Rock On

There were several yard projects that I had planned to do during my too short vacation.  They didn’t get done then but because they were all fairly small projects I have been able to work on them  on evenings and weekends.  I’ll discuss two of them today and leave the others for another post so this one doesn’t get too long.  First, some background info…

It was seven years ago that I removed all the plastic play structures from the yard and began creating a more natural play space.  In 2010 I added the ‘hill’ but it never really became the what I had envisioned.  I had used logs to create ‘steps’ on three sides of the hill and intended that the children would actually climb on the hill;

15-09-hill00I chose hardy native prairie plants that I hoped would stand up to the traffic I expected there would be.  Over the years I have planted 10 varieties of native plants here but only the Pasture Sage and the Giant Hyssop have adapted well.  I do love the Pasture Sage but the Giant Hyssop has been a bit of an annoyance.   It has spread all over the hill and surrounding areas – I believe it has driven out most of the other plants I liked better.

It has also made climbing the hill impossible.  The Hyssop grows so tall and thick that it hinders playing on the hill.  It also attracts a lot of bees which we do like to watch as they work but we don’t want to bother them.  So the hill is mostly just a tunnel and a bridge but even those are difficult to use if I don’t continually hack off and tie back hyssop overgrowth to the point where it doesn’t even look pretty anymore.

15-09-hill01 In the past I have used various trellises to control the Hyssop but ultimately these just create more barriers around the hill.  In fact, I don’t think any of the children even think the hill could/should be climbed on.   Last year another issue developed too with the stumps that I had arranged randomly throughout the gravel area around the hill.  Here you can see the trellis barriers and the stumps;

15-09-hill02Yes, I do like the way that looks but it did not function well.  There was not a lot of space between the stumps for the digging/building projects the children enjoy.  The school-age children would race leaping from stump to stump as quickly as possible and they were not very observant about where the little ones were walking/playing.  The little ones were not able to anticipate and avoid the route the older children were planning to take because there were several options.  Attempting to copy the older children some of the younger ones were beginning to take risks that were far greater than their abilities.   I was spending far too much time redirecting play – something I don’t like to do.

So, I arranged all the stumps in a half-circle with each end reaching a different side of the hill;

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The stump path is now defined and they are close enough together that most of the preschoolers can manage them all.  The older children have other options to challenge themselves – all of them require some self control and precision instead of speed and distance.  One option that they enjoy is using the smaller tree cookies to create shortcuts across the circle.

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There is now also a large gravel area for group digging/building projects if that is what the children want to do.  The area in the center of the circle also makes a good corral/cage for their dramatic play activities.   The half circle stump path becomes a full circle when you notice what I did to the hill.  Side one;

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and side two;

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My inspiration to add rocks to the hill came from this playground in Oslo.  I was originally planning to cement the rocks in place like they did but our little hill is not very steep and the rocks seem secure in the soil.  For now I will leave it like this – besides, I’m curious what the native plants will do next spring.    I may add some other small, rock garden type plants too.

Full circle – rock on;

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Childcare Choices

With the federal election fast approaching childcare has been getting some attention as an election issue. The Childcare Advocacy Association of Canada has asked that we Take the Pledge to Vote Childcare. They provide information about where all the parties stand so voters can make informed decisions.

I usually prefer to stay out of politics and just use my blog to highlight my adventures with the children in my licensed family childcare home but this is an important issue and so I wanted to share some stories of the people I have met throughout my years in childcare. These are not all the choices available – just some of the home based options that I have experienced over the years as a parent before I became a licensed childcare provider and throughout my childcare career.

There is a young mom speaking in broken English – she is very excited because today is her last ‘Intro to Family Childcare’ class and she will soon be on her way to becoming a licensed childcare provider. She has developed her business plan and is looking forward to becoming a productive citizen in this amazing country she now calls home. Realizing her dream of opening her own business will also provide quality childcare to others in her community so they can attend school and go to work.

There was the young man who went to college and earned his Early Childhood Educator Diploma. He worked in a childcare center for several years – his female colleagues valued having a male role model in their facility. His employers, the children he cares for and their families all speak very highly of him. He and his wife have their first child and he decides to open a licensed family childcare home so he can stay at home with his child and still continue to work in the job he loves. Even with his excellent references and the high demand for childcare he has difficulty filling spaces. Many parents are reluctant to place their children in his care because a man staying home to care for children is not the norm.

Another provider in an upscale neighbourhood lives in a beautiful 3000 square foot home most of which is off limits to the children she cares for. She has a dedicated childcare space in her basement. She offers a very structured academic program geared toward older preschool and school-age children. She is very selective about which children she will enroll. When she does have a vacancy she screens through many applicants to find a child that will fit in to her program well.

