Tag Archives: Guidance

Quiet Spaces 2

Our indoor ‘nature area’ located just off the main play area has always been considered a quiet space. Decorations include trees, flowers, rocks, birds, butterflies and grass-like carpet. The large window provides plenty of natural light (when the sun is shining) and a view to the real outdoors. The entrance/exit gates serve as a reminder that toys were not supposed to be brought in here. The babies’ cribs are also in this room allowing them to nap if necessary while the older children play in the play room – another reason why this was not a play area. This is where the children can come to read books or just relax.

There were some cushions here for sitting or relaxing on but some of the children thought they were better for tossing or using for pillow fights. *sigh* While most of the children appreciated this quiet space, there were occasionally some that thought the 30 square foot ‘grass’ area was a good spot to play tag or wrestle.

After creating the little quiet nooks I wrote about in my last post, I wondered if we still needed this quiet space – maybe I could somehow re-purpose the nature area into an active play space. I decided against it. We have the music/dance space and we use balance pods, resistance bands and tunnels for some indoor gross motor play when we can’t go outside. We spend a lot of time outdoors and that is still the best place for tag and rough and tumble play. Even if our indoor nature area mimics an outdoor space, it is still indoors and not to be used for active play.

I needed to find a way to encourage all the children to use this indoor nature area for its intended reading/relaxing purpose. So, I purchased this nest swing;

It is small enough that is doesn’t use the whole space but large enough to discourage running and jumping. I have it hung less than one foot off the ground so even the toddlers can easily get on and off the ‘nest’ (we don’t call it a swing) without assistance. It is also the perfect height to use as a table/desk – some of the children prefer to sit on the ground around the nest and place their books on it instead.

I have the nest anchored on two sides so it does not swing far but still provides a gentle, relaxing movement. It is especially nice when laying down and looking up at the trees above.

It has definitely become a favourite quiet space for everyone to read and relax.

Juice

I don’t consider juice to be a replacement for a serving of fruits or vegetables yet I have always had juice on our menu as an occasional ‘treat’.  Milk is always served with lunch but once or twice a week I do serve juice with snack (water for those whose parents don’t allow juice).  I have never served fruit flavoured ‘beverages’, any type of powdered beverage mix or soft drinks even for special occasions.

Sometimes I have had children who don’t like milk but they will eventually drink it or water if juice is not an option.  Sugar sweetened beverages can become a battle ground (I’ve never even served chocolate or other flavored milk).  In the 20 years that I have been providing childcare, children refusing to drink anything except juice has never been a problem – until this summer.

I actually found it funny at first – none of the children in this group are new here – they all like milk but they love juice.  Their juice chant following every meal/snack had reached riot level.  The day they started throwing cups of milk and demanding juice instead was the end of my amusement.

However, I didn’t actually remove juice from the menu.  Instead, I now only buy/serve one type of juice – tomato based, eight vegetable juice.  It took just two weeks – no one demands juice anymore.  In fact, when offered juice or water they all choose water.  No one complains about milk anymore either. 🙂

No Hide & Seek

Over the years I have often told children that Hide & Seek is an outdoor game.  Yes, I personally remember enjoying many wonderful indoor games of Hide & Seek but they were held in a much larger building with multiple rooms. The confined space of our little playroom does make it difficult to play a traditional game of Hide & Seek – there are not really any good places for even a little person to hide.

My current group of preschoolers often initiate indoor games that they call ‘Hide & Seek’ but I always end up redirecting them.  The problem really is that their energy level makes their game unsuitable for our indoor space – they do not play according to traditional rules.

In their game of ‘Hide & Seek’ the three of them together choose a ‘hiding spot’.  Then two of them crawl into ‘sleeping bags’ (old pillow cases that are kept with the dress-up clothes/blankets) while the third child goes to the other side of the room, covers his eyes and counts to 10.  He then shouts ‘ready or not, here I come’, runs across the room and jumps on the two ‘hiding’ boys.  This is then followed by fits of laughter and a group decision as to who hides and who seeks for the next round.

