All posts by cccare

ECEII working in family childcare. Focus on nature education.

Pumpkin Tarts

Pumpkins are popular around here. We collect pumpkin seeds and plant them in our garden – sometimes they grow. We use pumpkins for decorations – usually we just paint the shell so we can still use the inside for our favourite pumpkin activity – baking!

I’ve previously written about making pumpkin pie with the children in 2012 and again in 2016 but it was a new experience for my current group of toddlers. This time we decided to make tarts instead of pie – a smaller product for my little one and two year olds.

First we removed the seeds;

Then we cut the softened pumpkin to practice some knife skills;

We measured all the ingredients and of course had to smell the spices;

The toddlers found mixing and mashing to be the most exciting part of the process;

Everyone got a turn to use the ladle to fill the tart shells before baking. There were enough tarts that each child got to take some home to share.

Of course we also got to eat some for snack too!

Montgomery

In keeping with my new trend of putting off writing blog posts (and most other paperwork) here is a post I’ve been planning to write for four months! However, the last part of the post was not part of my original plan…

It is no secret that I love cats. I’ve written before about my view on having pets in a childcare home and about our adoption of a tiny little stray, the struggle to introduce the new cat, and the eventual loss of an old one. So, it should come as no surprise that when one of my childcare families fostered a momma cat and her kittens…I picked one.

To be honest, originally I just picked him out as my favourite one of the litter with no intention of actually adopting him but…it seems I have no self control *sigh*. I was a little apprehensive about bringing a new kitten into our home. Malta, our almost 14 year old cat is easily stressed and within seconds of the kitten being carried in the door she ran upstairs to vomit. She was not actually my biggest concern – she takes a bit of time to adjust to change but usually adapts without too much fuss.

Four year old Monkey (legal name Button) was the one I was a little worried about. Monkey is a not-so-small-anymore cat with a HUGE attitude. She has a tiny little squeaky mew but makes up for it with a loud deep snarly growl. She uses that growl to voice her opinion about everything. Her growl doesn’t always mean ‘NO! Leave me alone’ when someone tries to pet her, sometimes it is a demanding ‘Sit still, I want to sleep on your lap.’ and she doesn’t take no for an answer.

Not only did Monkey vehemently disapprove of Montgomery visiting, she also complained about any people who touched him or breathed the contaminated air around him. However, she is all noise no action so I figured she would eventually accept him – he was so small and adorable;

Monte & the toy cat the toddlers thought he needed – it looks just like him.

We did plan to keep Montgomery in quarantine for the first two weeks before letting the other cats ‘greet’ him. Rather than lock him away in a room by himself we decided the loft in the playroom would make a good temporary kennel. There I could easily observe him throughout the day and bring him out for supervised playtime with the children. Monte did not approve of the plan – it was less than one day before his first escape from quarantine and we soon discovered he could not be contained. Every new barrier we designed was treated as a challenge and quickly conquered.

Monte (far left) outside the loft he should be in.

Not only was it impossible to keep him IN the loft, we also couldn’t keep him OFF the loft. He climbed the support posts and ran laps around the OUTSIDE of the netting and over the top taunting me from the nine foot ceiling as I fretted about him falling and breaking his tiny little legs. We eventually managed to quarantine him on the main floor of the house – leave the older cats ‘safe’ space upstairs.

He loved toys – his toys, the children’s toys, my toys and things that were not toys.

Monte & the fish.

I have always taught the children to respect the cats’ space – don’t chase them, wait for them to come to you, be gentle and kind. Monte would have no part of that. I tried to keep him out of the playroom when I wasn’t able to directly supervise the toddler/cat interactions but he’d fly over the gate to play his favourite ‘come and get me’ game.

He demanded his own chair at quiet time – would knock them over and try to open them himself if I didn’t set one up for him.

The older cats cowered upstairs long after the two week quarantine. Even with food bribes, coaxing and cuddles they were reluctant to be near him. After all, he was quite terrifying.

Destructo Cat

Malta was the first to accept his presence – it took about four weeks. As long as he was being calm she would allow him to be near her. Sometimes when he was sleeping she would cuddle and bathe him. She tried to teach him to be polite but she would not tolerate any playful behaviour – she was far too old for that.

It took Monkey longer. Even after she started venturing downstairs into enemy territory she did not want him near. Monte however continued to push boundaries and considered her his favourite squeaky toy – poke its butt and it makes a funny noise.

Montgomery continued to find new things to play with – and destroy. He loved playing fetch with his mouse – it was the only way we could get out of the house without him trying to escape. Throw the mouse down the hall and rush out the door before he gets back. When we returned he’d be sitting, waiting by the door with the mouse in his mouth. We bought him dog toys after he tore up some cat toys.

Monte in a box with ‘Firefox’ the puppy tug toy.

We built him a floor to ceiling scratching post with shelves to sit on and hanging toys.

