Category Archives: Guidance

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.

In Transition

I’m still here.

It feels like a really long time since I’ve posted anything.  I have started a couple of posts but they aren’t finished yet.  I’ve been busy and blogging wasn’t as time sensitive as other things so it got postponed.

It seems that spring has finally arrived.  There are plans for many changes around here and some things have changed already.  We’ve said good bye to some of our friends – we wish them well as they move on to new adventures – we’ll miss them.

Last week TWO new babies began attending.  I didn’t originally plan it that way and admittedly there have been a few times I looked in the mirror and silently screamed “What were you thinking?”

We’ve all been getting to know each other.  The ‘old’ baby – who’s not really a baby anymore – has had a little difficulty adjusting to not being the youngest one anymore.  Otherwise everyone is getting along very well.

Naptime has been the big issue.

I had already moved the ‘old’ baby to a cot for naptime so she had time to adapt to the new nap routine before the ‘new’ babies arrived.  That went quite smoothly at first but now she sometimes takes advantage of the times I’m preoccupied with the younger ones – creating disruptions when the others are trying to fall asleep.

There was one day last week that for the five hour period from 10:00 am until 3:00 pm  there was at least one child sleeping but never all of them at once.  Everyone is out of sync and some barely sleep at all.

None of them are cranky when they are up – so many fun things to do, they just don’t want to miss any of the action.  Sometimes I think it might be easier to just keep them up instead of trying to persuade them they need a nap.  However, it’s their parents that suffer when the babies are exhausted and inconsolable by supper time.

It’s only been a week – I know it takes time, we’ll get better.  We’re still in transition and once we get better acquainted we’ll work out a schedule that works for all of us.

Summer Group Dynamics

Many people are surprised when I say that I look forward to summer time when the all the children are here for the full day.  I’ve even considered taking my vacation in the spring instead of summer just so I could have even more full days with the children. Unfortunately, closing for vacation in spring, during the school year, would be troublesome for bus schedules and school/work routines so I don’t.  I do, however, take only two weeks of vacation time in the summer instead of three, four, or even more that many other providers choose to take.

Summer is over now and the older children have returned to school.  This year I say that with a sigh of relief.  This summer was very long – and complicated. This was the summer that I wished I had taken more time off.  This was the summer that almost did me in – there were some days that it took so much effort just to unlock the front door and greet the children with a smile.

So why was this summer so troublesome?  There was only one new child in the group; the others have been here for at least a year – and up to six years.  Over the summer I spent a lot of time observing their interactions and reflecting.  There were a couple of children that tended to stand out – not in a good way.  It would be easy to label these children as ‘difficult’.  It would be easy to say that if they were not here then everything would run smoothly.

Easy would not be correct.  Although many of them have been attending here for years this ‘group’ has not been together before.  I actually have 11 children enrolled in my eight childcare spaces because some only attend part time.  Some attend only during school hours while others only attend when school is out.  Some have spent plenty of time together but not recently – and they’ve discovered that their ‘best friend’ has changed since they were together last – they have new interests.  There was a lot of turmoil within this group.

So, here are some of my observations – I’ve given the children bird names because I can’t use their real names and I didn’t want to number them;

Finch is curious, energetic and at times – defiant. Robin is imaginative and often oblivious to the conduct of the rest of the group.  These two have little interest in most group activities but will participate for short periods before wandering away to something they find more interesting.  Sparrow is wildly creative and independent, always has elaborate plans and is proficient at free play.  Sparrow enjoys cooperative group activities but gets frustrated by conflict and will usually return to solitary activities instead.  These three require very little guidance from me.

Canary is bubbly and full of energy but relies on others to make activity choices. Often Canary has difficulty staying on task.  Canary can become deeply engaged in cooperative play activities with Sparrow if not distracted.  Others sometimes take advantage of Canary’s trusting nature and they encourage undesirable behaviour.  Canary can be easily redirected and is never rebellious.