*Sigh*.  This is not Hide & Seek.  This is rough and tumble play that they call hide & seek because they know that I will say running and jumping games are outdoor games.  If I say Hide & Seek is an outdoor game they will argue – and they will be correct – Hide & Seek can be played indoors – but their game cannot even if they call it Hide & Seek.

So why won’t I allow this game?  It is a cooperative game and the three playing are in agreement – for now – but there are other, smaller children who are not.  They do occasionally try to join, or just get in the way and someone always gets hurt.  I will allow this type of play outdoors – but there is simply not enough space indoors for the reward to outweigh the risk.

So, I suggested that they could take turns hiding a small toy instead – there are many places to hide small toys. They thought this was a terrific  idea and immediately chose one of the six stuffed squirrels.  I was somewhat concerned that this would cause confusion if someone ‘found’ one of the five squirrels that were not hidden but that wasn’t a problem.

The real problem was that none of the boys  could resist telling the others where the squirrel was hidden.  Two would sit in the corner and cover their eyes while the third hid the squirrel.  Then as soon as the two seekers stood up to search the hider would say “It’s over there” and point to the hiding spot. The other two would race to the location and whomever grabbed the squirrel first would be the hider – and would hide the squirrel in exactly the same spot that it was hidden in before round after round after round. *sigh*

So, I suggested that I should be the hider and all of them could be the seekers – I also chose to hide a small stuffed bear that wasn’t normally in the playroom.  They covered their eyes and giggled while I hid the bear.  When I said it was hidden they came out of the corner and bounced around asking me where it was.  I told them to look for it.  After searching for nearly a minute they began lamenting “This is so hard”.

I smiled and said. “This is Hide and Seek – indoor style”.  The excitement when they did actually find the bear was priceless. 🙂 This is now their favourite game.  Sometimes they become engaged in other activities before the bear gets found.  If at any point I need to redirect their behaviour then all I have to do is ask if they’ve found the bear yet and they all begin searching again.

Hide and Seek might be my favourite game too.

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Arts & Crafts

Many, many years ago I used to buy craft kits for my own children – often as Christmas gifts.  Sometimes they enjoyed creating the pictured product, sometimes they used the supplies to make something entirely different, and sometimes they did nothing.  I have also purchased the occasional craft kit for myself but I tend to use the instructions more like guidelines, changing things along the way much like the way I ‘tweak’ recipes when I am cooking.  It could be that I wanted to personalize it but probably also a little ‘don’t tell me what to do’ rebellion.

I’m not sure exactly when I went anti-craft but at some point I began to despise product crafts. Maybe it was the year I volunteered in my son’s Kindergarten class when I spent hours cutting out pieces for the children to assemble according to the prescribed pattern.  Maybe it was after I opened my childcare home and watched a steady procession of elementary school children bringing back exactly the same craft products year after year after year.

Over the past fifteen or so years I’ve rarely provided any sort of art/craft instruction and never insisted everyone had to participate.  I’ve taken a ‘loose parts’ approach to setting up the art area and the children are able to choose to use the art supplies freely throughout the  day to create whatever interests them.

I’ve watched some children create really amazing art work.  They have wonderful imaginations and problem solving skills.  If there is something missing from the art area that they think would benefit their projects they ask for it or bring it from home.  Some of these expert artists also enjoy assisting others and will lead spontaneous art classes.

I’ve also observed children who struggle with an open-ended art area.  Some don’t know how to start if there isn’t a leader showing the way.  Some are easily frustrated and give up mid project.  Some never set foot in the art area either because they are not interested or because they doubt their own ability.  There are even some for whom the ‘product’ is so important that they will send the ‘artists’ to make things for them but never attempt to create their own.

Sometimes there isn’t a lead artist in the group – there may be one or two that are very creative but they are ‘followers’.  Even though they can create imaginative artwork when working independently, if another child is present they just imitate each other.  Often there isn’t even any art, just play with the art materials – pencil swords, rolled paper trumpets, etc.  Groups like this rarely have any ‘products’ and the few they do have are exactly the same three pencil lines on a crumpled piece of paper day after day.

