Tag Archives: independence

Waffle Blocks

There is not nearly enough space in the playroom for all the toys I own so the majority are stored in bins in the basement.  Puppets, blocks and animals are sorted into groupings of similar items so it is easier for me to select the ones I want to bring out when I rotate toys. I have a spreadsheet which helps me keep track of when toys are added to or removed from the playroom.

I usually manage to get every toy into the playroom for at least a few weeks each year – more often if the children have favourites or request a specific toy.  Occasionally there are toys that don’t get brought out because they are not developmentally appropriate or interesting for the children enrolled at the time.

Last month when I put the castle blocks and the puzzle people back into storage I brought out the stacking cups and Waffle Blocks instead.  One by one as the children arrived and entered the playroom I heard “Ooooh, what are those!?” or similar comments.  I was a little confused as these are old toys so I checked the spreadsheet again an realized that it had been more than two years since the last time the Waffle Blocks were out!

This group of preschoolers really enjoyed the Waffle Blocks – they played with them almost exclusively during the entire five week period of time these blocks were in the playroom.  I liked that there was a lot of cooperation and creativity when they played with these blocks.

In the past I’ve had some groups that found these blocks boring – making nothing more than a cube or two and maybe adding a roof.  Other children have had difficulty forming the  cubes ‘properly’ and easily became frustrated, constantly asking for assistance.  I’m not concerned about ‘proper’ cubes so I tend to let them figure it out.

It is somewhat difficult to make weapons out of Waffle blocks which may have forced this group to expand their interests a little more.  Also, because I don’t have a lot of these blocks, if they want to make something BIG they have to work together on one structure.  I’ve considered getting more Waffle blocks but then I watch the children problem solve ‘not enough blocks’ and think maybe less is better.

I was particularly impressed by the architecture involved in this  creation;

Waffle blocks have never been one of my personal favorite construction toys but I was definitely pleased with what this group of preschoolers managed to do with them.

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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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.

Letting Go

September….Back to School…..Schedules….:P

I’ll admit that having the children heading back to school is not my favourite time of year. Maybe I’m a little greedy – I really like to have them here all day.  I think what bothers me most about back to school is the many hours that the children will spend trapped indoors – in class, indoor recess due to weather, on a bus or in a car.

As a child I walked to school, alone or with friends. I don’t remember ever seeing parents walking with their children – or driving them. What I do remember is the sights and sounds of the neighbourhood, the feel of the sun, the rain, and the icy wind throughout the seasons. This daily walk was a period of transition between home and school. A time when I prepared for the day ahead or reflected on the experience.

My own children walked to school by themselves. When we first moved into this neighbourhood I walked to school with my older two children (then aged 8 & 11) for the first four days – to help to familiarize them with the route. On the Friday of their first week at school they walked by themselves. On their way home they made a wrong turn – and when they realized their mistake they asked a stranger for directions and made it home 15 minutes later than expected.

My younger two children were already familiar with the area by the time they started school. They walked alone the very first day of grade one – at their request. I’m not going to say I didn’t worry – I’m their mother – that’s what I always did.

Every day I pictured the directionally challenged one wandering miles from home with no idea where they were. Every day I worried that someone would suggest something stupid to the somewhat gullible one and they would do it. Every day I worried that the shy/anxious one would panic, run and hide, never to be found again. Every day I worried that the adventurer would get lost in some imaginary world and forget that they should be in school.

I also won’t say that none of those things ever happened. Sometimes they did, but the actual incidents were never as bad as the ones I envisioned and we learned from them. We learned things that we wouldn’t have learned if I had insisted on walking or driving them to school every day.

We learned that they were fully capable of walking a few blocks – four times/day – in all types of weather. We learned that even in elementary school they were capable of being responsible and getting to and from school on time – if they are given the chance to.

The exercise, the outdoor time, the independence were all invaluable parts of their education – equally as important as any of the learning that was done in the classroom. As I watch all the students heading off to school I can’t help wishing they all had the opportunity to walk every day. The opportunity to be outdoors. The opportunity to be independent. The opportunity to learn.

This September my ‘baby’ heads off to university. Today is also his first day at his new job. I didn’t fill out his application for him. I didn’t go to his job interview. I will not be driving him to his classes. It is not that I don’t want to but rather, I know that it is important that he do this on his own. It is important that I let go and let him demonstrate his independence.

I also know it isn’t any easier this year than it was when he was heading off to first grade.