Jay is a keen observer who is very concerned about status and focused on results – definitely product over process.  Easily overwhelmed, Jay is drawn to group activities but rarely participates – preferring to watch or be watched.  When frustrated, Jay resorts to disrupting play in an effort to divide the group into smaller, more manageable clusters.  Jay can play cooperatively with one or two others in a non-competitive activity – preferably something constructive but not challenging.  Jay is very sensitive and views any suggestion or advice as a personal attack.

Pigeon….so wants to be where the action is, hates to be alone and is willing to do anything, absolutely anything, to be a part of the group.  Others often view Pigeon as annoying and therefore avoid contact which intensifies Pigeon’s efforts to be noticed.  Pigeon has little self control and cannot refuse a dare – no matter how outrageous.  Pigeon has great difficulty with unstructured activities but enjoys adult led group activities.  If the others allow it, Pigeon makes a wonderful addition to any group activity.  One rule infraction and Pigeon seems to feel the day is a total loss and any further attempt to behave or cooperate is now pointless.

Crow is extremely intelligent but easily bored and has little interest in most free play activities.  Crow follows instructions impeccably when participating in adult led group activities or working independently.  Within the group Crow’s favourite role is that of ‘puppet master’ – controlling others activities as a form of entertainment.  Crow has superb leadership capabilities which should be used more constructively.  Initiating or encouraging others inappropriate behaviour seems to be a great source of amusement for Crow particularly with Falcon as an accomplice.

Falcon is the oldest/biggest/strongest of the group and also highly competitive. Falcon does not like to play independently or cooperatively.  Falcon excels at constructive activities.  Whenever others are engaged in a cooperative group activity Falcon swoops in and modifies the activity into something where Falcon is most successful and the others either fail or quit playing.

When Crow and Falcon collaborate world domination is possible – and Jay and Pigeon are guaranteed to be casualties.  The others are safe if they have somewhere to play independently – if not, then they will be part of the fallout too.

This was my summer group.  I will not say any one of these children was the sole cause of disturbances nor were any of them completely faultless. It was the group dynamics and it was a very difficult group. Working on ‘prevention’ is so much easier than dealing with the ‘aftermath’ but both were very time consuming endeavours.

I was constantly analyzing and anticipating – trying to determine whether we needed more structured activities or more free play, more group activities or time to be independent.  How could we balance the needs of all the children in this group?

Certainly there was a ‘best’ scenario: Finch and Robin playing independently, Sparrow and Canary playing together in an elaborate imaginary world of their own,  Jay helping Falcon to create another great superstructure and Crow sitting with Pigeon working together on a planned project.  Yet, I couldn’t keep them separated like this indefinitely.  Besides, avoiding conflict will never teach us how to deal with it.

We had some really great times this summer and some terrible, horrible, wish-this-day-never-happened times too.  I didn’t keep score but for the first time I’m very, very glad that summer is over and school has started and the group dynamics have changed.

Good vs. Evil

Weapon play and fighting games – allowed or forbidden – that is a controversial question.  It doesn’t have and easy answer.  I don’t encourage the use weapons and I don’t have toy guns or swords available in the playroom.  However, that doesn’t necessarily mean I won’t let the children pretend to use guns and swords.  Confused?

This confusion is due to the difficulty in defining the ‘fighting’ aspect of the children’s games.  So, I’m going to try to provide an explanation of my views on the subject. First, let me discuss weapons.  What is a weapon? According to the legal dictionary at  a weapon is “An instrument of combat; something to fight with – used or designed to injure or kill”.  So then, consider these scenarios – all actual dramatic play activities that I have observed the children engage in;

