Around here we wash our hands a lot – before and after every meal/snack, after diaper changes/bathroom breaks, after outdoor play, after crafts/sensory play activities and more. We’ve been doing this since the first day I opened my childcare home. Even before the babies can stand on their own I hold them and help them to wash their hands – teaching them all the steps until they can do it on their own. It becomes a habit – a good habit.
The children are also not allowed to share hand towels when drying their hands. Early in my career I briefly used small cloths for drying hands – single use, one per child after every hand washing and laundered daily. Even with my small group of children it was a lot of laundry. It didn’t take long for me to switch to single use paper towels.
For more than twenty years now we have used paper towels to dry our hands. They were convenient and with the dispensers they were easy for even the littlest ones to use independently. The monetary cost wasn’t unbearable but the environmentalist in me sometimes wondered if there was a better option.
As long as we used a separate bin for used paper towels I could put them in my composter but especially during the winter we would run out of room for them. Around here the only bin that never gets very full is the garbage bin – other than diapers and cat litter almost everything else gets recycled, reused or composted.
When the children crumpled their paper towel in a ball before trying to dry their hands we’d do ‘science’ experiments to show how much more effective they were when they were flat as opposed to balled up. I found it particularly frustrating when the older children would quickly yank three or four paper towels from the dispenser, fold them in half, toss them in the bin and then wipe their hands dry on their clothes. Ugh! Seriously – WHY?
Sometimes I’d see whole stacks of unused paper towels in the bin because they just fell out of the dispenser and someone decided to toss them instead of reloading. A few years ago I doubled the size of my composter but we still don’t have enough room for all those paper towels which take up more space than all our food scraps.
I contemplated going back to using cloths and doing laundry but decided against it. Instead I started researching commercial air hand dryers and discovered that there were many compact affordable options available. In fact, some were smaller than the paper towel dispensers and cost less than a one year supply of paper towels!
A month ago I bought two – one for the bathroom and one for the kitchen. I should have done this years ago! We are loving the hand dryers.
Except every once in a while when I hear a dryer running longer than necessary and find a child huddled underneath it. *sigh* ‘If you are cold we can get you a sweater.
I’ve been neglecting my website – haven’t written a blog post in almost three months!
This pandemic has brought many changes. For me personally most of these changes have had very little negative impact. I don’t like crowds, concerts, festivals, sports, traveling etc so these limits/closures haven’t bothered me but I understand many people have been greatly impacted.
Line-ups for the grocery store and empty shelves were a bit of an annoyance but nothing I couldn’t adapt to. I’ve always been a borderline hoarder – I have three freezers and two pantries to store all the stuff I stock up on when things are on sale. Still, there were a few items that even I ran out of and had difficulty finding and the increased costs have been rough on my budget.
Luckily my hoarding tendencies apply to my bank account as well – I’ve been called a miser – so my lowered income level wasn’t a disaster. I could still feed my family and pay my bills. Yet honestly, when CERB was announced I did fantasize about what I could do with even a one month paid vacation. I haven’t had a paid vacation in….my entire life! It was just a fantasy though as I didn’t qualify for CERB.
I did have two months of low attendance – which means lower income for the same 11 hour work day. Same number of meals and activities to plan, same amount of supervision, just slightly less busy throughout the day – and that for me is a negative. I would have much preferred either the, sometimes hectic, excitement of having everyone here or having no children here and uninterrupted time to tackle some other projects.
However, knowing that I would have low attendance for an extended period of time did allow me to make some changes. I was able to close some play spaces temporarily – I still had to wait until the children were gone before I could do any of the rearranging, demolition, or construction but I didn’t have to finish the project before they returned. Even with some ‘off limits’ areas there was still enough play space available for the number of children attending.
Work on the loft was the big project I had originally planned to tackle on my summer vacation but instead I was able to break the project down into smaller phases which I could then complete over several weekends in April and May. The finished play space looks like this;
I’ve had all eight children here full days for the past three months – the longest I’ve ever had all my school-age spaces full. I decided not to close for a summer vacation this year because the need for summer care was so high and I had already finished my summer projects. It has been an amazing summer – we’ve really enjoyed the new spaces during the limited time we’ve used them.
Really, 6:30 – 8:30 AM is our longest indoor play period. Otherwise the majority of our day has been spent outside. In fact, the reason I haven’t been writing is mostly due to long periods outside, away from my computer – trying not to obsess about what the government has done to childcare in Manitoba.
Spending plenty of time outside is nothing new for us – if the pandemic had restricted our outdoor time we would definitely have struggled – even with our new indoor play spaces. September will bring more changes. The school-age children will be leaving again – we will miss having them here all day. We hope they will still get to spend plenty of time outside – even in the winter. We may not be outside all day in the winter but we will still be outside several hours every day – and loving it.
