Category Archives: Actve Play

A Change of Pace

Learning to ride a bike is a childhood milestone and all children enjoy riding bikes.  Many people believe that statement to be true but I am not one of them.  Yes I, somewhat unwillingly, learned to ride a bike when I was about 6 years old. My younger sister was already a bike expert speeding around the neighbourhood and my father was insistent that I would learn too.

With an awful lot of coaxing I eventually did manage to wobble around on a bike but I never really enjoyed the experience.  Every time my sister got a new bigger, fancier bike she was thrilled.  My father would offer to get me one too – ‘Please don’t’ I would say – but he did.  Maybe he was hoping some day I would be ‘normal’ but probably he just didn’t realize that my quiet demeanor hid the torture I felt when forced to ride a bike.

I have very few fond childhood memories of bike riding excursions.  I do remember crashing, falling, and jumping off my bike.  Yes, there were many, many times that I purposely chose to jump off a moving bicycle because landing in a ditch seemed to be a better choice than staying on the seat.

A friend recently suggested maybe I don’t like things with wheels – she knows I don’t enjoy driving a car either.  I do drive – when I have to (and I’m much better at driving a car than riding a bike) – but I’ll never turn down a ride if someone else wants to drive.  Likewise, if walking is an option, I will always choose to walk.  I think maybe I feel so uncomfortable when driving or riding because I am disconnected from the earth.

In the last few years my husband has begun to join me on hiking adventures – this has been wonderful because he is willing to drive to distant trails that I have not had to opportunity to explore before.  Often on our hikes he would remark ‘This would be a great trail to bike on if you had a bike’ and I would reply ‘No,no it would not’. *Shudder*

My husband enjoys biking much more than hiking so eventually I relented and agreed to get a bike so we could occasionally go biking together.  He was much more excited than I was, checking out all the store flyers and bike displays, pointing out various features of each model.  My main concern was ensuring I’d still be able to touch the ground when I was on the bike.

Finally he picked one out and went to get it on his day off work.  I was in the back yard with the children when he came home and unloaded it from the car.  As he wheeled it through the yard all the children oohed and awed and excitedly asked ‘Cheryl, whose bike is that?’ ‘Mine’ I replied without much enthusiasm.  ‘Are you going to ride it?’  ‘Not right now.’  It had been more than 25 years since I last rode a bike. They say you don’t forget how to ride but I had my doubts especially since I was never very good at it and I’ve tried very hard to forget.

Later that week I tried a few practice rides up and down our back lane – cue fits of laughter.  When I reached the end of the lane I got off the bike, picked it up and turned it around to head back.  My husband/coach yelled down the lane ‘You don’t need to get off to turn around, the lane is wide enough, just keep pedaling and turn the wheel.’  Seriously? I would need the lane to be four times that wide before I’d make it all the way around without falling. 😛

On the weekend we packed the bikes in to the van to drive to a nice, paved, car-free bike path.  I think I did a bit better. There were only a few times that considered jumping off and even then I just put my feet on the ground and skidded to a stop.  Yes, sometimes when I panic I forget the bike has brakes.

Periodically my husband/coach would point out something interesting in the area surrounding the trail.  I’d reply, ‘Can’t look, trying to stay upright’.  Sometimes he’d suggest something new for me to ‘try’ – like standing on the pedals etc.  ‘Nope, don’t want to die today’.

It’s frustrating, I imagine that is how children feel when asked to move on to the next new skill/task when they just want to continue at the level they are currently at for a little longer.  What’s the rush, they’ll move on when they decide they are ready.  Pushing too hard or too soon might make them quit completely.

My bike ride was certainly not a stellar performance.  In fact, even my FitBit failed to recognize it as anything. It will auto-recognize a trip around the block at toddler speed as a ‘walk’.  It will auto-recognize a walk with a stroller as an ‘outdoor bike ride’. However, my first afternoon bike excursion left it confused – it had no idea what to call that.  A three-year-old, without training wheels, stopped his bike on the side of the trail to watch me -silently.  Other people I’m certain went home with stories to tell their friends and family.

Still, I rode my new bike on my terms – when, where, and how I wanted and most importantly, I will do it again.  I will never be an expert rider.  Biking on trails will never replace hiking on trails but it is an interesting change of pace.

