Category Archives: Guidance

People & Pets

Throughout my life I have almost always had some type of a pet – some fish, a couple birds, a few dogs and many cats.  I believe that pets are a wonderful addition to almost any family including a childcare home family.

Here, even children who cannot have pets of their own can reap the benefits of having pets.  They get to play together;

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The children often include the animals in their dramatic play activities – ensuring everyone has a role to play;

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When playtime is over and it is time to relax – the pets often like to be there too;

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Sometimes they enjoy being the centre of attention;

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And other times they prefer to keep their distance;

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Our number one rule about pets is that if they come to you then you can play with them but when they want to leave you cannot restrain them or chase them.

Respect their space.

I have found that many children who struggle with social interactions with other children have a much easier time understanding ‘gentle’, ‘calm’ and ‘respectful’ when interacting with animals.  Pets are also wonderful at comforting children who are withdrawn, anxious or distraught.

Back in 2014 when we lost our nearly 15 year old dog Mindy there was some discussion about whether or not we should get another dog.  A new pet is a big commit so it is very important to take everything into consideration and I felt the requirements for another dog were too much.  Although Mindy had been a wonderful dog I am admittedly much more of a cat person.

Last month, out of the blue, my husband commented ‘We should get another cat’.

!?!?!!! 🙂

The seed was planted….

The search began….

Last Sunday our new family member came home…

She’s still in quarantine but soon the introductions will begin.  It will be a slow process, there are many new family members for her to meet and we don’t want to overwhelm her.

Soon though, it will be time to say hello…

 

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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Quiet Time

Possibly one of the biggest problems with having a mixed age group of children in a small space is nap/quiet time. Every day after lunch the younger children have a nap.  School-age children and older preschoolers who do not nap have quiet time.  The emphasis during this time is on ‘quiet‘ – being respectful of those who are trying to sleep in the adjacent room.  When the older children are off school I arrange the dining room like this;

15-06-quiet01There is space for all the school-age children to do crafts, sit and read books, or play with quiet toys from one of the bins.  There are blankets on the dividers to offer a little sound insulation but the children are still encouraged to whisper as they talk amongst themselves.  These dividers are the only solid barrier between the nappers and the non-nappers.

Older preschoolers are usually first introduced to quiet time by shortening their nap time.  They have a brief quiet reading time while I get the little ones to sleep and then they also have a short nap so (hopefully) everyone wakes up at about the same time. When there are no school-age children present I use the dividers to create a smaller quiet time area with just enough room for one or two older preschoolers;

15-06-quiet03At first reading books is the only activity choice available.  Gradually their quiet time is lengthened and other activity choices such as the felt board may be added.  Eventually their nap is completely eliminated and they are capable of independently engaging in quiet time activities for the entire time the little ones sleep.

Occasionally I have one or two toddlers who wake early.  Now ‘quiet’ is not something the toddlers do well, at least not often.  So, for this reason there are two activities that I allow only for those times when a toddler wakes early but the others still need to sleep longer.  One toddler quiet time activity is puzzles;

15-06-quiet06I know some of you are now wondering why I would limit such a fantastic activity like puzzles to such a short, occasional period of time.  Honestly, there are so many other activities that we like to do when everyone is awake that we don’t miss doing puzzles.  In fact, even with only a few short opportunities to work on puzzle skills some of my two-year-olds have  already mastered the easy puzzles and now need more challenging ones;

15-06-quiet07Some of the toddlers much prefer the other quiet time activity choice – stickers!

15-06-quiet04Although some toddlers find stickers to be a tedious, often frustrating activity there are others that will peel and stick stickers for hours on end.  So, even though there are always some miscellaneous stickers in amongst the craft supplies I have a large secret stash of ‘just for quiet time’ stickers too.  You never know when I might need a toddler to be quiet for just a little bit longer before nap time is over.

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Mine!

Anyone who has a toddler should expect to hear them screech ‘Mine!’ many, many times.  It’s normal. Working with a group of toddlers it is a regular occurrence to which I am accustomed.  For months now there has been an interesting daily ‘dispute’ between two of my toddlers – I will call them Bunny and Bear for this post.

It started with the felt ice cream cones.  Bunny claimed the pink one and always had to have it nearby when she was in the playroom.  If Bear saw the pink ice cream cone unattended he would pick it and Bunny would begin to scream.  Bunny would grab the green ice cream cone and offer to trade and Bear eagerly accepted.

Both these toddlers are completely agreeable throughout this process  but they sound very upset.  Their actions are frantic and there is near constant wailing “My ice cream! My ice cream!”  A gentle reminder to just ask and say please would usually decrease the intensity of their ‘conversation’.

