Tag Archives: learning environment

Spiders

I think most young children are fascinated by insects, caterpillars, worms etc.  I recently had an Early Childhood Education student here to do her practicum. She was required to plan activities based on the children’s interests and she noted that insects were definitely popular with my little group – as they have been with all my groups.

Spring is always the peak insect love season – I assume because they are rarely seen over winter and  so they are ‘new and exciting’ when they emerge in abundance in the spring.  Of course I always encourage it further by bringing out the insect toys and puppets too.  One of the toddlers was repeatedly dropping this little stuffed spider through the tube – as they like to do with all small toys.

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I didn’t think much about it until I heard him very quietly singing the Itsy Bitsy Spider song too 🙂

Admittedly there are some creepy crawlies that I am not particularly fond of because of the damage they do to our garden  yet I am careful not to instill in the children any fear or hatred towards even the ‘bad’ bugs.  It is simply another learning opportunity –  we may not want them in our garden but we can find appropriate ways to coexist.  We also include bugs in our many discussions about ‘bullies’ – great big humans picking on little bitty bugs usually because they don’t understand their purpose.

Many children are fearful of spiders – I believe this is a learned fear – one that I spend a lot of time discussing with the children.  With every fear, like or dislike I always ask the children ‘why’.  I’ll admit that I have often been startled by spiders – they are speedy little critters, but startled by and afraid of are two entirely different things.  Spiders are good – they are very welcome in my garden and even in my house.

I noticed that the youngest of the toddlers seemed to be afraid of my very favourite spider puppet – never touching it and always giving it a wide berth if someone else left it on the floor.

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What was even more interesting was how quickly the other two toddlers – who had previously liked this toy – now picked up on this ‘fear’.  Upon arrival each of them would timidly survey the playroom to ensure they knew the spider’s location so they didn’t come across it unexpectedly.

So, for several days I carried and played with the spider puppet.  I talked about how cute I thought he was – how much I liked his little beady eyes and his fluffy hair.  Then even the timid children took turns talking to and petting the spider puppet.  Soon the spider’s fan club got bigger and several of the children ‘begged’ to have the spider walk up their arm and tickle their neck.

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Loving or hating things that are ‘different’ begins with something as small as a spider.  It is important to understand why we don’t like something or someone – is it the color, texture, or something else?  What are some appropriate ways to address those fears or dislikes? Should you build walls and avoid contact or spend some time learning to understand and accept the differences and the benefits.  You don’t have to love them but what can you do before the fear becomes hate.

Hope this year we are lucky enough to find some more cat faced spiders in the yard – they are my favourite ‘real’ spiders.   I don’t enjoy the sensation of having any insect crawl on me but that is not their fault and I can still enjoy the benefits of having them around.

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Yard Projects

As mentioned in my previous post there have been many small yard projects I have tackled this summer.  Several years ago we put our old claw foot tub in the yard – re-purposed as a fire pit.  It was placed as a divider between the gravel area and the grass area but because of the rounded shape of the tub it didn’t really prevent the gravel from spilling over into the grass.  Originally we just had a board that sat just inside the tub to prevent access to the soot and debris but it didn’t prevent rain from soaking the fire pit.  Last year my husband made a cedar cover for the tub.

15-10-yard00It drives me crazy that he didn’t arrange the different coloured boards to create a pattern but I do love the smell of cedar so I try to focus on that instead.  The tub cover makes a great table for many of our group activities like this one;

15-10-yard01 However it doesn’t do anything to prevent the gravel from spilling over into the grass.  So, this summer I placed some cinder blocks along the cribbing beside the tub.  They line up with the edge of the cover and as an added bonus they make a great surface for chalk drawings;

15-10-yard0215-10-yard03There was another issue with the tree stumps too.  The children often like to use the stumps as tables – nothing wrong with that but it did sometimes get in the way of the children who wanted to walk on the stumps.  Some of the children also didn’t like to sit on the gravel beside their ‘table’ but had trouble finding suitable items to use for chairs.

