Tag Archives: infants

The Christmas Bin

I have a couple of big bins that I call sensory bins.  Mostly we just use them for mixing stuff for messy play.  Recently I added a bunch of Christmas items to the biggest bin.

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There are so many decorations that have wonderful sensory qualities but wouldn’t be acceptable to have as loose parts in the playroom with infants & toddlers (and cats).  Putting them in a sensory bin gives the opportunity for exploring these materials in a safe, contained, easy to supervise manner.

I included some of our tubes which were used as funnels for dropping other items through.  The bead chains were a challenge because if you let go before you got them in past the half way point the weight of the chain pulled the whole thing out.  It was frustrating but with a little trial and error and a lot of persistence there was success.

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Many of the children enjoyed wrapping and tying the long strands.

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Decorating the tubes was very popular – sometimes you couldn’t even see the tube after it was decorated.

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I was going to add scented items to the bin but it still smells like the sweet grass we had stored in it last year – Mmmm.  I did add some bells, they don’t make much noise if you hold them but sound great as you dig through the bin.

So many colours, shapes, and textures to explore. These star shaped springs were fascinating.

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The older children enjoyed collecting and sorting all the tiny, little rubber shapes (erasers – hundreds of them).  It was like a tactile seek & find.

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We are all really enjoying this bin.

 

Nap Time

Wow, it has been almost four weeks since I’ve written a blog post — bad blogger. I’ve been super busy – full days with the children, practicum student visiting, conference, presentations, and several evening meetings every week. There has been plenty to write about but no time to write. I started this post more than a month ago so I better finish it before I move on to other topics.

Nap time. When my own children were young we sometimes struggled over nap time. The ones who I felt most needed naps were the ones who were reluctant to take them. There were battles. So, when I first opened my childcare home I was a little apprehensive about being able to get so many little ones to nap.

At first I had used the second floor bedrooms as nap areas – infants in playpens, toddlers on beds. The daily set-up and take-down process was arduous but generally everyone was cooperative. There were, of course, a few exceptions. My frequent trips upstairs to check on the (non)nappers were sometimes disruptive to those that were actually sleeping.

Before the end of my first year in childcare I relocated the toddler/preschooler nap area to the main floor using cots and the living room couches where I could supervise more easily. I continued to use playpens in the second floor bedrooms for the infants to nap. There was still a lot of time required for daily set-up and take-down and many trips up and down the stairs.

I found it interesting that the older children napping on the main floor often slept longer than the infants who were napping upstairs. Many parents seemed surprised too – most of these older children resisted napping when they were at home yet here they actually enjoyed helping with the nap time set-up, fell asleep quickly, and were often difficult to wake after nap.

There came a time when I began to question the safety aspect of having the infants napping upstairs. Yes, we did practice emergency evacuations monthly and sometimes even at nap time. The evacuation times were considerably longer at nap time and although the older children were cooperative during drills – waiting patiently while I ran upstairs to get babies – I wondered if they would do so if there was a real emergency.

It wasn’t something I wanted to risk. I relocated the playpens to the main floor – giving up a little play space but giving my family back the privacy of their own bedrooms. I chose to leave the playpens set up – losing a small amount of space vs. a large amount of time. I detest setting up playpens.

In my most recent renovation I expanded the space allocated to the playpens. My intention was to eventually replace the playpens with cribs. Eventually came earlier than I anticipated because I found some affordable – compact – cribs at Quality Classrooms. In all my year of perusing equipment catalogues I had never noticed that some of the cribs were compact – taking up no more space than a playpen – and on wheels too.

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The extra space is now used to store the preschooler’s cots so they too are out of the way when not in use. Nap time set-up and take down now takes less than five minutes and all the children are visible while I complete the task. When not in use the cribs and cots are out of sight behind these rolling room dividers.

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My intention is to use these dividers as easels for art activities but we haven’t tried that yet.

The best part is that all the napping children are within 12 feet of my centrally located desk and within 20 feet of an emergency exit. I’ve come to another conclusion too. As I’ve observed the children as they settle down for nap time I’ve noticed that there are no arguments when they can see me. They lay happily in their beds, talking or singing quietly, occasionally smiling and waving at me until they fall asleep.

I wonder if nap time struggles are not really caused by resistance to napping but rather by the feeling of being left alone in a ‘quiet’ space where the children may actually feel abandoned. Or, maybe these children sleep so well because they’ve been busy playing all morning and getting plenty of outdoor time too.

Introductions & Outcomes

I think of a ‘Lesson’ as a planned activity with an expected outcome – structured and defined.  An adult led activity with a predefined goal that upon completion is either right or wrong.  Any activity that requires me to constantly ‘correct’ or ‘redirect’ what a child is doing with the supplies is not a learning activity – it is an obedience activity with the goal of conformity to rules and following directions.

Learning through play is all about exploration, experimentation and observation.  Unstructured play offers opportunities for learning without a predefined result – no right or wrong conclusion – no pass or fail.  I consider the majority of our activities to be unstructured.  ‘Planned’ activities are generally just activities that require some type of advance preparation rather than a specific outcome.

Last week I introduced the infants and toddlers to a new sensory bin.

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You might think that the bin has a Valentine theme but that was not intentional.  I wanted the flower petals and the dollar store only had red ones in stock.  If they had had other colors I would have used more than one color.  The foam hearts were chosen for their texture not their color or shape.

The various pieces of green wool were also added for their texture – I have many different colors and types of wool but these ones were left over from another craft and already cut into small pieces so I used them.  The metal trays, paint brushes and water were ‘extra’ textures outside the bin.