 

Delivery

I ordered something and knew it would be arriving soon.  I told the children something new was coming – they were very excited.  “What is it?”  “I’m not telling, it is a surprise.”

It arrived on Monday – at nap time as usual – I’m fairly certain that all couriers are required to make daycare deliveries at nap time and they get a bonus if they kick the door at the same time as they ring the doorbell… *sigh*

I decided to wait to introduce the new items – but the packaging was fun for day one;

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Making a ‘sidewalk’.

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‘Crinkles’ when we walk on it;

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Plenty of after nap fun with just the packaging;

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Day two – let’s open the little boxes that came in the big box;

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What are these?

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Let’s sort them;

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They’re called ‘Balance Pods’ – Can you stand on them?

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Is it easier or harder if they are upside down?

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Maybe we should hold hands;

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Even the baby wants to try;

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Let’s see if we can sit on them;

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Or walk;

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So many new things to try – this is only the beginning;

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Good Morning

It has been 10 months since I first joined the gym – here you can read more about why I joined.  Honestly, I may love going to the gym even more now that I originally did 🙂 Yes, I’ve lost some weight and lowered my BMI but that was never my main goal.  I’ve taken my second fitness test and I’m happy with the results.  My muscle strength improved from ‘poor‘ to ‘average‘, muscle endurance went from ‘average‘ to ‘excellent‘, and my flexibility is now ‘superior‘ instead of ‘poor‘ – I’m stoked about that!

I’ll admit that in preparation for my second fitness test session I had spent some extra time working on the exercises that the trainer had had me do at the first session.  Then for the second session the trainer chose different exercises – sneaky trick.  When he asked if I do squats I replied ‘No’ because they are not part of my gym routine.  Yet, during the test I found them surprisingly easy to do.  In the days since the test I’ve realized that I do squats all day long – every time I pick up a toy off the floor while carrying a baby.  🙂

Over time I have made some changes to my gym routine.  I have different preferred gym locations than I used to hence my ‘home’ gym is different now.  Some of the machines or programs that used to be my favourites I now rarely use – in part because they are no longer challenging.  Some of the machines that I used to find intimidating – like this one;

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are now exhilarating.  This makes me happy that I didn’t choose to buy exercise equipment to use at home – I probably would have quickly lost interest.

However, probably the biggest change I’ve made is when I go to the gym.  Originally I chose Monday, Wednesday, & Friday evenings as well as Sunday mornings – this gave me four weekly workouts that were spaced roughly 36 – 48 hours apart.  It was during my summer vacation that I first made the change – going to the gym in the morning on weekdays too.  Wow, I’ve always been a morning person – morning workouts are soooo much better for me.

I thought the biggest problem was going to be that on weekdays I already get up at 5:00 am so to add a trip to the gym in before my day with the children would mean losing sleep and getting up at 4:00 am instead.  Interestingly I’ve discovered that I actually get MORE sleep at night now since the long wind-down period after an evening workout meant I was never able to get to bed at a decent time and my schedule was messed up.  A morning workout is a great way to greet the day!

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Also interesting is that although there are fewer people at the gym at 4 am  than at 9 pm there are still a surprising number of us there.  Not surprising is how chipper they are – these are my peeps – cheerful and eager to meet the new day even without coffee.

Good Morning!  I’m ready to play, are you?

 

Hiking in the City

It has been just over a week since I returned home after Nature Summit 2016.  I’ll admit that for the first few days I did seriously consider putting my tent up in the backyard because I really missed spending all day, every day outside.  Summit was fabulous as usual – I got to participate in many outdoor workshops.  I went for a ride on a zip line, climbed almost to the top of this;

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And of course I did a lot of hiking through the woods.

I know I really enjoy a nature hike and so do the  children in my care.  I also know that, even in the city, there are many places where we can hike and feel like we are out in the wilderness.  However, a city hike can be pretty special too – especially to a group of boys who can tell me the name and purpose of almost every type of construction vehicle. 🙂

My little group and I have spent the last few months exploring the the nearby neighbourhoods.  Our city hikes vary in length from just a few blocks to up to 8 km.  They can take anywhere from a half hour to several hours and it is rarely the children that suggest we’ve been walking too long and it is time to go back.  Pretty amazing when you consider that these are 2 and 3 year olds.

