Cat Quiz

First, the question is…

‘Why would my cat, Monkeybutt, choose to jump the six foot span from the table to the kitchen counter?’

  1. She wanted to demonstrate her expert agility.
  2. Taking unnecessary risks is exhilarating.
  3. There was a shadow on the counter that could have been a crumb and she wanted to help clean up.
  4. It was the easiest/quickest way to clear off the counter in one swift motion.
  5. She is a brat (hence her name).
  6. The children told her the floor was lava.
  7. I told her to get off the table.
  8. All of the above.

 

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The Birdhouse

We have this birdhouse in the corner of the yard near the carport.  It was built many years ago – at least ten, probably more – as a project to use up some scrap building supplies.  Initially there was hope that it would get used for nesting but I’ve never seen a bird even land on it so really it is just a decoration.

Over the years of exposure to extreme weather conditions it has begun to decay.  There are now many cracks and gaps for ‘ventilation’ and a few small pieces have fallen off. Last year  the main support post started to weaken and the whole thing tilted over at an odd angle away from the carport. The ‘decoration’ was becoming much less decorative.

A little more than a week ago I was sitting our in the yard taking advantage of the lovely spring weather.  I watched a little black capped chickadee fly in the yard and perch on the old birdhouse.  Then, to my surprise I saw it go inside!  For the next hour I watched it come and go, in and out, a busy little bird.  I believe it was only one bird – at least I only ever saw one at any given time.

Later, when there was no activity around the birdhouse I took a peek inside.  It was very dark and hard to see much but it is full of bits of things.  We tied the post over to straighten the house and give it some extra support ‘just in case’.

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I’ve seen the bird(s) on and off over the past week – mostly in the evening.  I’ve never mentioned it to the children – I know they’d be excited and it wouldn’t take much to knock that little house down.  For now I just watch…and imagine the little birdie conversations;

Bird 1: Check out this house.

Bird 2: It needs a lot of work.

Bird 1: There’s a nice herb garden in the front yard.

Bird 2: But it is so drafty inside and that perch looks like it may fall off any moment.

Bird 1: It’s a great neighbourhood and it is within our budget.

Bird 2: There’s a lot of traffic and it’s noisy – so many children, constant construction, maybe we should keep looking.

Maybe I shouldn’t watch so much HGTV

I Spy 2

Many years ago I wrote about a group of preschoolers who enjoyed playing their version of I Spy.  My current group of preschoolers has also developed their own adaptation of the game but for them it is location/time specific – they will only play it when they are sitting at the table before, during or after meals.

In my schedule as meal time approaches I take the infants/toddlers out of the playroom one at a time so I can change diapers, wash hands, and get them seated before I do the final food prep.  I expect that the three and four-year-old children will want to continue playing during this time so I don’t request that they start cleaning.  However, they anticipate the routine and rush to put their toys away so they can come to the table.

Children: “The toys are cleaned up, can we come to the table now?”

Me: “The food is not ready and I still have diapers to change. You have more time to play if you want to”.

Children: “We want to come to the table and play I Spy”.

Me: “You could play I Spy in the playroom too”.

Children: “We like to play at the table”.

So, I send them to wash their hands and then play I Spy as they wait for me to finish preparing snack/lunch.  It goes something like this;

Child 1: I spy something that is Cheryl’s chair.

Child 2: CHERYL’S CHAIR!

Child 1: That’s right! Now it is your turn.

Child 3: Cheryl’s chair is black, you were supposed to say ‘I spy something black’.

Child 1: There are lots of black things, I spied Cheryl’s chair.

Child 2: My turn, my turn, MY TURN!  I spy something that is brown and pink and blue, and green, and gold.

Child 3: AWWCK! That’s too many colours!

Child 2: No it’s not, look at that pillow – it is brown and pink and blue, and green, and gold – see.

Child 3: OK fine, my turn.  I spy something that is on that shelf.

Child 1: The shelf by the window?

Child 3: No, not that shelf, the one that is over there by that other thing – beside the curtain.

Child 2: The birdhouse, the pencil, the phone, the book, the paper, the candle, the…

Child 3: That’s right!