  1.  The princess and her friends have been captured by the evil witch.  They are trapped in a dungeon and tied up with imaginary ropes and chains.  The Knight arrives and to rescue them uses his imaginary sword to cut them free.  The princess creates a magic potion and the group chases down the witch who begs for mercy and promises to be good.  The group ignores her pleas claiming ‘You are evil and that will never change’ and they use the potion to destroy her.
  2. The ‘Family’ is at home. The mother is putting her children to bed.  She covers them gently with blankets and reads them a story and then goes to do some housework.  The father is busy using tools to repair the home. A ‘cat’ crawls into the area where the children are sleeping.  The children start to panic, crying for their mother to come and save them.  The mother rushes over and pretends to spray the cat with the soap. The cat is upset and says ‘But I am a good cat and I want to play with you’.  ‘Too bad, you don’t belong here and you have to stay out.’ the mother says.  The father uses a hammer to threaten the cat and chases it away.
  3. The hunters are hiking through the forest.  They use binoculars to spy their imaginary prey.  Slowly they move forward to sneak up on the bear/dragon/dinosaur.  They work together whispering and using gestures to coordinate their movements and corner the beast — then they kill it with their imaginary weapon.  Sometimes the beast gets one of them first and the game play changes as one hunter gets his injured friend to safety.
  4. Two spacemen are engaged in combat – they narrate their actions so the other knows how to interpret the actions.  They are on opposite sides of the room – several other children are present but involved in other unrelated activities.  One spaceman holds his arms out with his palms open toward the other and says “I am forcing you with my power”.  The other responds “I put up my shields and the beam bounces back at you”.   The first one replies “I’m hit”, he falls slowly to the ground – careful to avoid the nearby structure being created in the block area. He then pulls a crystal from his pocket and uses it to restore his ship’s power and the battle continues.

So, which ones are fighting games?  Which ones may require me to become involved?  I’ll tell you what I see;

  1. The princess was in danger and the knight used the sword as a tool, not a weapon.  The princess’ potion is not necessarily considered a weapon but in this case it is used as one.  I would not ban this type of play however, I would use this opportunity to discuss weather the ‘person’ was bad or their ‘action’ was.  In my opinion this princess was just as evil as the witch.  Retaliation is not a good solution to solving disputes.
  2. This is the worst type of fighting game and I will be putting a stop to it immediately.  The children involved here will vehemently deny that they are using any weapons – but they are.  So should I ban the workshop tools and cleaning supplies?  They will deny that they are being mean and excluding the cat – they will have excuses such as ‘allergies’.  Even if they agree to let him play they will continue to be bullies only more subtle and they will watch me just as closely as I am watching them. In fact, they will probably stop playing this game all together because I ruined it.
  3. I love this game.  The cooperation and camaraderie must be commended and encouraged.  Yes, there are weapons and violence involved but it is not the main focus and there are no ‘people as targets’ – which is something that I discourage.  If I did intervene here it would simply be to clarify their reason for killing.  Food? Survival?
  4. OK, this one is in a ‘grey’ area.  They are using people as targets but the players in this game are in total agreement.  They are being respectful of everyone and everything around them.  There is no actual physical contact – most of the play is through conversation.  The younger children in the room are not trying to join in or mimic the older ones – in fact, most of them are unaware that this is actually a fighting game.  Those that do may come to me and ‘tattle’ which will give us the opportunity to have a discussion about what we are observing as the game continues.  This is a teachable moment.

Basically, it all comes down to respect. If the children are being respectful of the space and other people — involved in the game or not, I will not redirect the activity even if it is a fighting game and they are using weapons. Some may agree with me, others may not.  Like I said at the beginning, it’s controversial.

The Waiting Game

I don’t schedule ‘sit and wait’ times but occasionally the children are required to wait – usually because they were too fast for me.  For example, they clean-up their toys, wash their hands and sit down for lunch while I finish making lunch and dish up the food.

If they are seated before I’m finished plating the food then they will have a short period of ‘waiting’ time.  Sometimes when they have to wait they will play ‘I Spy’.  I’ve written about this game before — here.

We don’t use the dining table for any purpose other than meals so we have some rules here to encourage appropriate table manners and conversation.  Basically the rules are ‘Keep your hands to yourself and talk politely using words.’  Really, those rules apply other places too but at the table we discourage ‘actions’ and “talk politely using words” is better than “stop waving your arms”.  The “hands to yourself” rule is important here because the children don’t have the option to walk away when someone else is poking at them.

Usually the children are capable of sustaining conversations while they wait.  Often they have stories to share that they forgot about when they were ‘busy’ in the play room or outdoors.  Some may say that ‘waiting time’ is actually ‘thinking time’.

