Tag Archives: Family Childcare

I Spy 2

Many years ago I wrote about a group of preschoolers who enjoyed playing their version of I Spy.  My current group of preschoolers has also developed their own adaptation of the game but for them it is location/time specific – they will only play it when they are sitting at the table before, during or after meals.

In my schedule as meal time approaches I take the infants/toddlers out of the playroom one at a time so I can change diapers, wash hands, and get them seated before I do the final food prep.  I expect that the three and four-year-old children will want to continue playing during this time so I don’t request that they start cleaning.  However, they anticipate the routine and rush to put their toys away so they can come to the table.

Children: “The toys are cleaned up, can we come to the table now?”

Me: “The food is not ready and I still have diapers to change. You have more time to play if you want to”.

Children: “We want to come to the table and play I Spy”.

Me: “You could play I Spy in the playroom too”.

Children: “We like to play at the table”.

So, I send them to wash their hands and then play I Spy as they wait for me to finish preparing snack/lunch.  It goes something like this;

Child 1: I spy something that is Cheryl’s chair.

Child 2: CHERYL’S CHAIR!

Child 1: That’s right! Now it is your turn.

Child 3: Cheryl’s chair is black, you were supposed to say ‘I spy something black’.

Child 1: There are lots of black things, I spied Cheryl’s chair.

Child 2: My turn, my turn, MY TURN!  I spy something that is brown and pink and blue, and green, and gold.

Child 3: AWWCK! That’s too many colours!

Child 2: No it’s not, look at that pillow – it is brown and pink and blue, and green, and gold – see.

Child 3: OK fine, my turn.  I spy something that is on that shelf.

Child 1: The shelf by the window?

Child 3: No, not that shelf, the one that is over there by that other thing – beside the curtain.

Child 2: The birdhouse, the pencil, the phone, the book, the paper, the candle, the…

Child 3: That’s right!

Child 1: Which one was it?

Child 3: Umm, the book I think.

I don’t actually think there are any ‘wrong’ answers when they play this game – the turn taking seems to be their main goal.  Their language and communication skills are what interest me.  Inevitably, no matter how quickly I try to get lunch ready, the excitement level will become far to high and I will have to intervene to remind them about volume and activity level before I can put food on the table.  Even once the food is ready the I Spy game usually continues.

Occasionally when the school-age children are here they join in, and sometimes they manage to briefly follow the preschoolers directions.  Often they try to enforce alternate rules but the preschoolers just dismiss the new rules and carry on. The little ones enjoy having the older children play along but it is ultimately ‘their’ game and they are not interested in changing it.  Just take your turn and carry on.

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Students & Mentors

Throughout my career I have had many opportunities to welcome students and other educators into my home for tours, observations and practicum placements. I have found these visits to be enlightening and I am certain that I learn just as much or more than any of the ‘students’.

Sometimes visitors are here outside of regular working hours simply to see my childcare environment and get ideas for their own programs.  When there are no children present we have plenty of time for discussions and often the visitors will ask why I have things arranged the way they are.  Even as I answer their questions I may also begin to ponder ‘Is this really the best way or could I do it differently?’

The visitors who come for ‘observations’ have the most difficulty and sometimes it is downright hilarious.  Usually they’ve been instructed to ‘observe’ the children and/or me but not ‘interfere or interact’ with us. LOL The second they entered the room they became the children’s favourite toy.  “Who are you? What are you writing? Can I have your pen/some paper? I drew a flower. I have Darth Vader on my shirt. Do you like light sabers? We aren’t supposed to hit with toys. I’m hungry, did you bring a snack? …. It doesn’t end and honestly I doubt anything they observe would resemble a ‘normal’ day.

My favourite visitors are the Early Childhood Education students here for their practicum placement.  They come for longer periods of time – usually six full days.  They are expected to join in and even plan activities.  They get to know us and we get to know them.  All of the practicum students that have come here were part of the Red River College Workplace program which means they already have experience working in licensed childcare facilities.  Usually these students have only had experience working in centres but have expressed an interest in learning more about family child care as a possible career choice in the future.

They already understand child development and guidance.  Many are well acquainted with licensing regulations, policies and procedures – at least in the centres in which they work.  Some have already worked in childcare for many, many years as childcare assistants.  Really there is little or nothing I could teach them about doing their current job.  However, they are here to learn about family childcare and for most of them that is something new – and very different from what they currently do.

The first comment I hear when these practicum students arrive is almost always ‘I can’t believe how quiet it is’.  Yes, even though I may not always find it ‘quiet’ here, in comparison to working in a centre it is very quiet.  Sometimes I even find it too quiet – especially when I have a particularly independent group or there are some children absent.  There are days that I am tempted to initiate new activities simply because I am bored – I have to stop and consider if the children would actually benefit from my activity or if I would be interrupting a wonderful child-led experience in order for me to feel more productive.