Some art tools, like scissors, are more like ‘weapons of mass destruction’.  Sure I think scissors skills are important but I’m not entirely certain scissors are a ‘creative’ tool that I want all preschoolers to have free independent access to.

I’ve tried to limit my ‘instruction’ to introducing new supplies – demonstrating methods and techniques – not products.  Invariably there will be at least one child who will simply copy everything I do and others who will follow along.  *sigh*  We have now created what looks like a product craft.

I think there has to be a middle ground – at least for preschoolers.  Not just ‘follow my instructions and make this’ product crafts.  Not just ‘here are some materials, play with them’ entirely child led process.   So, here are a few things we’ve done recently;

Tissue paper, paper plates & glue: ripping, crumpling, flattening, spreading, pouring, pressing and more – a lot of different ‘process’ yet the ‘products’ all looked pretty similar in the end.

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Clay, water, tools, sand, glue – several steps on/off throughout a week long experience – many differences along the way yet very similar in the end.

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Paper cones, paint, glitter, clay and sticks;

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Yes, there were a lot of new experiences, a lot of process, some instruction, a lot of imitation – trying what someone else did and liking it, and even some ‘product’.  I think the important thing was there was no ‘correction’ – no, ‘that’s not what you are supposed to be making, fix it’.  If they wanted to make something different they could – and some did – briefly – then they scrapped it and copied what the others were doing because that is what they do.  That is what they like to do – most of them – at least in this group – but if they didn’t want to that would have been OK too.

The Train Debate

It has been just over three months since I last had the train tracks available in the block area.  There are several building sets that have not been our for over six months but the boys (there are no girls in my current group) had been begging for me to bring the trains out again.  I was hesitant because we have a new infant here now – babies are not usually very ‘helpful’ when it comes to building with train tracks but the boys were so insistent.

Last year I wrote about how wonderfully this group plays with the trains and tracks so I relented and brought the trains out again.  Even though all but one of these children were here last year, they are currently at different stages than they were before and the dynamics are much different.  Having the trains out now has been… interesting.

There is one boy who loves to sort and classify everything.  Now that the trains and tracks are available he arranges them all according to size and shape.  He creates groupings and lines the pieces up in straight lines.  He gets frustrated and very vocal when others come near or disrupt his methodology  in any way.

Another one just wants the train cars – ALL of them.  Upon entering the playroom he tries to pick up and hold all of train cars at once but that is impossible.  Instead, he makes a pile of train cars and sits on them.  If any other child has one or more train cars he will sit and whimper, complaining that they have ‘his’ trains.  If I suggest that maybe he should build a track for the trains he has, he will attach two track pieces together, pile his train cars on the track and then sit on them.

The third boy loves to create several small circular tracks.  He is an expert builder and can quickly select all the appropriate track pieces and assemble his tracks.  He excitedly shows everyone his accomplishment and then walks away.  When I remind him to put away his toys if he is finished with them he wails.  For each track section there is dramatic effort required to pick up and take it to the bin.  Each piece is so heavy that he couldn’t possibly carry more than one and often he is unable to even stand so he must slither and drag himself to the bin while sobbing “I CAN’T DO IT…I caaannn’tttt

The fourth boy is so concerned about and distracted by what everyone else is doing that he has difficulty settling into an activity.  He seems eager to play with trains, states his intentions and invites others to join him however it takes a very long time before he begins to play.  Often he hovers around the block area and complains about what the others are doing.  Once he does finally sit down and become engaged in the activity he can play cooperatively, it just takes so long to get there and there are so many disputes along the way that the others lose interest or we run out of time.

Boy five has little interest in building with the tracks but enjoys driving trains on the tracks that others have built.  He reenacts elaborate scenarios complete with narrative descriptions and sound effects but seems oblivious to the others playing around him.  He is fully engaged in independent play but will get very upset if others interrupt or ‘bother’ him.