Throughout the activity I didn’t instruct the children but I did describe and comment on what they did.  The baby insisted on sitting in a chair;

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Normally the smaller children just use these chairs when they are sitting at the little table because it is difficult for them to reach items on the table when they are sitting on the floor. The sensory bin was on the floor so it was easier to access without the chair but he wanted to sit in it.  His preferred activity didn’t involve the bin anyway.  He enjoyed using the water to paint his hair;

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That’s still a sensory activity using the supplies provided.  It also helps to develop motor skills and coordination.

Some painted individual hearts;

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And arranged them – sorted by colour – on a tray.  Wet foam pieces stick to the metal trays but dry ones slide off;

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Others enjoyed a more physical approach diving into the bin – stirring, tossing, and squishing the items at the same time as another child was meticulously balancing the white hearts around the edge of the bin;

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And the baby moved on to pushing the hearts and petals through the little hole in the top of his paint container and down into the water.

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All of them are learning and developing new skills. The learning outcome is not their ability to copy what I asked them do.  It is their demonstration of what they have discovered and how they put it to use.

We’ll use this bin again in the coming week(s) and I’ll add some other items too.  Maybe the children will continue to pursue these same activities.  Maybe additional equipment will enable them to expand on these activities.  Maybe they will try something completely new.  I’ll make the introduction but we’ll have to wait and see what the outcome will be.

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?

Back At It

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

There was this interesting use for a ‘drill’;

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Look familiar?

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

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This was an ‘orphanage’;

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

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I loved watching the infants/toddlers solve this problem;

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

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

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

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

In, Through, On and Under – Outdoor Babies in Snow

By the middle of December we had a really nice amount of snow.  There was enough snow in the yard that we were able to create some hills to climb and pathways to explore.

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Some of the babies were not sure this was a good thing.  Boots and snowsuits limit mobility even on a flat surface. I kept a section of the deck clear of snow so the little ones could practice and build their confidence before they tackled the hills and deep snow.

The older children are already trail blazers – eagerly marking the path through all the fresh snow in the garden;

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Still, some days the little ones just quit.  They lie on the deck and wait until it is time to go in.  I try to persuade them that they’d be warmer if they moved around like the others.  Some of them cannot manage to climb the stairs to the door.  Others scramble quickly to the top – proving to me that their outerwear doesn’t slow them down if they have enough incentive to move.

My husband looks at me as I bring the troupe back inside.  ‘Why do you even bother?  It takes so long to get them dressed and you’re only out for such a short time’. I answer, ‘The same reason I keep giving them vegetables at lunch – it is good for them even if they are a little reluctant to try it.’

Last winter my older group enjoyed hunting for coloured ice cube ‘gems’. This year I decided to go bigger.  There were squeals of delight when the babies first saw the bricks of coloured ice.  Everyone scrambled up on the snow hill to investigate.

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The little ones are not interested in hide and seek games with the coloured ice bricks.  Instead they like to collect any ‘strays’ and pile them together with the others.  Each day when new bricks are made I put them in areas of the yard that are slightly beyond the babies’ comfort zone.  Once they’ve been collected and stacked with the rest of the bricks the babies are done for the day.

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It’s a start.  They now have a purpose to venture out into the snow and it is something they enjoy.  Hopefully they will not be deterred when they return next week and see all the new snow that has accumulated in the yard.  Our new task will be to search for the lost city of ice…

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Outdoor Babies – With Gravel & Rocks

There has always been gravel in our outdoor play space.  Way back in 1997 when I first opened my childcare home we didn’t have a ‘natural’ outdoor area.  We did however have pea gravel as a fall surface under the wood and plastic play structures.

I’ll admit that back then I was one of those ‘OMG, what if they eat the gravel?’ people.  Consequently I never let babies play in the gravel area.  So today, when parents seeking childcare visit/tour my childcare home and express concern over the letting their babies play with gravel and rocks, I can honestly say ‘I understand’. There was a time when I only let babies play here;

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There was a two foot tall fence dividing the deck area from the gravel area and I never let the babies go past the fence.  I even had some wire mesh on the bottom portion of the fence so they couldn’t reach through the fence boards and get a handful of gravel.  I was keeping them ‘safe’.

In fact, it wasn’t just infants and toddlers who were prevented from entering the gravel area.  I considered children ‘old enough’ to play in the gravel area when they could reach over the fence and open the latch without assistance – most children were three or four years old before they could ‘pass the test’.

Looking back now I realize that the ‘test’ was ridiculous because their ability to open the latch is irrelevant to what they may do with the gravel.  In fact, I discovered that the longer I prevented them from playing in the gravel, the more harmful their behaviour could be. Overexcitement in the new environment meant throwing gravel was a major issue.

In the last ten years since I began allowing the infants and toddlers to play with gravel and rocks I’ve discovered that many of them actually never try to eat it.  Those that do occasionally put gravel in their mouths do so for only the first week or so and then move on to more constructive gravel activities.

Activities like making ‘gravel rain’

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Testing gravel on an incline plane

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Lying in gravel to get the ‘full body’ experience

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Gravel is the ultimate ‘loose part’

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I thought this little girl’s ‘Rock Eyes’ were very imaginative

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Walking on gravel and rocks can be a challenge for young children and gives them the opportunity to further develop their balance and gross motor skills.

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Yes, eating or throwing gravel can be an ongoing issue for a small percentage of children but it isn’t limited to infants and toddlers.  By not allowing young children to experience and experiment with gravel and rocks we’re not ‘protecting’ them.  We are preventing them from learning about textures, weight, gravity and more.

With a combination of supervision, guidance and opportunities for experimentation gravel and rocks can offer many benefits for the infant and toddler development that outweigh any concern for safety.