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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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Spring Roundup

Spring is such a busy time for me.  As usual I’ve been collecting pictures to use in blog posts but not leaving myself enough time to actually write posts 😦

So, here is a roundup of what should have been three posts;

I made a batch of homemade glue for an art project but then realized the recipe made much more than we needed and it doesn’t keep for very long. So, I dumped it in a big bin along with paper bits from the shredder, wool scraps, glitter and paint powder.  The children enjoyed mashing it all together – no pictures of that part because it was way too messy to have a camera nearby.

Initially the mixture was extremely sticky and some of us were not impressed by the sensation of having our hands coated in the goo.  Eventually the paper absorbed enough of the glue and made the mixture easier to handle.

Later each of the children took a portion of the mixture to work with;

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Or form into mini balls and throw around the room;

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They pressed the mixture into the shape of the bowl and then we let it dry;

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It took a lot longer than anticipated – nearly a week before they were dry and ready to take home;

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Outside, now that the snow is gone, the boys have been begging for me to open the ‘summer toys’ bin. So far I have resisted – knowing there will be a big issue over who gets the one Batman figure (which may mysteriously disappear).  They’ve managed to keep themselves busy with the loose parts and eggs;

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The longer periods of outdoor time have meant some are very tired by nap time (or earlier).  One however, has been using quiet time to become a jigsaw puzzle expert. He has now completed ALL of my 100 piece puzzles several times and can finish two of them in one afternoon.

I decided maybe we should try something a little more challenging – so I brought out a 500 piece puzzle.  This part took him two days with no assistance from me;

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He did find the trees and mountains a little more difficult so I assisted with sorting some of the pieces. He is persistent and refuses to give up without finishing.  By the third week – after about 12 hours of actual work – he had done this much;

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I think that is very impressive for a four year old 🙂  I’m not the only one who has been busy.

 

Spring 2016

There is a thin layer of snow on the front sidewalk but I am stubbornly refusing to go sweep it off.  The temperature display on the weather station reads ‘0’ degrees at 6am so I am confident the sidewalk snow will melt soon – the snow on the steps has already melted.  Yesterday morning when we went out to play there was no snow anywhere in my back yard and there was a collective “Awww, there’s no snow” 😦 from the children so I’m certain this recent snowfall is Mother Nature’s response to that lament.

I like winter too and this past (present?) winter has been quite pleasant.  There have been a few indoor issues with running across the playroom and jumping in and out of the nature area.  I’ve tried several indirect measures to curb the reckless behaviour – most had limited effect but this has been quite successful;

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These cardboard circles used to be attached to the loft for toy storage but we no longer have the loft – of course I kept these ‘just in case’ I found another use for them… 🙂  The smaller children enjoy using the ‘tunnels’.  The school age children and I can step over.  Either way it slows down traffic – like the pot holes on the street.

Speaking of cardboard tubes, I can’t believe we still have these ‘binoculars’ made from plastic wrap tubes and tape;

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I quickly put them together for some toddlers who wanted them for a dramatic play activity they were engaged in two years ago!  I never expected them to stay in the playroom for more than a day or two but they are just as popular as ever and they haven’t been damaged yet.  I’ve considered making, or having the children make more, fancier ones but no one is really interested so these ones stay.  The current group likes to lay on the floor in the nature area and use them to look for butterflies and birds in the trees.

Another constant in the playroom is these eggs in this pot;

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Upon entering the playroom one of the toddlers will place these eggs in this pot and set it on the counter.  If at any point someone else moves the pot, puts other food in the pot, or puts the eggs is a different pot there will be a scuffle.  I can’t explain it but it has been like this every day for months now.  No one ever actually plays with the eggs in the pot and the toddlers will happily put them away at clean up time but they MUST be on the counter like this during play time.

However, there have been several complaints that I have not yet taken down the Easter decorations;

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Honestly, I’m happy leaving them up as ‘Spring’ decorations.  I have many window clings for Fall, Halloween, Christmas, Winter, Valentines, St Patrick’s Day, and Easter but for the period between Easter and Fall all I have are butterflies.  Butterflies are nice but I’d like to have some variation over the 5 month Spring/Summer period.  Flowers or birds would be nice.