 

In just over a week I’ll be heading off to the 2014 NATURE SUMMIT!!!!
Our Friday keynote will be Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids. She will also be speaking on Thursday September 11 at Isaac Brock Community Center 715 Telfer St N – this event is open to the public so you don’t have to attend the entire summit to hear Lenore speak. Let me know if you want tickets.

Maybe I Should Quit…

When it comes to cleaning up the toys in the playroom I encourage the children to put away their toys before they move to another activity instead of waiting until the mess gets out of control.  My only real ‘rule’ is that as you walk across the room you pick up any loose toys in your path regardless of who used them.  This is more a ‘safety’ rule to prevent tripping.

With a mixed age group there are a wide variety of responses to cleaning up.  The infants and toddlers tend to make the biggest mess.  Often their favourite activities involve clearing all the toys off the shelves and dumping the toys out of the bins.  The dozens of loose toys are then left on the floor and the toddlers move off to explore elsewhere.

Asking or telling these little ones to clean up is futile.  However, that doesn’t mean that I consider this ‘trashing the playroom’ behaviour to be acceptable.  Instead, I simply follow along and pick up the stray toys – I set an example that the little ones will copy at least briefly.  It is the first step in learning to clean up but the little ones think is a game.

With several infants and toddlers enrolled sometimes it feels like my entire day is spent picking up toys off the floor.  It is also a teaching/learning opportunity since as I pick up toys I also talk – labeling objects and attributes – and sort/arrange/organize the items.  When I clean up it often looks like this;

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I don’t expect anyone else to put the toys away like this, it is just something I do for ‘fun’ when I have enough time.  Many of the preschoolers also enjoy sorting and organizing so much that ‘cleaning up’ is one of their favorite activities.  The 3-5 year olds are the very best cleaners – and ‘teachers’ because the toddlers love to copy them.

My current group of 1-2 year olds now often pick up loose toys without much assistance – we’ve had a lot of practice with so much indoor time this winter.  They are even starting to put away toys when they are done with them instead of just dropping them on the floor.  However, there is one exception – this box full of miscellaneous soap containers;

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These little bottles are somewhat difficult to balance on the shelf under the sink. They tip over so easily that standing them up on the shelf is very frustrating so we put them in the box first and then put the box on the shelf.  Problem solved – except that for some reason the babies insist that the box must be emptied every time they come in the room.  Consequently the area in front of the sink always looks like this;

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They never play with these bottles but every time I put them back in the box on the shelf it immediately gets dumped on the floor again.  Guess who is getting frustrated now.  Sometimes, usually closer to the end of the day, I just take the whole box out of the playroom so I don’t have to pick it up any more.  Then one day, when I was in a hurry to clean up before lunch, I just tossed the bottles in the box instead of lining them up;

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When the children returned to the playroom no one dumped the containers on the floor.  In fact, the box was not moved off that shelf for two whole weeks!!!

WHY??

Did all four of the toddlers suddenly lose interest in dumping those containers on the floor?  Did they get tired of playing that game?  Did they just not like that I organized the containers in the box?  How is tossing the containers in the box any better, or less enticing, than lining them up?

Are there are other things I should just quit doing?

Secret Hideaway

We’ve been spending extra time outdoor to take advantage of the above average October temperatures.  With four infants/toddlers under 3 years old our outdoor time is often one continuous game of hide and seek.

There are many nooks and crannies in the yard – I designed it that way.  There is no place  where I can stand or sit and have an unobstructed view of the entire yard.  I must keep moving around the yard to check on the activities of all the children.  I like this.

All the separate play areas provide a wide variety of opportunities for the children to engage in group or individual activities.  I am always near enough to provide assistance if one of the children needs me but the children don’t feel smothered as they would if I were  constantly hovering over them.  Without constant direct supervision the children are more creative and independent.

After one of my quick scans around the yard I was only able to locate two of the four children.  I did a more thorough search and still only found two children.  I had a mild panic attack but I knew they were here – somewhere.  The gates were secure and it had only been a few minutes since I last saw them.

On my third – comprehensive – investigation of the yard I found them.  They were here;

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Do you see them?

They are behind the bench.  I only found them because one of them peeked out over the back of the bench between the cedars.  The cedars are backed by benches on both the East and West and the fence on the South.  The North side is open and between the cedars there is an old log;

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It was here on the stump that the girls had created a mini picnic area just big enough for two little friends.

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This spot has been here for three years but only this week did it became a secret hideaway. 🙂