Tag Archives: Family Childcare

The Table

Over the 23 years that I have been providing childcare in my home we have had many different table arrangements. Here are a few of the various setups from when we used the sunroom for art, meals, table games and activities;

And a few more arrangements from when we started using the room adjacent to the playroom:

Most recently the tables have been arranged like this:

In all our room arrangements we have had two different table heights – one for preschoolers and one for school-age. In some of the earlier arrangements – before I separated the childcare space from my family space – the school-age table was also my family’s dining table.

There were challenges with every arrangement because the children using these tables can be anywhere from 18 month to 12 years of age. Even when the children are similar in age their size can vary greatly. The small table is best suited for most 3-5 year olds so I have these little boosters I can use to make the seat height better for smaller and/or younger children;

Still the biggest issue has always been the school-age table. There are many school-age children that are too small for the adult sized table and they would often need to kneel on their chairs to reach – the risk of tipping chairs always caused me angst. The two different table heights made group activities difficult.

Many school-age children would prefer to sit at the preschool table when there was space available there. Also, because I usually only have school-age children for brief periods of time the school-age table was mostly just using up valuable space. Really, once I separated the childcare space from my family space there was no need for a tall table.

I started to design a plan for a room arrangement that could accommodate a multi age group at at single table height. Back in 2012 when I had a separate art area in the sunroom we used a 12 inch high table that allowed children of all ages to do crafts while sitting/kneeling on the floor.

Sitting on the floor was fine for crafts but I would need the children to be seated for meals so the new table would have to be at least toddler table height. Next I started to consider my options for the table shape. I loved that in our past arrangements the round tables had been great for collaborative activities and conversations. However, tables with straight edges were better for activities that required trays .

I searched through some childcare supply catalogues for ideas and got super excited when I saw an octagon table with adjustable height options. Seriously – what could be more perfect than a ’round’ table with EIGHT straight edges. I have eight childcare spaces. I actually even considered buying the table. I checked to see if they had it in stock, available for me to pick up – they did not, it would take 4-6 weeks for it to arrive if I wanted to order it.

Do you have any idea what I can build in 4-6 weeks?

Besides, I already had eight toddler sized table legs on the two old toddler tables – both of which I had also made many years ago. I had extra paint that matched the room. All I really needed was a 4 foot by 4 foot piece of wood that I could have the corners cut off. Shopping, cutting, four coats of paint and sealer plus assembly and the finished table was ready to use in under three days and cost $250 less. More importantly, because I made it I know I can also fix it if it gets damaged. The old tables have needed a few small touch ups over the 10+ years they have been in use.

So… Ta Da!

Now I know the new table is much smaller than our previous three table group BUT…I also used the old tables to create a separate art area on the reorganized wall where the toys and supplies are;

The art tables can fold down flat against the shelf unit if we want extra floor space. The white toddler chairs can be used at the art table – or the artists can kneel on the floor or sit on cushions/stools if they prefer. Best of all, unfinished art projects don’t have to be put away when it is time for meals. There is even some fancy under cabinet lighting.

I only needed to buy a few extra 2×6 boards, the table wood, and the light otherwise everything for this renovation was reclaimed/reused – total cost less than $75.

Space & Time

It is no secret that I prefer to be outdoors with the children instead of indoors. It is probably also not surprising that I spend a lot of time creating indoor and outdoor play environments. However, it may not be common knowledge that I really dislike planning group activities.

Autumn/Fall tends to make me a little anxious. I love taking long hikes and marveling at the colours and watching busy squirrels but fall is a transition season. After all our long summer days outside the children are starting to complain that it is getting far too cold to enjoy their favourite activities. Many fall days have frigid winter temperatures but there is little or no snow to make the cold exciting. I start to dread the thought of spending more time indoors – confined – bored – bickering – whining. *sigh*

So I start to plan for some additional activities that we can do indoors when it gets too cold to play outdoors for long periods. This year I had some activities that I was quite eager to try. There were even a few fall days when I considered trying them but I didn’t – because it wasn’t yet too cold to go outside to play – except it is never actually too cold to play outside. In fact, so far this winter there has only been one day that we didn’t go outside at all – and then the children were upset when it was lunch time and they realized they missed our outdoor time.

