Catching Up

I’m spending a portion of this four day holiday weekend catching up on some of the things I never seem to have enough time for. This morning my task list included going through a multitude of photos I have taken and deciding which to delete, file, add to the entrance area slideshow or write blog posts about.

Now I have to actually write some posts – this first one is actually about TWO projects that we worked on last summer. Yes, I am that far behind which is why I’m combining two projects in one post.

Back in June I wrote about the new octagon shaped dining table. I also wanted to write about the place mats the children (aged 2-8) made to define their spaces at the table. Each child worked on their place mat design independently so each one would be unique as some of the children are prone to copying or competing with others.

When they were all complete and dry I covered the place mats with clear plastic film to protect them from spills. Only once they were all together on the table did the children get to see what the others had created.

For several weeks these place mats were the main focus of discussions around the table at meal/snack times. The conversations were amazing. So many questions. So much interest in what others had done.

Interestingly it was the work of the two-year-old that garnered the most attention – ‘Hey, how did he do that?’

The answer to that question is ‘After he added paint, he used the handle of the brush to create the textured pattern’. This was exactly why I had them all work independently. Had they all been painting at the same time then either someone would have ‘corrected’ him by telling him he was using the wrong end of his paint brush or everyone would have copied him and the place mats would have all looked the same… End of conversation.

The second project didn’t involve the children but was a space I created for the children. The ‘Nature Area’ is the small room off the main play space. It has always been a quiet space to read, relax or reflect. This post from last year show what it used to look like after the addition of the nest swing.

The babies’ cribs used to be situated on opposite sides of the room with their long side against the wall and the ‘quiet’ space in the centre of the room. There was some ‘extra’ space at the ends of the cribs – not really enough to be considered useful for storage space or play space just wasted space. Wasted space bothers me immensely.

Last summer I moved both cribs to the same side of the room with their short sides against the wall and the cot storage between them – no more wasted space. At nap time a temporary divider wall is placed between the cribs to provide a little privacy for sleeping babies now that they are much closer to each other.

The open area of the room is now considerably larger with the addition of the space on the other side of the room. I rearranged the trees and added some cushions and a wall tapestry. It is now a much more cozy, comfortable area for reading and relaxing.

There is still plenty of open space in front of the window if the children want to stand and look outside at ‘real’ nature. Of course there are still fake branches, bird and butterflies to look up at when you lay on the nest swing.

But that could change too. I did buy another tapestry that I considered hanging on the ceiling here…but I love it so much I might put it somewhere else. I just haven’t yet decided where that may be…

The compromise

More than a decade ago I wrote my first post about walking with children – since then I’ve written many more posts about the subject – search ‘walking’ or ‘hiking’ in my search bar if you want to read some of them.

We go on some very long walks though distance and time are not always relative as other factors like snack breaks, exploring, playing games and destinations like the library or store may affect the length of time but not the distance. Some of our walks are great distances – our longest has been about 10 kilometers – though these long distance walks require advance planning so they can’t be spontaneous when the children ask.

I’ve received stunned responses like “Why do you make them walk so far?” and I have to explain that I don’t ‘make’ them – I ‘let’ them. Most of the time it is the children choose the destination and/or the route. We go on a walk everyday as part of our daily routine. As soon as babies take their first steps I let them walk – they become our pace setters. At first it may just be out the front door and around the short block to the back yard. Once they become more confident we add some more distance.

Back in 2012 I wrote about adapting our walks to accommodate the abilities of children at various stages of development. Being able to understand/accept the needs of the younger children is a learning experience for the older children too. I am not opposed to carrying or putting a baby in a stroller when they don’t want to walk, however, I am opposed to assuming they can’t walk as far as the older children when given the opportunity. Please don’t underestimate their abilities!

I have had a 19 month old child that walked nearly 9 km in under 4 hours – I had the stroller available if he wanted to use it but he adamantly insisted on walking until we were almost all the way back (and it was approaching nap time). Last summer on our longest/farthest (4.5 hour 10 km) walk, every time we stopped for water/snack breaks I was the only one who chose to ‘rest’ – the children (aged 18 months-8 years) always wanted to run around and played tag instead.

Over the years there have been a few children here who were reluctant to walk anywhere – honestly most were school-age who came here only briefly and had never been required to nor given the opportunity to walk anywhere – they also struggled with the complete lack of screen time options here. With the little ones often all they need is a chance to choose their walking partner, or the destination, or even just carry a stick or leaf to make walking an enjoyable activity.

Winter tends to be the biggest obstacle that limits the distance of our walks. Even experienced walkers sometimes struggle with winter conditions. Slippery ice, deep snow, cold wind gusts and bulky winter clothing can be frustrating so we don’t often go on very long winter walks.

However, even in winter we do play outside every day so at minimum we walk around the short block from the front entrance to the back yard. The side yard and back entrance are not childcare areas and that makes them more difficult routes than the familiar walk around the block.

This past summer/fall was one of the few years that it wasn’t the weather that made walking difficult. Baby One did not like to take more than about 10, very slow, consecutive steps without being picked up and carried – but not for more than a minute before demanding to be given the opportunity to take a few more independent steps. They did like long stroller rides and that was fine until Baby Two – an accomplished hiker – decided it was not fair that Baby One got to ride. *sigh*

I do have two little strollers but I can’t push both of them at the same time or push one while carrying a baby. Some of the school-age don’t mind pushing a stroller but when they are in school they are not available to help. Besides, if the older children do not enjoy the additional responsibility it could ultimately lessen their desire to walk and we don’t want that.

I have discovered that often it is easier/quicker/better to just leave the stroller(s) and take the chance that I may have to carry TWO babies if they both decide to quit walking. Someone suggested I should get a double stroller but I am stubborn, haven’t needed a double stroller in 23 years – not going to concede defeat now. Besides, the gym is closed and I need a workout.

The short block hike from the front door to the back yard is my physical limit for carrying two babies – but with the addition of slippery snowsuits it is extremely difficult. The three older preschoolers have threatened to mutiny if we have to walk super slow baby speed – all the time. They have also lamented that they miss the longer walks.

So, I compromised and bought a sled – the heavy duty cargo kind with high sides. The babies love it. The three older ones have been so excited about not being limited by baby steps they have demanded some longer walks. In fact, with all their pent up energy their 1-2 km winter (actually fall with snow) ‘walks’ are really runs. Great – more non-gym workouts for me to keep up with energetic preschool pace-setters while pulling babies in the sled.

Sadly, most of our early snow has melted away so we are back to walking slow again until we get some more snow for the sled. Interestingly though, Baby Two has decided they don’t need to be carried any more so we’ve managed to take a couple slightly longer walks without the sled and only one baby to carry.

Maybe I didn’t need to compromise after all – I just needed to wait a little bit longer for this particular group to find a balance that works for all of them – together. I bet by Spring even Baby One will be itching to walk independently on a long walk too – they just need a little more confidence and the opportunity to discover how fun it can be.