Boy six likes to build complex track systems using as many of the track sections as possible.  He enjoys having the others watch him build but is easily frustrated if they attempt to assist – he has a plan.  He discusses his design plans with the others and explains how they will be able to use it once complete.  Occasionally he too plays with trains – briefly – but usually once finished building he loses interest and leaves the block are.  However, he cannot clean up because the others are still playing – they do love this massive track.  When finished playing the others will be overwhelmed by the prospect of putting away all those tracks – they would never have built anything that big.

*Sigh*  By the end of the first week of train play I was ready to pack them up and put something different in the block area.  It is not that anyone is using the toys ‘wrong’ but that they are all using them differently.  It wouldn’t be a problem if they would sometimes play with other toys but for the whole first week they all wanted to play with trains – only trains – together but not in agreement.  Essentially it was a week long argument.

I know that dealing with disputes is an important skill to learn but personally I’d prefer to avoid all confrontation.  It would be easier for me to put away the trains and say it is a consequence due to the incessant fighting.  It might be easier for me to create a chart and assign each child a specified time slot where they can each have an equal amount of uninterrupted independent play with trains. However it is probably better if I let them work it out themselves.  I can tell them what I see.  I can facilitate conversations and mediate physical disputes.  I just don’t like to.

At the moment I really don’t like trains either.  Yet, during train week two there were a few moments of hope.  I few fleeting periods when I thought maybe – just maybe they had figured it out.  We are now beginning train week three and the debate continues….

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Rough & Tumble

Many parents and childcare providers are uncomfortable allowing children to engage in rough and tumble play or ‘fighting games’ for fear that someone may get hurt.  However, the problem isn’t the type of play but the ‘environment’ – both physical and emotional – in which that play takes place.

I firmly believe that rough and tumble play is very beneficial but in my program I do enforce some basic guidelines.  The first ‘rule’ involves location.  ALL play involving chasing, wrestling, jumping etc is discouraged when we are indoors.  Our main indoor play space is just 150 sq ft and when you add toys, shelving and up to eight children there is simply not enough room – the risks are greater than the reward.

That changes when we get outside.  Although my yard is not a large open space I did design it for gross motor play. There are still some rules like ‘If someone is in front of you, you have to slow down/stop’.  There are many obstacles and the walkways are narrow so when two or more children are trying to maneuver through the same space pushing someone out of your way  is not allowed.

One of the greatest benefits of chasing games and rough and tumble play is that they require/teach awareness and self control.  If you are unable to avoid colliding with another person it is not ‘an accident’.  The problem is NOT that ‘they got in your way’ or ‘they were too slow’- it IS because you were not watching where you were going or you were going too fast for the conditions.

The consequence for knocking someone down isn’t yelling ‘Sorry’ over your shoulder as you continue running away.  The consequence is that you need to stop, help them up and make sure they are OK before you continue playing.  If that is not something you are willing to do then you are not ‘playing’ you are being mean.  If you got hurt too then getting angry and blaming the others isn’t the solution – you need to be more observant, adjust your speed, or find another game to play.

Another ‘rule’ I have is that we only use imaginary weapons.  Now, this is not because I’m totally against weapon play with toy weapons but I have concerns about using toys as weapons in a mixed age group setting.  Yes, I have seen a group of older children involved in a wonderfully cooperative and respectful fighting game using toy weapons.  I have also spent hours/weeks/months teaching toddlers that hitting hurts.  The children and I have many conversations about how super heroes ‘help’ others.

Certainly most school age children can visualize an imaginary scenario, understand the difference between soft and hard objects, regulate the amount of force they use and aim appropriately but the  toddlers are not developmentally equipped to do all this.  The little ones watch, they see hitting and laughter but they don’t understand all the concepts involved and someone will get hurt. So, the imaginary weapons allow the older children to play their game without encouraging the little ones to hit with toys.

The third and most important ‘rule’ is that ALL the children involved in any type of rough and tumble play or fighting game must be willing participants.  This includes ‘shooting’ non-players even with imaginary weapons – in fact, I usually say ‘no people as targets’.  Each player must agree to their role in the game.  If at any point someone says ‘STOP!’ – even if they are laughing – the activity must stop.  If someone cries or gets upset then the game play stops until the problem is resolved.  Stop always means stop or the game is not respectful.

