Tag Archives: Environment

Old Cats, New Cat

Mali and Malta joined our family in July 2006 when they were just five weeks old;

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They were sisters and best friends and together adapted quickly to living in a busy childcare home.  They usually loved all the attention they got from the children but also knew they had quiet spaces to escape to when they had enough.  I often commented on their ‘synchronized sleeping’;

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Over the years they got bigger – too big actually – Malta carried a little extra weight but Mali was very overweight;

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They were put on a vet recommended diet and dropped down to a healthier weight.  They still sometimes beg for food from the children so ‘Don’t feed people food to the cats’ has been an important lesson for the children.  It has also resulted in many wonderful conversations about healthy diets for both children and cats.  Through it all Mali and Malta remained best friends and still enjoy playing with the children and having alone time too.

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Last winter when we first introduced a new cat into our family I was slightly concerned that the two bigger, bonded cats may pick on the little newbie.  Sure, Mali & Malta considered children, and even our old dog to be acceptable housemates but they had never lived with another cat.  I wasn’t certain how the ‘old’ cats would feel about another cat in the house but I optimistically envisioned that the old cats would teach the new cat all the house rules and everyone would live happily ever after.  I was wrong.

Although ‘Button’ was the name given to the tiny little cat at the humane society and is her official name on her license and other papers, she was soon renamed.  We call her ‘Monkey’ most of the time – sometimes ‘Monkey-Butt’ because she is a very mischievous, naughty, sometimes ornery little cat with a big attitude.

She taunts and torments the older cats.  She pushes boundaries – growling in protest when removed from places she shouldn’t be and then immediately returning – sitting there glaring as if to say ‘I go where I please, when I please and you can’t do anything about it’.  She opens doors and cupboards and has stolen whole sandwiches left unattended for just two seconds.  Her early life as a stray allowed her to perfect her hunting techniques and stealth mode – for the old cats there is no escape.

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Malta seems very afraid of Monkey – running/hiding from her and refusing to enter a room Monkey is in.  I wouldn’t say Monkey is mean – just more like a toddler who keeps poking you trying to get a reaction and then laughing.  Mali has become grumpy – like the angry old woman who yells ‘Get off my lawn!’ when the neighbourhhood children play there – Mali hisses and snarls and chases Monkey off counters and other places she thinks she shouldn’t be.  Places that include my lap – I have battle wounds from cat fights that have occurred on my lap.

Monkey is not longer the scrawny little stray she once was – she has become a little ‘chunky’.  Mali & Malta however have lost more weight than they ever did on their diet. I started giving them regular food instead of ‘light’ food and when they threw that up I gave them food for sensitive digestion.  They still had difficulty holding that down and were getting so thin that I was concerned about their health.

I took them to the vet and after a thorough exam and blood tests he ruled out any illnesses.  They are however very stressed and have developed stomach ulcers.  I now have to give them medication twice a day and they have prescription cat food.  I also have a plug-in diffuser that spreads peace & joy & love (cat pheromones) throughout my house.

Fingers crossed, so far there have been no more cat fights or vomit to clean up.  Mali & Malta seem more relaxed – we’ll return to the vet next month to see if they’ve managed to regain some of their lost weight.  Monkey (finishes licking all the dishes in the sink and leaves a trail of wet footprints on paperwork as she walks across my desk) hasn’t lost any attitude yet though.

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The Review

Often when I write posts about one of our activities or changes I’ve made to our spaces I will include links to the products we used or the stores where we purchased them.  I do this only because I want to, I don’t receive anything for doing this. I know that when I read other blogs and see something interesting I want to know where they got their supplies from.  If there are links then I don’t need to search for the items.

However, I have been asked – three times – to review products in exchange for free stuff.  Once, a clothing company offered to send me samples of their children’s outerwear for us to use and evaluate.  After a few email conversations they backed out due to my location – I think they were concerned that their clothing was not suitable for some of our extreme weather conditions.

The second request came from a product that I had no interest in reviewing – it was not something I would have ever purchased and I doubt I would have had anything good to say about it – I refused that request.

Today though I am going to write about a book that was recently sent to me to review.  The National Geographic Kids Cook Book by Barton Seaver. Now, honestly, I would never have actually gone looking for a kids cook book – or any cook book.  Even though I occasionally look for new recipes I’m unlikely to ever find a book with more than two or three that I’d like to try – hardly worth paying for an entire book.

The recipes in this book range from very simple ones that even toddlers could help with to more elaborate recipes and everything in between.  The book is arranged as a year long calendar with many seasonal recipes.  There are recipes from around the world along with  interesting facts about the country and the ingredients. I found several recipes that I liked and selected two to try before beginning this post.

Poached Pears is actually the last recipe in the book but the first one I made – maybe I’m a little backward.  This recipe interested me because I love pears but the ‘fresh’ pears in the store are always green and hard and taste horrible.  I buy them but then it takes so long for them to ripen and then they are only ‘nice’ for a day before they start getting brown and mushy – yuck.  This recipe let me use the green pears and made them taste truly wonderful.  I served them for snack along with my Cinnamon Biscotti – all the children loved them!