Child 1: Which one was it?

Child 3: Umm, the book I think.

I don’t actually think there are any ‘wrong’ answers when they play this game – the turn taking seems to be their main goal.  Their language and communication skills are what interest me.  Inevitably, no matter how quickly I try to get lunch ready, the excitement level will become far to high and I will have to intervene to remind them about volume and activity level before I can put food on the table.  Even once the food is ready the I Spy game usually continues.

Occasionally when the school-age children are here they join in, and sometimes they manage to briefly follow the preschoolers directions.  Often they try to enforce alternate rules but the preschoolers just dismiss the new rules and carry on. The little ones enjoy having the older children play along but it is ultimately ‘their’ game and they are not interested in changing it.  Just take your turn and carry on.

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Special Moments in Time

Time is such a difficult concept for children and even some adults.  I often take photos when the children are busy playing – snapshots of special moments. Often the camera doesn’t fully capture what I saw but the photo can still serve as reminder of that brief moment in time.  These are some recent photos of moments that I found interesting.

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These are the props the children have set up as part of their ‘Santa’ game.  The little tree they built from Bunny Blocks and the snack they have put out for Santa.  These preschoolers initiate this dramatic play activity many times every week – not because it is Christmas time but rather because it is something they enjoy doing together – cementing their friendships.  They take turns being ‘Santa’.  The ‘children’ pretend to sleep in makeshift beds in the corner of the room while ‘Santa’ gathers their favorite toys from around the room to give each child as gifts.  They demonstrate such wonderful understanding of what their friends like and the importance of giving to others.  Christmas was months ago but time is irrelevant.

The children also enjoy purposely slipping on ice patches on the backyard deck and walkway. I keep breaking up the icy areas or covering them with sand – not because I don’t want the children to have fun but because I don’t like falling.  The activity was not a problem but there was a better place and time for it – I took them for a walk so they could slide here;

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February was officially ‘I love to read month’ and I didn’t plan any special activities.  With this little group reading is always a special activity especially when you’re with your friends.

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Another special time is the end of the day when there are only one or two children left – they wait for the ‘magic’.  When the conditions are right at the end of a sunny day if you’re lucky enough to be the last to go home you may be here when this happens.

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For a very brief moment in time the sun will make the music area sparkle.

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Sadly, now that the time has changed we probably won’t see this again for a while but some day in the future the magic will return.  It will just take time.

Students & Mentors

Throughout my career I have had many opportunities to welcome students and other educators into my home for tours, observations and practicum placements. I have found these visits to be enlightening and I am certain that I learn just as much or more than any of the ‘students’.

Sometimes visitors are here outside of regular working hours simply to see my childcare environment and get ideas for their own programs.  When there are no children present we have plenty of time for discussions and often the visitors will ask why I have things arranged the way they are.  Even as I answer their questions I may also begin to ponder ‘Is this really the best way or could I do it differently?’

The visitors who come for ‘observations’ have the most difficulty and sometimes it is downright hilarious.  Usually they’ve been instructed to ‘observe’ the children and/or me but not ‘interfere or interact’ with us. LOL The second they entered the room they became the children’s favourite toy.  “Who are you? What are you writing? Can I have your pen/some paper? I drew a flower. I have Darth Vader on my shirt. Do you like light sabers? We aren’t supposed to hit with toys. I’m hungry, did you bring a snack? …. It doesn’t end and honestly I doubt anything they observe would resemble a ‘normal’ day.

My favourite visitors are the Early Childhood Education students here for their practicum placement.  They come for longer periods of time – usually six full days.  They are expected to join in and even plan activities.  They get to know us and we get to know them.  All of the practicum students that have come here were part of the Red River College Workplace program which means they already have experience working in licensed childcare facilities.  Usually these students have only had experience working in centres but have expressed an interest in learning more about family child care as a possible career choice in the future.

They already understand child development and guidance.  Many are well acquainted with licensing regulations, policies and procedures – at least in the centres in which they work.  Some have already worked in childcare for many, many years as childcare assistants.  Really there is little or nothing I could teach them about doing their current job.  However, they are here to learn about family childcare and for most of them that is something new – and very different from what they currently do.