If someone wants to play and agrees to the game rules the others may NOT exclude them. If someone doesn’t want to play there has to be some type of mutual time/space agreement so  multiple activities don’t interfere with each other.  If someone says they want to play but cannot/will not follow the group’s game rules then that person may have to find another activity.

Creating game rules is an important part of the activity and all the children who want to play must be able to participate in this process before play begins.  When only one child is in charge of  creating the game, assigning roles, making the rules, and determining the ‘winner’ then it is not a cooperative game.  This ‘do as I say’ type of activity often enables bullying behaviour and allows the ‘leader’ to change game play in order to control outcome.

One wonderful example of a cooperative rough and tumble game was ‘Fight Club’.  The group of children who created and engaged in this activity were all between five and eleven years old.  They set boundaries for play area.  They chose opponents or teams based on physical abilities and size. They set rules for entering and exiting the game including the option to tag in/out when you got tired. They only played this game outside when there were no little children present. This particular group engaged in this activity on/off for more than a year and never needed me to intervene.  It was perfect.  And it never would have happened if there were no fighting games allowed.

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Spring 2016

There is a thin layer of snow on the front sidewalk but I am stubbornly refusing to go sweep it off.  The temperature display on the weather station reads ‘0’ degrees at 6am so I am confident the sidewalk snow will melt soon – the snow on the steps has already melted.  Yesterday morning when we went out to play there was no snow anywhere in my back yard and there was a collective “Awww, there’s no snow” 😦 from the children so I’m certain this recent snowfall is Mother Nature’s response to that lament.

I like winter too and this past (present?) winter has been quite pleasant.  There have been a few indoor issues with running across the playroom and jumping in and out of the nature area.  I’ve tried several indirect measures to curb the reckless behaviour – most had limited effect but this has been quite successful;

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These cardboard circles used to be attached to the loft for toy storage but we no longer have the loft – of course I kept these ‘just in case’ I found another use for them… 🙂  The smaller children enjoy using the ‘tunnels’.  The school age children and I can step over.  Either way it slows down traffic – like the pot holes on the street.

Speaking of cardboard tubes, I can’t believe we still have these ‘binoculars’ made from plastic wrap tubes and tape;

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I quickly put them together for some toddlers who wanted them for a dramatic play activity they were engaged in two years ago!  I never expected them to stay in the playroom for more than a day or two but they are just as popular as ever and they haven’t been damaged yet.  I’ve considered making, or having the children make more, fancier ones but no one is really interested so these ones stay.  The current group likes to lay on the floor in the nature area and use them to look for butterflies and birds in the trees.

Another constant in the playroom is these eggs in this pot;

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Upon entering the playroom one of the toddlers will place these eggs in this pot and set it on the counter.  If at any point someone else moves the pot, puts other food in the pot, or puts the eggs is a different pot there will be a scuffle.  I can’t explain it but it has been like this every day for months now.  No one ever actually plays with the eggs in the pot and the toddlers will happily put them away at clean up time but they MUST be on the counter like this during play time.

However, there have been several complaints that I have not yet taken down the Easter decorations;

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Honestly, I’m happy leaving them up as ‘Spring’ decorations.  I have many window clings for Fall, Halloween, Christmas, Winter, Valentines, St Patrick’s Day, and Easter but for the period between Easter and Fall all I have are butterflies.  Butterflies are nice but I’d like to have some variation over the 5 month Spring/Summer period.  Flowers or birds would be nice.

Yes, there is snow on the ground – again – but summer is coming.  Check out our seedlings;

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We’ve started our peppers, corn and several types of squash.  The corn surprised us – we don’t usually plant corn but we found an old package of corn seeds in our seed collection – we were not certain they would grow.  I don’t usually buy seeds – most of our garden plants are grown from seeds we collect from our garden or produce from the store or CSA box.  Our peas and beans will be planted directly in the garden outside but it is too early yet – we’ve tried digging in the soil every time the snow melts but the ground is still frozen.  Some of us are very eager for Spring to arrive.