Category Archives: Learning Environment

Quiet Spaces 2

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.

Quiet Spaces

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.

Vacation 2018

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 outdoors because 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;

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Down the stairs and looking to the SE corner;

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From the SE corner looking to the NW corner;

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From the SW corner looking to the NE corner;

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This is one of my favourite areas – my little hideaway under the cedars;

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Here is the old tipi with newly added storage areas and camouflage cover;

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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;

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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;

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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;

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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.

Special Moments in Time

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.

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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;

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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.

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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.

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For a very brief moment in time the sun will make the music area sparkle.

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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.

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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