Category Archives: Learning Environment

New Space

About six weeks ago I sketched a playroom arrangement on a scrap piece of paper.  It was the my response to yet another dispute over someone knocking down someone else’s block tower which was built in a walkway – a result of a small room with multiple play areas.

This was the old room arrangement with the shelves splitting the room in half – it allowed some separation between play areas but was difficult for me to interact with young infants/toddlers on both sides of the room or quickly intervene when necessary;

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I wanted the room to have better flow and more open space but still have defined spaces for various types of play.  I thought again about all the wasted space above us with our nine foot ceilings and took inspiration from tiny house design to create a new loft space – just for building with blocks, out of all walkways and the reach of infants/toddlers who prefer to destroy instead of create.

Construction took a total of six full 14 hour days over four weekends.  Some of the pieces were assembled and stored, installation was done in two phases.  The result is a completely new, more functional play space.

A brand new kitchen design is located in the SW corner of the play room. The cupboards and appliances were created by stacking and attaching wooden boxes.  The old block bin now contains food and other items that can be used in the kitchen/restaurant/store areas. The table is in the center of the room and has multiple uses.

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The music/dance area was slightly reorganized but remains in the SE corner;

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The workshop area remains in the NE corner along with some blocks;

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And the mini-scenes and entrance to the nature area remain in the NW corner but the dress-up clothes and ‘car’/steering wheel (not visible in this picture) were moved to the space across from the scenes, beside the mirror, adjacent to the kitchen area.

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The new 21 square foot loft is over the kitchen area.  It is 5 1/2 feet off the ground so the children and I can walk/stand under it.  Inside the loft there are bins of blocks and the dollhouse shelf is on the back wall.  I still have to find all the dollhouse furniture and people – most of them were removed from the playroom long ago because they were too small or delicate to have out when babies were present.  Only older children go in the loft so these toys can be there.

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The kitchen area shelves and appliances form a series of platforms that create an enclosed staircase along the side and back of the loft;

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Here’s another view of the new kitchen area and staircase. For perspective, the counter height is 24 inches and the fridge is 36 inches tall.

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I also added some new storage features inside the fridge but haven’t yet finished painting the inside white.

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There’s more new storage under, on, and beside the counter now too;

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The children are thrilled with the new play space.  From the loft they can ‘see everything‘ – makes me laugh when they include their house, favourite store, and the zoo in their list of things they can see from the loft.  Good imagination 🙂

Yet, of all the changes, the one that still excites them the most is the addition of this bell by the cash register.

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Summer 2017

Fall is definitely on its way – today is cool, wet, and dreary.  It has been a wonderful summer.  There were many things I meant to write about but never did – probably because I was playing outside.  Today I’m huddled in front of my computer, cat sleeping on my lap, waiting for one load of laundry to finish so I can start another.  Seems like the perfect time to write a quick summer recap.

In the yard we built a new composter and fire pit and added a gazing ball (lovely good-bye gift).

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We had some old pieces of cribbing that I let the children paint;

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They now arrange the pieces in various configurations for follow the leader games and other gross motor activities;

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Sometimes they make teeter totters but so far I haven’t managed to get a picture of them doing that.  They often make benches too – even though we have eight ‘real’ benches in the yard they seem to like theirs better;

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We went on a long (9 km) hike to the Forks and back.

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Watching the boats, ducks, and geese was great but couldn’t beat this;

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Standing on the path under the train bridge watching/listening to the train above;

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That was pretty amazing.

With colder weather approaching I’ve turned my focus toward our somewhat neglected indoor play space.  Plans have been made and work will begin soon.  By Thanksgiving we should have a new – tiny house inspired – loft.  So excited!

Summer 2017 – The Hill Project

As usual my summer ‘vacation’ project list was very long – too long for the two week time slot I allotted.  The back yard was not actually on the list at first but in June I suddenly had an idea to solve a concern I had about ‘the hill’ (sometimes called the bridge or tunnel).  This is a picture taken last summer of the view of the hill/bridge/tunnel from the tipi;

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The hill was originally created back in 2010 when the old play structures were removed leaving the gravel area looking quite bare.  I didn’t want another large structure but I did think the space needed something.  The hill originally had a slide on one side, the tunnel was very popular, and the native prairie plants provided some much needed greenery in the yard at that time.

The slide and log steps never stayed as secure as I would have liked so they were soon removed.  For a few years the platform and tunnel were very popular for many dramatic play and gross motor activities like ‘Motabular’ (the children named that activity). As the interests of the children enrolled changed, play on the hill also changed and two years ago I added some rocks.

The children liked to use the platform to ‘play hockey’;

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And sit on the ‘bridge’ to go fishing;

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But there were many disputes over who would be on each side.  There were also problems with reckless behaviour like racing up and down the hill or jumping off the bridge without first looking for obstacles or hazards. Additionally, the structure was beginning to show its age.  I decided it was time for the hill to go.

