I started writing this post so long ago then got too busy to finish it – almost winter now, may seem irrelevant to publish it but here I go anyway 🙂
Autumn is a period of change – the leaves, the weather, our schedule and much more. There are new discoveries to be made and even some new challenges. This year, the weather has impacted our activities more than usual – there has been so much rain. We like rain but when it is combined with cold then playing in the yard can be troublesome because it is so wet and sitting anywhere gets uncomfortable so we prefer to keep moving and go for walks.
Walks provide much more than just fresh air and exercise – on walks we have some fantastic conversations. Years ago I wrote about how our long walks enable us to have better conversations. However, this Fall going for walks has been a little challenging since all my older children have gone to school and I have no hand holding helpers.
In my current preschool group all the children are just one or two years old. The toddlers do like to walk together and hold hands but they are usually so engrossed in their own conversations that they don’t pay enough attention to their surroundings. Also, as ‘normal’ toddlers they often require significant processing time for verbal requests. The delayed response is very stressful for me particularly when it is related to road traffic.
So, this Fall I again began using the Safe-T-Line when we go for walks. I have previously written another post about using the Safe-T-Line. All these toddlers love holding the handles and have taken turns as line leader – some are better as followers.
Even though muddy puddles are a popular attraction for these little ones, ‘goose poop’ seems to be a major concern. Even when there is not a goose in sight every unidentified lump on the sidewalk or pathway gets dubbed ‘goose poop’ and is given a wide berth followed by “Ewwww, that’s disgusting!” and fits of laughter.
One of our favourite walks is through the Elmwood Cemetery – mostly because there are very few cars and very many squirrels, rabbits, birds, and especially geese. On one recent cemetery walk the grass was being mowed and there were large clumps of wet grass on the road. Initially they were of course labeled ‘goose poop’ but then there was an argument about the clumps being too big to have been made by a goose. So, after some discussion it was determined that these were in fact ‘dinosaur poop‘.
Yes, that is why I like taking toddlers for walks. We never find dinosaur poop in the yard. Now we just have to figure out where that dinosaur is hiding. Time to go for another autumn adventure.
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…
June 29th is International Mud Day and here we have been celebrating it every year since its inception in 2009 (the year after I attended the World Forum for Nature Education). Of course, we do play with mud on other days too but rain or shine we have a BIG Mud Day celebration at the end of June – just before I close for my annual vacation so that is why it takes me this long to write about it.
For the past three or four years I have found it difficult to actually make ‘mud’. Yes, I know it sounds ridiculous – there is mud everywhere we go in the spring and summer after it rains – but for mud day I like to buy NEW, fresh dirt to make mud with. I never used to have difficulty finding good soil but recently it has been a challenge. I have bought many different bags of soil in search of ‘good’, mud-making soil. I’ve tried black earth, top soil and garden mix in both cheap and expensive brands from a variety of stores. Some years I’ve had several reject bags that I dumped into the garden instead of using for Mud Day.
The problem with most of these soils is that although they seem nice when I open the bag – cool, moist and smelling fabulous as all fresh soil does – they don’t mix well with water. Sure, when you add a little water to the soil it feels wet but it does not compact or hold any kind of shape. Adding more water doesn’t help – eventually it just become dirty water with bits of debris. *sigh* It shouldn’t be this hard to make mud.
The weekend before Mud Day I bought what I hoped would be good black earth – sadly, a small sample proved it was not. I called Superior Soil, explained my problem and asked if they had soil that would make nice mud. They believed they did so now my dilemma was that they are not open evenings and there were no more weekends before Mud Day. I checked the route on Google Maps – should only take 34 minutes to walk there – easy peasy walk for my little group of hikers.
The next day we packed a snack and left early in the morning so we could still have time to play in the yard for a while after our walk. My mistake was that I neglected to consider that this was not one of our normal routes hence there would be a lot of time spent sightseeing, exploring and asking many questions. Note to homeowners: If you put up little dome tents in your unfenced front yard it makes it very, very difficult for me to persuade toddlers that it is in fact private property and not a public campground.
It took us 91 minutes to get to our destination – I wondered if Google Maps may have miscalculated but I just wanted to get our soil and be on our way because if our return trip took the same length of time we would have a very late lunch. The man at Superior Soil was so charmed by the excited little group that he wouldn’t even charge us for the soil, put it in our cart for us and told us to have fun making mud pies. We had a quick (late) morning snack and headed back. Google Maps was not wrong – the return trip took only 42 minutes with tired toddlers and a heavy bag of soil.
