Tag Archives: Family Childcare

Vacation 2019

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.

NW yard in 2018
NW yard in 2019

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.

SW yard in 2018
SW yard in 2019

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.

SE yard in 2018
SE yard in 2019

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.

Construction area & kitchen

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.

NE yard in 2018
NE yard in 2019

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…

Mud Day 2019

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.

Sandwich Day

Since I first began writing this blog I’ve had parents tell me I should write a post about Sandwich Day. Well, today’s the day I’m finally getting around to doing that.

More than two decades ago, when I first opened my childcare home, I created the original 4 week revolving menu. On this menu I ensured that each week we had one lunch that included rice, one with potatoes, one with pasta, one day for hot bread meals like chili buns, burgers or meat pie and of course one day we had sandwiches.

There was a period of time, very long ago, when I had a couple children who would have been happier if we had sandwiches for lunch every single day because they didn’t want to eat anything else. With the whole group we had many discussion on the variety of food preferences and eventually these children learned to enjoy many other foods too but sandwiches remained their favourite. Hence the cheers for ‘Sandwich Day’ began.

There were no cheers for ‘Pasta Day’ even though some children really loved pasta. There were no cheers for ‘Rice Day’ either, and potato day usually got groans instead of cheers. The types of pasta, rice or potato meals on our menu changed often but so did the types of sandwiches. Yet, even when the sandwiches on the menu were not everyone’s favourite type, there were still cheers for Sandwich Day.

Parents have told me stories about their child’s Sandwich Day chant throughout the drive to daycare. They’ve commented how their normally reluctant riser will bounce out of bed when reminded that it is Sandwich Day. Some of the children have created Sandwich Day dances and rhymes. When two of the children arrive at the same time on a Tuesday morning there are special Sandwich Day hugs.

On numerous occasions I’ve been asked for my sandwich ‘recipes’ by parents whose children flat out refuse to eat sandwiches at home. However, I will also admit that all the children don’t always eat the sandwiches here either. I believe that ‘Sandwich Day’ isn’t really about the sandwiches – it is really about the shared experience, the friendships and the community.

The children who first deemed that Tuesday was ‘Sandwich Day’ left a long time ago and would be adults now. Still the tradition has continued – passed on through group after group of children in my care. As much as I would kind of like to take credit for the enthusiasm of Sandwich Day, I know that it is not something I initiated. I like sandwiches but I wouldn’t create a special day of the week for them – not without also assigning a special day for potatoes or rice or pasta too.

Year after year I have done nothing to promote ‘Sandwich Day’ other than ensure the menu has sandwiches on Tuesday because that is what the children expect. Sandwich Day is their thing – I’m just following their lead – and that is probably why they think it is so special.

I planned to take a picture of our sandwiches yesterday so I could include it in the post but lunch time was just too busy. Instead, here’s a picture of the Apple Bread I made without using the bread machine. After all, bread is a very important part of the sandwich.

Bread

I’ll admit I have a bit of an addiction to bread. I always try to eat a balanced diet but bread is the one thing that I could eat way too much of. I have ‘comfort foods’ in all food groups and there are only a few foods – like seafood and olives – that I absolutely refuse to eat. Other foods in the ‘grains’ food group don’t entice me like a good piece of bread. I like pasta or rice but I could turn them down if I wasn’t hungry. A good piece of bread however I will never say no to.

I should clarify though that I don’t consider ‘white’ bread to be ‘real’ bread. White bread is like marshmallow fluff and doesn’t belong alongside good bread. Good bread has texture, weight and flavour. I haven’t bought white bread or buns for more than twenty years. I don’t even buy all purpose flour for anything other than Christmas Shortbread cookies. I modify all my recipes – sweet or savory – to use only 100% whole wheat flour, oatmeal and seeds.

I buy packaged whole wheat and seed bread for our everyday sandwiches and toast but many of our fancy snack and specialty breads are made from scratch. I have, long ago, done the whole mix, knead, let rise, repeat, bread making by hand thing but that was before I got my first bread maker. I can’t even remember how long ago that was but I do know I just killed my third bread maker.

As usual, in the morning before the children arrived, I had measured and added the ingredients to the bread pan, started the program and walked away. About an hour later there was an awful noise in the kitchen and the bread maker was dead. I had a brief moment of panic about the unmixed raisin bread we were supposed to be having for afternoon snack – then I decided I could finish it myself.

I scraped what I could get from the bread maker pan into a bowl, mixed it and hoped it was enough of the important ingredients. For the next few hours whenever I had a chance in between activities with the children I’d knead the dough a little and cover it again. I didn’t time anything – I wasn’t even sure how long or how often each knead/rest cycle should be – the bread maker always took care of that.