However, problems arise when others in the group become involved.  The ‘Defender’ considers Bunny to be their ‘best friend’ and refuses to allow others to touch Bunny’s ice cream cone. The ‘Collector’ wants all the best toys.  Anything deemed ‘special’ by anyone else is a must-have item for the Collector.  The Collector rarely plays with any of the toys but doesn’t want anyone else to have them either.

When Bear picks up the pink ice cream cone the Defender will tackle him and try to rip the pink ice cream cone from his hand.  Bear will never release the ice cream cone to the Defender or the Collector – it ‘belongs’ to Bunny and he wants to give it to her.  Bunny is not involved in the physical battle but is wailing ‘Miiiiinnnnne‘.

The ‘Defender’ and the ‘Collector’ usually choose physical aggression instead of words – they seem to thrive on it and sometimes they even initiate it.  If a defender notices the unattended pink ice cream cone they will pick it up and not give it to Bunny.   Instead, they taunt Bear with it and the battle begins.

These daily brawls were becoming more intense and disruptive so I removed the ice cream cones from the toys available for play.  That’s when the situation became even more interesting.  On learning that the ice cream cones were ‘gone’ Bunny and Bear chose plastic doughnuts instead – strawberry for Bunny and chocolate for Bear.  Whichever one of these toddlers entered the playroom first would immediately take the two doughnuts and wait for the other toddler to arrive and then give them ‘their’ doughnut.

Likewise, the Defender and Collector continued to try to control ownership of the preferred toys.  There were only two ice cream cones but there are three donuts and there are still battles over the two ‘selected’ ones.  When the doughnuts were removed then the bubble bottles became the chosen toys. There are several bubble bottles but Bunny & Bear each have a favourite one. The battles continued.

For Bunny & Bear it’s not really about the specific toys – it’s mostly about the friendship.  As the various toys come and go the one thing that remains consistent is that there is one chosen for each of these two children.  Bunny & Bear enjoy each others company and these toys are an invitation to ‘come play with me’.

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The Collector is all about the toys and the other toddlers just get in the way.  The Collector is most content when playing independently – with ALL the toys.  The Defender is focused on ownership too but their most desired ‘possession’ is power.

I’ve been working on this post on and off for a few weeks now and I struggled with how to end it.  That is probably because the ‘situation’ hasn’t ended.  This isn’t a ‘we had a problem and this was how we fixed it’ post.  It is my observation of one small part of the daily interactions within this group of toddlers.

The conflicts will continue and I will continue to observe.  I will step in to redirect behaviour that may be dangerous.  I will experiment with the room arrangement and toy selection.  I will offer to mediate disputes if required but mostly I will allow the toddlers to solve their own problems.  The conflicts are a normal – a necessary part of toddler development.  The process of learning social skills to interact with others and make friends.

The Presentation

The request came via email ‘Would you be willing to do a workshop on indirect guidance and behaviour management – talk about yourself, your experiences, and your behaviour management policies – particularly all of the indirect guidance to avoid conflicts before they happen?’

I was intrigued – this was quite different than speaking to the ‘Intro to Family Childcare’ classes or groups that want to know more about nature based education. I was honoured – you see, this request came from an ECE who had been to my home for her final practicum. She had found her time here so interesting that she wanted me to talk to her coworkers. Wow.

I said yes.

Over the next few weeks I began trying to put together a slideshow presentation about my behavior management policies. I also began to have some doubts. I was comfortable talking about family childcare to students who were just beginning their careers. I could talk to anyone who wanted to know more about indoor and outdoor play spaces, gardening with children, outdoor play. I could easily show pictures and tell stories about these things because I love these things.

I don’t love behaviour management. Dealing with conflict is the most stressful part of my job – I would do anything to avoid it. What could I tell a group of staff members from a large childcare facility about behavior management? I have absolutely no experience working in centre based childcare.

I started making PowerPoint slides of all the various sections of my written behaviour management policies.  I read them over and panicked a little – my written policies are generic and boring.  A two hour presentation based on these would be impossible.

I realized that during in the 40 hours that the practicum student was here we had never reviewed my written policies.  Everything she knew and loved about what I did came from her observations, comments, questions, and the stories I told her about different responses in a similar situations with other groups of children.

I made more PowerPoint slides.  Slides about temperament. Slides about environments.  Slides about looking for the cause of misbehaviour.  I included photos because I’m a visual person and I can’t explain things without using pictures.  I had a list of stories that corresponded to each slide – I love stories.

By the time presentation day arrived I was feeling much more confident – at least until I discovered that they had been unable to secure the A/V equipment that I had requested.   Without pictures I anticipated having a lot of difficulty explaining things.  I persevered.  I still had stories.

I encouraged the audience to interrupt me if they had questions or comments.  My pictures keep me focused – I arrange them so I can use them to create transitions and connections between topics.  Without pictures there is no telling where I may ramble off to.  At least with questions I’d be able to attempt to focus on their interests – an emergent presentation. 🙂

I talked for the full two hours.  I told some of my favorite stories like the wet sock story.  I missed important points that were on slides and would have connected the stories to behaviour management.  I answered questions about pets, raising stick bugs, and getting fresh local produce through CSA shares – all farther off topic than I would ever wander on my own.

