Category Archives: Communication

The Train Debate

It has been just over three months since I last had the train tracks available in the block area.  There are several building sets that have not been our for over six months but the boys (there are no girls in my current group) had been begging for me to bring the trains out again.  I was hesitant because we have a new infant here now – babies are not usually very ‘helpful’ when it comes to building with train tracks but the boys were so insistent.

Last year I wrote about how wonderfully this group plays with the trains and tracks so I relented and brought the trains out again.  Even though all but one of these children were here last year, they are currently at different stages than they were before and the dynamics are much different.  Having the trains out now has been… interesting.

There is one boy who loves to sort and classify everything.  Now that the trains and tracks are available he arranges them all according to size and shape.  He creates groupings and lines the pieces up in straight lines.  He gets frustrated and very vocal when others come near or disrupt his methodology  in any way.

Another one just wants the train cars – ALL of them.  Upon entering the playroom he tries to pick up and hold all of train cars at once but that is impossible.  Instead, he makes a pile of train cars and sits on them.  If any other child has one or more train cars he will sit and whimper, complaining that they have ‘his’ trains.  If I suggest that maybe he should build a track for the trains he has, he will attach two track pieces together, pile his train cars on the track and then sit on them.

The third boy loves to create several small circular tracks.  He is an expert builder and can quickly select all the appropriate track pieces and assemble his tracks.  He excitedly shows everyone his accomplishment and then walks away.  When I remind him to put away his toys if he is finished with them he wails.  For each track section there is dramatic effort required to pick up and take it to the bin.  Each piece is so heavy that he couldn’t possibly carry more than one and often he is unable to even stand so he must slither and drag himself to the bin while sobbing “I CAN’T DO IT…I caaannn’tttt

The fourth boy is so concerned about and distracted by what everyone else is doing that he has difficulty settling into an activity.  He seems eager to play with trains, states his intentions and invites others to join him however it takes a very long time before he begins to play.  Often he hovers around the block area and complains about what the others are doing.  Once he does finally sit down and become engaged in the activity he can play cooperatively, it just takes so long to get there and there are so many disputes along the way that the others lose interest or we run out of time.

Boy five has little interest in building with the tracks but enjoys driving trains on the tracks that others have built.  He reenacts elaborate scenarios complete with narrative descriptions and sound effects but seems oblivious to the others playing around him.  He is fully engaged in independent play but will get very upset if others interrupt or ‘bother’ him.

Boy six likes to build complex track systems using as many of the track sections as possible.  He enjoys having the others watch him build but is easily frustrated if they attempt to assist – he has a plan.  He discusses his design plans with the others and explains how they will be able to use it once complete.  Occasionally he too plays with trains – briefly – but usually once finished building he loses interest and leaves the block are.  However, he cannot clean up because the others are still playing – they do love this massive track.  When finished playing the others will be overwhelmed by the prospect of putting away all those tracks – they would never have built anything that big.

*Sigh*  By the end of the first week of train play I was ready to pack them up and put something different in the block area.  It is not that anyone is using the toys ‘wrong’ but that they are all using them differently.  It wouldn’t be a problem if they would sometimes play with other toys but for the whole first week they all wanted to play with trains – only trains – together but not in agreement.  Essentially it was a week long argument.

I know that dealing with disputes is an important skill to learn but personally I’d prefer to avoid all confrontation.  It would be easier for me to put away the trains and say it is a consequence due to the incessant fighting.  It might be easier for me to create a chart and assign each child a specified time slot where they can each have an equal amount of uninterrupted independent play with trains. However it is probably better if I let them work it out themselves.  I can tell them what I see.  I can facilitate conversations and mediate physical disputes.  I just don’t like to.

At the moment I really don’t like trains either.  Yet, during train week two there were a few moments of hope.  I few fleeting periods when I thought maybe – just maybe they had figured it out.  We are now beginning train week three and the debate continues….

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What’s on Your Shirt?

I can’t begin to count the number of time’s I hear the children ask some version of “What’s on your shirt”.  No, they’re not wondering what someone (usually me) has spilled on their shirt.  They want to see the picture, logo, or any words that are printed on the fabric.  If there are words they need to know what they say.  This whole conversation is repeated every time anyone comes in the room.

I decided to start documenting this activity by taking photos of all the children’s shirts, printing them and creating a book.  So far we have forty four shirt photos like this;

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The album full of shirt pictures has been extremely popular.  There have been a few minor disputes over it because there is only ONE book but that may change soon because we’ve nearly run out of space so we’ll need a second album. 🙂

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Even the youngest children can name the owner of each of the shirts in the album.  There have been some really amazing conversations here as the children look through the book together.  The conversations have continued at home too – I hear stories about struggles to get dressed in the morning because ‘I can’t wear that shirt, Cheryl already has a picture of it’.  Some are even demanding shopping trips to get NEW shirts to add to the album.