The first comment I hear when these practicum students arrive is almost always ‘I can’t believe how quiet it is’.  Yes, even though I may not always find it ‘quiet’ here, in comparison to working in a centre it is very quiet.  Sometimes I even find it too quiet – especially when I have a particularly independent group or there are some children absent.  There are days that I am tempted to initiate new activities simply because I am bored – I have to stop and consider if the children would actually benefit from my activity or if I would be interrupting a wonderful child-led experience in order for me to feel more productive.

Of course the play space also excites many of the students – especially the use of environmental guidance so I/they don’t have to  constantly provide direct guidance.  I love that the students recognize this.  🙂 They also note how easily the children choose, engage, and clean-up activities with little or no assistance from me.  We often share stories about behaviour issues we’ve experienced at our respective programs and how changes to the environment have/could address them.  I think that the ability to control the environment is what draws many centre staff to family childcare – they see issues at their workplaces, have ideas that could help but for whatever reason are not permitted to implement them.

However, I don’t feel that these practicum students ever experience ‘real’ family childcare when they are here.

Firstly, they are only here for eight hour days, not the eleven I normally spend with the children each day.  The college also expects that I will give them  breaks – many of the students choose to forego their break and leave earlier instead.  There was one who never wanted to leave and often stayed longer than required but still not my full day.  One insisted on taking her lunch break at lunch time – the busiest part of my day – instead of joining the children and I for lunch.  She spent an hour sitting in her car and returned when I had the kitchen clean and all the children settled in for their naps.  In my opinion there were several factors that made me doubt she was suited for ANY position in childcare.

Secondly, these students are never alone here or in their regular workplace.  Certainly there are times when I busy myself elsewhere and observe the student engaging with the children independently but they are not truly  ‘alone’.  There is nothing I can do to allow the students to experience what it is like to be the only one responsible for doing everything all day, every day.  As much as they may think that they would love to be their own boss, that freedom comes with a whole lot more responsibility and time commitment than their current jobs.

Then there is all the other stuff – the evening and weekend stuff when the children are gone.  The cleaning, the paperwork, contacting prospective parents, meetings, interviews and more – the students see none of that.  Are they prepared for the challenge to their work/life balance when they work from home – and what about their families?  The ‘family‘ portion of family child care is a HUGE factor and many providers who choose FCC specifically to stay at home with their own children also discover they prefer working in a centre and can’t wait to ‘get their house back’.

I have had a couple students who claim to understand how much time is required for FCC but then remark that they aren’t actually planning to work in their ‘real’ home because they ‘won’t do that to their family’.  They want to rent/buy a second house or use some other space away from their true home.  We sit down and review some regulations and do some financial calculations for FCC income vs expenses for a separate space. Even if the regulations allowed it, financially this is not a viable option.

Family childcare homes are not centres – they cannot be run the same nor can they be compared to centres.  Not all ECE’s with experience in centres are equipped for working in homes and many FCC Providers would not survive working in centres.  Still, there is a lot we have in common and there is a lot we can learn from each other.

My experiences with mentoring practicum students has been enlightening.  I have observed how the behavior of the children in my care, in my environment, changes with the addition of another caregiver.  I’ve been able to reflect on whether it something I do or the student does that influences the behaviours.  I’m also certain that even though there are days when I could use an extra set of hands to get everything done, I am still much happier working alone.  That’s not the case for everyone – some ECE’s need the larger groups and daily interaction with colleagues and family childcare may not be the best fit for them.

 

Sensory Play

Sometimes I can be a hoarder – buying and hiding supplies for ‘later’.  It could be that I think it may be a fun activity but not interesting for the group currently in care.  It may be that the time or space is not yet appropriate and the activity will be offered when the conditions are right. Yes, admittedly there have been times I’ve forgotten about some supplies and then re-discovered them while looking for something else.

Last summer I set aside supplies for two sensory play activities that I wanted to do in the winter.  Usually I like to do messy play activities outside so summer would be best but for these activities I thought a ‘cleaner’, indoor environment would be better.  Besides sometimes in the winter we can’t be outside as much as we’d like to and we need something different to do when we are cooped up inside.