To the few somewhat irritated looking audience members I’d like to say I wasn’t suggesting you should start a fight club.  For the children involved in that story it would have been impossible for me to ban fight club entirely – allowing fight club within acceptable boundaries was behaviour management.

I was pleased that some of the questions/comments showed that they understood at least some of what I was saying even though they couldn’t see the pictures that I could see.  As I prepared for this presentation I had briefly considered rewriting my behaviour management policies.  Instead, I decided that the written policies are fine the way they are – generic and a little vague.

It doesn’t help to make more rules when there is an issue – more rules just create more problems.  You can’t respond the same way when the clumsy child knocks over the shelf as you do when the angry child does it.  You can’t write a policy that says when this happens we will do this – period.

You need to look at the bigger picture.  You need to understand why the behaviour is occurring on that particular day, with that particular child, in that particular situation – and you need to respond appropriately.  That is why behaviour management isn’t about discipline or punishment or correction.

Behaviour management isn’t about responding to misbehaviour.  It is getting to know the individual children, understanding development, anticipating conflicts, adapting the environment, and meeting needs in order to prevent major issues.

No, I didn’t explain my behaviour management policies in a two hour workshop.  I didn’t tell anyone what they should do with their children in their environment.  I just told stories about some of the children I have met, some of the issues I have encountered, some of the things I have tried, and some of the results that occurred.

Every day is different.  New problems, new personalities, new interactions, new behaviours, new responses but no new rules.

 

Weekend Outing

Last Sunday was Open Farm Day.  First off I must say that I was thrilled to have found out about the event before it actually occured instead of from an evening news report after the event is already over.

My only complaint was that the event was held on the weekend when I had no children with me – well, two of my sons tagged along but they’re really young adults not children.  We didn’t have much time – weekends are busy times – so we only went to one of the participating farms.

With a time limit on our excursion we needed to pick a farm that was nearby.  It was an easy decision – Perimeter Alpacas – because alpacas are basically the same as llamas and we LOVE llamas.  Granted, alpaca isn’t nearly as fun to say as llama but seriously, look at them;

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SQUEEEE! I just want to hug them;

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I managed to drag myself away from the alpacas long enough to see some ducks and and a peacock family too – pretty birds but not soft and fluffy like an alpaca.

There were some other displays and sales of products from the farm.  I bought a stuffie – handmade from alpaca fleece.  After I paid for it the woman asked “Do you want a bag or are you just going to cuddle it all the way home?” — silly question;

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Of course I would have preferred an alpaca shaped stuffie – they had one but it was out of my price range.  Still, I do love this one too.  My cats also love it but they’d like to shred it so I have to keep it out of their reach.

I’ve brought the stuffie out for the children to see/feel.  It would be irrelevant to try to ‘teach’ them anything about alpacas without any actual experience with alpacas.  However, it has been very useful for our discussions about ‘gentle’.  With four infants/toddlers ‘gentle’ has become an important part of our curriculum.

Be gentle and take turns – difficult lessons even for me when you’ve got something so lovely that you just want to squish it and never let go.

Let Me Help You – or Not

This summer I have two distinct groups of children.  Half my group is very young – infants and toddlers – eager to explore and learn but just beginning to master some basic skills.  The rest of the children are school-age – they usually prefer group activities but often become impatient when they think the pace is too slow.

The older children always seem so confused when they go to help one of the little ones and I say “No, don’t”.  Yes, I think it is absolutely wonderful that they want to offer assistance but often what they are doing is actually not helping.

Yes, sometimes the little ones do seem frustrated when they are trying to do something but that doesn’t mean they need help.  They are trying and retrying and eventually they will do it.  Maybe it won’t happen today, tomorrow or even next week but they are still trying.  If you do it for them you are taking away their opportunity to learn.

Yes, sometimes they even ask you to help them — that also doesn’t mean they need help.  They have learned that you can do it faster/better than they can and you might be willing to do it for them so they don’t have to do the work.  They know how to do it but they still need to practice before they are able to do it well.  You can assist by encouraging them to do it — cheer them on and celebrate their success.

Yes, I know she wants to climb up there but she can’t quite reach.  If you help her up there how is she going to get down?  Even when she does learn to climb up by herself she will still also need to learn to get down.  Right now she’s not ready for either one.  Holding her hand while she tries to climb actually makes it harder for her – it puts her balance off center and makes her footing unstable.

We’re halfway through the summer and I think they’re finally beginning to understand.  The older ones are learning to pause and observe — to assess the situation to determine if assistance is really necessary.  They’re learning that not helping is hard but sometimes it is the most helpful thing they can do.