It is important to keep families involved in our daily activities 😉

Walking & Talking

We’ve all seen/heard them. Many of us know one personally. Some of us even have given birth to one of our own. They are the high energy, strong willed, emotionally intense children that challenge everyone and everything.

When these children are fully engaged in something they love to do it is magical to watch. It is a little scary too because if they are interrupted or become frustrated or bored with the activity the magic may turn to mayhem in a matter of seconds. They are impatient and easily over stimulated.

In my current little group of preschoolers I have three – yes three of these ‘difficult’, ‘spirited’, whatever you want to call them, children. Each one of these children is challenging but put all three of them together for an extended period of time and things can become volatile very quickly.

Even when, or especially when they all have the same goal they struggle to cooperate – too impulsive or competitive to work together they tend to destroy any progress that another has made. Their own intense reactions – happy, sad or mad – are further fueled by the reactions of the others. It is not that they purposely want to disrupt activities but the reaction they get from the others is exhilarating.

They all enjoy active, gross motor play but it never seems to tire them out. In fact, like little crank-up flash lights, the more energy an activity requires the more power they seem to build up. They seem to have better self control during quiet activities but tension builds silently and will eventually explode.

Five hungry children enjoying a peaceful lunch. A single noodle slips off a spoon and plops back onto the plate. Splat! That was a funny noise – someone giggles. Two children try to recreate that sound by scooping and dumping spoonfuls of noodles. Excitement and volume increase exponentially. Someone’s milk gets knocked over and they begin to cry. At this point lunch is over. No amount of talking, redirecting or reprimanding will return this situation back to a peaceful lunch.

Forget any type of circle time activities. These children love to talk. All of them have amazing vocabularies but they don’t seem to hear/understand anything anyone else says. It is far easier to get children to focus when they are outside but even in a natural outdoor environment these children will struggle with a group circle time activity. There is always someone on the other side of the circle who is smiling, makes a silly face and waits for the reaction. Of course they get it – positive or negative doesn’t matter – it was a reaction.

This is why we walk.

It is no secret that I love to go hiking. Walking alone through a forest is for me the most precious time. It is an introspective period of imagining, reflecting, dreaming, discovering. I often take children hiking but for each child/group of children the purpose of the hike is different. For some it is all about the destination. Others need the exercise or the change of scenery.

This current group of children is different. Their endless energy is never depleted – none of them ever complain that they are tired of walking. They are not concerned about our destination or the length of time it may take us to get there. For this group when we walk – we talk – and more importantly, we listen.

Maybe it is the motion or the rhythm of our steps or the constant drone of the vehicles on the street but as we walk these children and I have some of the most amazing conversations. Conversations we have never been able to have while sitting in a circle.

We talk about the things we see. We tell stories about places we have gone and things we have done. We talk about our likes and dislikes. We sing songs – together instead of competitively. We take turns talking and sharing. There are few interruptions and no pushing/grabbing/hitting because we are busy walking. Sometimes we walk for hours – they have a lot to say but it is hard for them to talk when there are too many distractions. So we walk…and talk.

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Reflecting

Today is special.

Today is the last day of 2014 but that isn’t really why I think it is special.

Today is quiet.  As usual I’ve been up since 5:00 AM – normally the first children arrive at 6:30 but today there won’t be any children here until 8:00 AM.  My husband and adult children have no reason to be up this early so they are all still sleeping.  It’s just me and the cats who are curled up on the mat under my chair as usual;

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I know, some of you are wondering ‘WHY?’

Not ‘Why are those cats sleeping on that mat where there is a good chance they will be run over by the chair wheels?’ – I don’t know the answer to that question.  The question many of you are probably wondering is ‘Why did you get up so early if you didn’t need to?’  That question has an easy answer.

There is nothing, NOTHING, I cherish more than a few hours of uninterrupted silence – preferably first thing in the morning.  When my family asks me what I want for my birthday this is what I ask for.  The only way to make this better is to be alone, outside in the forest.

There are no distraction – just me, reflecting.  In fact, when asked ‘What do you remember most about your childhood?’ this is it.  I spent hours upon hours alone in my room, or out in the yard, or wandering through the neighbourhood doing nothing but reflecting.  Imagining.  Dreaming.

Today I sit at my computer – a distraction I suppose, but at the moment it is only this blog post which is really just a record of my musing.  I wonder what types of things I would have written if, as a child, I had ever carried a journal to record my thoughts during my vast periods of solitude.

Today my thoughts center around the past few weeks and the beginning of the new year.

