Tag Archives: imagination

Summer 2017 – The Hill Project

As usual my summer ‘vacation’ project list was very long – too long for the two week time slot I allotted.  The back yard was not actually on the list at first but in June I suddenly had an idea to solve a concern I had about ‘the hill’ (sometimes called the bridge or tunnel).  This is a picture taken last summer of the view of the hill/bridge/tunnel from the tipi;

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The hill was originally created back in 2010 when the old play structures were removed leaving the gravel area looking quite bare.  I didn’t want another large structure but I did think the space needed something.  The hill originally had a slide on one side, the tunnel was very popular, and the native prairie plants provided some much needed greenery in the yard at that time.

The slide and log steps never stayed as secure as I would have liked so they were soon removed.  For a few years the platform and tunnel were very popular for many dramatic play and gross motor activities like ‘Motabular’ (the children named that activity). As the interests of the children enrolled changed, play on the hill also changed and two years ago I added some rocks.

The children liked to use the platform to ‘play hockey’;

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And sit on the ‘bridge’ to go fishing;

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But there were many disputes over who would be on each side.  There were also problems with reckless behaviour like racing up and down the hill or jumping off the bridge without first looking for obstacles or hazards. Additionally, the structure was beginning to show its age.  I decided it was time for the hill to go.

My first step was to gather some supplies (thanks Annika);

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Then I spent two days removing rocks, transplanting plants, moving pails of soil to the other gardens, disassembling the bridge and cribbing and raking gravel.  It was beginning to take shape;

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I used the new stumps in addition to the old ones to create a full circle with little space between the stumps.  The majority of the gravel was raked to one side of the inner circle to three distinct levels.  Outside the circle the gravel in the ‘walkway’ is about 8 inches deep and fairly well packed as we haven’t dug here in years.  Inside the circle there is no gravel, just an old blue tarp on one side and nearly two feet of gravel on the other side.  The slope between the two sides is held in place by all those big rocks that used to be on the hill.  So now the gravel area looks like this;

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And from the other side;

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The view from the tipi now;

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And in case you were wondering what happens when it rains….I said it was an old blue tarp – it has holes in it so the water drains out.

Within seconds of entering the yard on the first day back after vacation this is where the boys were, happily chatting about what they did on their vacation;

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The Destination

Going for a walk or hike is one of our favourite things to do.  Whether planning a short walk or a full day outing we rarely have ‘destination’.  We have some preferred routes but we often deviate from are original plan when we find something interesting.  Walks are time for exploration.

The children are involved in the planning of our trips but I don’t usually ask ‘where’ do you want to go – implying that there is an end point.  Rather, I ask ‘which direction should we head’ and at various points I’ll ask ‘which way should we turn’.

Walking through the cemetery is one of their favourite routes – they like to look for owls in the nest boxes. Last fall on one of our cemetery walks they noticed this park on the far side of the river – “Can we go there?”

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Hmm, some day maybe.  I was not very familiar with the area on that side of the river and although I had a rough idea how to get there I would need to scout the trail without children first.

Earlier this spring my husband and I went on an evening hike to check out the available routes.  The park wasn’t actually difficult to get to – just a short detour off one of our familiar trails.  However, to make a full loop back to my house was not possible that day because the spring river levels were too high and parts of the trail were under water.

Last week the children and I made our first trip to the new park – not the playground, I rarely go to playgrounds (read why here). Parks are full of nature and so many things to explore and discover.  We left early and took our morning snack and picnic blanket with us;

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It is a little difficult to see in the photo but the children were easily able to locate the cemetery across the river from our picnic spot;

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The new park also has an amazing forest and riverbank to explore;

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The boys like to look for bears and wolves in the forest – this trip resulted in a very exciting discovery;

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Probably just a dog tracks but HUGE like a wolf!

I was impressed when these three and four year olds noticed – and correctly identified this bridge by name.  It is one of five bridges we frequently visit but we have never approached it from this side.

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Crossing the bridge on our way back they stopped as usual to look at and talk about this ‘house-shaped’ cement barricade/structure (please leave a comment if you know the real name for this thing).

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When we pass this way we often discuss the river levels at various times of the year.  This day they were talking about how the driftwood got stuck up there in the spring when the river was higher.  Then they noticed something even more interesting in the driftwood…is that a nest?  Why would she want to have a nest there?

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We’ve visited the new park twice now.  On our second trip the children eagerly anticipated seeing this goose again – and maybe babies.  She wasn’t there, however there was a pair of mallard ducks.

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While we were watching them they jumped off the cement into the river below.  The children were thrilled and now refer to this as ‘the diving board’.  I suppose that’s better than ‘house shaped cement thing that I don’t know the real name for’.

Picnics in our new park and the exploration along the way have been full of adventure and discovery.  I’m sure there will be many more to come.

