All posts by cccare

ECEII working in family childcare. Focus on nature education.

With or Without

It is no secret that I enjoy walking. There are so many great reasons to go for a walk. It could just be a means of transportation to get from point A to point B. Maybe you want to spend some time outdoors exploring , getting fresh air and/or exercise. Walking could be a social activity you do with your friends or a solitary activity you use to reflect, rejuvenate, and unwind.

For me, walking is all of those things. Below I have my Fitbit data from some of my recent walks. The route and distance for the the first two walks is the same but the difference is whether I am walking with or without children.

This first one is one of my 4:30 am ‘perfect-way-to-start-the-day’ brisk walk without children. This is an exercise walk – I wear my weighted vest and sometimes ankle and/or wrist weights too. I walk quickly and throughout the walk my mind is busy too. I make mental lists of what I need to do that day, what food needs to be prepped before the children arrive and what supplies I need to gather for the day’s activities. Sometimes I even ‘write’ drafts of blog posts during these walks. I was actually surprised that this ‘exercise’ walk didn’t have a much higher heart rate – probably because it was a lovely spring morning – my -30 C winter morning walks are more strenuous.

This second walk is with six children – three of which are toddlers. Two of the children in group were enrolled during this past winter – they are not yet familiar with our long hikes but have gone on a few shorter walks with us. Even though the route is exactly the same as my morning walk, this second walk is slower – taking almost twice as long to cover the same distance. Notice my step count is also higher – I take smaller steps when holding toddler hands. Although the time is doubled on my walk WITH children, my ‘active’ minutes are not because we do stop to look at things periodically. I don’t set the pace for these walk – usually the older children do but occasionally I have to remind them that the toddlers have very short legs.

Now this third walk is a different, much shorter route with children. This walk is half the distance of the first two but it takes us through a park where we stop to play. The step count is about the same as my early morning exercise walk but this walk with children is half the distance and takes more time.

Both my walks with children averaged 4 calories per minute and my exercise walk was 5 calories per minute – not as big a difference as I would have expected. I guess that even though my walks with children are much more relaxed than my walks without, they are still good exercise. Also, there is so much more talking during my walks with children – talking burns calories too. These conversations are one of my favourite parts about walking with children – here you can read more about walking and talking.

Quiet Spaces 2

Our indoor ‘nature area’ located just off the main play area has always been considered a quiet space. Decorations include trees, flowers, rocks, birds, butterflies and grass-like carpet. The large window provides plenty of natural light (when the sun is shining) and a view to the real outdoors. The entrance/exit gates serve as a reminder that toys were not supposed to be brought in here. The babies’ cribs are also in this room allowing them to nap if necessary while the older children play in the play room – another reason why this was not a play area. This is where the children can come to read books or just relax.

There were some cushions here for sitting or relaxing on but some of the children thought they were better for tossing or using for pillow fights. *sigh* While most of the children appreciated this quiet space, there were occasionally some that thought the 30 square foot ‘grass’ area was a good spot to play tag or wrestle.

After creating the little quiet nooks I wrote about in my last post, I wondered if we still needed this quiet space – maybe I could somehow re-purpose the nature area into an active play space. I decided against it. We have the music/dance space and we use balance pods, resistance bands and tunnels for some indoor gross motor play when we can’t go outside. We spend a lot of time outdoors and that is still the best place for tag and rough and tumble play. Even if our indoor nature area mimics an outdoor space, it is still indoors and not to be used for active play.

I needed to find a way to encourage all the children to use this indoor nature area for its intended reading/relaxing purpose. So, I purchased this nest swing;

It is small enough that is doesn’t use the whole space but large enough to discourage running and jumping. I have it hung less than one foot off the ground so even the toddlers can easily get on and off the ‘nest’ (we don’t call it a swing) without assistance. It is also the perfect height to use as a table/desk – some of the children prefer to sit on the ground around the nest and place their books on it instead.

I have the nest anchored on two sides so it does not swing far but still provides a gentle, relaxing movement. It is especially nice when laying down and looking up at the trees above.

It has definitely become a favourite quiet space for everyone to read and relax.

Quiet Spaces

Throughout the past couple months I have observed the children using dress-up clothes and blankets to create ‘snow forts’ in the playroom. I recognized this repeated behaviour as an expression of interest in exploring the enveloping/enclosing schema and at first I assisted by simply providing some clothespins.

The children were still often frustrated because in our play room the best places to create ‘snow forts’ are also the walkways. Consequently the builders were always getting into disputes with the children who were trying to pass by to get to the other side of the room.