  • Many of the children were away for the holidays so most days I only had three children here.  Those three children do not usually choose to play together when the whole group is in attendance.  Each of those three children have other friends that they would much prefer to play with – but they were away.  It was very interesting to watch this group of three interact – surprisingly their behaviour was more cooperative than usual.
  • I’m loving the new playroom/nap area set-up.  There are still a few modifications I want to make but overall it is working very well.
  • I enjoyed hosting my family Christmas dinner this year.  I made way too much food for 10 people – didn’t cook again for three whole days.
  • I want to use my new smart phone more – I’m still learning what it can do – it is limited by me.  It could be a journal….
  • I have a four day weekend with no specific plans yet – will have to catch up on paperwork – I promise.
  • I’m excited that we have three more providers interested in joining the Family Childcare Committee.  Add them and the two new members that already joined this year and our committee has doubled in size 🙂
  • I want to get rid of some junk – there is so much stuff here that we don’t need/use but it takes so long to go through everything.
  • I hope it is not to hard for the children to return to their regular schedules – change is so hard for many of them
  • I want to do more art stuff

It is almost time for the children to arrive.  I’ve enjoyed my special quiet time.  Happy New Year!

2014 in Review

I seem to have been finding time to relax (not making a proper ‘To Do’ list therefore forgetting to complete tasks).  Writing blog entries would be on the list of things I want to do.  There are a bunch of other – possibly more important chores – that I need to do but don’t really want to do.   So, I’ve been putting off making any sort of a list or completing any tasks.  However, eventually I’m going to have to stop wandering around aimlessly and deal with all those chores.

In the meantime, the WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 7,000 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Public Speaking

As a child I was always very quiet – often my family’s acquaintances questioned if I was able to speak.  Even as a teen I was generally silent when in a group setting.  After having children, becoming a member of community organizations, and opening my childcare home there were often situations where I needed to speak in group settings.

Over the years I have had the opportunity to speak to students in various classes and members of special interest groups.  Usually the topic is ‘Family Childcare’ or ‘Children & Nature’.  These events bring a mix of emotions – excitement & hesitation, enthusiasm & anxiety.

Several years ago I took a public speaking course.  During the class the instructor would, without warning, call one of us to the front of the class and give us a scenario like ‘You are a recovering drug addict speaking to city officials about the need for an inner-city treatment facility.’ There was no prep time, no notes, and usually no knowledge of the subject.

It was a terrifying.  Half the people in the class dropped out.

Each week there were also assignments such as ‘using props’, ‘adding humour’, or ‘a news report’. Everyone had the week to prepare and then to do a five minute presentation the following week.  We then received immediate feedback from the instructor and other students about our performance.

The feedback was invaluable.  No matter how difficult the week’s topic was we were able to leave the class without questioning our performance.  For me that meant no sleepless nights wondering if they understood what I was trying to say.  No anxiety over my perceived ‘mistakes’.  Instead, I clung to the positive remarks like ‘We can really feel your passion for what you do’.  Even the ‘things to work on’ were helpful instead of depressing.

Since taking that class I have learned what helps and what hinders my ability to speak out in group settings.  I won’t say I am confident in front of a group but I definitely have some tools that make these situations a little easier.

This post is already getting too long so I will continue it in a second post.  In my next post I will write about my most recent experience with public speaking.

 

Lunchtime Democracy

I have a short story from lunch time today.  I don’t usually write blog posts when the children are here but they are all napping so I have a few ‘spare’ minutes.

The scene begins as we come inside after spending the morning playing out in the yard.  There are three children here – two are nearly two years old, the other is three.  Coats and shoes are put away, diapers are changed and hands are washed.  They sit down for lunch.  I am getting the food ready.

The 3 year old asks “What are we having for lunch today?”

I answer “Ham sandwiches and salad with cucumbers and tomatoes”

The 3 year old sighs, leans across the table and whispers to the nearly 2 year old “Do you like spaghetti?”

“Yes!” he replies

The 3 year old repeats the question for the other toddler and gets another affirmative answer.

Then the 3 year old asks the other two “Do you like meatballs?”

Both of them giggle and yell “YES!”

The three year old looks at me and says “WE would like spaghetti and meatballs.”

I reply “I don’t have any spaghetti.  I have ham sandwiches and salad.”

She leans across the table and whispers “Do you like sandwiches?”

“Yes!” he answers

She looks at the other toddler “Do you like sandwiches?”

“Yes.” the answer is muffled as the toddler takes a bite of her sandwich.

I place the plate in front of the three year old.  She looks at her ham sandwich and salad.  She sighs, picks up a sandwich triangle and says “Fine then, I guess I will eat my sandwich.”

🙂