Friday, June 28th was the day we would celebrate Mud Day. I set out a bin of water with some scoops, a wading pool full of our very special soil, a tarp and the ramp. At first, the children were all very hesitant – they tentatively played with the scoops in the water.
Seriously! Most of this group had been here for at least one other Mud Day and we’d been planning this for weeks – why the reluctance to dive in? With a little coaxing they added a bit of water to the soil and then moved small amounts of mud to the ramp. Twenty minutes so far and we’ve only got a few dirty fingers!
Finally someone got their feet dirty;
OK – now we are mixing mud! Yes, Superior Soil makes beautiful mud 🙂
Someone thought the water bin could be used to clean their feet – LOL – there is mud everywhere now;
This one thinks she is getting clean – nope! That water bin is mostly mud now too.
After a slow start they all really got into it – no more reluctance to get dirty. We enjoyed two hours of wonderful messy mud play.
It is no secret that I enjoy walking. There are so many great reasons to go for a walk. It could just be a means of transportation to get from point A to point B. Maybe you want to spend some time outdoors exploring , getting fresh air and/or exercise. Walking could be a social activity you do with your friends or a solitary activity you use to reflect, rejuvenate, and unwind.
For me, walking is all of those things. Below I have my Fitbit data from some of my recent walks. The route and distance for the the first two walks is the same but the difference is whether I am walking with or without children.
This first one is one of my 4:30 am ‘perfect-way-to-start-the-day’ brisk walk without children. This is an exercise walk – I wear my weighted vest and sometimes ankle and/or wrist weights too. I walk quickly and throughout the walk my mind is busy too. I make mental lists of what I need to do that day, what food needs to be prepped before the children arrive and what supplies I need to gather for the day’s activities. Sometimes I even ‘write’ drafts of blog posts during these walks. I was actually surprised that this ‘exercise’ walk didn’t have a much higher heart rate – probably because it was a lovely spring morning – my -30 C winter morning walks are more strenuous.
This second walk is with six children – three of which are toddlers. Two of the children in group were enrolled during this past winter – they are not yet familiar with our long hikes but have gone on a few shorter walks with us. Even though the route is exactly the same as my morning walk, this second walk is slower – taking almost twice as long to cover the same distance. Notice my step count is also higher – I take smaller steps when holding toddler hands. Although the time is doubled on my walk WITH children, my ‘active’ minutes are not because we do stop to look at things periodically. I don’t set the pace for these walk – usually the older children do but occasionally I have to remind them that the toddlers have very short legs.
Now this third walk is a different, much shorter route with children. This walk is half the distance of the first two but it takes us through a park where we stop to play. The step count is about the same as my early morning exercise walk but this walk with children is half the distance and takes more time.
Both my walks with children averaged 4 calories per minute and my exercise walk was 5 calories per minute – not as big a difference as I would have expected. I guess that even though my walks with children are much more relaxed than my walks without, they are still good exercise. Also, there is so much more talking during my walks with children – talking burns calories too. These conversations are one of my favourite parts about walking with children – here you can read more about walking and talking.
We plan go outside to play every day throughout the year in all types of weather. In winter there is only one restriction that I put on our outdoor time – we don’t go on long hikes. We do still go on some shorter walks on warmer days but on cold days we just stay in the yard.
In winter the weather conditions are unpredictable. Even on short walks we’ve discovered that what feels like a lovely mild winter day can suddenly feel like a blizzard when you round a corner and face the wind. Toddlers in particular can go from comfortable to too cold in a very short period of time and the return trip will be nearly impossible if we’ve wandered very far.
My yard is sheltered from the wind and faces South so it gets plenty of sunlight. There are very rarely days that we feel are too cold to go outside to play – in fact, this year so far there have been no days that we didn’t venture outside for at least a little time. There may be days that are too cold to sit or stand outside and do nothing, but the children don’t do this and neither do I. When we are outside I spend the majority of my time ‘sculpting’ the yard.
Yard sculpting is a continuous process which some of the children enjoy helping me create but most just ‘use’. There are some children who would still love playing in the snow if I did nothing to the yard at all. Others – especially the littlest ones – sometimes find the snow and ice frustrating. I don’t want them to become discouraged and end up sitting somewhere shivering – learning only that winter is simply a miserable cold season.
