Tag Archives: Guidance

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.

 

 

Walking & Talking

We’ve all seen/heard them. Many of us know one personally. Some of us even have given birth to one of our own. They are the high energy, strong willed, emotionally intense children that challenge everyone and everything.

When these children are fully engaged in something they love to do it is magical to watch. It is a little scary too because if they are interrupted or become frustrated or bored with the activity the magic may turn to mayhem in a matter of seconds. They are impatient and easily over stimulated.

In my current little group of preschoolers I have three – yes three of these ‘difficult’, ‘spirited’, whatever you want to call them, children. Each one of these children is challenging but put all three of them together for an extended period of time and things can become volatile very quickly.

Even when, or especially when they all have the same goal they struggle to cooperate – too impulsive or competitive to work together they tend to destroy any progress that another has made. Their own intense reactions – happy, sad or mad – are further fueled by the reactions of the others. It is not that they purposely want to disrupt activities but the reaction they get from the others is exhilarating.

They all enjoy active, gross motor play but it never seems to tire them out. In fact, like little crank-up flash lights, the more energy an activity requires the more power they seem to build up. They seem to have better self control during quiet activities but tension builds silently and will eventually explode.

Five hungry children enjoying a peaceful lunch. A single noodle slips off a spoon and plops back onto the plate. Splat! That was a funny noise – someone giggles. Two children try to recreate that sound by scooping and dumping spoonfuls of noodles. Excitement and volume increase exponentially. Someone’s milk gets knocked over and they begin to cry. At this point lunch is over. No amount of talking, redirecting or reprimanding will return this situation back to a peaceful lunch.

Forget any type of circle time activities. These children love to talk. All of them have amazing vocabularies but they don’t seem to hear/understand anything anyone else says. It is far easier to get children to focus when they are outside but even in a natural outdoor environment these children will struggle with a group circle time activity. There is always someone on the other side of the circle who is smiling, makes a silly face and waits for the reaction. Of course they get it – positive or negative doesn’t matter – it was a reaction.

This is why we walk.

It is no secret that I love to go hiking. Walking alone through a forest is for me the most precious time. It is an introspective period of imagining, reflecting, dreaming, discovering. I often take children hiking but for each child/group of children the purpose of the hike is different. For some it is all about the destination. Others need the exercise or the change of scenery.

This current group of children is different. Their endless energy is never depleted – none of them ever complain that they are tired of walking. They are not concerned about our destination or the length of time it may take us to get there. For this group when we walk – we talk – and more importantly, we listen.

Maybe it is the motion or the rhythm of our steps or the constant drone of the vehicles on the street but as we walk these children and I have some of the most amazing conversations. Conversations we have never been able to have while sitting in a circle.

We talk about the things we see. We tell stories about places we have gone and things we have done. We talk about our likes and dislikes. We sing songs – together instead of competitively. We take turns talking and sharing. There are few interruptions and no pushing/grabbing/hitting because we are busy walking. Sometimes we walk for hours – they have a lot to say but it is hard for them to talk when there are too many distractions. So we walk…and talk.

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Going for a Walk

I love hiking.  My favourite outings to take the children on are those that allow us to explore our neighbourhood, nearby parks or hiking trails in forests and nature preserves around the city. Adventures like collecting leaves in the fall, following footprints in the snow in the winter, watching the activities of the birds in the spring or checking out the trees and plants in various seasons.

Many years ago I used a Safe-T-Line when out walking with a group of young children.  It looks similar to this one which is available at Quality Classrooms

15-04-walk01Mine has twelve pieces in total – two adult belts with a long lead, two additional extensions which can be attached to the adult belts, and eight children’s belts with clips.  I usually wore both the adult belts and fitted each toddler with a waist belt before we headed out.

Most of the time the children roamed freely through familiar trails and open spaces. However the walking line came in handy for the parts of the outing where we encountered busy roadways, major intersections or large crowds where noise and distractions made it difficult to communicate.  I could quickly attach the toddlers belts to my belts to ensure we all stayed together until we reached an area where we could explore independently again.

It was like having extra hands and the best part was that all of us had our ‘real’ hands free to pick up treasure along the way, point out exciting things we saw, wave at passing motorists, tie shoes etc.  It allowed the toddlers to venture freely within an acceptably safe distance.  They could begin to learn self control and to follow verbal directions.  Even the strong willed toddlers who balked at holding hands and staying with the group seemed to feel independent.

Then, a few years ago when my coordinator was here for a licensing visit she informed me that I was not allowed to use the safety line as it was designed because it ‘restrained’ the children.  I was instructed to make the belts into loops and have the children hold the loops with their hands – as long as they were free to let go when they chose to.   Sigh.

I don’t really mind not being able to use the safety line but it has limited our outings.  When new children are enrolled our walks are very short – just out the front door around the block and in the back yard to play.  Once I am confident that they understand the safety rules we expand the distance we can travel a block at a time.  I never take the entire toddler group beyond our secluded residential area and I rarely let the children decide the route – those major intersections are so enticing.

Recently, curious to see if my new coordinator would have the same response as the previous one, I asked for her opinion on the safety line.  She reiterated that the children could hold on to the belts with their hands but the belts could not be attached to the children as this would be considered restraining the children.  Just to clarify I then asked if it was acceptable to put them in a stroller with a belt.  She said yes.

So, I still can’t use the safety line as it was designed but I could go for a ‘walk’ if I piled my group of toddlers into one of these.

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Apparently a five point harness in a vehicle that doesn’t allow the children to touch the ground or anything else is not considered a restraint.

I would disagree.