Category Archives: Science & Sensory

Montgomery

In keeping with my new trend of putting off writing blog posts (and most other paperwork) here is a post I’ve been planning to write for four months! However, the last part of the post was not part of my original plan…

It is no secret that I love cats. I’ve written before about my view on having pets in a childcare home and about our adoption of a tiny little stray, the struggle to introduce the new cat, and the eventual loss of an old one. So, it should come as no surprise that when one of my childcare families fostered a momma cat and her kittens…I picked one.

To be honest, originally I just picked him out as my favourite one of the litter with no intention of actually adopting him but…it seems I have no self control *sigh*. I was a little apprehensive about bringing a new kitten into our home. Malta, our almost 14 year old cat is easily stressed and within seconds of the kitten being carried in the door she ran upstairs to vomit. She was not actually my biggest concern – she takes a bit of time to adjust to change but usually adapts without too much fuss.

Four year old Monkey (legal name Button) was the one I was a little worried about. Monkey is a not-so-small-anymore cat with a HUGE attitude. She has a tiny little squeaky mew but makes up for it with a loud deep snarly growl. She uses that growl to voice her opinion about everything. Her growl doesn’t always mean ‘NO! Leave me alone’ when someone tries to pet her, sometimes it is a demanding ‘Sit still, I want to sleep on your lap.’ and she doesn’t take no for an answer.

Not only did Monkey vehemently disapprove of Montgomery visiting, she also complained about any people who touched him or breathed the contaminated air around him. However, she is all noise no action so I figured she would eventually accept him – he was so small and adorable;

Monte & the toy cat the toddlers thought he needed – it looks just like him.

We did plan to keep Montgomery in quarantine for the first two weeks before letting the other cats ‘greet’ him. Rather than lock him away in a room by himself we decided the loft in the playroom would make a good temporary kennel. There I could easily observe him throughout the day and bring him out for supervised playtime with the children. Monte did not approve of the plan – it was less than one day before his first escape from quarantine and we soon discovered he could not be contained. Every new barrier we designed was treated as a challenge and quickly conquered.

Monte (far left) outside the loft he should be in.

Not only was it impossible to keep him IN the loft, we also couldn’t keep him OFF the loft. He climbed the support posts and ran laps around the OUTSIDE of the netting and over the top taunting me from the nine foot ceiling as I fretted about him falling and breaking his tiny little legs. We eventually managed to quarantine him on the main floor of the house – leave the older cats ‘safe’ space upstairs.

He loved toys – his toys, the children’s toys, my toys and things that were not toys.

Monte & the fish.

I have always taught the children to respect the cats’ space – don’t chase them, wait for them to come to you, be gentle and kind. Monte would have no part of that. I tried to keep him out of the playroom when I wasn’t able to directly supervise the toddler/cat interactions but he’d fly over the gate to play his favourite ‘come and get me’ game.

He demanded his own chair at quiet time – would knock them over and try to open them himself if I didn’t set one up for him.

The older cats cowered upstairs long after the two week quarantine. Even with food bribes, coaxing and cuddles they were reluctant to be near him. After all, he was quite terrifying.

Destructo Cat

Malta was the first to accept his presence – it took about four weeks. As long as he was being calm she would allow him to be near her. Sometimes when he was sleeping she would cuddle and bathe him. She tried to teach him to be polite but she would not tolerate any playful behaviour – she was far too old for that.

It took Monkey longer. Even after she started venturing downstairs into enemy territory she did not want him near. Monte however continued to push boundaries and considered her his favourite squeaky toy – poke its butt and it makes a funny noise.

Montgomery continued to find new things to play with – and destroy. He loved playing fetch with his mouse – it was the only way we could get out of the house without him trying to escape. Throw the mouse down the hall and rush out the door before he gets back. When we returned he’d be sitting, waiting by the door with the mouse in his mouth. We bought him dog toys after he tore up some cat toys.

Monte in a box with ‘Firefox’ the puppy tug toy.

We built him a floor to ceiling scratching post with shelves to sit on and hanging toys.

Monkey was starting to enjoy having a playful little brother – she doesn’t like toddlers and Malta doesn’t play (Monkey does chase and bully her sometimes). Still, in order to keep her ‘grumpy cat’ status Monkey wouldn’t admit she liked the little cat. If we caught her in the midst of a wrestling match or cuddle/bath time she’d immediately stop and run away growling like ‘Ewww, I acidentally got some of its fur on my tongue’. We were not fooled by the fake distaste. If she wanted to play and didn’t know where he was she would toss one of his toys around and wait for him to show up. She also liked playing tag games on the cat post.

Monkey looks grumpy because I caught her playing with Monte.

It was actually really nice to see Monkey playing now. After living with an old cat she had been getting very lazy – and ’round’.