I have a fairly small yard – only about 650 square feet – so I make the most of it by ensuring there are some special places and enough variety that no one gets too bored. There are many different spaces and activities to keep the children engaged, moving, exploring and most importantly enjoying their winter play experience. The little ‘cave’ under the cedars which provides a natural shelter from the hot summer sun also provides shelter from the cold winter wind.
The tipi is a constructed shelter which also serves as a storage area for loose parts. All our warm weather toys are not available here in the winter but we still have our pots, sticks and pipes.
Instead of toys I’ve added some coloured blocks of ice. I thought the children might like to use them for building blocks but so far they mostly just use them as hockey pucks.
As the children run and play I use my shovel to clear snow from some areas and pile it in others. I don’t just have one path from the house to the gate, I have multiple interconnecting trails that allow the children to go over and around obstacles. There are places to climb, jump, roll or slide and places to build and dig;
There are six circles to run around, five tunnels to crawl through, a bridge to go over, many steps/stumps, four different elevations to provide a variety of viewpoints, some flat open areas for building or playing group games and two hills. All together there is roughly 250 feet of trail with many forks and endless route options.
When I’m not shoveling I’m packing the trails. My Fitbit has auto-recognized a 30 minute hike while I repeatedly walked all the circles and loops around my yard. It is not unusual for a little toddler train to follow along behind me while I traverse the trails. When people marvel at the super long summer hikes my toddlers are capable of, I point out that summer hikes are pretty easy compared to our winter adventures on ice and snow while bundled in layers of heavy clothing.
Most of the pictures in this post were taken before the last big snowfall so we do have a little more snow than what is shown here – we would still like much more though. Sure, we love the other seasons too but we’re not tired of winter yet so come on Mother Nature – let it snow!
I’ve been working on a post about our winter yard and what we like to do out there. I will not have time to complete that post today but I did want to write a quick post about the weather.
Today’s weather forecast states the high temperature will be minus 25 C with wind chill of minus 44 in the morning and minus 35 in the afternoon. Yet, the children and I will still be going outside for at least a brief period of time.
Why? Well, first of all, any of the children who arrive here today will have at some point had to go outside so saying ‘It is too cold to go outside’ would not be true.
Second, if I don’t take them outside there will at some point be a mutiny because at least some of the children really want to go outside and I definitely don’t want to keep them inside all day.
Third, and probably most important, cold weather like this is a fantastic learning opportunity. As we prepare to go outside we will discuss how to dress appropriately for the weather. All the children (even the littlest ones) will work on completing self help skills, independence and decision making. We will experience the way the sun warms us and the trees shelter us from the wind. We will build resilience.
The children will make the decision as to how long we can play outside. They will learn to realize how they and others feel – are they warm enough but their friends are too cold? What can they do to help?
So, I didn’t get a chance to complete my post about our winter yard, but this quick little post may be the perfect introduction to the importance of having a outdoor play space designed for winter.
The problem with having Mud Day on the Friday before my vacation begins is that then I’m too busy working on my vacation projects to write about anything. So, since my ‘vacation’ is nearly over and my projects are almost complete here’s a very quick post about June 29, 2018.
The weather forecast said there was a chance of rain and there was a tiny bit of rain before we got outside – we wouldn’t have minded if it had continued. Once outside, the children immediately ran to check out the pool full of semi-dry soil;
Some were curious why it was only dirt but then I asked them if they were certain it was only dirt. They dug deeper…
It took much longer than I expected for them to find all the ‘dinosaur bones‘ hidden in the dirt so I didn’t bother bringing out the new activity cards – today the mud play was their main focus – I’ll introduce the card activities another day.
The children were becoming less interested in playing in the pool of dirt and seemed to prefer playing in the bins of water meant for washing the dirt off the bones.
So, I changed it up a bit…
Some of the children liked this much better;
Later we added some corn flour to the mud to make mud dough which the older children enjoyed playing with all afternoon while the littles napped;
As I watched the children engaged in their mud day activities I was already making plans for Mud Day 2019. I knew that one of my vacation projects was removing the old deck – where we were currently playing with mud – but I also knew that there would still be space for mud play and so much more.
You though, will have to wait until after my vacation is over and I’ve finished all my projects before you get to see the new outdoor play space. 😉