At lunch time I climbed up on a step stool to find an old loaf pan from the top shelf of my cupboard. The five-year-old commented “Geez Cheryl, why are you so short?” My “I am taller than you” reply may or may not have been out loud. I put the dough in the loaf pan to rise a bit more during lunch and planned to bake it at nap time. If I had been using the bread maker it would have been done already. *sigh*

While the children napped and the bread baked I read reviews and researched bread makers online. There were some really fancy ones but I wasn’t sure they would be worth the higher cost. My research was cut short as two of the children woke earlier than expected. Apparently baking bread works like a toddler alarm clock – I can relate.

The raisin bread was beautiful. The loaf pan makes a much nicer shaped loaf than any of the bread makers that I have owned. There were no holes in the loaf from the mixing paddles. The crust was so much nicer too – even on the ‘light’ cycle I find the bread makers create a very thick, tough crust.

I was beginning to wonder if I really needed to buy another bread maker. Could I make all my bread maker recipes by hand? Do I really have time for that? What if instead of buying a bread maker I bought some better loaf pans – maybe even some cute mini loaf pans? What if that just made me want to add more bread to the menu? How much more time would that require? I don’t have much spare time as it is.

I think for now I’m just going to leave the menu as is and see if I can make all the current breads without a bread maker. Then I’ll decide if I need to add/remove bread recipes or buy a bread maker or pans. The experiment begins…

Easter Eggs

Easter egg hunts and other types of hide & seek games are always popular activities – previously I’ve written about them here (2011) and here (2017). A few weeks ago I hid twelve large plastic eggs around the playroom before any of the children arrived. Then, throughout the day the children discovered eggs as they were playing – it was always an exciting surprise.

The children enjoyed the activity so much that I have hidden the eggs every day since then. When they arrive the first thing they ask is ‘How many eggs have been found?’ So far they have never found all twelve eggs. Usually they manage to find 10 or 11 but some days a few less.

Some of the children actively search for eggs almost the entire time they are in the playroom. Others just play as usual but are equally thrilled when they find an egg. I’ve run out of original hiding spots and am now repeating past ones. The children don’t seem to mind – they still expect the egg hunts to continue.

There is no competition about who finds more eggs nor any reward for finding one. It is the search that they enjoy. Easter my be over now but they still want to search for eggs so I will still continue to hide them. Maybe today will be the day they find all twelve…

With or Without

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.

Potatoes

I love potatoes.  As a child I ate potatoes as a side dish in most meals and no matter how they are prepared I include potatoes on my list of ‘comfort foods’. 

As a parent with four picky eaters, potatoes were the one constant that I could be certain that everyone would eat.  In fact, five pounds of potatoes was the absolute minimum I’d prepare for any meal and often it was more.

I’ve never served potatoes as the vegetable portion of a meal – nutritionally I’ve used it in place of pasta, rice or bread.  When I first opened my childcare home I created a 4 week menu for lunches and snacks.  On that menu I ensured that each weekly lunch menu contained;

  • one rice dish
  • one cold sandwich meal
  • one pasta dish
  • one potato dish
  • one hot, bread based meal

This method offered the children a variety of meal types that would appeal to most of the children – you can never please them all with every meal.  Yet, year after year, group after group, potatoes seemed to be the least favourite food.  I was perplexed.

I tried serving them mashed, roasted or scalloped – all refused by the majority of the children.  I added them to homemade soups and stews and watched as the children picked out their preferred items and left the potatoes behind.  Even the Au Gratin Potatoes got dubbed ‘Rotten Potatoes’.  Seriously, how can you go wrong with cheese & potatoes?

Over the years there were more children that would eat salad than there were those who would eat potatoes.  Broccoli has been counted as a ‘treat’ by at least two preschoolers who also refused to eat potatoes in any form.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining that they prefer their salad & veggies – I just can’t fathom why the versatile potato consistently gets refused.

I have considered that it could be a learned behaviour from an anti-carb culture but ALL these children will eat vast amounts of pasta and bread so that’s not it.  According to their parents, a few of these potato haters will eat potatoes at home but the majority don’t.

I won’t force anyone to eat something they don’t like but I also want our menu to contain a variety of foods and I do think potatoes should be included.   Currently, of our 20 lunches, only three have potatoes.  Two of them are usually refused by all and need to be replaced because I dislike wasting food.  The other one is french fries which are only sometimes eaten by half of the current group.

So, it has been a year since I last changed our menu and it is time for a revamp.  I’m looking for new recipes and there will be some that have potatoes.  They all look so good to me, I hope to find some that the children will enjoy too.