My first step was to gather some supplies (thanks Annika);

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Then I spent two days removing rocks, transplanting plants, moving pails of soil to the other gardens, disassembling the bridge and cribbing and raking gravel.  It was beginning to take shape;

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I used the new stumps in addition to the old ones to create a full circle with little space between the stumps.  The majority of the gravel was raked to one side of the inner circle to three distinct levels.  Outside the circle the gravel in the ‘walkway’ is about 8 inches deep and fairly well packed as we haven’t dug here in years.  Inside the circle there is no gravel, just an old blue tarp on one side and nearly two feet of gravel on the other side.  The slope between the two sides is held in place by all those big rocks that used to be on the hill.  So now the gravel area looks like this;

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And from the other side;

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The view from the tipi now;

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And in case you were wondering what happens when it rains….I said it was an old blue tarp – it has holes in it so the water drains out.

Within seconds of entering the yard on the first day back after vacation this is where the boys were, happily chatting about what they did on their vacation;

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Playroom Update

It has been a while since I wrote about making any changes to our play space – that doesn’t mean I haven’t made any changes.  I have actually made many, many changes since last summer but just never wrote a post.  Maybe I didn’t feel the project was complete, maybe it was just a small change not worth a post, or maybe it was a change that I didn’t like – that happens sometimes, my visions don’t always translate into reality.  Most likely though, I waited to see how the change ‘worked’ and then got busy and forgot to write.

So, here are some updated photos of the playroom after the most recent long weekend reno.  First, an overview (it is impossible to get everything in one photo – and this one is blurry too).

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The shelf units that house the mini scenes were moved from the nature area to the housekeeping/dramatic play side of the playroom.  I think they may be used more often now that they are here instead of the dark corner of the nature area.

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The dollhouse shelves are here too – they need some repairs and new furniture.  This space hasn’t been a priority for a long time due to lack of ‘appropriate’ interest from the current group – I’m hoping to change that.  For now the addition of a new steering wheel has been the highlight of the reno for the boys.

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They have always used the spinning maze as a steering wheel for their car/truck/school bus dramatic play – now they have two, and the mirror is an added bonus – they love to watch themselves play.

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I recently moved the table and the dress up clothes but the rest of the housekeeping area hasn’t changed since summer. It looks like this;

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The cash register was moved off the kitchen counter and now has its own space – not sure yet if I’ll add anything to the shelves or leave that for the children to decide what to ‘sell’;

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The nature area is now a ‘toy free’ zone intended solely for reading, relaxing or looking out the window.  This has already dramatically improved the issues related to running and jumping back and forth between play areas and fighting over space on the old reading couch.

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The block bin was moved over to make room for the table – which now is also used as a serving counter or ‘take out window’. The new angle of the block bin means the building area is not blocking a walkway anymore either.

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The music area hasn’t really changed since last summer but I don’t think I ever posted a picture of it – and I still haven’t got more green paint…

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The other ‘favouite’ new addition is the workbench.  This was the storage area for tools and miscellaneous toys before but it didn’t have a workbench.  I always considered the top of the block tin to be a workbench – the children did not.  They love this.

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I like it too – I’m going to add some more tools but first I have to buy some…. 🙂

Little Miss Button

The search for our new cat began online, looking through listings of adoptable pets.  Our first trip to the Winnipeg Humane Society was ‘just to look’ but there was one in particular – named ‘Button’ that I was hoping to see.  However, when we arrived at her kennel there was a ‘Hold’ sign – someone else liked her too.  We checked out all the kennels and played with many cats but as planned we were just looking.

Over the next week we visited a few satellite locations and I did more online searching.  I noticed that Button was still listed as adoptable so the following weekend we went back to the Humane Society. There was no longer a hold on Button.  It took a long time to coax her out of the back corner of her cage.  She was so timid – maybe too timid for a busy home like ours but eventually she snuggled her scrawny little body in my arms and purred. I put her back in her kennel and we looked at some other cats.  I also revisited Button and coaxed her out for another snuggle.

There were a couple of cats that we were interested in so we met with an adoption counselor to get some more information about them.  After learning more about their background we  decided they were not a good fit for us.  I asked about Button…they didn’t know much.  She was about nine months old.  She was found living under a porch in the freezing cold.  She had ear mites but had been treated and her ears were fine now.  She had been spayed before being put up for adoption.  She was very underweight and they were trying to get her to eat more.

So….we adopted her.

They had recommended that we should keep her in quarantine for at least a week – to adjust to us and hopefully gain some weight before meeting our other cats and the children.  We kept her upstairs in my son’s room.  She was so very happy all the time – purring and climbing all over us.  It was impossible to get a decent picture of her because she was always moving or wrapping herself around my neck.