Change isn’t always easy – sometimes it seems like an insurmountable challenge. We’ve faced it before and we’ll do it again. The unknown factors may be scary but we’ll figure it out.
Over the 23 years that I have been providing childcare in my home we have had many different table arrangements. Here are a few of the various setups from when we used the sunroom for art, meals, table games and activities;
And a few more arrangements from when we started using the room adjacent to the playroom:
Most recently the tables have been arranged like this:
In all our room arrangements we have had two different table heights – one for preschoolers and one for school-age. In some of the earlier arrangements – before I separated the childcare space from my family space – the school-age table was also my family’s dining table.
There were challenges with every arrangement because the children using these tables can be anywhere from 18 month to 12 years of age. Even when the children are similar in age their size can vary greatly. The small table is best suited for most 3-5 year olds so I have these little boosters I can use to make the seat height better for smaller and/or younger children;
Still the biggest issue has always been the school-age table. There are many school-age children that are too small for the adult sized table and they would often need to kneel on their chairs to reach – the risk of tipping chairs always caused me angst. The two different table heights made group activities difficult.
Many school-age children would prefer to sit at the preschool table when there was space available there. Also, because I usually only have school-age children for brief periods of time the school-age table was mostly just using up valuable space. Really, once I separated the childcare space from my family space there was no need for a tall table.
I started to design a plan for a room arrangement that could accommodate a multi age group at at single table height. Back in 2012 when I had a separate art area in the sunroom we used a 12 inch high table that allowed children of all ages to do crafts while sitting/kneeling on the floor.
Sitting on the floor was fine for crafts but I would need the children to be seated for meals so the new table would have to be at least toddler table height. Next I started to consider my options for the table shape. I loved that in our past arrangements the round tables had been great for collaborative activities and conversations. However, tables with straight edges were better for activities that required trays .
I searched through some childcare supply catalogues for ideas and got super excited when I saw an octagon table with adjustable height options. Seriously – what could be more perfect than a ’round’ table with EIGHT straight edges. I have eight childcare spaces. I actually even considered buying the table. I checked to see if they had it in stock, available for me to pick up – they did not, it would take 4-6 weeks for it to arrive if I wanted to order it.
Do you have any idea what I can build in 4-6 weeks?
Besides, I already had eight toddler sized table legs on the two old toddler tables – both of which I had also made many years ago. I had extra paint that matched the room. All I really needed was a 4 foot by 4 foot piece of wood that I could have the corners cut off. Shopping, cutting, four coats of paint and sealer plus assembly and the finished table was ready to use in under three days and cost $250 less. More importantly, because I made it I know I can also fix it if it gets damaged. The old tables have needed a few small touch ups over the 10+ years they have been in use.
So… Ta Da!
Now I know the new table is much smaller than our previous three table group BUT…I also used the old tables to create a separate art area on the reorganized wall where the toys and supplies are;
The art tables can fold down flat against the shelf unit if we want extra floor space. The white toddler chairs can be used at the art table – or the artists can kneel on the floor or sit on cushions/stools if they prefer. Best of all, unfinished art projects don’t have to be put away when it is time for meals. There is even some fancy under cabinet lighting.
I only needed to buy a few extra 2×6 boards, the table wood, and the light otherwise everything for this renovation was reclaimed/reused – total cost less than $75.
It is no secret that I prefer to be outdoors with the children instead of indoors. It is probably also not surprising that I spend a lot of time creating indoor and outdoor play environments. However, it may not be common knowledge that I really dislike planning group activities.
Autumn/Fall tends to make me a little anxious. I love taking long hikes and marveling at the colours and watching busy squirrels but fall is a transition season. After all our long summer days outside the children are starting to complain that it is getting far too cold to enjoy their favourite activities. Many fall days have frigid winter temperatures but there is little or no snow to make the cold exciting. I start to dread the thought of spending more time indoors – confined – bored – bickering – whining. *sigh*
So I start to plan for some additional activities that we can do indoors when it gets too cold to play outdoors for long periods. This year I had some activities that I was quite eager to try. There were even a few fall days when I considered trying them but I didn’t – because it wasn’t yet too cold to go outside to play – except it is never actually too cold to play outside. In fact, so far this winter there has only been one day that we didn’t go outside at all – and then the children were upset when it was lunch time and they realized they missed our outdoor time.