There was one bothersome aspect of Montgomery’s that I initially blamed on ‘teething’ and I hoped he would outgrow it but instead it was getting worse. Monte likes to chew and eat things that are not food. He has chewed through just one power adapter cord but there are many other things he has chewed or eaten. Whenever I find items that have been chewed or cat barf with foreign objects in it I try to kitten proof more but he just moves on to chewing something else.

This is the part of the post I didn’t originally plan to write. In early December Monte stopped eating. He still begged a little when the other cats did but he walked away from any food he was given. He stopped playing, he stopped purring when we petted him, he didn’t like to be picked up or carried and he wouldn’t even drink water. We were worried he had an intestinal blockage so we took him to the vet.

After a hospital stay, IV fluids, pain meds, antibiotics, several x-rays, and some prescription food he seems to be back to normal now. Thankfully he didn’t need surgery. Monkey hated him for a few days after he returned but she has gotten over it and they play together again. Monte still eats things he shouldn’t *sigh*. The vet bill cost me more than if I had closed the daycare for two weeks and taken a vacation.

I’d rather have a cat than a vacation – even if he is a brat. Make better decisions Montgomery.

Fishy 1 & 2

We often pass by the Kildonan Pet Centre when we are out for a walk and sometimes we go in and look at all the fish.  I’d love to have a big, beautiful fish tank for the children but we don’t have enough space for one here – at least not anywhere that the children would be able to see it easily.  I do have a small tank that I thought would be suitable for a single Betta Fish.

Before we got a fish we set up the little tank on the table where everyone could see it.  I had planned to pick up the fish on the weekend when I could use the car to bring it home.  However, on that Friday only two of the four-year-olds were here so I decided it would be OK to take them and walk over to the store to get the fish.  Without the toddlers we could walk much quicker and we could have a late lunch without worrying about little ones falling asleep before they finished eating (the store doesn’t open until Noon of Fridays).

We picked out the most beautiful Betta – he loved looking at himself in the mirror we gave him LOL

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We tried to name him – everyone had suggestions.  The list of possible names included;

  • Pumpkin
  • Pickno
  • Leaf
  • Heat Monster
  • Crystal
  • Coral
  • Magic
  • Waterbead
  • Ladybug
  • J.J.
  • Gingerbread
  • Red Dragon
  • Santa
  • Wave Rider
  • Finnegan
  • Freddy
  • Franklin

For every suggestion made by one of the preschooler, there was another preschooler that was vehemently opposed.  We tried on several occasions but ‘discussions’ often became so heated we had to move on to a different activity.   The babies and I just called him ‘Fishy’

All the children (and I) enjoyed watching him swim around in his tank.

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Sadly, just two weeks after we got him there was an incident.  When I turned on the light in the morning I noticed that Fishy was motionless at the bottom of the tank.  He was wedged in the little space between the pinkish ornament (bottom right) and the glass.  We believe that sometime overnight he swam in there and couldn’t get out.  Since Bettas need to get to the surface for air he probably drowned. 😦

We buried him in the corner of the garden.

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Every time the children walk past the garden as they are playing they call out “Bye Fishy”.

This weekend I bought another Betta.  I also moved the tank ornaments so there were no tight spaces.  I’ve been calling him ‘Buddy’ – he is much more sociable than Fishy 1.  He comes to the glass and stares back whenever anyone looks in the tank. He also seems fearless – the tank thermometer keeps falling to the bottom of the tank and every time I fix it he has to come and see what I’m doing.  Maybe he’s territorial – he has been building a lovely bubble nest.

Today we’ll see what the children think of this new fish – and what they might call him.

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Probably simply ‘Fishy 2’.

Sensory Play

Sometimes I can be a hoarder – buying and hiding supplies for ‘later’.  It could be that I think it may be a fun activity but not interesting for the group currently in care.  It may be that the time or space is not yet appropriate and the activity will be offered when the conditions are right. Yes, admittedly there have been times I’ve forgotten about some supplies and then re-discovered them while looking for something else.

Last summer I set aside supplies for two sensory play activities that I wanted to do in the winter.  Usually I like to do messy play activities outside so summer would be best but for these activities I thought a ‘cleaner’, indoor environment would be better.  Besides sometimes in the winter we can’t be outside as much as we’d like to and we need something different to do when we are cooped up inside.

So, earlier this month when it was bitterly cold outside, we tried a new play dough recipe.  Yes, we’ve made and played with play dough many, many times but this recipe claimed to make ‘stretchy’ play dough.  It used one part hair conditioner and two parts corn flour.  I let the children each mix their own batch.