As mentioned in my last post, this summer I rearranged the stumps to create a circular path around and over the hill.  I also had my husband cut a couple of the smaller stumps in half.  These were then put on the other side of the yard in front of the tipi along with one of the biggest stumps to create this;

15-10-yard04Since ‘the table’ is not part of the stump path dramatic play ‘meals’ don’t get in the way of active play.  Yes, sometimes the children do like to climb on these stumps too and sometimes they still use other stumps as tables but at least now they have more options and fewer disputes.

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Improvements

Back in April I wrote a post about tearing down the half wall that separated the two main spaces.  That renovation resulted in a smaller art area that also doubled as a dining room.  It looked like this;

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Yes, we no longer had our larger dedicated art space in the sunroom but this new space was much more accessible throughout the day and therefore got used more.  Besides, we also had a new outdoor art area with plenty of space for messy art.

However, this new space was not completely problem free.  The preschool table did comfortably seat three small children for meals but three art trays didn’t fit without hanging off the edge of the curved table.

Also, I had four children that I wanted to sit at the table but one of the 2-year-olds had to continue using the highchair because there wasn’t enough room for four toddlers like at our old rectangular table.

So, two weeks ago I did this;

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Now there is more than enough room for all four of the preschoolers to sit for meals, craft time and other table activities.  The ‘counter top’ is no longer attached to the wall so this new table can be moved when necessary.  The school-age children can sit at the taller table which is attached to the wall and folds down when not in use – saving space.  However, the school-age children also enjoy using the little table too!

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I did have one big issue with this new arrangement – the chairs.  I’ve had problems with these chairs throughout the nearly 8 years I’ve owned them.  I bought them because I wanted stacking chairs but these are so bulky that even when stacked they take up a lot of room.  Bigger children complain about squishing in between the arms.  Also, because of the depth and curve of the seat, smaller children have difficulty sitting upright.

I’ve considered replacing the chairs for years now but they were expensive and replacement chairs are even more so.  Now that the table is a rectangle I considered using benches instead of chairs but I decided against it because putting toddlers on benches = trouble.  So, I went to Ikea 🙂 and now I have SIX new chairs;

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When the toddlers sit here I have one on each end and leave the middle chair pushed in as a divider.  The older children can have all three chairs pulled out to function like a bench;

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This new flexible arrangement has been working very well for all of us.  Meals and art for mixed ages in one convenient space.  Perfect.

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.

Artificial Nature

It was back in 2005 that I first created a nature area in the playroom as a way to bring nature indoors.  Originally it was just 16 sq ft nature loft;

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It was a very popular picnic spot so in 2009 I redesigned it and doubled the size;

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This new loft was also higher off the ground and under the loft was an ‘underwater’ tunnel;

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Admittedly this under/over nature areas was one of my personal favorite designs but it was a nightmare to clean.  The children hauling armloads of toys up and down the loft stairs was another concern.

In 2010 I abandoned the nature ‘loft’ idea and created a nature ‘area’ in one half of the small nap room off the main play room.  This new nature area had both ‘land’ and ‘water’ areas with many pillows to create comfortable places to relax;

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I found that having the trees up against the walls meant the nature area lost the secluded/sheltered feel that the loft had provided.  So, in the next renovation I moved the trees from the border to the centre  of the nature area.  Moving trees is somewhat easier to do in an artificial environment 🙂

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This new arrangement allowed the trees to create a canopy over the whole area and the open corners provided quiet areas to sit.  It also created another problem – running in circles around the tree.

It wasn’t the circling the tree that bothered me, it was the running.  The circling always started slowly – often marching and singing – but gradually became fast and reckless.  Left unchecked the situation could become totally out of control.

As is often the case with direct guidance, repeated reminders to ‘walk’ were usually ignored.  I much prefer to use indirect guidance so I’ve been looking for a way to add something to the environment to slow down or eliminate the running problem.

I had this chunk of tree against the wall for texture and a ‘home’ for small toy animals.  I moved it over to create a sort of speed bump;

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However, I was concerned that the triangular shape – that had been perfect when placed against the wall – would be dangerous in this location;

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So, I placed pillows over the log and covered it with the ‘grass’ blanket.  Now it is a little hill in our indoor nature area;

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The babies love climbing over the little hill and curling up in the comfy relaxation corner;

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Yes, I’ve now managed to replace indoor ‘running’ with indoor ‘climbing’ but it is a climbing activity that I consider acceptable for an indoor environment.