So, what do we see when we go on an 8km city hike?  Back hoes, buses, dump trucks and trains.  Cement trucks, front loaders, street cleaners and cranes.  Yes, there is a lot of noisy traffic but there are also many quiet spots too.  In fact, one of our favourite paths takes us through the cemetery.

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We look for birds – the children know where all the nest boxes are located (there is a nest box in the above picture but it is hard to see).  We listen to the wind in the trees and watch the river in the distance.  Inevitably the river sparks the topic of bridges – which one will we cross today?  Within walking distance of the cemetery there are FIVE bridges we can go over, and THREE that we can go under.

There are several more bridges we can explore if we pack a lunch and make it a day long hike but that tends to be too much even for this active little group.  Once this past summer we did make it to two distant bridges but the children were obviously tired and there was not much excitement.  Besides, when we stick to the familiar, nearby areas there is a whole more to our hikes than just walking.

In some cases we can cross one bridge and examine the structure of another bridge at the same time.

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There are bridges for people, bikes, cars and trains. Only some of our bridges cross over water.  Others cross over roads or train tracks and give us a whole lot more to talk about.  The children often complained that there were never any trains on these tracks when we crossed over them – but twice this summer there was a train here!  So of course we had to stop for a while to watch.

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One time the train was moving so very slowly that we were able to continue our walk, loop around and walk under the same train we had just been standing over.

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Standing under a train bridge while a train slowly squeaked and creaked, clanged and banged overhead was a new experience.  Trains on bridges sound much different than cars on bridges. The children also enjoyed yelling ‘ECHO!’ as they do every time we venture under bridges.

We don’t spend all our time on noisy city streets.  For contrast we also explore parks and riverbanks along the way.  We get to hear and smell the difference between the roadway and the forest.  On this particular hike the ‘big’ boys were with us and the ‘littles’ enjoyed showing them all our favourite spots.

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Just as we use the bridges to compare the traffic and trains from above and below we can also do the same with the river.  Standing on the bridge we watch the water flow, count geese and ducks, and watch sticks and other debris float by but there is the noise of the traffic crossing the bridge too.

It is amazing how just a few steps away from a busy road can feel like a totally different world.  What can you hear now?  Our river bank trails offer another perspective of the water.  We can get closer to the water – but not too close, this is not a swimming river.

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There is a tree they want to climb.  Normally I’d say yes to a tree climbing adventure but a quick risk assessment resulted in a ‘No’ to climbing on this tree;

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Yes, I love a good nature hike but a city hike offers something special too.  We could read books or watch videos and memorize facts about cars and trucks, trees and birds, rivers and roads or we can go for a city hike, experience it, and begin to understand the impact we have on the natural environment.

Rough & Tumble

Many parents and childcare providers are uncomfortable allowing children to engage in rough and tumble play or ‘fighting games’ for fear that someone may get hurt.  However, the problem isn’t the type of play but the ‘environment’ – both physical and emotional – in which that play takes place.

I firmly believe that rough and tumble play is very beneficial but in my program I do enforce some basic guidelines.  The first ‘rule’ involves location.  ALL play involving chasing, wrestling, jumping etc is discouraged when we are indoors.  Our main indoor play space is just 150 sq ft and when you add toys, shelving and up to eight children there is simply not enough room – the risks are greater than the reward.

That changes when we get outside.  Although my yard is not a large open space I did design it for gross motor play. There are still some rules like ‘If someone is in front of you, you have to slow down/stop’.  There are many obstacles and the walkways are narrow so when two or more children are trying to maneuver through the same space pushing someone out of your way  is not allowed.

One of the greatest benefits of chasing games and rough and tumble play is that they require/teach awareness and self control.  If you are unable to avoid colliding with another person it is not ‘an accident’.  The problem is NOT that ‘they got in your way’ or ‘they were too slow’- it IS because you were not watching where you were going or you were going too fast for the conditions.

The consequence for knocking someone down isn’t yelling ‘Sorry’ over your shoulder as you continue running away.  The consequence is that you need to stop, help them up and make sure they are OK before you continue playing.  If that is not something you are willing to do then you are not ‘playing’ you are being mean.  If you got hurt too then getting angry and blaming the others isn’t the solution – you need to be more observant, adjust your speed, or find another game to play.