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The second recipe I tried was the Sweet Potato Latkes.  I didn’t weigh my sweet potatoes until after I had grated them all – oops, I had 4 times the amount I needed so I quadrupled the recipe.  It took a really, really long time to cook all those pancakes but they were so good I had no problem finding people to eat them all.  I didn’t even get to take any pictures.

This book isn’t just a recipe book.  In fact, I only counted 49 recipes and the book has 160 pages.  There is a lot more in there too – cooking tips, games, crafts, and tons of information about the environment and where our food comes from.  There are stories about some wonderful people, places and traditions from around the world.

The children have enjoyed looking at all the colourful photos on every page – this book won’t be sitting on the shelf with my other cookbooks.  This book will be out all the time because there is always someone who wants to check it out.

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How about you?  I was given THREE copies of this book.  One for me and two to give away.  So, one I am donating to the Manitoba Nature Summit to use as a door prize for our AGM – the meeting date hasn’t been set yet but it will be posted on their website and Facebook page so check back often.

The other one will be given to one of the readers of my blog.  If you want a chance to win a copy of this book then post a comment below and tell me what you think of this post, what you find interesting about this book, or why you would like a copy of your own.  The winner will be selected by a random draw (done by one of my toddlers) on Wednesday, November 5, 2014 and announced on Saturday, November 8th.  Good Luck!

The Presentation

The request came via email ‘Would you be willing to do a workshop on indirect guidance and behaviour management – talk about yourself, your experiences, and your behaviour management policies – particularly all of the indirect guidance to avoid conflicts before they happen?’

I was intrigued – this was quite different than speaking to the ‘Intro to Family Childcare’ classes or groups that want to know more about nature based education. I was honoured – you see, this request came from an ECE who had been to my home for her final practicum. She had found her time here so interesting that she wanted me to talk to her coworkers. Wow.

I said yes.

Over the next few weeks I began trying to put together a slideshow presentation about my behavior management policies. I also began to have some doubts. I was comfortable talking about family childcare to students who were just beginning their careers. I could talk to anyone who wanted to know more about indoor and outdoor play spaces, gardening with children, outdoor play. I could easily show pictures and tell stories about these things because I love these things.

I don’t love behaviour management. Dealing with conflict is the most stressful part of my job – I would do anything to avoid it. What could I tell a group of staff members from a large childcare facility about behavior management? I have absolutely no experience working in centre based childcare.

I started making PowerPoint slides of all the various sections of my written behaviour management policies.  I read them over and panicked a little – my written policies are generic and boring.  A two hour presentation based on these would be impossible.

I realized that during in the 40 hours that the practicum student was here we had never reviewed my written policies.  Everything she knew and loved about what I did came from her observations, comments, questions, and the stories I told her about different responses in a similar situations with other groups of children.

I made more PowerPoint slides.  Slides about temperament. Slides about environments.  Slides about looking for the cause of misbehaviour.  I included photos because I’m a visual person and I can’t explain things without using pictures.  I had a list of stories that corresponded to each slide – I love stories.

By the time presentation day arrived I was feeling much more confident – at least until I discovered that they had been unable to secure the A/V equipment that I had requested.   Without pictures I anticipated having a lot of difficulty explaining things.  I persevered.  I still had stories.

I encouraged the audience to interrupt me if they had questions or comments.  My pictures keep me focused – I arrange them so I can use them to create transitions and connections between topics.  Without pictures there is no telling where I may ramble off to.  At least with questions I’d be able to attempt to focus on their interests – an emergent presentation. 🙂

I talked for the full two hours.  I told some of my favorite stories like the wet sock story.  I missed important points that were on slides and would have connected the stories to behaviour management.  I answered questions about pets, raising stick bugs, and getting fresh local produce through CSA shares – all farther off topic than I would ever wander on my own.

To the few somewhat irritated looking audience members I’d like to say I wasn’t suggesting you should start a fight club.  For the children involved in that story it would have been impossible for me to ban fight club entirely – allowing fight club within acceptable boundaries was behaviour management.

I was pleased that some of the questions/comments showed that they understood at least some of what I was saying even though they couldn’t see the pictures that I could see.  As I prepared for this presentation I had briefly considered rewriting my behaviour management policies.  Instead, I decided that the written policies are fine the way they are – generic and a little vague.

It doesn’t help to make more rules when there is an issue – more rules just create more problems.  You can’t respond the same way when the clumsy child knocks over the shelf as you do when the angry child does it.  You can’t write a policy that says when this happens we will do this – period.

You need to look at the bigger picture.  You need to understand why the behaviour is occurring on that particular day, with that particular child, in that particular situation – and you need to respond appropriately.  That is why behaviour management isn’t about discipline or punishment or correction.

Behaviour management isn’t about responding to misbehaviour.  It is getting to know the individual children, understanding development, anticipating conflicts, adapting the environment, and meeting needs in order to prevent major issues.

No, I didn’t explain my behaviour management policies in a two hour workshop.  I didn’t tell anyone what they should do with their children in their environment.  I just told stories about some of the children I have met, some of the issues I have encountered, some of the things I have tried, and some of the results that occurred.