Most days this winter we have been outside for 1-2 hours and once you add the time for everyone to get dressed and undressed that is the entire time between morning snack and lunch. We haven’t needed additional indoor activities to keep us busy. On the contrary, all that ‘bored, bickering, whining’ stuff I was stressing about is because indoors we have too many transitions and not enough uninterrupted time.
We actually have too much to do inside – too many things, too many choices, too many distractions, too many disruptions and not enough space and time. In the confined indoor space every time someone picks up a toy, or moves to a different spot, or the phone rings, or someone comes to the door it changes the focus of all the other children in the room. The last thing I want to do is initiate yet another activity and create another transition.
Transitions – arrivals, departures, meal prep/cleanup, diaper changes/bathroom breaks, etc – even if they don’t involve the busy children, they are distractions that interrupt their play. They notice when I walk toward the kitchen and one of them will announce that it is time to clean up for lunch – it is not but someone will assume it is and an argument will ensue. The children have difficulty engaging in any activity because they are anticipating what is ‘next’ – no one is actually playing. They are in limbo, watching and waiting.
I can relate. I often put off doing paperwork, writing blog posts, working on my website etc – not because I don’t want to do it but because I know I won’t have enough time to fully engage in the activity and be able to finish what needs to be done. So instead of getting a little bit of work done I get none done because I didn’t even attempt to start.
Planned group activities don’t help the children. Certainly they can briefly create an artificial period of engagement and can effectively redirect when the children are in battle mode. However, they also create more transitions and ultimately they just make it more difficult for the children to make their own independent activity choices – the way they do when we are outside.
When we are outside, even though my yard is not huge, there is still more separation between the various play areas than there is indoors making it easier for the children to sustain their focus on one activity without being distracted by others playing elsewhere in the yard. My activities are also not a distraction when we are outdoors. I have several benches around the periphery of the yard that make it easy to blend in to the environment and observe the children without disturbing their play. I am present but not involved, not directing.
Indoors we have many of the same activity choice as we do outdoors – even many gross motor opportunities (that will be another post) but indoors there is less space and I am closer which makes the children less likely to engage in self-directed activities. When I am close their questions are endless; “What are you doing? Where are you going? Can I see in that box? Are we going to do a craft? What was that noise? Who is at the door/upstairs/in the kitchen?” They are not engaged in play because I am a distraction.
When I am too close there is an expectation that I will assist them, I will solve their problems, I will entertain them and they don’t need to do anything. In a small confined space it is more difficult for me to allow them more time to solve problems and I am more likely to redirect their activities. My involvement often increases the likelihood that they will do it again – there is a lot more testing of limits as I become a prop in their cause and effect experiments.
So, I don’t want to plan more activities – we don’t need more activities. I need to tweak our schedule and indoor environment to give us more space and uninterrupted time – or we could just go outside.
Another two week vacation, another big outdoor project – perfect! But before I tell you what I did on my vacation I’ll give you a little yard history.
The upper deck existed before my childcare home opened. It separated the South facing backyard from the East facing side yard. The side yard was the dog’s yard and the vast space under the upper deck was her dog house. The play space in the back yard consisted of a 300 sq ft gravel area with a play structure and a 360 sq ft ground level deck. The outdoor toys were stored in a tarp wrapped wooden frame shed built against the West fence.
There was no back wall on that little toy shed because it was positioned against the fence. It was about 15 years ago that we moved the toy shed so we could use that spot for our first garden – it was the only spot in our back yard that was not deck or gravel. We then attached the toy shed to the South side of the upper deck where the open back allowed us to extend the toy storage to the space under the deck (after we made the dog house smaller).
The tool/garden shed was located by the carport – South of the lower deck and East of the gravel area. When we decided we needed a bigger garden space, we took the tool shed apart and rebuilt it ON the rarely used lower deck and attached it to the front of the toy shed. We then put in a bigger garden where the tool shed had been.
This picture was taken many years ago on the upper deck;
The shelf and framed white panel on the right side is the back and top of the old toy shed. The higher redwood wall beyond it is the back of the tool shed. Not visible in the picture – back door of the house behind me, stairs down to the back yard on the right, and stairs down to the side yard on the left. Also not shown is the bike shed which is in the side yard attached to the North side of the upper deck.
We had created ‘Frankenshed’ – it had a very large foot print but inefficient storage. You could enter the bike shed from the side yard, then crawl under the upper deck, go through the toy shed and then go out the tool shed into the back yard. However, it wasn’t a convenient path – more like a labyrinth where there was the possibility you could be lost for long periods of time. Sometimes when the children asked for toys that were stored I would tell them I’d see if I could find them on the weekend. I was never sure how long it might take me to find the toy and get back out of Frankenshed.