Hiking in the City

It has been just over a week since I returned home after Nature Summit 2016.  I’ll admit that for the first few days I did seriously consider putting my tent up in the backyard because I really missed spending all day, every day outside.  Summit was fabulous as usual – I got to participate in many outdoor workshops.  I went for a ride on a zip line, climbed almost to the top of this;

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And of course I did a lot of hiking through the woods.

I know I really enjoy a nature hike and so do the  children in my care.  I also know that, even in the city, there are many places where we can hike and feel like we are out in the wilderness.  However, a city hike can be pretty special too – especially to a group of boys who can tell me the name and purpose of almost every type of construction vehicle. 🙂

My little group and I have spent the last few months exploring the the nearby neighbourhoods.  Our city hikes vary in length from just a few blocks to up to 8 km.  They can take anywhere from a half hour to several hours and it is rarely the children that suggest we’ve been walking too long and it is time to go back.  Pretty amazing when you consider that these are 2 and 3 year olds.

So, what do we see when we go on an 8km city hike?  Back hoes, buses, dump trucks and trains.  Cement trucks, front loaders, street cleaners and cranes.  Yes, there is a lot of noisy traffic but there are also many quiet spots too.  In fact, one of our favourite paths takes us through the cemetery.

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We look for birds – the children know where all the nest boxes are located (there is a nest box in the above picture but it is hard to see).  We listen to the wind in the trees and watch the river in the distance.  Inevitably the river sparks the topic of bridges – which one will we cross today?  Within walking distance of the cemetery there are FIVE bridges we can go over, and THREE that we can go under.

There are several more bridges we can explore if we pack a lunch and make it a day long hike but that tends to be too much even for this active little group.  Once this past summer we did make it to two distant bridges but the children were obviously tired and there was not much excitement.  Besides, when we stick to the familiar, nearby areas there is a whole more to our hikes than just walking.

In some cases we can cross one bridge and examine the structure of another bridge at the same time.

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There are bridges for people, bikes, cars and trains. Only some of our bridges cross over water.  Others cross over roads or train tracks and give us a whole lot more to talk about.  The children often complained that there were never any trains on these tracks when we crossed over them – but twice this summer there was a train here!  So of course we had to stop for a while to watch.

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One time the train was moving so very slowly that we were able to continue our walk, loop around and walk under the same train we had just been standing over.

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Standing under a train bridge while a train slowly squeaked and creaked, clanged and banged overhead was a new experience.  Trains on bridges sound much different than cars on bridges. The children also enjoyed yelling ‘ECHO!’ as they do every time we venture under bridges.

We don’t spend all our time on noisy city streets.  For contrast we also explore parks and riverbanks along the way.  We get to hear and smell the difference between the roadway and the forest.  On this particular hike the ‘big’ boys were with us and the ‘littles’ enjoyed showing them all our favourite spots.

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Just as we use the bridges to compare the traffic and trains from above and below we can also do the same with the river.  Standing on the bridge we watch the water flow, count geese and ducks, and watch sticks and other debris float by but there is the noise of the traffic crossing the bridge too.

It is amazing how just a few steps away from a busy road can feel like a totally different world.  What can you hear now?  Our river bank trails offer another perspective of the water.  We can get closer to the water – but not too close, this is not a swimming river.

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There is a tree they want to climb.  Normally I’d say yes to a tree climbing adventure but a quick risk assessment resulted in a ‘No’ to climbing on this tree;

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Yes, I love a good nature hike but a city hike offers something special too.  We could read books or watch videos and memorize facts about cars and trucks, trees and birds, rivers and roads or we can go for a city hike, experience it, and begin to understand the impact we have on the natural environment.

Miscellaneous Things

From time to time my collection of ‘Photos I Want to Blog About’ accumulates a number of pictures that by themselves don’t manage to become full posts but I still like and want to share them.  Here are a few of them;

15-09-misc01This was a new soup I offered the children – I’m trying to add some new items to our menu.  I combined many of their favorite foods and made what I called ‘Southwest Chicken & Rice Soup’.  Sadly the children were unimpressed – even the less picky toddlers were reluctant to eat it.  They did all like the onion bread I served on the side.

15-09-misc02One of the toddlers enjoys crawling on the stumps.  In the years since the stumps were first introduced to our play space the children have enjoyed climbing on, jumping off etc but crawling on them was something I haven’t seen them do before.  Fantastic coordination!

15-09-misc03The baby was very focused on this old stump so, trying not to interrupt, I went to see what had captivated his attention for so long…..

15-09-misc04OOoooh…..Spiderwebs! 🙂

15-09-misc05There are plenty of old pots, plates, bowls etc in the yard but the children still really like to use the bark pieces instead.  Love it!  Of course the pots still get used too.  Every day this summer at some point there would be a pot sitting here;

15-09-misc06This group has decided that the tunnel makes a great ‘oven’ so they continually place stuff here to ‘cook’ while they go play elsewhere.  They come and check on it often and there is always plenty of excitement from the group when the ‘food’ is deemed ready – they all rush to the table.  Maybe I should ask the cook for their recipe – it might make a good addition to our lunch menu.