A couple living in the inner city are both licensed family childcare providers. Together they care for children 24/7 and accommodate parents who work various shifts.

Now, at this point I’d like to say that I’ve met some absolutely excellent unlicensed childcare providers who are operating within legal numbers. An unlicensed childcare home is not regulated in any way other than ratio/max number of children in care – no more than four children under 12 years of age of which no more than two are under two years of age including the providers own children.

Some offer wonderful environments and fantastic programming but are simply uninterested or unwilling to put in the effort required to become licensed. If they are only providing care for preschool children the one extra child (four for unlicensed, five for licensed) isn’t much of an incentive. Especially once you take into consideration that many unlicensed providers charge higher fees than those licensed providers whose fees are set by the province.

Most unlicensed providers and the parents who enroll their children in these programs are unaware that these programs require additional commercial insurance – without it their standard homeowners insurance is void if they operate a home based business licensed or not. Business insurance is required for licensed providers yet even with this separate insurance some providers still have issues with getting basic homeowners insurance.

Let’s now consider some of the illegal unlicensed childcare providers I’ve come across over the years

The young mom on mat leave after the birth of her second child. She also cares for two children of a friend of hers to help out just until she goes back to work. With a total of only four children including her own she is within legal childcare numbers – but she’s not reporting her income to EI.

In the parking lot of a middle class neighbourhood an older woman loads 14 kindergarten and school-age children into the side door of her minivan. It is raining and she doesn’t want them all to walk today – she’s a good driver and she’s only going a short distance so not using seatbelts is OK. She is not licensed to care for these children and most of the parents are aware of this but there is no before/after school program in this school, all these parents need to work and she only charges $5/day. The children will probably just watch TV for the hour or so until their parents get home.

The wonderful mother of three preschool children. She also has three other unrelated infants in her care. Infant care is very hard to find so these parents are thrilled to have found her. Everyone here is aware that this unlicensed facility has over the legal number of children allowed but the parents have no concerns regarding the quality of care their little ones are receiving. Hopefully there will never be an issue. This type of over numbers, unlicensed reflects on the character, values and integrity of those who chose it. It also paves the way for more unlicensed providers.

Ultimately I think I’d like to see ALL childcare facilities be required to be licensed. That might eliminate some of the confusion parents face regarding choosing childcare. All restaurants require licenses and inspections – it doesn’t matter if they are part of a large chain, a small family owned/run business or a mobile truck/cart – good or bad they have a license and rules they must follow in order to keep it. Why is childcare not given the same value – are the children not important?

I know, licensing is a Provincial issue – not a Federal election concern but just for a moment let’s think about that. In my little neighbourhood there are at least four unlicensed childcare providers for every licensed provider. Most of these unlicensed providers are operating within legal numbers but few are reporting their income.

Let’s just say these numbers are the same in all the neighbourhoods across the Province. For this supposition we’ll also assume all these licensed & unlicensed providers averaged are making the same amount of money that I do. Say none of the unlicensed providers are reporting income and paying taxes. Now, pretend all those unlicensed providers across the Province suddenly became licensed and started paying the same taxes that I do. The total new tax revenue from Manitoba would be about…….

$6,916,000.00

Now imagine what that number could do if it was put back in to a universal childcare system.

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Miscellaneous Things

From time to time my collection of ‘Photos I Want to Blog About’ accumulates a number of pictures that by themselves don’t manage to become full posts but I still like and want to share them.  Here are a few of them;

15-09-misc01This was a new soup I offered the children – I’m trying to add some new items to our menu.  I combined many of their favorite foods and made what I called ‘Southwest Chicken & Rice Soup’.  Sadly the children were unimpressed – even the less picky toddlers were reluctant to eat it.  They did all like the onion bread I served on the side.

15-09-misc02One of the toddlers enjoys crawling on the stumps.  In the years since the stumps were first introduced to our play space the children have enjoyed climbing on, jumping off etc but crawling on them was something I haven’t seen them do before.  Fantastic coordination!

15-09-misc03The baby was very focused on this old stump so, trying not to interrupt, I went to see what had captivated his attention for so long…..