Yes, there is snow on the ground – again – but summer is coming.  Check out our seedlings;

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We’ve started our peppers, corn and several types of squash.  The corn surprised us – we don’t usually plant corn but we found an old package of corn seeds in our seed collection – we were not certain they would grow.  I don’t usually buy seeds – most of our garden plants are grown from seeds we collect from our garden or produce from the store or CSA box.  Our peas and beans will be planted directly in the garden outside but it is too early yet – we’ve tried digging in the soil every time the snow melts but the ground is still frozen.  Some of us are very eager for Spring to arrive.

 

 

Christmas Past

There is often too much focus on money during the Holiday Season so I’ve put off writing the third installment of my “A Matter of Money’ posts.  Instead, I’m re-posting a segment of a post I wrote back in 2011 – a story about my favourite Christmas gift…

First, I should start with a little background.  As a child I was extremely withdrawn.  I rarely spoke to anyone – especially not unfamiliar people.  Visiting the homes of family or friends I would sometimes disappear behind the couch or some other large piece of furniture and not come out until my mother announced that it was time to leave. In school I was frequently paralyzed with fear when called on in class – unable to do anything except stare blankly at the teacher.

My father was in the military and when I was 7 years old our family moved to Germany.  Not knowing the language seemed to make my silence a much more acceptable behaviour. We lived in a small town about 20 miles from the air force base.  Our family was befriended by a German family who showed us all the local attractions and taught us about their culture.

As Christmas approached there were many ‘new’ traditions for us to experience.  The decorations are what I remember the most.  One day when we went to visit our German friends there was a Nativity scene set up on a table in their living room. I was immediately drawn to it and spent the remainder of the visit sitting on the floor by the table.  I examined it from every angle mesmerized by the intricate details.

As I gently touched the figurines I remember thinking of all the painstaking work that must have gone into carving each piece.  I’m not really sure if I was ever told that it had been hand made but that was what I envisioned.  I never picked up any one of the pieces – I couldn’t imagine disturbing any part of it.  Everything was so perfectly arranged I was certain that moving a piece would disrupt the entire scene.  Each time we visited our friends’ home I went to the table and stayed there until it was time to leave.

Traditionally our family opened gifts on Christmas morning but our friends’ gift exchange was held on Christmas Eve.  They invited us to attend their evening celebration which began with an outdoor event — some sort of parade or march through the streets of town.  Those details are unclear, it was so long ago.  Afterwards, we returned to their home for the remainder of the evening.

As we gathered in their living room I took my customary place by the Nativity scene, but something was different.  Beside the familiar display there was another table.  On it there was a second Nativity scene – smaller and simpler but still stunning.

As I sat there comparing the two I was vaguely aware that someone was speaking.  I looked up to see our host standing in the doorway.  He smiled at me and said something but I couldn’t understand the foreign words.  I looked at my mother for translation and she said “He’s telling you that that smaller one is yours to keep”.

I still have those figurines.  The original stable I’ve had to replace, it did not survive so many years of moving and storage.  Each Christmas I set it up and remember the day I received it so long ago.  A small gift given to a child who tried so hard not to be noticed – but was.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas and hope your holiday season holds wonderful memories too.

Coloured Paper

The basic craft supplies are always available for the children to use independently throughout the day – pencils, crayons, chalk, scissors, glue, tape, rulers, magazines and various types of paper. The children’s choice of paper is something that I find interesting.  The current school-age children go through vast amounts of plain white paper, cutting pieces and gluing/taping them together to create books, masks etc.  They seem to have no interest in the coloured paper or adding colour to their projects – unless there is paint.

The school-age children I had here for the summer preferred to use the lined paper.  They created impressive stories and art work filling every space on one paper before selecting another piece of lined paper.  They never chose plain white paper or coloured paper.

For the preschoolers paper choice is a major decision often taking more time than anything that they add to the paper.  Coloured paper has been their favourite ever since I showed them that the white pencils/crayons were not ‘broken’, but you could only see them on darker paper. If several of the preschoolers are at the table at the same time the paper choice process takes even longer since they often rethink their colour choice if the others pick a different colour.