I had another idea. Recently I’ve been removing many of the items in the housekeeping area because the toddlers were leaving many things strewn about on the floor after searching for a particular item – there were too many toys. I took away a few more of the lesser used items, consolidated the remaining ones and then removed the empty shelves from two of the boxes that form the base of the loft. Then I added some pillow to these otherwise empty boxes.

These boxes proved to be popular places to curl up with a few small toys.

Of course I also knew that two hiding spots would never be enough so I rearranged the musical instruments and created two more spots under the keyboard shelf. These ones are even more popular – probably because the children can feel enclosed while still playing ‘with’ their friends.

Sometimes the children add curtains too

I’m considering adding ‘peek-a-boo’ holes in the board that divides these hideaways – it might make them even more interesting. Even after all the children have gone home, these spaces are still popular.

Driving My Car

Let me stray a little away from writing about children and childcare and tell a more personal story about safety and security vs risk, fear and anxiety.

Like every teen from my generation I got my beginners license when I was sixteen. Learning to drive was a rite of passage signifying a new freedom and responsibility. It was a responsibility that I took very seriously. I took the driver’s ed course THREE times – the first two times I refused to take the final driving exam. My instructor insisted that I was ready but I was not certain. Finally, just after my eighteenth birthday I decided that I was ready – took the driving exam and passed without issue.

For many years I drove regularly both in the city and on the highway but I was always a cautious driver. I have never turned on the radio while driving – passengers in my car were always allowed to play music if they wanted to turn it on but I would just block it out and focus solely on driving. If I needed to adjust the heat or other controls I would only do so while parked – once in motion the road and vehicles around me were my only concern. I strictly adhered to all road rules but was very aware that many other drivers did not.

I wouldn’t say I feared or even disliked driving – in fact, I found it quite relaxing in the right conditions. I always considered things like rain, darkness, heavy traffic and road construction to be a little stressful but they didn’t prevent me from driving. Surprisingly ice and snow never bothered me – maybe because I learned to drive in the winter. Still, driving was never on my list of my favourite things to do and if my destination was walk-able or had limited parking available then I would always choose to walk or take a bus.

I don’t know exactly when driving became something I dreaded – it was probably a gradual process – something I blame at least partly on news media for their coverage of horrific motor vehicle collisions. Maybe it was after many years of driving ‘beater’ cars – we often owned two or even three at a time, none costing more than a few hundred dollars – essentially ‘disposable’ if/when they broke down. I lost count of the number of times I was tasked with steering a car on the back end of a tow rope on the way to the wrecker.

Yet honestly, driving those beaters might have actually increased my driving confidence. One of my favourites had been our old Mercury Marquis station wagon – I could trust that old car to start and keep going in any weather on any road. The body however was not great – some parts were held together with duct tape. The tailgate latch was broken so we used a hasp and padlock to lock it. We usually simply rolled down the back window to load/unload stuff anyway because the tailgate hinges were unlikely to hold the weight of the opened door.

Probably the main reason I liked this car so much was because other drivers did not. If I wanted to change lanes I only had to put on my turn signal and all nearby vehicles slowed down & moved out my way – no one wanted to be too close to my monstrosity . Perfect – it made it possible for me to maintain my large personal bubble no matter how much traffic there was or how slowly I wanted to drive. Talk about owning the road!

When I opened my childcare home I felt a bunch of beater cars in various states of repair would not make a good impression so we cut down to just two fairly decent used vehicles. With me working from home we didn’t often need the second vehicle but it was nice to have for those times when our main vehicle broke down and my husband needed to get to work. My stay-at-home job was also probably a factor in making me dislike driving – the rare occasions when I needed to drive somewhere caused some anxiety about my lack of practice.

We also discovered that decent used vehicles still needed repairs and we no longer had the time nor space for DIY car repairs. The higher purchase prices meant we were more likely to repair these vehicles instead of replacing them and shop repairs were expensive. Even limiting repairs to only the bare minimum to keep the vehicle operational was taking a toll on our finances.

For many years, every repair required for our vehicles brought questions about the vehicle’s history. Had past owners neglected basic maintenance? Had the vehicle been involved in a collision? There was so much we didn’t know about our old vehicles and it affected our decisions. This uncertainty and all the ‘what if’ questions made me hesitant to drive – anxious – often without any identifiable reason.

Frustrated by used car breakdowns and expensive repairs we contemplated buying a new car. I did some calculations on the purchase price and repairs for our current used car over the three years we had owned it vs the payments for a new car over the same time period – new car payments would be less. So, in 2009 we decided to take the plunge an bought a brand new Mitsubishi Outlander.