Most days this winter we have been outside for 1-2 hours and once you add the time for everyone to get dressed and undressed that is the entire time between morning snack and lunch. We haven’t needed additional indoor activities to keep us busy. On the contrary, all that ‘bored, bickering, whining’ stuff I was stressing about is because indoors we have too many transitions and not enough uninterrupted time.

We actually have too much to do inside – too many things, too many choices, too many distractions, too many disruptions and not enough space and time. In the confined indoor space every time someone picks up a toy, or moves to a different spot, or the phone rings, or someone comes to the door it changes the focus of all the other children in the room. The last thing I want to do is initiate yet another activity and create another transition.

Transitions – arrivals, departures, meal prep/cleanup, diaper changes/bathroom breaks, etc – even if they don’t involve the busy children, they are distractions that interrupt their play. They notice when I walk toward the kitchen and one of them will announce that it is time to clean up for lunch – it is not but someone will assume it is and an argument will ensue. The children have difficulty engaging in any activity because they are anticipating what is ‘next’ – no one is actually playing. They are in limbo, watching and waiting.

I can relate. I often put off doing paperwork, writing blog posts, working on my website etc – not because I don’t want to do it but because I know I won’t have enough time to fully engage in the activity and be able to finish what needs to be done. So instead of getting a little bit of work done I get none done because I didn’t even attempt to start.

Planned group activities don’t help the children. Certainly they can briefly create an artificial period of engagement and can effectively redirect when the children are in battle mode. However, they also create more transitions and ultimately they just make it more difficult for the children to make their own independent activity choices – the way they do when we are outside.

When we are outside, even though my yard is not huge, there is still more separation between the various play areas than there is indoors making it easier for the children to sustain their focus on one activity without being distracted by others playing elsewhere in the yard. My activities are also not a distraction when we are outdoors. I have several benches around the periphery of the yard that make it easy to blend in to the environment and observe the children without disturbing their play. I am present but not involved, not directing.

Indoors we have many of the same activity choice as we do outdoors – even many gross motor opportunities (that will be another post) but indoors there is less space and I am closer which makes the children less likely to engage in self-directed activities. When I am close their questions are endless; “What are you doing? Where are you going? Can I see in that box? Are we going to do a craft? What was that noise? Who is at the door/upstairs/in the kitchen?” They are not engaged in play because I am a distraction.

When I am too close there is an expectation that I will assist them, I will solve their problems, I will entertain them and they don’t need to do anything. In a small confined space it is more difficult for me to allow them more time to solve problems and I am more likely to redirect their activities. My involvement often increases the likelihood that they will do it again – there is a lot more testing of limits as I become a prop in their cause and effect experiments.

So, I don’t want to plan more activities – we don’t need more activities. I need to tweak our schedule and indoor environment to give us more space and uninterrupted time – or we could just go outside.

December Fun

I am seriously behind on writing posts for my blog so just clearing some out some of the December photos with brief descriptions…

Last summer I had bought some waffle bowls for ice cream but nobody liked them and they were just going stale in the cupboard. I decided they could be put to use as ‘gingerbread’ houses for the toddlers.

We simply used cereal for decorations and ‘glued’ the pieces on by dipping them in icing.
Some chose to make a ‘hat with a pompom’
The bowls were fragile so if you used too much decorating force you created a ‘bear cave’
Some chose to create… a bowl for their cereal LOL

Everyone seemed to really enjoy this activity and because process is much more valuable than product I was fine with our non-traditional gingerbread houses until…my husband came home and said ‘Cool, you made yurts’. Huh, I should have thought of that.

Of course in December we also had to take advantage of my school bus driver husband being off work and able to do fire duty (it is too risky for me to watch both toddlers and fire by myself). We didn’t cook our whole lunch on the fire as we have in the past but bannock cooked on the fire is sooo good.

Add homemade Christmas Jam supplied by one of the children’s parents…
and we don’t care how cold it is..mitts are off and it is time to eat!

Pumpkin Tarts

Pumpkins are popular around here. We collect pumpkin seeds and plant them in our garden – sometimes they grow. We use pumpkins for decorations – usually we just paint the shell so we can still use the inside for our favourite pumpkin activity – baking!

I’ve previously written about making pumpkin pie with the children in 2012 and again in 2016 but it was a new experience for my current group of toddlers. This time we decided to make tarts instead of pie – a smaller product for my little one and two year olds.

