things I toss in the playroom instead of the recycling bin.

Of course there is a big box.  One of my favorite aspects of the most recent playroom arrangement is that there is more open floor space which will make it possible to have empty boxes in the room on a regular basis.  The children love boxes and they are never unsure what to do with an empty box;

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The other new items in the room did elicit “What’s this for?” questions.  These items are pieces of packaging that came in various boxes.  These items don’t have a defined play purpose.  They are open-ended items.

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Sometimes they are used just for carrying around and dancing with;

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Sometimes they become a place for other toys to play;

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The box is good for this too;

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This box is big enough for two friends to go on a trip together – love that they remembered to put on their seatbelt;

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And here some packaging pieces were combined with the box to create gas and brake pedals for a super fast car;

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Even the old toys and instuments have been used for another purpose.  Perfect!  So much more imagination required when toys don’t have instructions.

Painted Snow

We’ve got a perfect amount of snow in the yard – enough so we can make piles and sculp and climb but not so much that we don’t have any open space left.  During our daily outdoor play time the preschoolers have packed well-defined trails through the yard.

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The school age children rarely have enough time to play outdoors and they had not been out in the yard since the snow began to accumulate.  They were amazed – they are taller now.  They don’t have to step up onto the logs (can’t find some of the logs). Sitting on the benches is a different experience too.

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Yesterday I decided to bring out some liguid watercolor.  Our previous experiences with this product – which you can read about here – were somewhat disappoining.  However, on the white snow the watercolors are vivid.

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I was expecting the children to do more ‘art’ and create pictures with the paint.  Instead, they were more focused on ‘science’ using the liquid to make ice on the slope of the little hill so it was slipperier for sliding on.  They like to use the old cookie sheets for this;

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There was some more science going on in the corner of the yard too as two young girls dug a hole in which to mix their colours in;

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Then they mixed it up to create little clumps of coloured snow which they called ‘gems’.

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And of course the children saved all their running and jumping energy for when we came back inside 🙂

Point of View

A new year has begun.  My mini vacation has come to an end and I sit here reflecting on what I have – or have not – accomplished during this time.

This year, because Christmas and New Year’s Day both fell on Tuesday’s I took the Monday’s as unpaid holidays which gave me a five day weekend and a four day weekend with only two working days in between.  That meant that out of eleven consecutive days I had nine days off – a mini vacation.

Now, anyone who knows me well will ask “What major project did you tackle with all that time off?”  It’s true that even with a three day weekend I usually have some type of grandiose plan to build or renovate something.  With nine days off I should have managed to complete a lot.

It is with some consternation that I now look back on my mini vacation and think ‘I should have done more’.  The one ‘big’ project I undertook really only took two days to complete so in fact it could have been done on any normal weekend.

Yes, I did also do a ton of laundry and some other housework.  I did reorganize the storage area in the basement.  I did spend time with my family. I even – and this is difficult for me to admit – I even slept in until 9:30 am – twice. Seriously!!

I struggle to resist the urge to say that I wasted precious time – to start listing all the things that I didn’t do.  To agonize about all the things I could have/should have done with that much time off.

The one big project I undertook was to reorganize my ‘office’ workspace.  I cleared out much of the miscellaneous stuff that was stored under and on top of my desk.  The desk and storage area were disassembled and rebuilt.

My new desk is smaller – less room for odds and ends to accumulate on top of it.  Instead of facing the corner my desk now faces the playroom.  Turning the desk and making it smaller gives the children more open floor space in which to play – that was my objective when I planned this project.

Yet, turning my desk also gives me a different point of view.  My desk no longer covers my piano – hiding it from view.  My piano and the window are now visible from my seat at the desk – both distract me from my paperwork.  I spent less than one hour on paperwork during the nine days that I had off.

I played my piano more during this last week than I did in all of the first 51 weeks of 2012 combined.  One of the children notice the piano and asked if I got it for Christmas.  No, I’ve had it for a long time but it has been buried under paperwork.

Certainly I enjoy the building and renovating and I think that gardening and yard work are enjoyable activities too – they are forms of productive play.  I don’t even really mind doing housework.  It is unproductive time that causes me grief.

I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions but this year I think I will.  This year I will try to not feel so guilty about ‘wasting’ time.  I’m going to look at it from a different perspective.  I’m going to take a deep breath and say ‘sometimes it is OK to spend time on things that don’t produce a tangible result – it is not a waste of time’.