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There was a lot of trial and error – too wet, add more flour – too dry, add more conditioner.  Maybe it was the quality of the dollar store conditioner but the mixture never did become stretchy however the ‘coconut’ scent was a pleasant break from winter.  Later the children added the paint colour of their choice and when done we bagged each one separately so we could play with them again on other days too.  Not exactly the result I envisioned but still enjoyable.

The second activity I offered was water beads. I’ll admit that when I first got them I doubted that teeny tiny bag of wee little dry beads would be enough for all the children and thought maybe I should have ordered two bags.  I put the package in my desk drawer to save for a week when it was really cold outside.

Last week I filled two bins with nice warm water and added some dry water beads – at first they were barely noticeable in all that water so I also added some pipettes and other water toys too.  The children enjoyed the water play and eventually the beads soaked up enough water that we could see them better but they were still almost impossible to pick up.

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Later that afternoon we checked and they had soaked up all the water – this was really exciting!  This is what HALF a teeny, tiny bag of water beads looks like when they are all wet;

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I love the way the water beads feel – they may be one of my favourite sensory bin items 🙂 and the children really like them too.  I don’t even mind when the occasional one bounces out of the bin – even when I accidentally step on one it doesn’t break. Picking up strays is a whole additional activity.

The instructions say the beads are reusable so we experimented by putting a few in a smaller container and letting them dry out.  It took just two days for them to dehydrate back to their original size.  If I had taken a ‘before’ picture you would see that when wet these beads had filled the whole bottom of this container – magic

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I’m certain this is an activity we will enjoy many more times to come.  In fact, I’m wondering if we might even try putting some in a container on the light panel…

Stick Insect(icide)

We have had stick insects as ‘pets’ for the past six years.  When we got our first one the children were all so excited and there was a long process to pick a name for her.  It didn’t take long for us to discover that stick insects are so prolific that naming them all is impossible.

I think having stick insects is a wonderful science activity.  As with any activity some of the children are very interested – watching the insects for long periods of time, eagerly anticipating the hatching and molting stages and more.  Other children have little interest and rarely even notice their existence in our room.

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The ‘baby’ stage is my personal favourite.  They are cute when they first hatch although they can occasionally escape when they are that small;

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I only keep a few of the eggs that are laid and even then when they hatch it sometimes seems like we may have too many.  Sadly (luckily?) only a small percentage of the babies make it to adulthood and lay eggs for our next generation of insects.

Sometimes the little ones are hard to find when they camouflage on the sticks or on the lettuce leaf;

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As they continue to grow they are easier to see but they also make more mess;

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On a few occasions we have run into a problem when we have a particularly large number of insects at various stages.  The adults make the cage very dirty but the numerous hatch-lings make it difficult to properly clean and keep everyone contained.  If it is winter I will take the container outside briefly to clean it – cold insects are slow insects.

Last month we were at the overcrowded, filthy cage level but it wasn’t yet cold enough outside to slow them down.  Then something unexpected happened.  I ran out of romaine lettuce and there was NONE in the fresh produce section of the store where I was shopping.  Instead of making a special trip to another store just for insect food I decided to buy a package of romaine hearts.

Back at home I tossed two leafs into the cage for the insects.  The next day ALL of them were dead.  A hundred + infant to adult stick insects were strewn across the bottom of the cage.  I assume insecticide caused the mass extinction and I know I won’t be buying packaged romaine hearts for any reason anymore.

For the first time in six years we have no stick insects.  I managed to save a few dozen eggs when I cleaned the cage but only time will tell if the insecticide affected them too 😦

Spiders

I think most young children are fascinated by insects, caterpillars, worms etc.  I recently had an Early Childhood Education student here to do her practicum. She was required to plan activities based on the children’s interests and she noted that insects were definitely popular with my little group – as they have been with all my groups.

Spring is always the peak insect love season – I assume because they are rarely seen over winter and  so they are ‘new and exciting’ when they emerge in abundance in the spring.  Of course I always encourage it further by bringing out the insect toys and puppets too.  One of the toddlers was repeatedly dropping this little stuffed spider through the tube – as they like to do with all small toys.

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I didn’t think much about it until I heard him very quietly singing the Itsy Bitsy Spider song too 🙂

Admittedly there are some creepy crawlies that I am not particularly fond of because of the damage they do to our garden  yet I am careful not to instill in the children any fear or hatred towards even the ‘bad’ bugs.  It is simply another learning opportunity –  we may not want them in our garden but we can find appropriate ways to coexist.  We also include bugs in our many discussions about ‘bullies’ – great big humans picking on little bitty bugs usually because they don’t understand their purpose.

Many children are fearful of spiders – I believe this is a learned fear – one that I spend a lot of time discussing with the children.  With every fear, like or dislike I always ask the children ‘why’.  I’ll admit that I have often been startled by spiders – they are speedy little critters, but startled by and afraid of are two entirely different things.  Spiders are good – they are very welcome in my garden and even in my house.

