Tag Archives: free play

Toddlers in the Yard

The toddlers have been doing an amazing job with their curriculum planning.  They spent most of one morning diligently moving gravel from one corner of the yard to another.  They started by using the shovels to place the gravel on the little tree slices;


Then they carried the tree slices from the NE corner of the yard – carefully so the gravel didn’t fall off – past all the obstacles;


Around the hill to the SW corner of the yard where they dumped the gravel into a bowl;


Sure, if they were into ‘products’ it would have been easier to just sat here and fill their bowls up quickly but they like the ‘process’.   This process involved fine motor, gross motor, cognitive skills, cooperation and a whole lot more.

Then there was the music – banging pots and pans;


Creating rhythms with sticks on drums;


Singing through the big hose to create special sound effects;


At one point all four of them were involved in a rousing rendition of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ – it was amazing – just ask my neighbours 😉

Then there was ‘gym class’ where they practiced climbing up, dancing on, and jumping off the big stumps;


Over in the garden there was story time – they love to tell Grandpa Tree amazing stories;


Grandpa Tree is a wonderful listener – waiting patiently all day long to hear anything you want to share with him.


Yes, the toddlers planned the perfect curriculum – I couldn’t have done any better.


Ultimately I’d love to allow all the children to move freely from room to room indoors and out throughout the day.  Unfortunately, due to the separation between the rooms in my home there are some necessary restrictions.  I work alone so I am unable to adequately supervise all the areas at the same time. This is the layout of the main floor;


In the drawing I just numbered the rooms because how I’ve used them has changed over time.  If a ‘normal’ person lived here Room One would be the living room, Room Two would be the dining room, and Room Three would be the sunroom/back porch (it was called a ‘den’ in the real estate listing).

Earlier in my childcare career Room One was the living room for my family.  There were two sofas that I used for nap time along with cots on the floor.  Infants napped in playpens in the upstairs bedrooms.  Room Two was used as the playroom/office and Room Three was the dining area for my family and the children in care.  Room Three was also used for arts & crafts, board games, sensory play and group activities as well as storage for small toys and supplies.

That arrangement had both good and bad points.  I liked that my family had plenty of space to use after hours and that all the children’s play areas could be easily supervised while I was in the kitchen.  Both play areas could also be used at nap time with only limits on noisy toys.

The list of problems was longer.  It included;

  • No private space for my own family – no access to bedrooms or living room at nap time.
  • The art/dining area was crowded and had no open floor space so all activities required everyone to be seated at tables.
  • All play spaces were accessed off the kitchen so there was constant traffic back and forth through the kitchen.
  • Cots/playpens had to be setup and put away daily – leaving the children briefly indirectly supervised.
  • The playroom had a large window for natural light but the only ‘view’ was the side of the neighbour’s house.

In 2008 I changed the way I used the spaces.  Room One became the playroom/office/nap room.  Room Two was the dining room/living room and is not used for playing.  Room Three became a dedicated art and messy play area with storage for a wide variety of equipment and supplies. The benefits included;

  • Larger play areas
  • Many quiet time activity choices for school-age children
  • Second floor never used for childcare – more private area for family members.
  • Better supervision during nap time.
  • Limited kitchen traffic
  • Playroom window faces the front street allowing the children to see all the neighbourhood activity as well as the arrival and departure of parents/friends.

There are also some negative aspects.  Using the playroom as a nap area means it is difficult to accommodate children who required an early or late nap. It is difficult to supervise both the playroom and art area so art area is only used by older, independent children or for whole group activities.

The combination of this long, cold winter and the young group currently enrolled has amplified these issues. Usually I allow the children to opt out of any planned activity if they don’t want to participate but with my current group of 1 and 2 year olds I can’t allow them to be in separate room.  That means that any time I plan any activity in the sunroom all four of them have to come along.

It is this forced participation that has been causing angst this winter.  Half of my toddler group love to do artsy stuff, listen to stories and other group activities.  The other half have little patience for any activity that doesn’t involve moving around and exploring independently.  The two groups clash – some get bored/disruptive and others are unable to fully engage in an activity they enjoy.  No one is happy for long in the sunroom so we don’t spend much time there.  This ‘dedicated’ space is so rarely used that it seems to be more of a ‘wasted’ space.

I came up with a plan.  This shouldn’t be surprising – I often change/rearrange the spaces.  However, this will be a BIG change.  So big in fact that I had to wait for just the right time to ‘discuss’ it with my husband (he approves of the design).  So big that there will be several  weekend phases before the entire project is complete (he’s not thrilled about all the work).  So big that it will affect every aspect of my program.