First we removed the seeds;

Then we cut the softened pumpkin to practice some knife skills;

We measured all the ingredients and of course had to smell the spices;

The toddlers found mixing and mashing to be the most exciting part of the process;

Everyone got a turn to use the ladle to fill the tart shells before baking. There were enough tarts that each child got to take some home to share.

Of course we also got to eat some for snack too!

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.

Garden Produce

Yes, yet another post that I’ve been slow to write – there is snow on the ground and I’m writing about the garden… Well, actually, I’m writing about stuff leftover from the garden. I just used our last tomato so we have no more ‘food’ from our garden but our garden provides some wonderful loose parts that we will continue to use.

This year our sunflowers grew very well – I wrote about them already. We didn’t just get seeds and flowers though, we also got to use the big sunflower stalks in our construction area;

Sunflower stalks are very light for their size so the toddlers feel super strong carrying them about. They make good bridges and paths;

Other popular loose parts we get from the garden are the beans. We usually grow several different varieties of beans. Some of course are grown to eat but the scarlet runner beans we grow for fun. This year there were some pretty impressive beans;

Taking the seeds from the pods is a very popular activity – partly because many of the toddlers love disassembling stuff (disconnecting schema) but it is also great for developing fine motor skills.

We were surprised to discover that the biggest pods did NOT contain the biggest seeds. The variety of seed colours and sizes is also very interesting.

These ones we brought inside to add to our seed collection to plant in the spring. We have many more out in the yard – they get used as ‘ingredients’ for potions, sorting by size and shape, transporting in pails and trucks, land art, and so much more. Sometimes we even discover bean plants growing in random spots outside of the garden. Wonder how that happened? 🙂

Autumn Adventures

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.

Sunflowers & Squirrels

Squash, peas, beans and sunflower seeds are large enough that the toddlers can plant them independently so we plan to grow them in our garden every year. We always grow a little bit of wheat so we can grind it into flour and bake something with it. Tomatoes are a staple in our garden too but we usually purchase seedlings to ensure we get plenty of tomatoes. Each year we also try some different things for variety – this year it was dill, radicchio, and carrots.

The weather was crazy this summer – most of our plants did OK but not great. All four types of squash failed to produce any usable fruit. The wheat and radicchio started off nicely and then fizzled and died – first time we’ve ever had a complete wheat crop failure. We had a fair number of tomatoes and a few beans and carrots but would have liked more. The sunflowers grew very well – almost taking over the whole garden.

We had planted two different types of sunflower seeds but there seemed to be more than two varieties of sunflowers – many different sizes and colours, some stalks with just a single flower, others with multiple flowers, some with few seeds and others that were mostly seeds. These fancy ones were my favourites;

The sunflowers created a lot of interest in the garden. Butterflies and bees were plentiful all summer long.

Squirrels were also frequent visitors in our garden – and they were not overly concerned about sharing the yard with toddlers.

The cats were entranced – probably wished they were allowed outside too instead of just watching through the window.

The squirrels were very messy – leaving piles of discarded shells and debris all over the yard.

They also left our sunflowers looking like this;

Luckily we still managed to collect some seeds to plant next year – and we discovered that the seeds from those fancy sunflowers turn your fingers bright purple!

Even without seeds the sunflowers made wonderful loose parts for outdoor play. The biggest one was a whopping sixteen inches wide!

Both squirrels and sunflowers were welcome attractions in our yard this summer.

Parent Fees & Private Childcare

So, I wrote this post more than a week ago, published it, reread it, didn’t like it, removed it, rewrote it – twice, and I think now it might be at least a little closer to what I want to say. Writing is hard sometimes.

Childcare is an important issue for many parents in Manitoba – more specifically, the lack of access to quality, affordable childcare. I’ll admit that during the last provincial election I got more than a little excited when the PC government promised to streamline the licensing process to encourage more family childcare providers to become licensed – it is not often that the government puts any focus on home based childcare. Sadly, they then froze grant funding and encouraged newly licensed unfunded providers to charge higher parent fees.

Now I will also think parent fees could be increased to help offset all the increases in expenses faced by childcare facilities. I thought this article by Tom Brodbeck was interesting. Even in my lower income area most unfunded and/or private, unlicensed home based providers charge parent fees that are much higher than my parent fees – and parents pay it. In higher income neighbourhoods and daycare deserts unfunded/unlicensed homes often charge considerably more. Maybe it is a parent’s ‘choice’ to put their child in private, unlicensed/unfunded care with higher parent fees – or maybe it is their only available option.