I noticed that the youngest of the toddlers seemed to be afraid of my very favourite spider puppet – never touching it and always giving it a wide berth if someone else left it on the floor.

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What was even more interesting was how quickly the other two toddlers – who had previously liked this toy – now picked up on this ‘fear’.  Upon arrival each of them would timidly survey the playroom to ensure they knew the spider’s location so they didn’t come across it unexpectedly.

So, for several days I carried and played with the spider puppet.  I talked about how cute I thought he was – how much I liked his little beady eyes and his fluffy hair.  Then even the timid children took turns talking to and petting the spider puppet.  Soon the spider’s fan club got bigger and several of the children ‘begged’ to have the spider walk up their arm and tickle their neck.

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Loving or hating things that are ‘different’ begins with something as small as a spider.  It is important to understand why we don’t like something or someone – is it the color, texture, or something else?  What are some appropriate ways to address those fears or dislikes? Should you build walls and avoid contact or spend some time learning to understand and accept the differences and the benefits.  You don’t have to love them but what can you do before the fear becomes hate.

Hope this year we are lucky enough to find some more cat faced spiders in the yard – they are my favourite ‘real’ spiders.   I don’t enjoy the sensation of having any insect crawl on me but that is not their fault and I can still enjoy the benefits of having them around.

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The Christmas Bin

I have a couple of big bins that I call sensory bins.  Mostly we just use them for mixing stuff for messy play.  Recently I added a bunch of Christmas items to the biggest bin.

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There are so many decorations that have wonderful sensory qualities but wouldn’t be acceptable to have as loose parts in the playroom with infants & toddlers (and cats).  Putting them in a sensory bin gives the opportunity for exploring these materials in a safe, contained, easy to supervise manner.

I included some of our tubes which were used as funnels for dropping other items through.  The bead chains were a challenge because if you let go before you got them in past the half way point the weight of the chain pulled the whole thing out.  It was frustrating but with a little trial and error and a lot of persistence there was success.

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Many of the children enjoyed wrapping and tying the long strands.

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Decorating the tubes was very popular – sometimes you couldn’t even see the tube after it was decorated.

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I was going to add scented items to the bin but it still smells like the sweet grass we had stored in it last year – Mmmm.  I did add some bells, they don’t make much noise if you hold them but sound great as you dig through the bin.

So many colours, shapes, and textures to explore. These star shaped springs were fascinating.

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The older children enjoyed collecting and sorting all the tiny, little rubber shapes (erasers – hundreds of them).  It was like a tactile seek & find.

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We are all really enjoying this bin.

 

Lumpy Dough

Play dough and other sensory materials are very popular with children of all ages.  I like play dough because unlike paint and many of our other sensory activities there is little set-up time required for play dough.  I always have a batch of prepared play dough stored in my refrigerator.  The fact that it is cold at the beginning of the activity and warm at the end is an added sensory experience.

The recipe I like to use most often is;

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 3 Tbsp cream of tartar
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil

Combine flour, salt and cream of tartar in a medium sized saucepan.  Add water and oil: cook over medium heat stirring constantly.  When mixture pulls away from side of pan and forms a large ball, remove from heat and let cool.  Knead dough, divide and add food colouring if desired.

I do usually add some time of colouring to the dough and sometimes I add herbs, spices or some other scented material as well.  I have plenty of tools to use with play dough – knives, scrapers, icing decorators, cookie cutters etc but I find that many of the children become so focused on tool ‘ownership’ that the play dough gets forgotten.  Since this is a ‘process’ activity there is never a required product so I rarely offer tools unless the children specifically ask for them.

I chose not to add any colouring or scents to the latest batch of play dough.  Instead, I started the activity by introducing foam ropes and tissue paper.  The children then got to rip the tissue paper into tiny pieces and cut the foam rope – this was more challenging than I anticipated.  The foam was so dense that none of the children’s knives could cut through it.  Scissors worked but the cut pieces tended to fly everywhere – amusing to some of the children but annoying to anyone (me) trying to collect all the pieces.

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The children then had the opportunity to mix the foam and paper into their dough – three very different textures.

15-10-LD02Some chose to add their ‘decorations’ one at a time while others did so by the handful.  Some used tools and played with their play dough as usual during the decorating process.

15-10-LD03Interestingly several of them mixed the paper and foam pieces in the dough and then meticulously picked them all out and then mixed them in again.  In fact, we have played with this dough several times since we first made it and ‘undecorating’ it has been a very popular activity – fantastic for fine motor skills.

15-10-LD04By far my favourite response to this activity came from the school-age children.  When they arrived after school and went to wash their hands for snack they saw the post-activity play dough on the counter.  They were super excited about having ‘cookies’ for snack – followed by a little disappointment that it was just play dough.

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