Monkey was starting to enjoy having a playful little brother – she doesn’t like toddlers and Malta doesn’t play (Monkey does chase and bully her sometimes). Still, in order to keep her ‘grumpy cat’ status Monkey wouldn’t admit she liked the little cat. If we caught her in the midst of a wrestling match or cuddle/bath time she’d immediately stop and run away growling like ‘Ewww, I acidentally got some of its fur on my tongue’. We were not fooled by the fake distaste. If she wanted to play and didn’t know where he was she would toss one of his toys around and wait for him to show up. She also liked playing tag games on the cat post.

Monkey looks grumpy because I caught her playing with Monte.

It was actually really nice to see Monkey playing now. After living with an old cat she had been getting very lazy – and ’round’.

There was one bothersome aspect of Montgomery’s that I initially blamed on ‘teething’ and I hoped he would outgrow it but instead it was getting worse. Monte likes to chew and eat things that are not food. He has chewed through just one power adapter cord but there are many other things he has chewed or eaten. Whenever I find items that have been chewed or cat barf with foreign objects in it I try to kitten proof more but he just moves on to chewing something else.

This is the part of the post I didn’t originally plan to write. In early December Monte stopped eating. He still begged a little when the other cats did but he walked away from any food he was given. He stopped playing, he stopped purring when we petted him, he didn’t like to be picked up or carried and he wouldn’t even drink water. We were worried he had an intestinal blockage so we took him to the vet.

After a hospital stay, IV fluids, pain meds, antibiotics, several x-rays, and some prescription food he seems to be back to normal now. Thankfully he didn’t need surgery. Monkey hated him for a few days after he returned but she has gotten over it and they play together again. Monte still eats things he shouldn’t *sigh*. The vet bill cost me more than if I had closed the daycare for two weeks and taken a vacation.

I’d rather have a cat than a vacation – even if he is a brat. Make better decisions Montgomery.

Mail Delivery

I checked the mail last Tuesday afternoon. There were three envelopes in my mail box – one was addressed to my husband, there was a Christmas card addressed to a different house on my street, and the third item was addressed to my house number but on a nearby street with a much different name.

*Sigh* Here we go again. This isn’t the first time I’ve received mail addressed to someone else. I find it happens several times over a few weeks and then not at all for a while. That makes me think it may be due to a substitute mail carrier but I’m not entirely certain there is a regular mail carrier. I have seen several different mail carriers in the neighbourhood at various times of the day and there is nothing consistent about when my mail gets delivered.

I was annoyed – the addresses on these envelopes were clearly written so there was no doubt they didn’t belong at my house. Usually when I get someone else’s mail I just go out after the children have left for the day and drop the envelopes at the correct address. No big deal for me but I can’t help wondering if there is some of my mail at someone else’s house and they can’t be bothered to correct the mistake.

I had a busy evening planned and didn’t have time to deliver the mail Tuesday evening so I decided to wait until the following day. The children and I go for a walk every day – we could just take the letters with us and drop them off while we are out.

The children were actually thrilled by the task – their biggest concern was that there wasn’t more mail for them to deliver. This was the point when my mind began to spiral out of control. What if we could solve the childcare funding crisis by paying childcare homes and centres to deliver the mail?

Seriously! It is not child labor, it is curriculum – literacy, numeracy, physical activity – in a way that excites the children. There are schemas involved too – transporting, ordering, enclosing…maybe some trajectory. Don’t get me started on the social skills and art – once the toddlers figure out there is someone on the street that never gets any mail there will be a massive art project to rectify that!

Ok, so I don’t really want to suggest that we take jobs away from the mail carriers who have a greater than 33% accuracy rate so this doesn’t have to be a permanent position – maybe just to cover when the regular mail carrier is on vacation. It could be like a fundraiser- how much does Canada Post pay for two weeks of mail delivery? Probably more than we’d make selling chocolate bars. We would rather deliver mail.

Alright Canada Post – your move – what do you think?

Garden Produce

Yes, yet another post that I’ve been slow to write – there is snow on the ground and I’m writing about the garden… Well, actually, I’m writing about stuff leftover from the garden. I just used our last tomato so we have no more ‘food’ from our garden but our garden provides some wonderful loose parts that we will continue to use.

This year our sunflowers grew very well – I wrote about them already. We didn’t just get seeds and flowers though, we also got to use the big sunflower stalks in our construction area;

Sunflower stalks are very light for their size so the toddlers feel super strong carrying them about. They make good bridges and paths;

Other popular loose parts we get from the garden are the beans. We usually grow several different varieties of beans. Some of course are grown to eat but the scarlet runner beans we grow for fun. This year there were some pretty impressive beans;

Taking the seeds from the pods is a very popular activity – partly because many of the toddlers love disassembling stuff (disconnecting schema) but it is also great for developing fine motor skills.