Of course the play space also excites many of the students – especially the use of environmental guidance so I/they don’t have to  constantly provide direct guidance.  I love that the students recognize this.  🙂 They also note how easily the children choose, engage, and clean-up activities with little or no assistance from me.  We often share stories about behaviour issues we’ve experienced at our respective programs and how changes to the environment have/could address them.  I think that the ability to control the environment is what draws many centre staff to family childcare – they see issues at their workplaces, have ideas that could help but for whatever reason are not permitted to implement them.

However, I don’t feel that these practicum students ever experience ‘real’ family childcare when they are here.

Firstly, they are only here for eight hour days, not the eleven I normally spend with the children each day.  The college also expects that I will give them  breaks – many of the students choose to forego their break and leave earlier instead.  There was one who never wanted to leave and often stayed longer than required but still not my full day.  One insisted on taking her lunch break at lunch time – the busiest part of my day – instead of joining the children and I for lunch.  She spent an hour sitting in her car and returned when I had the kitchen clean and all the children settled in for their naps.  In my opinion there were several factors that made me doubt she was suited for ANY position in childcare.

Secondly, these students are never alone here or in their regular workplace.  Certainly there are times when I busy myself elsewhere and observe the student engaging with the children independently but they are not truly  ‘alone’.  There is nothing I can do to allow the students to experience what it is like to be the only one responsible for doing everything all day, every day.  As much as they may think that they would love to be their own boss, that freedom comes with a whole lot more responsibility and time commitment than their current jobs.

Then there is all the other stuff – the evening and weekend stuff when the children are gone.  The cleaning, the paperwork, contacting prospective parents, meetings, interviews and more – the students see none of that.  Are they prepared for the challenge to their work/life balance when they work from home – and what about their families?  The ‘family‘ portion of family child care is a HUGE factor and many providers who choose FCC specifically to stay at home with their own children also discover they prefer working in a centre and can’t wait to ‘get their house back’.

I have had a couple students who claim to understand how much time is required for FCC but then remark that they aren’t actually planning to work in their ‘real’ home because they ‘won’t do that to their family’.  They want to rent/buy a second house or use some other space away from their true home.  We sit down and review some regulations and do some financial calculations for FCC income vs expenses for a separate space. Even if the regulations allowed it, financially this is not a viable option.

Family childcare homes are not centres – they cannot be run the same nor can they be compared to centres.  Not all ECE’s with experience in centres are equipped for working in homes and many FCC Providers would not survive working in centres.  Still, there is a lot we have in common and there is a lot we can learn from each other.

My experiences with mentoring practicum students has been enlightening.  I have observed how the behavior of the children in my care, in my environment, changes with the addition of another caregiver.  I’ve been able to reflect on whether it something I do or the student does that influences the behaviours.  I’m also certain that even though there are days when I could use an extra set of hands to get everything done, I am still much happier working alone.  That’s not the case for everyone – some ECE’s need the larger groups and daily interaction with colleagues and family childcare may not be the best fit for them.

 

Sensory Play

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our October

October felt like such a quiet month but as November brings much cooler weather I took some time to review my observations and pictures from the past month.

This has intrigued me;

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At first it was only one of the boys that arranged these items around the circle on the table.  He did this on several days with these same toys but then left them and went to play with other toys until cleanup time when he would then put them away.  If at any point someone moved one of the circle toys he would return it to its place in the circle.

Since the room was rearranged these toys have not been put on the table…but other toys have been.  Nothing has been left here for long so I haven’t managed to get a picture but several times a day there are toys place around the circle.  Sometimes cars, sometimes tools, often plates of food.  What is most interesting is that now ALL of the boys are doing this.  I will keep observing.

Hills have also been popular.  There are two hills we pass frequently on our walks and we have made a point to stop and play on them.  The boys love to roll down, up and across the hills.  They’ve even started rolling down the rock slope in the back yard.  I can’t imagine that would feel as nice as the leaves and grass but the boys seem to enjoy it.

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One day  watched this boy attempt to attach a piece of twine he found to a stick and use it to pull his ‘stuck’ tractor.  He was so persistent even when the twine kept breaking.  He was was fully engaged in this activity for over half an hour oblivious to anything the others were doing.  I didn’t interfere either.

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Inside there was a popular game developed and enjoyed by all the boys.  They used the coloured fabric squares as ‘ghost traps’ and put the white scarves over their heads to pretend to be ghosts. They then walked around the room and if their foot touched a ghost trap they fell to the ground which resulted in fits of laughter from everyone.

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The doll house in the new loft has been surprisingly popular too – even more than the blocks up there;

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And of course we had to paint those funny little white ‘garlic’ pumpkins too.

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So much fun!

The Dishwasher

About eight years ago I replaced my old basic dishwasher with a fancy new one.  It  didn’t take long to find out that all those extra features also meant there were more things to break and the first ‘on warranty’ repair was made within a couple months.  Luckily I had also purchased the extended warranty because there were other necessary repairs after the original warranty ended.  The most severe one required a six week wait for parts.  Considering that I often run two full loads of dishes each day, six weeks is a really long time to go without a dishwasher.