Another ‘rule’ I have is that we only use imaginary weapons.  Now, this is not because I’m totally against weapon play with toy weapons but I have concerns about using toys as weapons in a mixed age group setting.  Yes, I have seen a group of older children involved in a wonderfully cooperative and respectful fighting game using toy weapons.  I have also spent hours/weeks/months teaching toddlers that hitting hurts.  The children and I have many conversations about how super heroes ‘help’ others.

Certainly most school age children can visualize an imaginary scenario, understand the difference between soft and hard objects, regulate the amount of force they use and aim appropriately but the  toddlers are not developmentally equipped to do all this.  The little ones watch, they see hitting and laughter but they don’t understand all the concepts involved and someone will get hurt. So, the imaginary weapons allow the older children to play their game without encouraging the little ones to hit with toys.

The third and most important ‘rule’ is that ALL the children involved in any type of rough and tumble play or fighting game must be willing participants.  This includes ‘shooting’ non-players even with imaginary weapons – in fact, I usually say ‘no people as targets’.  Each player must agree to their role in the game.  If at any point someone says ‘STOP!’ – even if they are laughing – the activity must stop.  If someone cries or gets upset then the game play stops until the problem is resolved.  Stop always means stop or the game is not respectful.

If someone wants to play and agrees to the game rules the others may NOT exclude them. If someone doesn’t want to play there has to be some type of mutual time/space agreement so  multiple activities don’t interfere with each other.  If someone says they want to play but cannot/will not follow the group’s game rules then that person may have to find another activity.

Creating game rules is an important part of the activity and all the children who want to play must be able to participate in this process before play begins.  When only one child is in charge of  creating the game, assigning roles, making the rules, and determining the ‘winner’ then it is not a cooperative game.  This ‘do as I say’ type of activity often enables bullying behaviour and allows the ‘leader’ to change game play in order to control outcome.

One wonderful example of a cooperative rough and tumble game was ‘Fight Club’.  The group of children who created and engaged in this activity were all between five and eleven years old.  They set boundaries for play area.  They chose opponents or teams based on physical abilities and size. They set rules for entering and exiting the game including the option to tag in/out when you got tired. They only played this game outside when there were no little children present. This particular group engaged in this activity on/off for more than a year and never needed me to intervene.  It was perfect.  And it never would have happened if there were no fighting games allowed.

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Fitness

I am certain that at no point in my life anyone has ever considered me to be a fitness fanatic.  In fact, as a child I was considered ‘The Princess’ and my sister was ‘The Tomboy’ (I abhorred the princess label and everything it embodied but that is another post).  I loved school but loathed gym class.  I have never been able to understand the allure of sports of any kind – neither as a spectator nor a participant.  Equestrian sports were an exception but only because – OMG, horses! 

I took swimming lessons – hated them – still avoid going in to pools, lakes, rivers etc.  As a child I had a bike – begged my dad not to buy it for me but he insisted – my only memories of ‘riding’ it involve falls and collisions.  I have always loved hiking, if time was not a factor I would always, always, choose walking over any other form of transportation – but I don’t run, ever, for any reason.

I have one particularly vivid memory from junior high Math class when we were learning to collect and graph data.  For data collection the teacher chose to test everyone’s grip strength (here you can learn more about why you’d want that info and how to test it).  I stood at the front of the class for what felt like an eternity while the teacher kept insisting that I ‘try again’ and muttering about lowering the class average.  Seriously, 16 pounds was my maximum.

So, even though I’ve never been ‘athletic’, I have also never been sedentary.  In fact, I have trouble sitting for very long at all.  I’ve only been to a movie theater twice in the past 35 years – not because I dislike movies – but because they don’t have movement breaks and they disapprove of me standing, stretching and pacing during the show (like I do at home when I watch TV).

As I *sigh* get older I’m finding winter to be more and more difficult each year.  Yes, I do some yoga, shovel snow and go for occasional short walks but it is nothing compared to my spring/summer/fall activity level when I spend the majority of the day playing and working outdoors.  This winter my husband suggested maybe we should get a treadmill ‘because I like walking’… Ummm, NO!  I won’t like walking on a treadmill with no birds and trees and other things to enjoy.  He has always wanted a treadmill so he didn’t have to go hiking outside – not me!