Every time I restock the coloured paper the selection process is the same.  Pink paper is always the first choice and when all the pink paper is gone they will choose purple.  After that the decisions get more difficult – light blue, dark blue, red or black get used up next but they definitely are not the preferred colour choices.  In fact, after the pink and purple are gone they often choose plain white or lined paper over the other coloured paper.

Eventually the stack of coloured paper contains only yellow, orange, green, and brown.  The preschoolers will occasionally use these colours but they never seem pleased about it.  So, as the sad looking four year old sighed and reluctantly picked a yellow paper from the dwindling pile I asked  “Why don’t you like these colours?”  She replied “I like them but they are your favourites.”

?!?!?!

Yes, they are.  Throughout all our activities we often discuss favourite colours as well as other likes & dislikes but until she mentioned it I had never even noticed that the ‘leftover’ paper pile contained all my favourite colours.  Awww, all this time have they been leaving those papers for me?  I always thought they picked pink and purple first because they liked those colours best but now I’m wondering if they chose them because they know I don’t like pink and purple.

They’re very perceptive.

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Miscellaneous Things

From time to time my collection of ‘Photos I Want to Blog About’ accumulates a number of pictures that by themselves don’t manage to become full posts but I still like and want to share them.  Here are a few of them;

15-09-misc01This was a new soup I offered the children – I’m trying to add some new items to our menu.  I combined many of their favorite foods and made what I called ‘Southwest Chicken & Rice Soup’.  Sadly the children were unimpressed – even the less picky toddlers were reluctant to eat it.  They did all like the onion bread I served on the side.

15-09-misc02One of the toddlers enjoys crawling on the stumps.  In the years since the stumps were first introduced to our play space the children have enjoyed climbing on, jumping off etc but crawling on them was something I haven’t seen them do before.  Fantastic coordination!

15-09-misc03The baby was very focused on this old stump so, trying not to interrupt, I went to see what had captivated his attention for so long…..

15-09-misc04OOoooh…..Spiderwebs! 🙂

15-09-misc05There are plenty of old pots, plates, bowls etc in the yard but the children still really like to use the bark pieces instead.  Love it!  Of course the pots still get used too.  Every day this summer at some point there would be a pot sitting here;

15-09-misc06This group has decided that the tunnel makes a great ‘oven’ so they continually place stuff here to ‘cook’ while they go play elsewhere.  They come and check on it often and there is always plenty of excitement from the group when the ‘food’ is deemed ready – they all rush to the table.  Maybe I should ask the cook for their recipe – it might make a good addition to our lunch menu.

Bibs

In the past I have only occasionally put bibs on infants/toddlers during meals.  Usually just if they were eating something particularly messy.  However, my current group of toddlers has developed a bit of a bib obsession.

In the beginning, one of the two-year-olds insisted that they must always have a green bib.  That was fine – I had two green bibs and two orange bibs.  The other ones and twos did not express a color preference so of course that meant I could arrange the remaining bibs to create patterns around the toddler table – I might be a little obsessed by patterns.

The green-bib toddler also insisted on wearing a bib for EVERY meal and soon all the toddlers would begin a bib chant as soon as they were seated at the table. Fine, wearing a bib for every meal is not a bad habit to get in to. Then one day, the oldest in my preschool group – almost four-years-old and never wore a bib – joined in on the bib chant.

I hesitated briefly then asked “You want to wear a bib too?” She answered ‘Yes’ with a somewhat mischievous grin.  Someone can count – four bibs and five children.  I asked her what colour she would like and then proceeded towards her with the orange bib she requested.  She quickly changed her choice of colour and when I then picked up a green bib she admitted she didn’t really want a bib at all.  Problem adverted – now I again only had four children who wanted bibs and I had four bibs.

Then, Mr green-bib decided he wanted to shake things up and wear an orange bib instead.  The ‘we don’t care what colour our bibs are’ toddlers suddenly DID care and the bib chant began to include their colour choice.  I anticipated another problem and made a quick weekend trip to Ikea to get more bibs.  I now have four green bibs and four orange bibs and four toddlers that want bibs and they can pick whichever colour they prefer.

Except now I can’t always make bib patterns around the table – but I can still create colour patterns when I hang the bibs up 😉

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