Occasionally if they are tired or overexcited and it may be necessary for me to redirect or guide the conversations.  Usually though they lead the conversations.  When they are not interested in chatting about their day or making plans for later they will play I Spy or something similar.  Recently they began something new – they have been making up riddles.

I find these riddles interesting or amusing and, although I’m usually busy with meal prep, I’ve managed to write a few of them down;

  • Child 1 – I have long ears
  • Child 2 – A rabbit?
  • Child 1 – No, there is more.  I am yellow and brown.  I step on things.  I’m in the Lion King Movie.
  • All the children – A giraffe!
  • Child 2 – My turn.  I have feathers
  • All the children – A bird?
  • Child 2 – No, I have things sticking out of my head.
  • All the children – A PEACOCK!!
  • Child 2 – Yes!  (note-peacocks are currently one of their favourite creatures but maybe we should learn some more about them).
  • Child 3 – I roar
  • Child 1 – A lion?
  • Child 3 – I have a long tail
  • Child 1 – A dinosaur?
  • Child 3 – Yes! You win!

Sometimes it is hard to stay focused on getting lunch ready 🙂  I’m considering pursuing riddles further – perhaps as a group activity or craft.  For now though, it is a great game to play while you wait.

“I’m Sorry”

Last week I read Teacher Tom’s blog post entitled ‘Hitting’.  It made me cry.

In his post, Teacher Tom outlined how they respond to hitting and other such behaviours in their cooperative preschool program.  He followed it up with a couple more posts that offer additional related information.

As always, his posts were very informative and easy to understand. His ability to articulate difficult situations always amazes me.  His focus is, as it should be, on the reason behind the behaviour — addressing the cause – teaching the children how to respond appropriately – and the importance of remaining calm.

So why did the post upset me?

It was the eighth step that he outlined in his ‘Learning Through Conflict’ plan that bothered me.  The formal apology – and again he so wonderfully explains why he doesn’t feel it is necessary.  I agree with him.

If there is one thing that drives me crazy it is the insistence that an incident isn’t over until someone says “I’m Sorry”.  His line about the initial conflict becoming “diverted into a conflict between parent and child as the former insists on the word “sorry” and the child refuses” brought back vivid images of an incident that happened very early in my childcare career.

At home time, a mom and I were standing at the front door engaged in a conversation.  Her three year old daughter was waiting patiently.  She was not interrupting us.  She was not jumping or climbing or playing with stuff in the cubbies.  She was simply waiting, one hand on the wall for support, one foot on the ground and the other foot swinging back and forth.  She was humming a song, swinging her leg, and waiting – wonderfully.

Then she kicked me.

It wasn’t done on purpose and I was not hurt.  The child immediately realized her mistake and froze. Two tiny hands clamped over her mouth and tears welling up in her eyes as she stared up at me. I put my hand on her shoulder and told her it was ok – I knew it was an accident and she hadn’t meant to do it.  There was really no actual conflict. It should have ended here, but it didn’t.

Her mother sprang into action.  Lecturing about how kicking hurts people and demanding that she apologize.  The child started to sob; shaking and crying and unable to speak.  Her exasperated mother apologized to me for her child’s behaviour, took her by the hand and hurried out the door.

But even then it was not over.  More than an hour later the phone rang and when I answered it the mother said “My daughter has something to say to you”.  She then handed the phone to the sobbing three-year-old who managed to sputter “I’m sorry I kicked you” before putting down the phone and wailing. 

So was it over now? Were the words “I’m Sorry” really necessary?  I don’t think so, at least not in this case. In fact, for me they made it worse.  Teacher Tom says he will not judge you if you insist that your child apologizes – but I might.

The real point I wanted to make though is the importance of letting those involved in the conflict work it out themselves. A conflict is resolved when those involved in it are ok with the outcome.  It doesn’t matter if the observer doesn’t think the outcome is correct or fair.