The only good way to get from the back yard to the side/front yard was by going over the upper deck. Even the lawn mower, snow blower, bikes and lumber had to be taken this way. It was frustrating at times. When the children and I were out in the back I couldn’t see the front gate because the upper deck and Frankenshed blocked my view. Consequently we rarely played outside later in the day when there was the chance parents may arrive.
So, on my vacation we;
built a new tool shed in the side yard
sorted all the stored items from all the sheds
took apart the garden shed, toy shed, potty house and bike shed
removed half of the upper deck and one staircase and moved the other staircase
built a new toy shed and a new garden shed/potty house
disassembled, repaired and reassembled the garden wall
created a new ground level walkway
We worked outside for 10-12 hours each day of my two week vacation. It was wonderful! Now I want to spend even more time outside in the yard. Some of the changes are actually quite subtle but almost every part of the yard has changed at least a little bit so I’ll include before and after pictures for each corner of the back yard.
The old potty house – by the water barrel in the back of the garden – was used only for potty training toddlers who couldn’t make it inside quick enough. Now that area is our new convenient toy storage shed.
Picture angle is slightly different due to the movement of the stairs so the entrance to the back yard is now six feet farther East. Many of the stumps, stepping stones and tables have been moved too.
Again, stepping stones, stumps and table moved. Added rope swings and removed sensory bins – the bins now have a spot in the gravel area with the toys instead of being in the active play area.
The pond was moved to make room for a larger loose parts/construction area. In the old fireplace mantle we added shelves for storage of dishes & pots which never had a dedicated space before. There is also a counter which can be used for ‘cooking’ but can also hold the sensory bins when we want to use them.
Here is where you see the biggest difference. The cinder block garden wall was originally built on the wooden cribbing for the gravel area. The wood was deteriorating and sections of the wall were tilting in different directions. The wooden cribbing was replaced with an additional row of cinder blocks. I doubled the size of the awning so we have twice as much shade. The ‘pond’, rocks, table, stumps etc were rearranged to create a larger construction area and make room for the sensory bin area (not visible in this picture).
The stairs and a portion of Frankenshed were visible in the 2018 photo but in the 2019 photo there is only the smaller garden shed/potty house. This new little shed was built entirely from wood salvaged from the old shed and deck. The potty shed half is large enough for diaper changing and also has running water.
This next picture shows my view from the bench by the carport – on the East side of the garden shed I can now see all the way through the side yard to the front gate! The ground level walkway (also built from recycled deck boards) has enough space for the art table which used to be on the upper deck and was not visible from the yard. There is a small gate beside the garden shed to prevent any of the littles from wandering into the side yard which is still not a play area.
That’s enough writing for now – I’m going outside to play…
Our indoor ‘nature area’ located just off the main play area has always been considered a quiet space. Decorations include trees, flowers, rocks, birds, butterflies and grass-like carpet. The large window provides plenty of natural light (when the sun is shining) and a view to the real outdoors. The entrance/exit gates serve as a reminder that toys were not supposed to be brought in here. The babies’ cribs are also in this room allowing them to nap if necessary while the older children play in the play room – another reason why this was not a play area. This is where the children can come to read books or just relax.
There were some cushions here for sitting or relaxing on but some of the children thought they were better for tossing or using for pillow fights. *sigh* While most of the children appreciated this quiet space, there were occasionally some that thought the 30 square foot ‘grass’ area was a good spot to play tag or wrestle.
After creating the little quiet nooks I wrote about in my last post, I wondered if we still needed this quiet space – maybe I could somehow re-purpose the nature area into an active play space. I decided against it. We have the music/dance space and we use balance pods, resistance bands and tunnels for some indoor gross motor play when we can’t go outside. We spend a lot of time outdoors and that is still the best place for tag and rough and tumble play. Even if our indoor nature area mimics an outdoor space, it is still indoors and not to be used for active play.
I needed to find a way to encourage all the children to use this indoor nature area for its intended reading/relaxing purpose. So, I purchased this nest swing;
It is small enough that is doesn’t use the whole space but large enough to discourage running and jumping. I have it hung less than one foot off the ground so even the toddlers can easily get on and off the ‘nest’ (we don’t call it a swing) without assistance. It is also the perfect height to use as a table/desk – some of the children prefer to sit on the ground around the nest and place their books on it instead.
I have the nest anchored on two sides so it does not swing far but still provides a gentle, relaxing movement. It is especially nice when laying down and looking up at the trees above.
It has definitely become a favourite quiet space for everyone to read and relax.