By Design

Many, many years ago I had a large plastic kitchen in the housekeeping area;

15-08-design01My biggest issues with this kitchen were that it was bulky, a horrid colour and it was unstable. It was so easily pushed/pulled over by small children leaning on it or trying to open the doors that I always had to have it strapped to a nearby wall or heavy object.  The thing that amused me was that the children often used the microwave as a washer – stuffing dress-up clothes inside the teeny tiny space to clean them.

In 2009 I replaced the plastic kitchen unit with wooden appliances built into the housekeeping area.

15-08-design02a (2)Along with the fridge and stove I also included a stacking washer/dryer and the dress-up clothes were conveniently located nearby;

15-08-design02I had designed this washer/dryer unit because the children had previously shown interest in doing laundry during their dramatic play activities.  They did use the new washer occasionally to wash clothes but the dryer was rarely used to dry clothing unless I suggested it.  Maybe it was because the children were not familiar with seeing a dryer stacked on top of a washer but from the day it was first introduced the children used this ‘dryer’ as a microwave oven.

When the playroom was rearranged a couple years later I created a separate dress-up area and moved the washer/dryer away from the kitchen area and placed it in the new space.  The children diligently continued to bring their food from the kitchen all the way to the ‘microwave’ in the far corner of the play room.

15-08-design03During my most recent playroom renovation I was unable to find a good location to put the washer/dryer unit.  I wasn’t concerned about eliminating it since the children rarely used it.  However, I did disassemble it and reuse some of its pieces.  The ‘dryer’ door was added to a shelf in the housekeeping area to create a new ‘microwave’.

15-08-design04The children were thrilled.  For weeks now they have been using this new ‘microwave’.  Occasionally they cook food in it but mostly they think it makes a great garage for parking the cars which they bring here from way over from the far side of the room.

15-08-design05Maybe I should design a garage – I’m curious to see what that could become 🙂

Outdoor Activities

Spring is here and I’m finding it difficult to stay indoors.  Still, there is a lot of indoor work to do so sometimes I have to.  Luckily the children and I have been able to spend several hours outdoors each day.  Instead of spending too much time sitting here writing I’ll just post a few pictures and a brief description of some of their recent activities.

One day during spring break the children built ‘bridges’ all around the gravel area.  This activity was initiated by one of the children but all of the others joined in.  Everyone used the bridges/walkways.  Everyone helped create and modify the paths as needed.  There was no bickering, grabbing/pushing, or screeching ‘MINE!’ when pieces were rearranged.

15-04-bridge01The cooperation was amazing 🙂

15-04-bridge02Last week there was another magical cooperative activity.  The three-year-old built a ‘fire’ and roasted ‘marshmallows’;

15-04-marsh01She then shared them with her friends who were eager to accept her invitation to join the camp out;

15-04-marsh02On Friday we went for a super long walk up and down every street in the neighbourhood.  These toddlers are becoming expert hikers!  They are also very observant.  These one and two year olds were easily able to spot the woodpecker when they heard the sound.  The bird was barely visible so high up in the tree that my phone camera on maximum zoom could not capture it.  Still the toddlers focused on it and stood silently for over five minutes watching the busy bird.

15-04-walk01They also got excited about a ‘spaceship’ – this one took me longer to locate and not all the toddlers could see it but at least one was really thrilled about it;

15-04-walk02Love the imagination.

Robots

Lately the toddlers have been infatuated by robots.  Originally it was just one of the children but the others have caught on and now they incorporate robots – or at least the word ‘robot’ – in all their activities.

In one of my favourite observations the 2-year-old boys were bouncing about chanting “Ro-bot, ro-bot, ro-bot”.  They do this on and off all day, every day, indoors & out.  Sometimes the girls join in briefly but most often it is just the boys.  On this particular day the 2-year-old girl joined in as a “robot butterfly”.

As the boys bounced around chanting, the girl ‘floated’ around gently waving her arms and whispering “robot butterfly, robot ballerina butterfly”.  It was beautiful – mesmerizing – I couldn’t stop watching.  Even the boys stopped briefly and stared.  They looked at each other and then continued bouncing around the room madly waving their arms a shouting “ROBOT BUTTERFLY”.  There were no ballerinas in their description.

The robots are not limited to active play.  There are musical robots and cooking robots and animal robots too.  Almost everything they build is at some point called a robot even if it starts out as a tower or a house…

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Last week they started using the shopping baskets as robot helmets. The basket is placed upside down over someone’s head and the handle is used as a chin strap.  It is interesting because this has been done by many other children throughout my 18 years in childcare (the baskets are more than 20 years old & originally belonged to my own children).  I’ve never suggested that they could be helmets and often there is a lapse between one group of ‘robot children’ and the next so the helmet idea is not passed on as a ‘learned’ activity.

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Yesterday I gave the toddlers some foam shapes and let them design their own robots;

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These are their finished creations;

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I think there may be some robot engineers in this group of toddlers 🙂