At first I had to sit beside her food dish to get her to eat.  She would devour the food in her bowl but if I walked away before she finished eating then she would follow – pressing her little body against my leg like “Please don’t leave me”.  By the end of the week she was much more relaxed and putting on some weight – her spine and hip bones were not nearly as pronounced as they had been.

Over the weekend we introduced her to Mali and Malta – they do NOT love her but they haven’t been terribly mean.  It is interesting that it seems like Button thinks these other cats are in HER home.  Most of the disputes between them are started by Button.

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I joke about her ‘angry’ face because in almost every picture I take she looks a little angry.

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It doesn’t matter how happy, relaxed or content she is she still ends up making that face when I take the picture.

I guess she must have just been unhappy in the confines of her kennel at the Humane Society because here she is not a timid cat at all.  In fact she likes to be the centre of attention – as long as she doesn’t have to hold still for too long. (angry face)

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She likes to be where the action is – and she loves people.  All people.  Any sized people – even babies.  No cats.

She helps when we get dressed to go outside; (angry face)

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She watches the children through the playroom window because she hasn’t yet figured out how to get in there when the gate is shut;

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Is there a cat in this picture?

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Yes, she’s playing one of her favourite games – attack the toys the children put under the gate.

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Welcome home Little Miss Button – we look forward to getting to know you.

Indoor Space

My list of summer renovation projects was two pages long – more than 3/4 of the items have already been completed 🙂 Revamping the outdoor space (see previous post) was the largest project.  Many of the indoor projects just involved sorting and reorganizing stuff but that takes time.

Of course there were some storage units that had to be re-built to fit in different locations but no ‘new’ pieces were necessary.  In fact, a horizontal storage unit became a vertical unit and the items in two other units were consolidated into one so we actually gained a fair amount of extra floor space – bonus!

Much of the work was done to areas that are off-limits to the children so they are completely unaware of the  changes but I am certainly pleased with the results.  When you’ve only got 1200 sq ft to work with and you want to make it usable for a dozen people every little bit helps.

I felt there were several issues with the arrangement of the playroom and I definitely wanted to address at least some of them.  First, this was the old storage space for the workshop tools and musical instruments;

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The problem I had here is that the floor space allocated for constructive play and music activities was just 6o square feet. When most of the toys are stored on one shelf unit on the longest wall the play space becomes a very narrow rectangle.  I wanted to make two smaller storage spaces – one at each end of the long, narrow space which would result in a more usable almost square play space. So, the above corner now looks like this;

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Just the tools, puzzles and stuffed animals are stored here now.  The musical instruments are stored separately on the other end of the play space;

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There used to be a basket of old phones, remotes, and walkie talkies in the space under the cash register.  The children often dumped everything out of the basket when looking for a specific item but no one liked to pick up all the leftovers.  Now the items are stored like this instead;

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This is my new view of the playroom from my desk if I was ever inclined to sit down to do any paperwork;

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And this is as close as I can get to showing the entire playroom in one photo;

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Housekeeping, dress-up, library and quiet corner on the left, entrance to nature area on far wall, blocks, tools and music on right side.

I’m not particularly fond of the way all the housekeeping toys are currently stored – some items are too high for the children to easily reach. I can’t complain if children climb when I’m the one who put things they are allowed to play with on a shelf that is too high.  Reorganizing that storage space is one of the not-yet-completed items on my list.  I am still not certain how to address all the issues there so until I’ve devised an acceptable plan it will have to stay as is.  Sigh.

Reuse, Recycle

Warning – I think this might be a long post but I don’t want to try to break it up into two or three smaller posts.  Persevere through the rambling history – it will be worth it, I promise…

 

Often my husband complains people comment that I am always building/making something but really I am always moving/changing something.  Inside and outside my childcare home I create the furnishings, equipment, lofts, storage units etc to fit a specific space or purpose to suit the interests/needs of the group of children enrolled at that time. Sometimes there are items in stores or catalogues that I like but the dimensions or features are wrong for my application so I draw a plan and make one that will work.

Sometimes I feel my projects may seem incomplete/unfinished – maybe I didn’t have enough time to complete my vision due to inclement weather or other delays.  Possibly the project has several phases or there was something I forgot to take in to consideration when I made the plan.  I’ve taken down shelf units and discovered that the wall behind them was a color that is no longer on any other wall in the house and I have had neither the time nor any extra paint to fix it.  That’s OK because for me everything is really just temporary – it may not be long before I devise another plan that will require another change and that wall will be covered again.  The original project may even be abandoned entirely in favor of a better idea.