I’ll admit, I did have a bit of a panic attack when I realized the total at the bottom of the invoice was more than our family’s gross income for a full year! Yet, for the first time I really enjoyed driving – the way the car smelled, the way it handled, the silence inside as I drove – so amazing. I often volunteered to drive for outings and I actually looked for excuses to take the car instead of walking or to make multiple trips instead of consolidating all my errands into one trip.

I also became more anxious – other drivers did not fear my new car and they came far closer to me than I was comfortable with. I sometimes held my breath for long periods of time while driving and occasionally needed to pull into a parking lot just so I could sit still and breath for a few minutes. I appreciated frequent red lights as they were opportunities to stop and breath without pulling off the road.

As much as I liked my new car it became much easier for me to just let others drive me everywhere I needed to go. This was especially if true if there was any type of time restraint. When I did drive I always gave myself twice as much time as required for ‘worst case scenario’ so I could be assured I would never have to rush and would have plenty of time for breathing breaks.

I had vowed to take the best possible care of my new car and scheduled every recommended service at the time indicated. I was quite surprised about how expensive all this vehicle maintenance cost. I was also disappointed by the number of repairs required. Yes, many of the repairs were covered under the new vehicle warranty – like having the transmission replaced after only 72,000 km. Still, others were blamed on bad roads because ‘reckless’ driving was definitely not a factor.

In the past year our not-so-new car has need some fairly major repairs that were not covered by any warranty. I first started this post last month when I was very, very angry. Angry that my car was in the dealer’s service centre for a whole week due to yet another costly repair. Angry that even all the expensive routine maintenance doesn’t ensure problems are caught early enough to prevent major issues – or maybe the service people noticed and didn’t care enough.

I was/am angry at everyone that made, sold or serviced my car. Angry that in the past year repairs on my ‘good’ vehicle have cost more than the purchase price of our ‘beater’ van – the one we use for any messy, heavy, or risky purpose so we don’t damage our ‘good’ vehicle. Our ‘beater’ van which has not had any type of service or repair in the seven years we’ve owned it.

Yet mostly I am angry that I am even more reluctant to drive now. I am unsure I can trust my car. I am concerned something else may break when I am driving. I’m annoyed that my ‘what if’ list is growing so much longer. I’m frustrated that my pre-driving planning for all the what-if’ has become so extensive that I could probably walk anywhere in the city in less time than it takes me to prepare, drive and recover.

So yes, I started this post in anger but over the month I’ve been writing it has kind of morphed into something else. It may actually be yet another example that efforts to increase safety and security may simply increase fear and anxiety – even for those of us who understand the importance of assessing and taking risks.

Winter Yard 2

We plan go outside to play every day throughout the year in all types of weather. In winter there is only one restriction that I put on our outdoor time – we don’t go on long hikes. We do still go on some shorter walks on warmer days but on cold days we just stay in the yard.

In winter the weather conditions are unpredictable. Even on short walks we’ve discovered that what feels like a lovely mild winter day can suddenly feel like a blizzard when you round a corner and face the wind. Toddlers in particular can go from comfortable to too cold in a very short period of time and the return trip will be nearly impossible if we’ve wandered very far.

My yard is sheltered from the wind and faces South so it gets plenty of sunlight. There are very rarely days that we feel are too cold to go outside to play – in fact, this year so far there have been no days that we didn’t venture outside for at least a little time. There may be days that are too cold to sit or stand outside and do nothing, but the children don’t do this and neither do I. When we are outside I spend the majority of my time ‘sculpting’ the yard.

Yard sculpting is a continuous process which some of the children enjoy helping me create but most just ‘use’. There are some children who would still love playing in the snow if I did nothing to the yard at all. Others – especially the littlest ones – sometimes find the snow and ice frustrating. I don’t want them to become discouraged and end up sitting somewhere shivering – learning only that winter is simply a miserable cold season.

I have a fairly small yard – only about 650 square feet – so I make the most of it by ensuring there are some special places and enough variety that no one gets too bored. There are many different spaces and activities to keep the children engaged, moving, exploring and most importantly enjoying their winter play experience. The little ‘cave’ under the cedars which provides a natural shelter from the hot summer sun also provides shelter from the cold winter wind.

The tipi is a constructed shelter which also serves as a storage area for loose parts. All our warm weather toys are not available here in the winter but we still have our pots, sticks and pipes.

Instead of toys I’ve added some coloured blocks of ice. I thought the children might like to use them for building blocks but so far they mostly just use them as hockey pucks.

