Our October

October felt like such a quiet month but as November brings much cooler weather I took some time to review my observations and pictures from the past month.

This has intrigued me;

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At first it was only one of the boys that arranged these items around the circle on the table.  He did this on several days with these same toys but then left them and went to play with other toys until cleanup time when he would then put them away.  If at any point someone moved one of the circle toys he would return it to its place in the circle.

Since the room was rearranged these toys have not been put on the table…but other toys have been.  Nothing has been left here for long so I haven’t managed to get a picture but several times a day there are toys place around the circle.  Sometimes cars, sometimes tools, often plates of food.  What is most interesting is that now ALL of the boys are doing this.  I will keep observing.

Hills have also been popular.  There are two hills we pass frequently on our walks and we have made a point to stop and play on them.  The boys love to roll down, up and across the hills.  They’ve even started rolling down the rock slope in the back yard.  I can’t imagine that would feel as nice as the leaves and grass but the boys seem to enjoy it.

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One day  watched this boy attempt to attach a piece of twine he found to a stick and use it to pull his ‘stuck’ tractor.  He was so persistent even when the twine kept breaking.  He was was fully engaged in this activity for over half an hour oblivious to anything the others were doing.  I didn’t interfere either.

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Inside there was a popular game developed and enjoyed by all the boys.  They used the coloured fabric squares as ‘ghost traps’ and put the white scarves over their heads to pretend to be ghosts. They then walked around the room and if their foot touched a ghost trap they fell to the ground which resulted in fits of laughter from everyone.

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The doll house in the new loft has been surprisingly popular too – even more than the blocks up there;

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And of course we had to paint those funny little white ‘garlic’ pumpkins too.

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So much fun!

The Dishwasher

About eight years ago I replaced my old basic dishwasher with a fancy new one.  It  didn’t take long to find out that all those extra features also meant there were more things to break and the first ‘on warranty’ repair was made within a couple months.  Luckily I had also purchased the extended warranty because there were other necessary repairs after the original warranty ended.  The most severe one required a six week wait for parts.  Considering that I often run two full loads of dishes each day, six weeks is a really long time to go without a dishwasher.

Early this spring the old, no longer on warranty, dishwasher started making unusual noises and gave occasional error codes.  So, I decided to begin a search for a new dishwasher before the old one actually died.  It took a while to find one that met both my ‘features’ and ‘price’ criteria.  The old dishwasher kept working but it did get so loud that it was difficult to hear anything else on the main floor if the dishwasher was on.  Last weekend we finally installed the new one and with every load I find myself wondering ‘Is it working? The lights are on but I can’t hear anything.’  The dishes come out beautifully clean and sanitized so yes, it is working.

None of this really matters to the children except for one thing… a new dishwasher comes in a big box.  Cats like boxes too, but only when there are no children;

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This big box even has a window;

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All week, this has been the children’s favourite toy.  It has been a camper, cave, spaceship and more but no matter what it is being used as there is one common issue – it is always in need of some type of repair.

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Maybe I should have asked the boys to take a look at the old dishwasher.  The old one is still sitting in the porch – I’m trying to figure our if we can use any parts from it – after all, we haven’t got a dishwasher in our play kitchen…

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New Space

About six weeks ago I sketched a playroom arrangement on a scrap piece of paper.  It was the my response to yet another dispute over someone knocking down someone else’s block tower which was built in a walkway – a result of a small room with multiple play areas.

This was the old room arrangement with the shelves splitting the room in half – it allowed some separation between play areas but was difficult for me to interact with young infants/toddlers on both sides of the room or quickly intervene when necessary;

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I wanted the room to have better flow and more open space but still have defined spaces for various types of play.  I thought again about all the wasted space above us with our nine foot ceilings and took inspiration from tiny house design to create a new loft space – just for building with blocks, out of all walkways and the reach of infants/toddlers who prefer to destroy instead of create.

Construction took a total of six full 14 hour days over four weekends.  Some of the pieces were assembled and stored, installation was done in two phases.  The result is a completely new, more functional play space.

A brand new kitchen design is located in the SW corner of the play room. The cupboards and appliances were created by stacking and attaching wooden boxes.  The old block bin now contains food and other items that can be used in the kitchen/restaurant/store areas. The table is in the center of the room and has multiple uses.

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The music/dance area was slightly reorganized but remains in the SE corner;

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The workshop area remains in the NE corner along with some blocks;

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And the mini-scenes and entrance to the nature area remain in the NW corner but the dress-up clothes and ‘car’/steering wheel (not visible in this picture) were moved to the space across from the scenes, beside the mirror, adjacent to the kitchen area.