Throughout the past couple months I have observed the children using dress-up clothes and blankets to create ‘snow forts’ in the playroom. I recognized this repeated behaviour as an expression of interest in exploring the enveloping/enclosing schema and at first I assisted by simply providing some clothespins.
The children were still often frustrated because in our play room the best places to create ‘snow forts’ are also the walkways. Consequently the builders were always getting into disputes with the children who were trying to pass by to get to the other side of the room.
I had another idea. Recently I’ve been removing many of the items in the housekeeping area because the toddlers were leaving many things strewn about on the floor after searching for a particular item – there were too many toys. I took away a few more of the lesser used items, consolidated the remaining ones and then removed the empty shelves from two of the boxes that form the base of the loft. Then I added some pillow to these otherwise empty boxes.
These boxes proved to be popular places to curl up with a few small toys.
Of course I also knew that two hiding spots would never be enough so I rearranged the musical instruments and created two more spots under the keyboard shelf. These ones are even more popular – probably because the children can feel enclosed while still playing ‘with’ their friends.
Sometimes the children add curtains too
I’m considering adding ‘peek-a-boo’ holes in the board that divides these hideaways – it might make them even more interesting. Even after all the children have gone home, these spaces are still popular.
As usual I spent my two week ‘vacation’ working on projects and as usual I didn’t manage to complete ALL the things I had hoped to. However, this year I DID spend my entire vacation outdoorsbecause I was working on the backyard play space. It was wonderful!
I’m back to work today and the children should be arriving soon so here’s a very quick post about the mostly completed yard. First, the view to the SW corner as you leave the house;
Down the stairs and looking to the SE corner;
From the SE corner looking to the NW corner;
From the SW corner looking to the NE corner;
This is one of my favourite areas – my little hideaway under the cedars;
Here is the old tipi with newly added storage areas and camouflage cover;
I added ‘castle battlements’ to the wall between the gravel area and the garden and attached the drums here too. The table was made from a spool and some tile samples – supplies that were donated by parents;
The stump circle containing the ‘digging area’ was moved to one edge of the gravel area to make room for a ‘construction zone’. All the building supplies are now stored conveniently under the willow;
The fence panel between the bark area and the car port is now the ‘art wall’ – although not quite complete yet – the planters will hold art supplies and paper etc can be clipped to the fence;
I also have a large hammock that hangs in this area when we want to relax 🙂
The biggest part of this project is not visible – the removal of the old deck and walkway – there were sections of it that were rotting and unsafe, it was 18 years old. I couldn’t just trash the whole thing though, any sections of wood that were still good were of course salvaged and reused.
Total monetary cost of this entire project was $350 (mulch, stone, sunshade etc) and a few hundred hours of labour in 30 degree Celsius weather. Perfect vacation.
Time is such a difficult concept for children and even some adults. I often take photos when the children are busy playing – snapshots of special moments. Often the camera doesn’t fully capture what I saw but the photo can still serve as reminder of that brief moment in time. These are some recent photos of moments that I found interesting.
These are the props the children have set up as part of their ‘Santa’ game. The little tree they built from Bunny Blocks and the snack they have put out for Santa. These preschoolers initiate this dramatic play activity many times every week – not because it is Christmas time but rather because it is something they enjoy doing together – cementing their friendships. They take turns being ‘Santa’. The ‘children’ pretend to sleep in makeshift beds in the corner of the room while ‘Santa’ gathers their favorite toys from around the room to give each child as gifts. They demonstrate such wonderful understanding of what their friends like and the importance of giving to others. Christmas was months ago but time is irrelevant.
The children also enjoy purposely slipping on ice patches on the backyard deck and walkway. I keep breaking up the icy areas or covering them with sand – not because I don’t want the children to have fun but because I don’t like falling. The activity was not a problem but there was a better place and time for it – I took them for a walk so they could slide here;
February was officially ‘I love to read month’ and I didn’t plan any special activities. With this little group reading is always a special activity especially when you’re with your friends.
Another special time is the end of the day when there are only one or two children left – they wait for the ‘magic’. When the conditions are right at the end of a sunny day if you’re lucky enough to be the last to go home you may be here when this happens.
For a very brief moment in time the sun will make the music area sparkle.
Sadly, now that the time has changed we probably won’t see this again for a while but some day in the future the magic will return. It will just take time.
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;
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.
The music/dance area was slightly reorganized but remains in the SE corner;
The workshop area remains in the NE corner along with some blocks;
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.
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.
The kitchen area shelves and appliances form a series of platforms that create an enclosed staircase along the side and back of the loft;
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.
I also added some new storage features inside the fridge but haven’t yet finished painting the inside white.
There’s more new storage under, on, and beside the counter now too;
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.