It is such a major change that it has been keeping me awake at night – partly because I’m excited, but also because I’m going through a list of ‘what ifs’.  I like change but this one will be bigger than usual and I want to ensure I’ve considered all the factors.  I don’t anticipate that it will be perfect and nothing will ever need to be changed again but I do believe that the pros will outweigh the cons.

As for the details – for that you’ll have to wait.  Phase one begins this weekend…

Back At It

It has been a busy week.  I have several posts I’d like to write but no time to do so.  Today I’ll just post a few pictures of some of the things I’ve observed as the children are settling back in after the holidays.

There was this interesting use for a ‘drill’;


Look familiar?


I have no idea why but this has been the favorite ‘accessory’ for several days;


This was an ‘orphanage’;


This child arranged the bells to play some music and did some colour matching too;


I loved watching the infants/toddlers solve this problem;


Actually, you can’t see it from here – and they couldn’t either which was what the problem was.  The picture above was taken from the open side of the block bin.  The back side has a clear plastic panel which allows the children to see through to the music area but prevents the blocks from falling on the floor where others may be dancing.

There was one little carpet square that had slipped into the space between the bin frame and the plastic panel.  The toddlers could only see it when they were in the music area;


It wasn’t stuck but when they noticed it from the music area they would go around to the block area to ‘fix’ it but from the open side of the bin then they couldn’t see the stray piece of carpet.  On and off for two days they contemplated how to get this piece of carpet.

They’ve fixed it now.  I could have done it for them or shown them how but letting them work it out on their own was better – developing problem solving skills and learning to cooperate with others.

What’s This For?

There are toys that have returned to the playroom – things the children have seen/used before but not recently.  Every weekend I rotate toys in and out of play.  The children often refer to returning toys as ‘new’ but really they are old.

There are new toys in the playroom too.  There is one newly purchased item that I will talk about in a separate post.  The items that I am referring to now are ‘loose parts’ – random things that I sometimes purchase but most often then are things I toss in the playroom instead of the recycling bin.

Of course there is a big box.  One of my favorite aspects of the most recent playroom arrangement is that there is more open floor space which will make it possible to have empty boxes in the room on a regular basis.  The children love boxes and they are never unsure what to do with an empty box;


The other new items in the room did elicit “What’s this for?” questions.  These items are pieces of packaging that came in various boxes.  These items don’t have a defined play purpose.  They are open-ended items.


Sometimes they are used just for carrying around and dancing with;


Sometimes they become a place for other toys to play;



The box is good for this too;


This box is big enough for two friends to go on a trip together – love that they remembered to put on their seatbelt;


And here some packaging pieces were combined with the box to create gas and brake pedals for a super fast car;


Even the old toys and instuments have been used for another purpose.  Perfect!  So much more imagination required when toys don’t have instructions.

Computers in Childcare

I have been an avid computer user since 1990 and computers have been available for use in my childcare program.  In the past we have had specific computer areas set up alongside the main play space

or in a separate area

The computers were always grouped close together and there were more chairs than computers to encourage cooperation and collaboration.  After school this was the social hub for the school-age children and my teens who also acted as mentors for the less experienced users.  Internet access was always restricted unless it could be directly supervised and the program options available were limited to what I felt were appropriate and open ended.

One of the favourite programs has been Pivot Animation — a simple freeware program that allows children to create videos using stick figures and drawings.  It has no cutting edge graphics, no special sound effects, and no high scores.  They could create freely — there was no right or wrong. They were learning basic computer skills, mouse control, and understanding the file structure to open and save their own creations.  Drawing these animations requires some understanding of physics and the interaction between objects and because they often worked in pairs or groups to create these animations there was also a social component. 

As my teens have grown to young adults and moved out of the daycare space they have taken their computers with them.  The older computers have become obsolete and not been replaced.  I still have one computer set up in the sunroom but it is rarely used by the children here.  I am finding that many of the children are uninterested in any programs without high entertainment value – time fillers with little useful content – like watching TV (which has never been part of my childcare program).

I don’t believe that any of the so-called ‘educational’ computer programs do anything to enhance children’s learning or creativity – just memorization and following directions.  These programs don’t allow for ‘free play’ – the open-ended learning the children enjoy most in their non-computer activities.  Exploration and experimentation develops creativity, imagination and teamwork without a predetermined goal or ‘correct’ answer.

I do think that computers are valuable tools and it is important for children to learn to use them correctly and efficiently but is sitting a young children in front of a computer screen to play the way to do this.  Sitting them at a table with wood scraps and woodworking tools or screwdrivers and old electronics are wonderful open ended activities that allow children to explore and learn about using tools.  However, these activities require direct supervision and guidance and are not appropriate for all age groups.  Computers as tools – not entertainment — are no different.  I have considered purchasing one or two small laptops that could be used for a scheduled group computer time but I’m not sure the cost could be justified for the limited amount of time we would actually spend using them.