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The new 21 square foot loft is over the kitchen area.  It is 5 1/2 feet off the ground so the children and I can walk/stand under it.  Inside the loft there are bins of blocks and the dollhouse shelf is on the back wall.  I still have to find all the dollhouse furniture and people – most of them were removed from the playroom long ago because they were too small or delicate to have out when babies were present.  Only older children go in the loft so these toys can be there.

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The kitchen area shelves and appliances form a series of platforms that create an enclosed staircase along the side and back of the loft;

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Here’s another view of the new kitchen area and staircase. For perspective, the counter height is 24 inches and the fridge is 36 inches tall.

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I also added some new storage features inside the fridge but haven’t yet finished painting the inside white.

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There’s more new storage under, on, and beside the counter now too;

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The children are thrilled with the new play space.  From the loft they can ‘see everything‘ – makes me laugh when they include their house, favourite store, and the zoo in their list of things they can see from the loft.  Good imagination 🙂

Yet, of all the changes, the one that still excites them the most is the addition of this bell by the cash register.

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Summer 2017

Fall is definitely on its way – today is cool, wet, and dreary.  It has been a wonderful summer.  There were many things I meant to write about but never did – probably because I was playing outside.  Today I’m huddled in front of my computer, cat sleeping on my lap, waiting for one load of laundry to finish so I can start another.  Seems like the perfect time to write a quick summer recap.

In the yard we built a new composter and fire pit and added a gazing ball (lovely good-bye gift).

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We had some old pieces of cribbing that I let the children paint;

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They now arrange the pieces in various configurations for follow the leader games and other gross motor activities;

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Sometimes they make teeter totters but so far I haven’t managed to get a picture of them doing that.  They often make benches too – even though we have eight ‘real’ benches in the yard they seem to like theirs better;

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We went on a long (9 km) hike to the Forks and back.

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Watching the boats, ducks, and geese was great but couldn’t beat this;

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Standing on the path under the train bridge watching/listening to the train above;

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That was pretty amazing.

With colder weather approaching I’ve turned my focus toward our somewhat neglected indoor play space.  Plans have been made and work will begin soon.  By Thanksgiving we should have a new – tiny house inspired – loft.  So excited!

Juice

I don’t consider juice to be a replacement for a serving of fruits or vegetables yet I have always had juice on our menu as an occasional ‘treat’.  Milk is always served with lunch but once or twice a week I do serve juice with snack (water for those whose parents don’t allow juice).  I have never served fruit flavoured ‘beverages’, any type of powdered beverage mix or soft drinks even for special occasions.

Sometimes I have had children who don’t like milk but they will eventually drink it or water if juice is not an option.  Sugar sweetened beverages can become a battle ground (I’ve never even served chocolate or other flavored milk).  In the 20 years that I have been providing childcare, children refusing to drink anything except juice has never been a problem – until this summer.

I actually found it funny at first – none of the children in this group are new here – they all like milk but they love juice.  Their juice chant following every meal/snack had reached riot level.  The day they started throwing cups of milk and demanding juice instead was the end of my amusement.

However, I didn’t actually remove juice from the menu.  Instead, I now only buy/serve one type of juice – tomato based, eight vegetable juice.  It took just two weeks – no one demands juice anymore.  In fact, when offered juice or water they all choose water.  No one complains about milk anymore either. 🙂

Old Cats, New Cat

Mali and Malta joined our family in July 2006 when they were just five weeks old;

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They were sisters and best friends and together adapted quickly to living in a busy childcare home.  They usually loved all the attention they got from the children but also knew they had quiet spaces to escape to when they had enough.  I often commented on their ‘synchronized sleeping’;

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Over the years they got bigger – too big actually – Malta carried a little extra weight but Mali was very overweight;

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They were put on a vet recommended diet and dropped down to a healthier weight.  They still sometimes beg for food from the children so ‘Don’t feed people food to the cats’ has been an important lesson for the children.  It has also resulted in many wonderful conversations about healthy diets for both children and cats.  Through it all Mali and Malta remained best friends and still enjoy playing with the children and having alone time too.

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Last winter when we first introduced a new cat into our family I was slightly concerned that the two bigger, bonded cats may pick on the little newbie.  Sure, Mali & Malta considered children, and even our old dog to be acceptable housemates but they had never lived with another cat.  I wasn’t certain how the ‘old’ cats would feel about another cat in the house but I optimistically envisioned that the old cats would teach the new cat all the house rules and everyone would live happily ever after.  I was wrong.

Although ‘Button’ was the name given to the tiny little cat at the humane society and is her official name on her license and other papers, she was soon renamed.  We call her ‘Monkey’ most of the time – sometimes ‘Monkey-Butt’ because she is a very mischievous, naughty, sometimes ornery little cat with a big attitude.