We were surprised to discover that the biggest pods did NOT contain the biggest seeds. The variety of seed colours and sizes is also very interesting.

These ones we brought inside to add to our seed collection to plant in the spring. We have many more out in the yard – they get used as ‘ingredients’ for potions, sorting by size and shape, transporting in pails and trucks, land art, and so much more. Sometimes we even discover bean plants growing in random spots outside of the garden. Wonder how that happened? 🙂

Autumn Adventures

I started writing this post so long ago then got too busy to finish it – almost winter now, may seem irrelevant to publish it but here I go anyway 🙂

Autumn is a period of change – the leaves, the weather, our schedule and much more. There are new discoveries to be made and even some new challenges. This year, the weather has impacted our activities more than usual – there has been so much rain. We like rain but when it is combined with cold then playing in the yard can be troublesome because it is so wet and sitting anywhere gets uncomfortable so we prefer to keep moving and go for walks.

Walks provide much more than just fresh air and exercise – on walks we have some fantastic conversations. Years ago I wrote about how our long walks enable us to have better conversations. However, this Fall going for walks has been a little challenging since all my older children have gone to school and I have no hand holding helpers.

In my current preschool group all the children are just one or two years old. The toddlers do like to walk together and hold hands but they are usually so engrossed in their own conversations that they don’t pay enough attention to their surroundings. Also, as ‘normal’ toddlers they often require significant processing time for verbal requests. The delayed response is very stressful for me particularly when it is related to road traffic.

So, this Fall I again began using the Safe-T-Line when we go for walks. I have previously written another post about using the Safe-T-Line. All these toddlers love holding the handles and have taken turns as line leader – some are better as followers.

Even though muddy puddles are a popular attraction for these little ones, ‘goose poop’ seems to be a major concern. Even when there is not a goose in sight every unidentified lump on the sidewalk or pathway gets dubbed ‘goose poop’ and is given a wide berth followed by “Ewwww, that’s disgusting!” and fits of laughter.

One of our favourite walks is through the Elmwood Cemetery – mostly because there are very few cars and very many squirrels, rabbits, birds, and especially geese. On one recent cemetery walk the grass was being mowed and there were large clumps of wet grass on the road. Initially they were of course labeled ‘goose poop’ but then there was an argument about the clumps being too big to have been made by a goose. So, after some discussion it was determined that these were in fact ‘dinosaur poop‘.

Yes, that is why I like taking toddlers for walks. We never find dinosaur poop in the yard. Now we just have to figure out where that dinosaur is hiding. Time to go for another autumn adventure.

Sunflowers & Squirrels

Squash, peas, beans and sunflower seeds are large enough that the toddlers can plant them independently so we plan to grow them in our garden every year. We always grow a little bit of wheat so we can grind it into flour and bake something with it. Tomatoes are a staple in our garden too but we usually purchase seedlings to ensure we get plenty of tomatoes. Each year we also try some different things for variety – this year it was dill, radicchio, and carrots.

The weather was crazy this summer – most of our plants did OK but not great. All four types of squash failed to produce any usable fruit. The wheat and radicchio started off nicely and then fizzled and died – first time we’ve ever had a complete wheat crop failure. We had a fair number of tomatoes and a few beans and carrots but would have liked more. The sunflowers grew very well – almost taking over the whole garden.

We had planted two different types of sunflower seeds but there seemed to be more than two varieties of sunflowers – many different sizes and colours, some stalks with just a single flower, others with multiple flowers, some with few seeds and others that were mostly seeds. These fancy ones were my favourites;

The sunflowers created a lot of interest in the garden. Butterflies and bees were plentiful all summer long.

Squirrels were also frequent visitors in our garden – and they were not overly concerned about sharing the yard with toddlers.

The cats were entranced – probably wished they were allowed outside too instead of just watching through the window.

The squirrels were very messy – leaving piles of discarded shells and debris all over the yard.

They also left our sunflowers looking like this;

Luckily we still managed to collect some seeds to plant next year – and we discovered that the seeds from those fancy sunflowers turn your fingers bright purple!

Even without seeds the sunflowers made wonderful loose parts for outdoor play. The biggest one was a whopping sixteen inches wide!

Both squirrels and sunflowers were welcome attractions in our yard this summer.

Parent Fees & Private Childcare

So, I wrote this post more than a week ago, published it, reread it, didn’t like it, removed it, rewrote it – twice, and I think now it might be at least a little closer to what I want to say. Writing is hard sometimes.

Childcare is an important issue for many parents in Manitoba – more specifically, the lack of access to quality, affordable childcare. I’ll admit that during the last provincial election I got more than a little excited when the PC government promised to streamline the licensing process to encourage more family childcare providers to become licensed – it is not often that the government puts any focus on home based childcare. Sadly, they then froze grant funding and encouraged newly licensed unfunded providers to charge higher parent fees.