15-09-misc04OOoooh…..Spiderwebs! 🙂

15-09-misc05There are plenty of old pots, plates, bowls etc in the yard but the children still really like to use the bark pieces instead.  Love it!  Of course the pots still get used too.  Every day this summer at some point there would be a pot sitting here;

15-09-misc06This group has decided that the tunnel makes a great ‘oven’ so they continually place stuff here to ‘cook’ while they go play elsewhere.  They come and check on it often and there is always plenty of excitement from the group when the ‘food’ is deemed ready – they all rush to the table.  Maybe I should ask the cook for their recipe – it might make a good addition to our lunch menu.

The Shed

It was back in the Spring of 2013 that we moved my husband’s tool shed to the side yard.  This plan allowed us to remove half of the backyard shed leaving more play space on the deck and add a second entrance/bridge into the garden area.

15-09-shed01The remaining portion of the shed was then to be used to store the gardening supplies and seasonal outdoor toys etc.  The problem with that plan was that I really didn’t have much seasonal stuff to store in the shed and so mostly it was a big, almost empty, box.  If I did unlock the door to get something the children would all gather in the doorway (blocking what little light I had) and stare into the spooky darkness.  It made me wonder if maybe it could become a more usable space.

So, this summer when we put the new box window in the dining room we also planned to put the old dining room window in the shed.  The shed renovation was one of the projects that didn’t get completed during my vacation but we did manage to work on it on weekends. There is still a small locked storage area on one side but the majority of the shed is now definitely not dark and stuffy anymore.  The West wall has a clear plastic panel for light and a screen door.

15-09-shed02  The South wall facing the garden is where we put the old dining room window to let even more light inside.  These windows can also be opened to allow airflow if it is stuffy and hot inside the ‘shed’.  There are also blinds that I can close if it is too bright and sunny.

15-09-shed03Inside there is a picnic table which the children and I have used for meals several times this summer – fewer ‘bad’ bugs than outside but the spiders really love this space.  We are also able to store art supplies here – handy for outdoor use but sheltered from the rain etc.

15-09-shed04The view from inside is a big improvement over the old spooky dark empty shed.

15-09-shed05I still haven’t decided how I’m going to finish the interior – paint? add more shelves? a magnet board/art display?  I’m in no rush to decide – I think it will depend on how we use this space now that it is so much more than just a storage shed.

The weather was so nice all summer that we haven’t wanted to spend much time inside it but I think it will be a really nice place on rainy or cold days.  It isn’t heated or insulated but it will still provide shelter in inclement weather especially with the Southwest exposure.  It may turn out to be an interesting indoor/outdoor space during our long, cold winter. I also think it may work well as a ‘greenhouse’ for our seedlings next Spring.   The possibilities…..

Bridges

I like to provide plenty of opportunities for the children to explore nature.  Even though we are near downtown and there are many major roadways we still manage to find nature in the city. We go on many, sometimes lengthy, hikes around the neighbourhood in all types of weather. On our last post storm adventure the toddlers walked 4.4 km in search of puddles to splash in – we traced our route on Google Pedometer when we returned.

If I was the only one choosing destinations we would always be hiking through forests but the children often have other interests and I let them lead.  One of their favourite destinations is the river – particularly watching it from the middle of the nearby bridge.  We often go up one side of the bridge, stop in the middle to watch the river flow away and then hike down to the corner so we can cross the street at the intersection before heading back down the other side of the bridge to watch the river flow towards us.

We see the changes in the river as the ice begins to form in the fall and as it breaks up in the spring.  The children notice – and express concern over the things we see floating down the river.  Sometimes they prefer to sit on the hill in the park to watch the river – the ‘stuff’ in the water is less noticeable from there.  It is also much quieter without the all the traffic noise from vehicles on the bridge.

During the beautiful summer weather we have been venturing further away – our longest hike this summer was 7.8 km.   On many of our longer walks we have gone to ‘the other bridge’ – which is actually TWO bridges  – bonus.  Even though it takes longer to get there there are two reasons we love to visit this bridge.  First, the children get really excited as we approach the bridges.

20150825_095622It is here that they begin calling out “Echo, Echo where are you Echo?” Their excitement and volume increases dramatically when we are directly under the big bridge.  Here the echo is fabulous and they can see the little bridge too!

20150825_095826The little bridge is for pedestrians only so it is much quieter than the busy bridge we usually visit and it doesn’t shake when big trucks pass over.  That feature of the old bridge is a little scary for some of the toddlers.  There are also several lookout points on this bridge – of course our favouite one is right at the top in the middle of the bridge.

20150825_095930As we head to the top of the bridge we stop to look at the boat, our shadows, and today there is a fisherman too;

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At the lookout point the children may spend as long as they want watching the river.  On this particular day they were looking for submarines and unicorns.  Rivers and bridges are magical places. 🙂

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