Certainly guidance from a bystander can be helpful sometimes – especially for those with little experience settling conflicts.  Suggestions can be useful if there is an impasse but if those involved are attempting to resolve the issue there is absolutely no need to intervene.

Here, if the children have an issue they are given the opportunity to work it out.  If necessary they can be separated from the group to prevent outside interference.  Assistance is available if required but after the dispute is resolved and there is peace again it is over.

Was their solution fair?  Was it correct?  That’s not for me to decide.  Did someone say “I’m Sorry”?  Maybe not but those words are not what is important.

Boredom & Initiative

In my last post I mentioned that usually it is the school age children that have the most difficulty with free play time.  This was a generalized comment and the problem is in part due to the mixed age group setting.

In Manitoba a licensed family childcare home can have a maximum of eight children and no more than five of those children may be under 6 years old – three of the eight must be school-age.

In my opinion some of the greatest benefits of a mixed age group are the opportunity for the childcare provider to build a relationship with the child as they develop and for the child to experience playing and working with children at various developmental levels. When a child is enrolled in a family childcare home as an infant they may be able to stay with that same caregiver throughout their preschool years and even as they begin school.

I say ‘may’ because the province has set a higher daily rate for infants (children under 2 years of age) than for preschoolers (2-5 years old) and some providers will choose the money over the child and not keep a child in an infant space after they turn two.  This is a practice that I find upsetting but I understand that some providers simply cannot accept the drop in income which can be as much as $600/month.  The bond between child and caregiver is so very important and I will always choose to keep child as long as possible even if it results in a loss of income.  I would like to see infant and preschool rates equalized but that is another rant so let me get back to the topic of those school-age children.

Due to the fact that care for preschool children is harder to find, parents often have to look for childcare outside the area that they live in.  Therefore when the child starts school they may need to leave their current childcare setting in order for the child to attend the appropriate school. When this happens there is no currently enrolled preschool child to move into a vacant school-age space.  Many family childcare providers have difficulty filling these school-age spaces and some choose to focus on preschool care and leave their school-age spaces empty.

So, the most likely time for me to enrol a new child in my childcare home is when they are an infant or when they are school-age. For all of us there is an adjustment period while we get to know each other but infants are more adaptable so this adjustment period is usually shorter.  If a school-age child was here as an infant or preschooler our relationship is already well established and although we may have our ups and downs we’re ‘family’ and we work through it.  Those ‘new’ school-age children are the hardest particularly if they have little experience in a setting with younger children.

In a family childcare home with eight children there are rarely more than three school age children. Three is a pretty small group when you’re used to interacting in a larger group in a classroom or childcare centre.  Three is an even smaller group when you consider ‘school age’ can be anywhere from 6 years old to 12 years old or more and you may not have much in common.  Add to that the restrictions because you have to consider that there are babies and toddlers watching everything you do and it is almost unbearable.

Sometimes they resent being placed in a setting ‘with little kids’ – after all, they are growing up and it may feel like a punishment to be in a group with babies. Sometimes they want to help look after the younger ones but it often comes across as ‘bossy’ – at least that’s how the younger ones view it because they have been here longer and already ‘know everything’. One of the hardest lessons for the older children can be learning the difference between ‘helping’ someone who needs assistance and ‘interfering’ when someone is trying to be independent. Many conflicts can arise in these situations.

You know who often does really well in this mixed age setting? — The school age child that doesn’t ‘fit’ with a large group of peers.  The one that is insecure – unsure if their abilities will measure up to those of others their age – who suddenly realize they have so much to offer as a mentor to the younger children.  Or the one that has been labelled as a ‘troublemaker’ at school because they feel they need to be ‘bad’ to be noticed – here they may be revered by the younger children and can be given extra responsibilities – something usually reserved for the ‘best’ children in a large classroom.

Here, eventually the school age children will stop lamenting that there is no exciting entertainment; no elaborate activities set up to amuse and enlighten them; too many things they can’t do because there are little children around. If they are ‘bored’ long enough they will discover that there are plenty of opportunities for them to demonstrate leadership, to make decisions, to offer advice, to show initiative and to be responsible – plenty of opportunities to grow up.