We go outside to play every day after morning snack. This is our routine in all seasons. As the children finish eating I start sending the more independent ones to begin dressing to go outside. I finish cleaning up snack dishes and then bring the little ones to get dressed.
On this particular day, as I was cleaning off the table I was listening to the three year olds chatting as they put on their coats and boots. They were discussing the ‘scary pumpkin’ – I assumed they were talking about the jack-o-lanterns we see in neighbours’ yards when we are walking around the block.
However, I was a little confused when I heard them asked each other “Why did Cheryl put the scary pumpkin up there? ”
I didn’t put up any Halloween decorations this year. I do have some autumn/fall decorations at the front entrance including a pumpkin with a face but I wouldn’t consider it ‘scary’. Besides, it has been there for almost two months already – not likely to be something new to discuss.
I finished cleaning up and took the little ones to the entrance to get dressed. I asked the three year olds why they thought that pumpkin was scary. They corrected me “Not that pumpkin, the one up there” pointing to the ceiling in the hallway.
Whoa! That is…pretty cool actually.
I can’t take any credit for putting the ‘pumpkin’ there though. All the ‘pieces’ have been there for years – the Welcome wreath hung on the front of the cats’ loft and the little red tent in the loft where Montgomery likes to sleep.
At this particular moment however, the sun beam coming in through the stairway window is shining directly into the tent behind the Welcome wreath. A combination we haven’t noticed before – or since. The location of the sun in the sky at this time of the season, following the recent time change – that is what created the conditions for this to occur at the moment we were getting ready to go outside to play.
Yes, a very cool, not-so-scary ‘pumpkin’ – and some very observant three year olds.
Around here we wash our hands a lot – before and after every meal/snack, after diaper changes/bathroom breaks, after outdoor play, after crafts/sensory play activities and more. We’ve been doing this since the first day I opened my childcare home. Even before the babies can stand on their own I hold them and help them to wash their hands – teaching them all the steps until they can do it on their own. It becomes a habit – a good habit.
The children are also not allowed to share hand towels when drying their hands. Early in my career I briefly used small cloths for drying hands – single use, one per child after every hand washing and laundered daily. Even with my small group of children it was a lot of laundry. It didn’t take long for me to switch to single use paper towels.
For more than twenty years now we have used paper towels to dry our hands. They were convenient and with the dispensers they were easy for even the littlest ones to use independently. The monetary cost wasn’t unbearable but the environmentalist in me sometimes wondered if there was a better option.
As long as we used a separate bin for used paper towels I could put them in my composter but especially during the winter we would run out of room for them. Around here the only bin that never gets very full is the garbage bin – other than diapers and cat litter almost everything else gets recycled, reused or composted.
When the children crumpled their paper towel in a ball before trying to dry their hands we’d do ‘science’ experiments to show how much more effective they were when they were flat as opposed to balled up. I found it particularly frustrating when the older children would quickly yank three or four paper towels from the dispenser, fold them in half, toss them in the bin and then wipe their hands dry on their clothes. Ugh! Seriously – WHY?
Sometimes I’d see whole stacks of unused paper towels in the bin because they just fell out of the dispenser and someone decided to toss them instead of reloading. A few years ago I doubled the size of my composter but we still don’t have enough room for all those paper towels which take up more space than all our food scraps.
I contemplated going back to using cloths and doing laundry but decided against it. Instead I started researching commercial air hand dryers and discovered that there were many compact affordable options available. In fact, some were smaller than the paper towel dispensers and cost less than a one year supply of paper towels!
A month ago I bought two – one for the bathroom and one for the kitchen. I should have done this years ago! We are loving the hand dryers.
Except every once in a while when I hear a dryer running longer than necessary and find a child huddled underneath it. *sigh* ‘If you are cold we can get you a sweater.
After my last post about our new menu there were a few requests to post some recipes – an easy post but it still took me a month to get around to it. I think my increased procrastination may be due in part to my lack of early morning trips to the gym. I miss those 4 AM workouts that were always a great way to get energized for a productive day.