Early this spring the old, no longer on warranty, dishwasher started making unusual noises and gave occasional error codes.  So, I decided to begin a search for a new dishwasher before the old one actually died.  It took a while to find one that met both my ‘features’ and ‘price’ criteria.  The old dishwasher kept working but it did get so loud that it was difficult to hear anything else on the main floor if the dishwasher was on.  Last weekend we finally installed the new one and with every load I find myself wondering ‘Is it working? The lights are on but I can’t hear anything.’  The dishes come out beautifully clean and sanitized so yes, it is working.

None of this really matters to the children except for one thing… a new dishwasher comes in a big box.  Cats like boxes too, but only when there are no children;

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This big box even has a window;

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All week, this has been the children’s favourite toy.  It has been a camper, cave, spaceship and more but no matter what it is being used as there is one common issue – it is always in need of some type of repair.

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Maybe I should have asked the boys to take a look at the old dishwasher.  The old one is still sitting in the porch – I’m trying to figure our if we can use any parts from it – after all, we haven’t got a dishwasher in our play kitchen…

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New Space

About six weeks ago I sketched a playroom arrangement on a scrap piece of paper.  It was the my response to yet another dispute over someone knocking down someone else’s block tower which was built in a walkway – a result of a small room with multiple play areas.

This was the old room arrangement with the shelves splitting the room in half – it allowed some separation between play areas but was difficult for me to interact with young infants/toddlers on both sides of the room or quickly intervene when necessary;

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I wanted the room to have better flow and more open space but still have defined spaces for various types of play.  I thought again about all the wasted space above us with our nine foot ceilings and took inspiration from tiny house design to create a new loft space – just for building with blocks, out of all walkways and the reach of infants/toddlers who prefer to destroy instead of create.

Construction took a total of six full 14 hour days over four weekends.  Some of the pieces were assembled and stored, installation was done in two phases.  The result is a completely new, more functional play space.

A brand new kitchen design is located in the SW corner of the play room. The cupboards and appliances were created by stacking and attaching wooden boxes.  The old block bin now contains food and other items that can be used in the kitchen/restaurant/store areas. The table is in the center of the room and has multiple uses.

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The music/dance area was slightly reorganized but remains in the SE corner;

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The workshop area remains in the NE corner along with some blocks;

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And the mini-scenes and entrance to the nature area remain in the NW corner but the dress-up clothes and ‘car’/steering wheel (not visible in this picture) were moved to the space across from the scenes, beside the mirror, adjacent to the kitchen area.

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The new 21 square foot loft is over the kitchen area.  It is 5 1/2 feet off the ground so the children and I can walk/stand under it.  Inside the loft there are bins of blocks and the dollhouse shelf is on the back wall.  I still have to find all the dollhouse furniture and people – most of them were removed from the playroom long ago because they were too small or delicate to have out when babies were present.  Only older children go in the loft so these toys can be there.

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The kitchen area shelves and appliances form a series of platforms that create an enclosed staircase along the side and back of the loft;

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Here’s another view of the new kitchen area and staircase. For perspective, the counter height is 24 inches and the fridge is 36 inches tall.

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I also added some new storage features inside the fridge but haven’t yet finished painting the inside white.

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There’s more new storage under, on, and beside the counter now too;

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The children are thrilled with the new play space.  From the loft they can ‘see everything‘ – makes me laugh when they include their house, favourite store, and the zoo in their list of things they can see from the loft.  Good imagination 🙂

Yet, of all the changes, the one that still excites them the most is the addition of this bell by the cash register.

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Summer 2017

Fall is definitely on its way – today is cool, wet, and dreary.  It has been a wonderful summer.  There were many things I meant to write about but never did – probably because I was playing outside.  Today I’m huddled in front of my computer, cat sleeping on my lap, waiting for one load of laundry to finish so I can start another.  Seems like the perfect time to write a quick summer recap.

In the yard we built a new composter and fire pit and added a gazing ball (lovely good-bye gift).

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We had some old pieces of cribbing that I let the children paint;

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They now arrange the pieces in various configurations for follow the leader games and other gross motor activities;

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Sometimes they make teeter totters but so far I haven’t managed to get a picture of them doing that.  They often make benches too – even though we have eight ‘real’ benches in the yard they seem to like theirs better;

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We went on a long (9 km) hike to the Forks and back.

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Watching the boats, ducks, and geese was great but couldn’t beat this;

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Standing on the path under the train bridge watching/listening to the train above;

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That was pretty amazing.

With colder weather approaching I’ve turned my focus toward our somewhat neglected indoor play space.  Plans have been made and work will begin soon.  By Thanksgiving we should have a new – tiny house inspired – loft.  So excited!