Every day is different.  New problems, new personalities, new interactions, new behaviours, new responses but no new rules.

 

Outdoor Babies – Introduction

I’ve started and scrapped this post several times over the past few months – it has been a difficult one to approach.  I originally planned to discuss the pros and cons of having infants of various ages in our outdoor play space.

In the last six months I’ve enrolled several new infants into our group and I’ve done a lot of reflecting about the intricacies of outdoor play with very young children.  Many of the new parents have voiced concerns about what their babies may do when they are allowed to freely explore the natural spaces in our yard.  After all, it is sometimes wet/cold, always messy, and there are so many possible hazards.

I began by trying to decide whether it was more difficult to allow a crawling baby to explore vs. one that is already walking – and climbing. Then I decided that it depended on the season but as I started to compare ‘winter babies’ to ‘summer babies’ I realized that there was another problem.  Every time I tried to write a generalized comment I’d immediately remember all the children I’ve encountered who were ‘the exception’.

Up to this point I had been trying to base this post on the child’s age and the conditions in the outdoor environment – but there’s more.  The child’s developmental level, temperament, and mood that day are equally – if not more – important factors that will affect their explorations and my response to it.

So, instead of being a single post about taking infants outdoors this is just the introduction.  The first in a series of posts about letting babies freely explore and experience the less than perfect world outside.  I plan to write more about my experiences with babies with sticks, babies with rocks, babies in gardens, babies in snow and much, much more. Stay tuned, and if there’s something in particular that you’d like me to address then please write a comment below….

If You Build it Will They Play?

It was back in November of 2011 that I renovated the nature area to include nine little themed shelves – you can read about the renovation in the original post here.

I had promised to write another post to provide more detail about these shelves and how the children used them.  This is that post.  Part of the reason it took this long for me to write it was because the children were not using the shelves.

I’ll admit that I was a little shocked and dismayed.  When I was a child, I would have played there all day.  Even as an adult I wanted to.  I don’t usually ‘demonstrate’ play activities for the children.  I prefer to follow their lead but none of the children played here at all during the first month.

I was concerned that maybe they considered the shelves to be a decorative display instead of a play area.  I had purposely not put any toys on the shelves assuming that the children would bring toys to the area and as the toys available in the playroom changed so their play would change too.

Nothing was happening so I started ‘staging’ the area with toys each day before the children arrived.

The Mountain, Winter Scene and Desert;

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The Forest, the Garden, and the Beach;

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Interestingly, when the children arrived I overheard comments like “Cheryl, forgot to put her toys away”.  They would then clean up for me.  Thanks?

Slowly the children began to play here for brief periods.

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Occasionally they’d bring toys over from other areas;

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I figured The Bedroom, Kitchen and Living Room shelves were familiar enough that the children would recognize these as a ‘doll house’.

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I thought maybe ‘people’ toys would entice the children to play here more.   I brought the puzzle people out of storage and into the playroom – they proved to be somewhat more popular than the animals;

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Still, this play area is not used as often as I had expected.  The high-energy children never play here – that doesn’t surprise me.  There are a few children who will play here independently if they want ‘alone time’ – they’ll get annoyed if others try to join – I get that too.  Sometimes two or three will agree to play together but even then the shelves are mainly a place to just ‘visit’ briefly during an activity that is based elsewhere in the room.

On further reflection I think the natural lighting in this area is a big factor.  This area tends to be poorly lit early in the morning and later in the afternoon – the two times of the day that the children are most likely to play here.

Huh.  Not what I was expecting.

Play & the Environment

There are many types of play and we all have our favourites; creative and constructive, dramatic and imaginative, active and physical, manipulative and sensory. When our environment is conducive to our preferred activities we can fully immerse ourselves in the activity.  Like the way a messy, dirt filled house can allow me to passionately engage in cleaning – no, wait…that never happens.

But yes, our surroundings and the other people in it can have a significant effect on how we feel and the things we do.  That effect can be either positive or negative.

Recently there have been a few days that were warm and dry enough that the children and I didn’t have to wear mitts and we could get some of the toys from the deck box. Yeah – we were all very excited.  Giggling and “It is summer” cheers could be heard throughout the yard.

Favourite cars were chosen and mountain races were held.  The ponies initiated some type of intervention to persuade the shark that just because he had sharp teeth he didn’t have to be a bad guy. After all, the dinosaurs, crocodiles and even Godzilla were on the ponies’ side. 

There was peace in the world and life was good. Then Saturday morning I awoke to – more snow.  Ok, I know the weather forecasts had predicted it but they are sometimes wrong and I was hoping this was one of those times.  Certainly in November or December I would think that this was pretty;

But it is mid April and I want to see happy ponies galloping through green meadows with flowers and butterflies.  Today I am sticking to my plan to attend the Earth Day celebration at Fort Whyte Alive.  My sixteen year old son and I have been eagerly anticipating this weekend outing (too bad there is no daycare today – the little ones would have loved to come along).

We are going to play outdoors and have some fun. We will ignore that grumblings of our driver who was hoping there would be a cancellation due to inclement weather.  We are going to celebrate the Earth and all its weather conditions.