Now I will also think parent fees could be increased to help offset all the increases in expenses faced by childcare facilities. I thought this article by Tom Brodbeck was interesting. Even in my lower income area most unfunded and/or private, unlicensed home based providers charge parent fees that are much higher than my parent fees – and parents pay it. In higher income neighbourhoods and daycare deserts unfunded/unlicensed homes often charge considerably more. Maybe it is a parent’s ‘choice’ to put their child in private, unlicensed/unfunded care with higher parent fees – or maybe it is their only available option.

Funded family childcare providers like me are not allowed to raise our parent fees if we want to keep our funding. In a funded childcare facility parent fees for a preschool child are only $2.70 per day higher today than they were 22 years ago when I first began my childcare career. Over those years I have received increases in my operating grant funding so that it is now 28% of my gross income instead of just 5% of my income 22 years ago. Still, even with that grant funding and parent fees combined my income is still less than that of most private home daycares – about $13.38 per hour for hours I spend with the children – prep, cleaning and paperwork are all unpaid hours.

So yes, I am horrified when I hear a politician say they want to create portable subsidies for low income families to use in private childcare facilities because I know that even with portable subsidies those parents will still be paying much more than what they would pay in a funded, licensed facility – which already accept subsidized families. The problem is there are not enough funded licensed spaces – so the politicians say they will increase the number of licensed childcare spaces but if they don’t fund them then the parent fees will need to be increased in order to cover the costs of operating.

Even funded childcare centres are finding it difficult to attract or retain staff with the current set parents fees. When I hear politicians promise to lower parent fees to make childcare more affordable for parents I want to scream ‘Do you have any idea how much additional grant funding it will take to compensate for lower parent fees?’ Or are you planning to lower wages too and drive more ECE’s out of licensed care.

Trained ECE’s are already leaving their jobs in childcare centres and some of them are choosing to open private, unlicensed childcare homes. I fully understand the allure of home based childcare but with no funding available for new providers there is no financial benefit to becoming licensed – in fact they will probably earn more being unlicensed/unfunded and only accessible to higher income families willing/able to pay higher parent fees. There are no numbers available as to how many unlicensed childcare homes there are because there is no way to track that because they are unregulated. There are only just over 200 licensed home based providers in the whole province – far fewer than there were when I first became licensed.

Many parents and even politicians do not understand the difference between licensed and private childcare homes. When I was talking to a politician on my doorstep and mentioned that I was a licensed family childcare provider they said they had met a couple of other providers on my street – they couldn’t tell my if they were licensed or not ‘but they had business cards’. *sigh* Not licensed – there are no other licensed providers on my street – or any of the streets around me – that is easy to check here.

It is true that licensing does not guarantee ‘quality’ but I think ‘unlicensed’ is also ‘unprofessional’ even, or maybe especially unprofessional if you are a trained ECE. Many parents may not understand the difference between training and licensing and not realize that their trained private provider is in fact not licensed. In Manitoba a private home childcare provider, trained or untrained, may not care for more than four children under 12 years of age including their own children. Yet, I know many trained ECE’s whose only experience is in centre based care and who are surprised to learn that child/caregiver ratios are different in home based childcare. I also hear from many parents who are unable to find licensed childcare and have placed their child in a private home but are unsure how many children are actually being cared for there.

Yes, training enhances the quality of childcare but it is licensing and funding that enable childcare to be accessible and affordable. Private childcare is not affordable nor accessible especially for low income families even if there was a subsidy available. I don’t believe families of any income level would choose unlicensed care if there was enough licensed care available.

Maybe what should be suggested is that childcare waitlists and enrollment forms should include information about each family’s income level so licensed funded childcare facilities could weed out all the high income earners who were using up all the childcare spaces with low parent fees when they could really afford the higher fees in the private centres. I’m sure that then we’d hear a lot more public outcry that it is not fair that licensed care is only accessible to low income families.

So, I love my job and I wouldn’t want to do anything else and so far I can still pay all my bills and I get to play outside and I get paid in hugs every day so I shouldn’t complain – right? There are so many other people who are worse off than me – but really, that is my point. Even though, like other licensed funded facilities, my parent fees haven’t increased and my grant funding has been frozen for the past three years and my expenses have increased – I can still provide childcare to low income subsidized families.

Yes, I could drop my funding and raise my parent fees and still be licensed but earn more money – but then I’d have to exclude low income families and I won’t do that. I will continue to pay 22% of my taxable income back to the government because I know paying taxes is important for everyone. Then I’ll use my remaining $2400 a month to pay my ever increasing bills so I can be here for the families that trust me to provide care and education for their children while they go work to pay their bills and their taxes. I also really, really hope that the government then uses all those tax dollars to help those who don’t have as much as I do instead of offering it to those who already have more than they need.