The first request was for ‘Texas Hash’ which was pictured in my last post. I rarely measure anything so all my recipe amounts are only approximations. I also buy a lot of things in bulk when they are on sale and I have time to cook and package them in meal sized portions. I always have a variety of cooked meats in my freezer ready to add to casseroles, stir fry’s, sauces etc so this step is not in most of my recipes.
Dice 2 large onions and 5 green/red peppers, cook until tender. Add 1 can tomato sauce/puree/soup (roughly 300 ml?), 1 lb cooked ground meat/soy protein, 1 cup frozen corn, and 3 Tbsp taco seasoning. Simmer until heated through. Cook 2 cups rice (I use brown jasmine or basmati) in 4 cups water and then add to warm sauce mixture. Serve now or put in casserole dish to keep warm or reheat later. Pictured below: first just sauce mixture before rice added and second plated with jasmine rice added (sorry, blurry pic). Note: I rarely use beef, usually soy protein of pork.
In a large bowl soak corn meal in milk (I’m guessing 1/2 – 3/4 cup of each but I have never measured it). Add 1 pkg onion soup mix, 1 egg, salt, and 1 tsp of liquid smoke. Mix. Add 3 kg ground pork (I buy the chub pack from Costco). Mix well and press in to 9×13 pan. Bake in 325F oven for roughly 90 min until centre tests to 74C. I cut the cooled slab into three 9×4 inch ‘loaves’ and package for the freezer until needed.
As stated on my Menu & Recipe page; ‘We have a four week revolving menu. Occasionally I make changes the lunch menu due to the likes and dislikes of the children in care.’
When I make changes to the menu it is usually only one or two items that either the majority of the children dislike or have grown tired of. Sometimes, about every two or three years, I do a complete overhaul of the menu and try a bunch of new recipes.
One of the things I did during the low attendance/quiet period this past spring was to go through all my recipes and pick some new ones that I wanted to add to the menu. Possibly the biggest change I made to the menu was moving Sandwich Day to Wednesday instead of Tuesday but only one of the currently enrolled children seemed to really notice that change.
There were just three lunches that I left on the menu as I feared there may be a riot if I removed them. ‘Taco Pie’, ‘French Toast with Applesauce’, and ‘Fries with Meatloaf’. The children might actually prefer that I paired the meatloaf with something other than fries – for that meal it is the meatloaf they want, not the fries. I still struggle to find potato dishes that the children will eat. Read more about that here.
The completely new four week menu was introduced beginning on the week of June 8th as most of the children were returning. In retrospect I probably should have waited a little longer. My preschoolers may have actually preferred to have some familiar lunches after being away for two months. Also, the school-age children were attending full days now and are generally far more picky eaters than any of my preschoolers – their behavior greatly influences the little ones.
For the first four weeks each day was the same – all the children sitting around the table looking at each other, occasionally poking at or nibbling their food but no one willing to actually take the first real bite. I was eating my food – I always sit with the children and eat the same food that I serve them – modeling. This is the reason the little ones are generally willing to try new things but that strategy is less effective with the older children who have well developed preferences.
Interestingly there were more vegetables eaten during that first menu period – vegetables were familiar – not like the unknown main course menu items. Even once I told them what all the ingredients were they were still hesitant to try the new foods. I found it amusing that one of the school age children, striving to be a good role model for the little ones, would rave about how great the day’s lunch was going to be but would still refuse to eat any citing “I’m just not hungry right now”. LOL – translate to “I only eat sugar”.
The second round of the new menu was slightly more successful. Most of the children at least tried the new items but were still too unsure to have seconds. I was beginning to doubt some of my menu choices – I was finding some of the new recipes a bit too labour intensive. I missed some of my favourites from the old menu. If there was going to be a lot of leftovers I wanted it to be something I really enjoyed 😉
Still, I persevered and the third time the new menu was offered almost all of the children were eating the majority of the meals. Some were consistently asking for seconds. However there were still a few lunches that most of the children were not enthused by and were reluctant to eat. I was a little perplexed by some of the less popular meals – like grilled cheese sandwiches.