She taunts and torments the older cats.  She pushes boundaries – growling in protest when removed from places she shouldn’t be and then immediately returning – sitting there glaring as if to say ‘I go where I please, when I please and you can’t do anything about it’.  She opens doors and cupboards and has stolen whole sandwiches left unattended for just two seconds.  Her early life as a stray allowed her to perfect her hunting techniques and stealth mode – for the old cats there is no escape.

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Malta seems very afraid of Monkey – running/hiding from her and refusing to enter a room Monkey is in.  I wouldn’t say Monkey is mean – just more like a toddler who keeps poking you trying to get a reaction and then laughing.  Mali has become grumpy – like the angry old woman who yells ‘Get off my lawn!’ when the neighbourhhood children play there – Mali hisses and snarls and chases Monkey off counters and other places she thinks she shouldn’t be.  Places that include my lap – I have battle wounds from cat fights that have occurred on my lap.

Monkey is not longer the scrawny little stray she once was – she has become a little ‘chunky’.  Mali & Malta however have lost more weight than they ever did on their diet. I started giving them regular food instead of ‘light’ food and when they threw that up I gave them food for sensitive digestion.  They still had difficulty holding that down and were getting so thin that I was concerned about their health.

I took them to the vet and after a thorough exam and blood tests he ruled out any illnesses.  They are however very stressed and have developed stomach ulcers.  I now have to give them medication twice a day and they have prescription cat food.  I also have a plug-in diffuser that spreads peace & joy & love (cat pheromones) throughout my house.

Fingers crossed, so far there have been no more cat fights or vomit to clean up.  Mali & Malta seem more relaxed – we’ll return to the vet next month to see if they’ve managed to regain some of their lost weight.  Monkey (finishes licking all the dishes in the sink and leaves a trail of wet footprints on paperwork as she walks across my desk) hasn’t lost any attitude yet though.

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Field Trip

For many years I regularly used my 15 passenger van to take the children on field trips.  It had plenty of room for all the car/booster seats, supplies, and even my teens when they came along to help out. Eventually the costs of upkeep for the old van began to outweigh the benefits of using it. When all my original car seats expired I priced out buying five new ones I decided that the expense wasn’t justified for just a few outings a year.

I discovered that I don’t miss taking the children to museums and we can walk to the library and many other neighbourhood attractions.  So, for the past four years we haven’t gone on an outing that required transportation.  In fact, we go on far more walking adventures than we ever did before and they are much more spontaneous (emergent). I do however miss the farm trips and many of the distant hiking trails we used to frequent. So this summer I decided to take my little group on a city bus adventure to the closest one of  the trails – Bunn’s Creek Trail.

For some of the children this was their first ever experience on a city bus.  They were all very excited.  Throughout the 20 minute ride they giggled and cheered and sang songs amusing all the regular bus riders.  We disembarked and began our hike down the 3 km trail.  I loved that my little group of preschool hikers immediately began assessing risks.  ‘Those trees look like bridges – it would be fun to walk on them but if they broke we would fall in the water’;

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I told the children I would take a picture of anything they found interesting along the way.  The first one they requested was this lonely ‘rainbow leaf’;

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They were amazed by the ‘broken beaver dam’;

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Of course they noticed all the thistles growing along the trail.

These boys find thistles everywhere – in parks, back lanes, trails and even gardens.  They like to touch them – they know they are prickly but to them this seems to be an acceptable risk.  I find it interesting how gently they touch the thistles.   Most of the time ‘gentle’ seems to be difficult for this group yet when it comes to thistles they demonstrate that they have the ability to be gentle so yes, keep practicing that!

Then they spotted ‘dandelions’ but they were very tall so a quick check of our field guide and we found out that they were actually sow thistles.

The children don’t think sow-thistle is as prickly as Canada Thistle and quickly lost interest until they found this;

‘Sticky!’

We’ve seen these big leaves of the Common Burdock on many of our hikes but the children have never paid much attention to them or the burrs.  Now these have become the ‘must touch’ favourites on all our hikes.

We reached the park at the end of the trail and took a washroom break.  Everyone wanted to stay on the bridge for a while and look at the creek.

This was the mid point of our hike – we headed back along the trail to where we started.  It was interesting how many of the landmarks the children remembered on our return trip.  They got really excited as we approached the spot where the lonely rainbow leaf was.  Pretty amazing that they can find the same leaf twice in a 6 km nature hike.

We had our lunch in the field near where the creek meets the Red River.  It was so peaceful.  

There was a bald eagle that flew from one side of the clearing and back several times but I was never able to get a picture of him.

The bus ride home was still exciting but much quieter and everyone was ready for a nap when we returned.

We continue to go on long hikes in our neighbourhood but now the children point out all the prickly/sticky plants AND the buses too. Maybe we’ll have to try another bus adventure soon.

Adventures in Family Childcare

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