Funded family childcare providers like me are not allowed to raise our parent fees if we want to keep our funding. In a funded childcare facility parent fees for a preschool child are only $2.70 per day higher today than they were 22 years ago when I first began my childcare career. Over those years I have received increases in my operating grant funding so that it is now 28% of my gross income instead of just 5% of my income 22 years ago. Still, even with that grant funding and parent fees combined my income is still less than that of most private home daycares – about $13.38 per hour for hours I spend with the children – prep, cleaning and paperwork are all unpaid hours.

So yes, I am horrified when I hear a politician say they want to create portable subsidies for low income families to use in private childcare facilities because I know that even with portable subsidies those parents will still be paying much more than what they would pay in a funded, licensed facility – which already accept subsidized families. The problem is there are not enough funded licensed spaces – so the politicians say they will increase the number of licensed childcare spaces but if they don’t fund them then the parent fees will need to be increased in order to cover the costs of operating.

Even funded childcare centres are finding it difficult to attract or retain staff with the current set parents fees. When I hear politicians promise to lower parent fees to make childcare more affordable for parents I want to scream ‘Do you have any idea how much additional grant funding it will take to compensate for lower parent fees?’ Or are you planning to lower wages too and drive more ECE’s out of licensed care.

Trained ECE’s are already leaving their jobs in childcare centres and some of them are choosing to open private, unlicensed childcare homes. I fully understand the allure of home based childcare but with no funding available for new providers there is no financial benefit to becoming licensed – in fact they will probably earn more being unlicensed/unfunded and only accessible to higher income families willing/able to pay higher parent fees. There are no numbers available as to how many unlicensed childcare homes there are because there is no way to track that because they are unregulated. There are only just over 200 licensed home based providers in the whole province – far fewer than there were when I first became licensed.

Many parents and even politicians do not understand the difference between licensed and private childcare homes. When I was talking to a politician on my doorstep and mentioned that I was a licensed family childcare provider they said they had met a couple of other providers on my street – they couldn’t tell my if they were licensed or not ‘but they had business cards’. *sigh* Not licensed – there are no other licensed providers on my street – or any of the streets around me – that is easy to check here.

It is true that licensing does not guarantee ‘quality’ but I think ‘unlicensed’ is also ‘unprofessional’ even, or maybe especially unprofessional if you are a trained ECE. Many parents may not understand the difference between training and licensing and not realize that their trained private provider is in fact not licensed. In Manitoba a private home childcare provider, trained or untrained, may not care for more than four children under 12 years of age including their own children. Yet, I know many trained ECE’s whose only experience is in centre based care and who are surprised to learn that child/caregiver ratios are different in home based childcare. I also hear from many parents who are unable to find licensed childcare and have placed their child in a private home but are unsure how many children are actually being cared for there.

Yes, training enhances the quality of childcare but it is licensing and funding that enable childcare to be accessible and affordable. Private childcare is not affordable nor accessible especially for low income families even if there was a subsidy available. I don’t believe families of any income level would choose unlicensed care if there was enough licensed care available.

Maybe what should be suggested is that childcare waitlists and enrollment forms should include information about each family’s income level so licensed funded childcare facilities could weed out all the high income earners who were using up all the childcare spaces with low parent fees when they could really afford the higher fees in the private centres. I’m sure that then we’d hear a lot more public outcry that it is not fair that licensed care is only accessible to low income families.

So, I love my job and I wouldn’t want to do anything else and so far I can still pay all my bills and I get to play outside and I get paid in hugs every day so I shouldn’t complain – right? There are so many other people who are worse off than me – but really, that is my point. Even though, like other licensed funded facilities, my parent fees haven’t increased and my grant funding has been frozen for the past three years and my expenses have increased – I can still provide childcare to low income subsidized families.

Yes, I could drop my funding and raise my parent fees and still be licensed but earn more money – but then I’d have to exclude low income families and I won’t do that. I will continue to pay 22% of my taxable income back to the government because I know paying taxes is important for everyone. Then I’ll use my remaining $2400 a month to pay my ever increasing bills so I can be here for the families that trust me to provide care and education for their children while they go work to pay their bills and their taxes. I also really, really hope that the government then uses all those tax dollars to help those who don’t have as much as I do instead of offering it to those who already have more than they need.

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…