Seriously – it has been at least 10 years since the last time I had grilled cheese sandwiches on the menu and the reason I took it off was because it took too long to make enough – we could easily consume 18 or more at lunch – and it is not a menu item that is nice to make ahead and reheat. Yet this group was unimpressed by grilled cheese sandwiches. In fact, a total of FIVE sandwiches was most this group of eight children managed to eat in one meal. Some don’t like cheese, some don’t like bread, some don’t like cooked sandwiches. *sigh*
We are now midway through the fourth go-round for this new menu and there are some emerging favourites. There are also some items that continue to be unpopular and may be replaced once I am certain that the majority of the children consistently refuse to eat them. I can’t automatically assume that they don’t like a menu item when it is not a familiar food.
I won’t force them to eat things they don’t want but I also won’t offer them an alternate food item when they refuse to eat what is on their plate. Sometimes they may be too tired, grumpy, or just not hungry – I won’t assume they really don’t like a specific food until it has been offered multiple times and in various forms. Favourite foods are familiar foods.
I’ve been neglecting my website – haven’t written a blog post in almost three months!
This pandemic has brought many changes. For me personally most of these changes have had very little negative impact. I don’t like crowds, concerts, festivals, sports, traveling etc so these limits/closures haven’t bothered me but I understand many people have been greatly impacted.
Line-ups for the grocery store and empty shelves were a bit of an annoyance but nothing I couldn’t adapt to. I’ve always been a borderline hoarder – I have three freezers and two pantries to store all the stuff I stock up on when things are on sale. Still, there were a few items that even I ran out of and had difficulty finding and the increased costs have been rough on my budget.
Luckily my hoarding tendencies apply to my bank account as well – I’ve been called a miser – so my lowered income level wasn’t a disaster. I could still feed my family and pay my bills. Yet honestly, when CERB was announced I did fantasize about what I could do with even a one month paid vacation. I haven’t had a paid vacation in….my entire life! It was just a fantasy though as I didn’t qualify for CERB.
I did have two months of low attendance – which means lower income for the same 11 hour work day. Same number of meals and activities to plan, same amount of supervision, just slightly less busy throughout the day – and that for me is a negative. I would have much preferred either the, sometimes hectic, excitement of having everyone here or having no children here and uninterrupted time to tackle some other projects.
However, knowing that I would have low attendance for an extended period of time did allow me to make some changes. I was able to close some play spaces temporarily – I still had to wait until the children were gone before I could do any of the rearranging, demolition, or construction but I didn’t have to finish the project before they returned. Even with some ‘off limits’ areas there was still enough play space available for the number of children attending.
Work on the loft was the big project I had originally planned to tackle on my summer vacation but instead I was able to break the project down into smaller phases which I could then complete over several weekends in April and May. The finished play space looks like this;
I’ve had all eight children here full days for the past three months – the longest I’ve ever had all my school-age spaces full. I decided not to close for a summer vacation this year because the need for summer care was so high and I had already finished my summer projects. It has been an amazing summer – we’ve really enjoyed the new spaces during the limited time we’ve used them.
Really, 6:30 – 8:30 AM is our longest indoor play period. Otherwise the majority of our day has been spent outside. In fact, the reason I haven’t been writing is mostly due to long periods outside, away from my computer – trying not to obsess about what the government has done to childcare in Manitoba.
Spending plenty of time outside is nothing new for us – if the pandemic had restricted our outdoor time we would definitely have struggled – even with our new indoor play spaces. September will bring more changes. The school-age children will be leaving again – we will miss having them here all day. We hope they will still get to spend plenty of time outside – even in the winter. We may not be outside all day in the winter but we will still be outside several hours every day – and loving it.
Change isn’t always easy – sometimes it seems like an insurmountable challenge. We’ve faced it before and we’ll do it again. The unknown factors may be scary but we’ll figure it out.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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;
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.