So for now, the lone computer sits idle in the sunroom waiting for a school inservice day when I’ll have a group of non-nappers who want to practice some computer skills instead of playing a board game or working on an art project.

Playing & Writing

After my last blog entry I did some reflecting on how I could adjust our daily schedule to give the preschool children fewer interruptions now that the older ones are back to school.  The school schedule is so restrictive to real productive play.  I’ve pushed snack a little later in the morning which allows the children a full hour or more of uninterrupted free play in the morning.  So far this has seemed to ease the number of “We just got started’ complaints that I get when it’s time to clean up for snack.  There have been a few minor problems as we adapt to this new schedule but I’m certain it will be better for all.

While reflecting on the children’s schedule I also took a look at my own.  I started this blog with the intention of writing daily entries or at least several each week.  Unfortunately I haven’t been doing that and it’s not for lack of ideas.  I should have foreseen this.  It is the same problem I faced when I was working on my CBA portfolio.  Just as children need long, uninterrupted periods for free play, I need long, uninterrupted periods to write.

Over the years that I worked on my CBA portfolio my family became accustomed to my ‘departures’.  When I sat down at my computer on a Saturday morning they knew they were on their own for the day.  There is momentum in my writing — once I start, I have trouble stopping.  Consequently, when I don’t think I’ll have enough uninterrupted time, I put off starting any new entries.

It’s not that it takes me a long time to write each entry but rather that when I begin writing I don’t stay on task.  As I work on one entry I get ideas for others and so I start new ones.  Eventually I have five or six topics on the go.  Along the way I also do some research and plan activities that I can use to enhance the children’s learning.  I flip from one document to another as I write.  I am fully engaged and productive — but the whole process takes time.

For me, writing is play.  Through it I experiment, construct and learn.  So now, just as I found a way to adjust the children’s schedule to allow them a longer free play time, I need tweak my own schedule.  Blog entries are not nearly as time consuming as CBA portfolio entries – I won’t need to dedicate full days to the task.  Two or three hours a week should suffice and I think I’ve found the perfect time.  First thing in the morning before the children arrive – my most productive part of the day – 5:30 to 7:00 am!

Rhythm in the Yard

I am constantly evaluating the learning environment as I observe the children at play.  I make notes of things I’d like to add, remove or modify.  Sometimes I can make the necessary changes easily, other times they take longer.

Bringing elements of music and rhythm to the outdoor play space has been one of my goals.  It started a few years ago when my husband ‘rescued’ two large barrels made of heavy cardboard with a tin base.  We lay these barrels on the deck and the children used them as animal dens, train sheds or other type of shelter that suited their interests.

When not in use these barrels were stored upside down in a sheltered area on the side of the deck to prolong their life.  It was here that it began when one of the children discovered the sound that could be made when they banged on the tin end of the barrel.

Over time the cardboard barrels disintegrated but we kept the end caps – painted them, and attached them to the fence.  Playing these ‘drums’ has been a favourite activity for the children.

Since then I have added some other outdoor sound items like the wind chimes and the windmill which when the wind is right makes a unique sound as it flaps against the cedars.

The children have been busy creating instruments of their own.  With sticks, pails, tubes and more the combinations are as endless as their imaginations.

I was particularly impressed when they experimented with adding various amounts of gravel to this flexible tube and adjusted the placement to achieve an assortment of  different sounds.

One thing is certain – the yard is never quiet.


The ability to understand written and spoken language is essential in today’s society.

In the playroom of my childcare home I allow the children of all ages to choose and handle books independently throughout the day.  I include a variety of books from small board books to heavy catalogues with glossy pages.  Books are used as part of play and social activities.

I do not schedule a specific time of the day for me to read stories aloud to the children – reading and listening can be done anytime throughout the day regardless of age or ability.

Children are not required to sit and listen to me read a story.   I encourage them to interact with each other and the objects in the room as I read.  Being able to connect the story to personal experience is an important part of understanding the language.  Even those children who are playing elsewhere in the room may be listening and visualizing or acting out parts of the story. I believe that children’s literacy skills can be enhanced by allowing them to move around and engage in other activities as I read.  An active young child who is required to sit and ‘pay attention’ may be learning that books and reading are boring and actually tune out the words even though they appear to be listening.

I have attached labels to various objects throughout the room and in the housekeeping area I include empty containers from familiar objects in place of toy replicas.  In this way, young children can learn to associate the text with the real objects instead of only seeing it on the pages of books.  The printed labels and words on the items the children play with allow the children to combine the text, the spoken words and the visible object as they manipulate these items.

Literacy is more than being able to read and write words — understanding the meaning of words is equally important.  Young children need to be able to physically explore in order to fully comprehend written and spoken language.