As the children run and play I use my shovel to clear snow from some areas and pile it in others. I don’t just have one path from the house to the gate, I have multiple interconnecting trails that allow the children to go over and around obstacles. There are places to climb, jump, roll or slide and places to build and dig;

There are six circles to run around, five tunnels to crawl through, a bridge to go over, many steps/stumps, four different elevations to provide a variety of viewpoints, some flat open areas for building or playing group games and two hills. All together there is roughly 250 feet of trail with many forks and endless route options.

When I’m not shoveling I’m packing the trails. My Fitbit has auto-recognized a 30 minute hike while I repeatedly walked all the circles and loops around my yard. It is not unusual for a little toddler train to follow along behind me while I traverse the trails. When people marvel at the super long summer hikes my toddlers are capable of, I point out that summer hikes are pretty easy compared to our winter adventures on ice and snow while bundled in layers of heavy clothing.

Most of the pictures in this post were taken before the last big snowfall so we do have a little more snow than what is shown here – we would still like much more though. Sure, we love the other seasons too but we’re not tired of winter yet so come on Mother Nature – let it snow!

Frigid Cold

I’ve been working on a post about our winter yard and what we like to do out there. I will not have time to complete that post today but I did want to write a quick post about the weather.

Today’s weather forecast states the high temperature will be minus 25 C with wind chill of minus 44 in the morning and minus 35 in the afternoon. Yet, the children and I will still be going outside for at least a brief period of time.

Why? Well, first of all, any of the children who arrive here today will have at some point had to go outside so saying ‘It is too cold to go outside’ would not be true.

Second, if I don’t take them outside there will at some point be a mutiny because at least some of the children really want to go outside and I definitely don’t want to keep them inside all day.

Third, and probably most important, cold weather like this is a fantastic learning opportunity. As we prepare to go outside we will discuss how to dress appropriately for the weather. All the children (even the littlest ones) will work on completing self help skills, independence and decision making. We will experience the way the sun warms us and the trees shelter us from the wind. We will build resilience.

The children will make the decision as to how long we can play outside. They will learn to realize how they and others feel – are they warm enough but their friends are too cold? What can they do to help?

So, I didn’t get a chance to complete my post about our winter yard, but this quick little post may be the perfect introduction to the importance of having a outdoor play space designed for winter.

Potatoes

I love potatoes.  As a child I ate potatoes as a side dish in most meals and no matter how they are prepared I include potatoes on my list of ‘comfort foods’. 

As a parent with four picky eaters, potatoes were the one constant that I could be certain that everyone would eat.  In fact, five pounds of potatoes was the absolute minimum I’d prepare for any meal and often it was more.

I’ve never served potatoes as the vegetable portion of a meal – nutritionally I’ve used it in place of pasta, rice or bread.  When I first opened my childcare home I created a 4 week menu for lunches and snacks.  On that menu I ensured that each weekly lunch menu contained;

  • one rice dish
  • one cold sandwich meal
  • one pasta dish
  • one potato dish
  • one hot, bread based meal

This method offered the children a variety of meal types that would appeal to most of the children – you can never please them all with every meal.  Yet, year after year, group after group, potatoes seemed to be the least favourite food.  I was perplexed.

I tried serving them mashed, roasted or scalloped – all refused by the majority of the children.  I added them to homemade soups and stews and watched as the children picked out their preferred items and left the potatoes behind.  Even the Au Gratin Potatoes got dubbed ‘Rotten Potatoes’.  Seriously, how can you go wrong with cheese & potatoes?

Over the years there were more children that would eat salad than there were those who would eat potatoes.  Broccoli has been counted as a ‘treat’ by at least two preschoolers who also refused to eat potatoes in any form.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining that they prefer their salad & veggies – I just can’t fathom why the versatile potato consistently gets refused.

I have considered that it could be a learned behaviour from an anti-carb culture but ALL these children will eat vast amounts of pasta and bread so that’s not it.  According to their parents, a few of these potato haters will eat potatoes at home but the majority don’t.

I won’t force anyone to eat something they don’t like but I also want our menu to contain a variety of foods and I do think potatoes should be included.   Currently, of our 20 lunches, only three have potatoes.  Two of them are usually refused by all and need to be replaced because I dislike wasting food.  The other one is french fries which are only sometimes eaten by half of the current group.

So, it has been a year since I last changed our menu and it is time for a revamp.  I’m looking for new recipes and there will be some that have potatoes.  They all look so good to me, I hope to find some that the children will enjoy too.