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.

Vacation 2019

Another two week vacation, another big outdoor project – perfect! But before I tell you what I did on my vacation I’ll give you a little yard history.

The upper deck existed before my childcare home opened. It separated the South facing backyard from the East facing side yard. The side yard was the dog’s yard and the vast space under the upper deck was her dog house. The play space in the back yard consisted of a 300 sq ft gravel area with a play structure and a 360 sq ft ground level deck. The outdoor toys were stored in a tarp wrapped wooden frame shed built against the West fence.

There was no back wall on that little toy shed because it was positioned against the fence. It was about 15 years ago that we moved the toy shed so we could use that spot for our first garden – it was the only spot in our back yard that was not deck or gravel. We then attached the toy shed to the South side of the upper deck where the open back allowed us to extend the toy storage to the space under the deck (after we made the dog house smaller).

The tool/garden shed was located by the carport – South of the lower deck and East of the gravel area. When we decided we needed a bigger garden space, we took the tool shed apart and rebuilt it ON the rarely used lower deck and attached it to the front of the toy shed. We then put in a bigger garden where the tool shed had been.

This picture was taken many years ago on the upper deck;

The shelf and framed white panel on the right side is the back and top of the old toy shed. The higher redwood wall beyond it is the back of the tool shed. Not visible in the picture – back door of the house behind me, stairs down to the back yard on the right, and stairs down to the side yard on the left. Also not shown is the bike shed which is in the side yard attached to the North side of the upper deck.

We had created ‘Frankenshed’ – it had a very large foot print but inefficient storage. You could enter the bike shed from the side yard, then crawl under the upper deck, go through the toy shed and then go out the tool shed into the back yard. However, it wasn’t a convenient path – more like a labyrinth where there was the possibility you could be lost for long periods of time. Sometimes when the children asked for toys that were stored I would tell them I’d see if I could find them on the weekend. I was never sure how long it might take me to find the toy and get back out of Frankenshed.

The only good way to get from the back yard to the side/front yard was by going over the upper deck. Even the lawn mower, snow blower, bikes and lumber had to be taken this way. It was frustrating at times. When the children and I were out in the back I couldn’t see the front gate because the upper deck and Frankenshed blocked my view. Consequently we rarely played outside later in the day when there was the chance parents may arrive.

So, on my vacation we;

  • built a new tool shed in the side yard
  • sorted all the stored items from all the sheds
  • took apart the garden shed, toy shed, potty house and bike shed
  • removed half of the upper deck and one staircase and moved the other staircase
  • built a new toy shed and a new garden shed/potty house
  • disassembled, repaired and reassembled the garden wall
  • created a new ground level walkway

We worked outside for 10-12 hours each day of my two week vacation. It was wonderful! Now I want to spend even more time outside in the yard. Some of the changes are actually quite subtle but almost every part of the yard has changed at least a little bit so I’ll include before and after pictures for each corner of the back yard.

NW yard in 2018
NW yard in 2019

The old potty house – by the water barrel in the back of the garden – was used only for potty training toddlers who couldn’t make it inside quick enough. Now that area is our new convenient toy storage shed.

SW yard in 2018
SW yard in 2019

Picture angle is slightly different due to the movement of the stairs so the entrance to the back yard is now six feet farther East. Many of the stumps, stepping stones and tables have been moved too.

SE yard in 2018
SE yard in 2019

Again, stepping stones, stumps and table moved. Added rope swings and removed sensory bins – the bins now have a spot in the gravel area with the toys instead of being in the active play area.

Construction area & kitchen

The pond was moved to make room for a larger loose parts/construction area. In the old fireplace mantle we added shelves for storage of dishes & pots which never had a dedicated space before. There is also a counter which can be used for ‘cooking’ but can also hold the sensory bins when we want to use them.

NE yard in 2018
NE yard in 2019

Here is where you see the biggest difference. The cinder block garden wall was originally built on the wooden cribbing for the gravel area. The wood was deteriorating and sections of the wall were tilting in different directions. The wooden cribbing was replaced with an additional row of cinder blocks. I doubled the size of the awning so we have twice as much shade. The ‘pond’, rocks, table, stumps etc were rearranged to create a larger construction area and make room for the sensory bin area (not visible in this picture).