So, earlier this month when it was bitterly cold outside, we tried a new play dough recipe.  Yes, we’ve made and played with play dough many, many times but this recipe claimed to make ‘stretchy’ play dough.  It used one part hair conditioner and two parts corn flour.  I let the children each mix their own batch.

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There was a lot of trial and error – too wet, add more flour – too dry, add more conditioner.  Maybe it was the quality of the dollar store conditioner but the mixture never did become stretchy however the ‘coconut’ scent was a pleasant break from winter.  Later the children added the paint colour of their choice and when done we bagged each one separately so we could play with them again on other days too.  Not exactly the result I envisioned but still enjoyable.

The second activity I offered was water beads. I’ll admit that when I first got them I doubted that teeny tiny bag of wee little dry beads would be enough for all the children and thought maybe I should have ordered two bags.  I put the package in my desk drawer to save for a week when it was really cold outside.

Last week I filled two bins with nice warm water and added some dry water beads – at first they were barely noticeable in all that water so I also added some pipettes and other water toys too.  The children enjoyed the water play and eventually the beads soaked up enough water that we could see them better but they were still almost impossible to pick up.

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Later that afternoon we checked and they had soaked up all the water – this was really exciting!  This is what HALF a teeny, tiny bag of water beads looks like when they are all wet;

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I love the way the water beads feel – they may be one of my favourite sensory bin items 🙂 and the children really like them too.  I don’t even mind when the occasional one bounces out of the bin – even when I accidentally step on one it doesn’t break. Picking up strays is a whole additional activity.

The instructions say the beads are reusable so we experimented by putting a few in a smaller container and letting them dry out.  It took just two days for them to dehydrate back to their original size.  If I had taken a ‘before’ picture you would see that when wet these beads had filled the whole bottom of this container – magic

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I’m certain this is an activity we will enjoy many more times to come.  In fact, I’m wondering if we might even try putting some in a container on the light panel…

Year End 2017

It is December 31st and I have not written a post yet this month.  *sigh*  When I first started blogging (seven and a half years ago) I intended to write every day.   I soon realized that once or twice a week was sufficient.  Lately it has been only once or twice each month.  I really want to write more. I plan to write more. When I’m working out at the gym, outside hiking, or enjoying a hot steamy shower I create fantastic posts in my mind.  Sit down at the computer and….nope, got nothing now. Today I am adamant – I will write something to end the year.

I hosted our family Christmas dinner for nine on Christmas Eve.  The schedule was perfect – I had one full day for prep and cleaning before dinner day.  Stores were open so I didn’t fret about ‘what if I forgot something’. Of course I didn’t actually need to run out and get anything – that only happen’s when the stores are closed.  I made three vegetable dishes, two potato dishes, turkey, gravy, and a HUGE batch of stuffing.  Everyone loves stuffing so I make a separate roaster full of stuffing – used seven loaves of bread!

There were also the little extra snacky things like pickles and cheese and cranberry sauce etc that don’t require cooking.  I had done all my baking in the weeks before Christmas so dessert was covered (even now we still have dainties waiting to be eaten).  The whole dinner was completely stress free.  I had plenty of helpers available for the last minute ‘get everything on the table while it is hot’ rush and then everyone got to eat. 🙂

I ran three full loads through the dishwasher that day and washed four sink-fulls of bulky items but the kitchen was clean by 9 pm.  All the leftovers were packed up and frozen for future meals.  There was nothing left to do on Christmas day except sit and relax.  I suppose I could have written this post then, but I didn’t.  The other thing I didn’t do was take ANY Christmas dinner photos.

So instead, I’ll include this one of the team that pulled our sleigh on MCCA’s Dashing Through the Snow event earlier this month;

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I had a great time playing outdoors with other amazing ECE’s  that day but didn’t manage to write a blog post about it either.

So now, as 2017 nears its end, I’ll begin making some plans for what I want to do in 2018. I’m not one for making ‘resolutions’ but maybe, if I reorganized my office space I’d be more inclined to sit at my desk and be productive…

Adventures in Family Childcare

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