Still, I was interested in checking out some other types of workout equipment beyond the basic stuff I had at home.  We went to look at some exercise equipment.  Of course he liked the treadmills – I did not.  He also liked the exercise cycles – I wouldn’t likely fall or crash if it was stationary but I doubted I would be motivated to use it.  I did find the elliptical machines interesting but hubby’s doctor wouldn’t recommend he use an elliptical.

We live in an old house with limited floor space and a very low basement ceiling height – we definitely don’t have room for good quality exercise equipment nor can we afford multiple machines to satisfy both our interests.  I began to think maybe we should consider something more than what we could do at home.  So, I suggested maybe we should join a gym… I know, I laughed too when I said it.  We did some research and decided Snap Fitness was our best option.

We’ve been going to the gym four times a week for two months now.  I’ve completed my first fitness score test (since high school).  I’ve learned some things like;

  • I look forward to going to the gym – even feel a little disappointed when it’s not a gym day.  If there was a gym closer to my home I’d walk there every day – driving there is the only deterrent.
  • Working out regularly makes me sleep so soundly every night – it is amazing.
  •  My  heart health and muscle endurance are better than I would have expected but my flexibility is surprisingly poor.
  • For the first time in my life I am intrinsically motivated and stubbornly optimistic that I will improve my physical strength.

Childcare is a physically demanding job and I believe physical fitness is important not only as so I can do the required work but also so I can be a good role model.

 

Rock On

There were several yard projects that I had planned to do during my too short vacation.  They didn’t get done then but because they were all fairly small projects I have been able to work on them  on evenings and weekends.  I’ll discuss two of them today and leave the others for another post so this one doesn’t get too long.  First, some background info…

It was seven years ago that I removed all the plastic play structures from the yard and began creating a more natural play space.  In 2010 I added the ‘hill’ but it never really became the what I had envisioned.  I had used logs to create ‘steps’ on three sides of the hill and intended that the children would actually climb on the hill;

15-09-hill00I chose hardy native prairie plants that I hoped would stand up to the traffic I expected there would be.  Over the years I have planted 10 varieties of native plants here but only the Pasture Sage and the Giant Hyssop have adapted well.  I do love the Pasture Sage but the Giant Hyssop has been a bit of an annoyance.   It has spread all over the hill and surrounding areas – I believe it has driven out most of the other plants I liked better.

It has also made climbing the hill impossible.  The Hyssop grows so tall and thick that it hinders playing on the hill.  It also attracts a lot of bees which we do like to watch as they work but we don’t want to bother them.  So the hill is mostly just a tunnel and a bridge but even those are difficult to use if I don’t continually hack off and tie back hyssop overgrowth to the point where it doesn’t even look pretty anymore.

15-09-hill01 In the past I have used various trellises to control the Hyssop but ultimately these just create more barriers around the hill.  In fact, I don’t think any of the children even think the hill could/should be climbed on.   Last year another issue developed too with the stumps that I had arranged randomly throughout the gravel area around the hill.  Here you can see the trellis barriers and the stumps;

15-09-hill02Yes, I do like the way that looks but it did not function well.  There was not a lot of space between the stumps for the digging/building projects the children enjoy.  The school-age children would race leaping from stump to stump as quickly as possible and they were not very observant about where the little ones were walking/playing.  The little ones were not able to anticipate and avoid the route the older children were planning to take because there were several options.  Attempting to copy the older children some of the younger ones were beginning to take risks that were far greater than their abilities.   I was spending far too much time redirecting play – something I don’t like to do.

So, I arranged all the stumps in a half-circle with each end reaching a different side of the hill;

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The stump path is now defined and they are close enough together that most of the preschoolers can manage them all.  The older children have other options to challenge themselves – all of them require some self control and precision instead of speed and distance.  One option that they enjoy is using the smaller tree cookies to create shortcuts across the circle.

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There is now also a large gravel area for group digging/building projects if that is what the children want to do.  The area in the center of the circle also makes a good corral/cage for their dramatic play activities.   The half circle stump path becomes a full circle when you notice what I did to the hill.  Side one;

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and side two;

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My inspiration to add rocks to the hill came from this playground in Oslo.  I was originally planning to cement the rocks in place like they did but our little hill is not very steep and the rocks seem secure in the soil.  For now I will leave it like this – besides, I’m curious what the native plants will do next spring.    I may add some other small, rock garden type plants too.

Full circle – rock on;

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