When I remove something from the play space I rarely discard any of the pieces – there may be another use for them at another time.  Sometimes I’ve even secretly dug a piece or two of scraps from the cut off bin that I felt were too valuable to have been put there.  It drives me crazy to watch those home renovation shows when they take a sledge hammer to the place and destroy perfectly usable parts. Go ahead, label me a ‘hoarder’ but I can’t count the number of times I’ve said something like “You know what I need here… wait…  I’ve got something in the basement/shed/bin that just might work”.  Occasionally I even ‘attach’ items that are not really needed at the time but it is easier than finding a place to store the extra pieces.  It is better for the environment if I can reuse something.  Besides, I find shopping for new stuff is so time consuming, often stressful and definitely more expensive.

This spring/summer I have changed at least a portion of every part of our indoor and outdoor play spaces.  In fact, I just looked at the slideshow on my homepage and realized that NONE of the spaces pictured there exist anymore!  Yet, for all my recent projects and changes I estimate the total cost of supplies to be less than $300 – that is a small price tag for a fairly major renovation.  Of course, that doesn’t cover what labour costs might be if I didn’t consider renovating to be an exciting recreational activity – I’d rather be in the midst of a construction project than traveling or laying on a beach any day!  That comment now leads perfectly to the real topic of this post;

‘What I Did on My Vacation – 2016 Edition’.

This year the bulk of the work was done to the outdoor play space – hooray, plenty of outdoor time!  There were several preliminary projects that were done earlier in the spring.  The biggest of those involved moving the garden – this couldn’t wait until vacation time because our seedlings needed to be planted earlier than mid-July so the garden phase was started in May.  For a while the old and new garden spaces were only partially finished and had to wait for other project phases to be done.  The most noticeable change took place during the first week of July – the removal of what was left of the shed.

Here is a little shed history.  The original 8 x 10 backyard shed was built a long time ago – I’m not even certain of the exact year but I’m going to estimate that it was about 1999.  My husband designed it and the entire space belonged to him – the children and I used only the 12’x30′ ground level deck, the gravel area and a small storage shed beside the upper deck.  In 2009 when I wanted to plant a garden we disassembled the entire shed and then reassembled it on top of the deck adjacent to my little shed.  This enabled me to use the ground space where my husband’s shed had been in exchange for a portion of the deck that we rarely used.

That worked for several years until 2013 when we moved half the big shed to the side yard.  The side yard shed contained the tools and allowed my husband to work in his separate side yard space at the same time as the children and I were playing in the back yard. There wasn’t room for the whole shed in the side yard so we left half of it on the back deck.  Last summer we put windows in remaining section of the backyard shed thinking maybe it would make a good playhouse type space.  However, it was only used maybe three or four times in the past year and I felt the open deck space would be more beneficial so down it came.  Of course I’ve safely stored the windows and all the other usable parts too.

Throughout all these shed projects the only time we purchased new wood was when we didn’t have old pieces that were long enough.  Consequently there was a lot of nostalgia as the shed was disassembled.  I found grey boards from the original shed, green and purple boards from the old wooden play structure, white boards from the old fence, black pieces from the old wooden wagon and even a couple dark brown stained pieces that may have even been from the shed at our old house!

So, I bet you are wondering what the ‘new’ back yard looks like.  You’re probably getting tired of just words so how about a bunch of pictures with just a few words.  Here is the view of the gravel area from the ‘new’ entrance;

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And a closer view of the tipi corner;

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This is where the entrance to the gravel area used to be – I always had to trim the willow back so we could get by.  Now I can let it grow and it makes such a cozy seating area (you can hardly see the benches in the corner).  The cinder block ‘chalk wall’ was extended too;

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Here’s another view of that corner;

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This is the new little ‘bridge’ entrance to the gravel area;

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The entrance to the gravel area was moved to make way for the new garden space so all these projects were done in May.  This is what our new garden looked like in June – peas, beans, corn, peppers, tomatoes, wheat and flax;

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And in July;

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From the other side;

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Here’s the new seating/play area where the old garden had been.  The children call this the ‘trampoline’ because the thick layer of mulch is spongy to walk/run on.  Part of the old garden is still here – Milkweed and herbs.

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Here is what you see if you sit on the benches and look toward the gravel area;

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This is Frank – a friend I made when we first began the shed demo.  I kept moving him to safer places so he didn’t accidentally get squished.

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So beautiful and friendly.  Kept distracting me.  Almost forgot to take the ‘before demo’ picture.  Here’s an ‘already started but still mostly there’ picture;

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The new open, freshly painted deck space after shed demo – all this space was under the shed in 2009 and half in 2013;

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Combination wooden bench/balance beam/toddler table/moveable space divider and also a fun little fold-up/down table (extra parts).  This is the same camera angle as the ‘before demo’ picture.

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View of new space from the gravel area;

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Wood, gravel, garden, mulch – texture everywhere 🙂