The stairs and a portion of Frankenshed were visible in the 2018 photo but in the 2019 photo there is only the smaller garden shed/potty house. This new little shed was built entirely from wood salvaged from the old shed and deck. The potty shed half is large enough for diaper changing and also has running water.

This next picture shows my view from the bench by the carport – on the East side of the garden shed I can now see all the way through the side yard to the front gate! The ground level walkway (also built from recycled deck boards) has enough space for the art table which used to be on the upper deck and was not visible from the yard. There is a small gate beside the garden shed to prevent any of the littles from wandering into the side yard which is still not a play area.

That’s enough writing for now – I’m going outside to play…

Mud Day 2019

June 29th is International Mud Day and here we have been celebrating it every year since its inception in 2009 (the year after I attended the World Forum for Nature Education). Of course, we do play with mud on other days too but rain or shine we have a BIG Mud Day celebration at the end of June – just before I close for my annual vacation so that is why it takes me this long to write about it.

For the past three or four years I have found it difficult to actually make ‘mud’. Yes, I know it sounds ridiculous – there is mud everywhere we go in the spring and summer after it rains – but for mud day I like to buy NEW, fresh dirt to make mud with. I never used to have difficulty finding good soil but recently it has been a challenge. I have bought many different bags of soil in search of ‘good’, mud-making soil. I’ve tried black earth, top soil and garden mix in both cheap and expensive brands from a variety of stores. Some years I’ve had several reject bags that I dumped into the garden instead of using for Mud Day.

The problem with most of these soils is that although they seem nice when I open the bag – cool, moist and smelling fabulous as all fresh soil does – they don’t mix well with water. Sure, when you add a little water to the soil it feels wet but it does not compact or hold any kind of shape. Adding more water doesn’t help – eventually it just become dirty water with bits of debris. *sigh* It shouldn’t be this hard to make mud.

The weekend before Mud Day I bought what I hoped would be good black earth – sadly, a small sample proved it was not. I called Superior Soil, explained my problem and asked if they had soil that would make nice mud. They believed they did so now my dilemma was that they are not open evenings and there were no more weekends before Mud Day. I checked the route on Google Maps – should only take 34 minutes to walk there – easy peasy walk for my little group of hikers.

The next day we packed a snack and left early in the morning so we could still have time to play in the yard for a while after our walk. My mistake was that I neglected to consider that this was not one of our normal routes hence there would be a lot of time spent sightseeing, exploring and asking many questions. Note to homeowners: If you put up little dome tents in your unfenced front yard it makes it very, very difficult for me to persuade toddlers that it is in fact private property and not a public campground.

It took us 91 minutes to get to our destination – I wondered if Google Maps may have miscalculated but I just wanted to get our soil and be on our way because if our return trip took the same length of time we would have a very late lunch. The man at Superior Soil was so charmed by the excited little group that he wouldn’t even charge us for the soil, put it in our cart for us and told us to have fun making mud pies. We had a quick (late) morning snack and headed back. Google Maps was not wrong – the return trip took only 42 minutes with tired toddlers and a heavy bag of soil.

Friday, June 28th was the day we would celebrate Mud Day. I set out a bin of water with some scoops, a wading pool full of our very special soil, a tarp and the ramp. At first, the children were all very hesitant – they tentatively played with the scoops in the water.

Seriously! Most of this group had been here for at least one other Mud Day and we’d been planning this for weeks – why the reluctance to dive in? With a little coaxing they added a bit of water to the soil and then moved small amounts of mud to the ramp. Twenty minutes so far and we’ve only got a few dirty fingers!

Finally someone got their feet dirty;

OK – now we are mixing mud! Yes, Superior Soil makes beautiful mud 🙂

Someone thought the water bin could be used to clean their feet – LOL – there is mud everywhere now;

This one thinks she is getting clean – nope! That water bin is mostly mud now too.

After a slow start they all really got into it – no more reluctance to get dirty. We enjoyed two hours of wonderful messy mud play.

Adventures in Family Childcare

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