We do spend a lot of time outdoors where all running, jumping, and climbing is encouraged.  Interestingly, the children are aften a lot less active outdoors.  I know why.  No matter how much ‘nature’ I bring to our indoor environment there is one thing I can never recreate.

The calming effect of nature cannot be replicated in an artificial indoor nature environment.  To truly relax in nature you must go outside.

Safety

I’ve got plans for six or seven projects that I hope to have completed this spring/summer.  Some of them are minor changes that may be completed in a single weekend.  The bigger projects will have to wait until my vacation or at least a long weekend.

Some of these projects will involve changes to the daycare spaces.  As I make the plans and supply lists for these projects I always consider safety.  What types of materials will I use?  Where will I need a gate or door to restrict access to off limit areas?  What latches or locks will work best?  I try to envision all the things the children may do in the space.

As I consider the various options I briefly reminisced about an entry I wrote for my CBA portfolio.  My advisor had suggested that I create a safety checklist for my home. I used a variety of sample checklists to develop my own safety checklists.  I considered many of the items on these sample lists to be somewhat ridiculous. Items like ‘make sure stairs are free of clutter’ and ‘turn pot handles inward when cooking’ – not because I didn’t think they were unsafe but they were things that I considered to be common sense and certainly didn’t require a checklist to ensure I did them. In fact, even the items that I did include in my checklists would take less time to correct than the time required for me to complete the checklists.

In my evaluation of the checklists in this CBA portfolio entry I stated; I can see the benefit of having a simplified safety checklist for substitute providers who are not family members.  If a substitute is unfamiliar with my home and our procedures a checklist may be helpful to remind them to keep baby gates and doors closed’.

Possibly the director of a large childcare centre would find safety checklists to be helpful.  If there are many staff members there may be confusion as to who is responsible for safety checks and a completed checklist could provide evidence that staff were doing regular safety inspections.  Even then, I still think that safety checks should be a regular habit for everyone and you shouldn’t need a checklist to tell you what is dangerous and when to fix it.

Then I recalled an occasion a while back when I was visiting the home of an acquaintance.  Although we spent some time sitting in her living room she periodically went to the kitchen to check on the progress of the meal she was preparing.  Every time she stirred the food in the pots she would leave the pot handles sticking out past the front of the stove.  Each time I entered the kitchen I would automatically turn the pot handles inwards.  After doing this several times it occurred to me that maybe this was not a hazard that she recognized.

This brings me back to my original topic.  I do not ensure that my childcare home is as safe as possible.  If the environment was as safe as possible there would be no need for the children to think about safety.  I want them to learn to assess possible hazards and take reasonable risks.

There are some uneven surfaces.  Certainly there are gates to prevent infants and toddlers from climbing up or falling down an entire flight of steps.  However, there is also an unprotected single step at the entrance to the nature area.  Occasionally a child will trip on it if they forget it is there or they are not paying attention.  Sometimes a crawling baby will tumble off the step – I show them how to turn around and back off the edge safely.  I teach unsteady toddlers to hold on to the wall when then step down – don’t rely on me to hold your hand, I may not always be near enough. This single step is an acceptable risk – the opportunity for learning outweighs the chance of injury.

Before the children arrive I don’t walk around with a safety checklist and check off boxes.  During the day, if I notice something unsafe I don’t block off the area or make a note to deal with it later.  In fact, I often point out unsafe situations to the children and enlist their help to determine what should be done about it.  Rain or frost will make the deck and other surfaces in the yard very slippery.  This doesn’t mean that we cannot play outside – we just need to be aware of situation and adjust our activities to suit the conditions.

I don’t allow running or jumping indoors – there are too many obstacles so the risk is not an acceptable one.  Out in the yard we do run and jump.  As a child climbs onto a stump and prepares to jump I ask them ‘what do you see?’  They check for any objects that may be in their path and pose a hazard to them or others – I assist if necessary.  They are taking acceptable risks – they are learning.  Learning about textures.  Learning about space and distance.  Learning about force and speed.  Learning about responsibility.

If we live in a ‘safe as possible’ bubble we never learn to be aware of our surroundings, observing the environment, assessing possible dangers and taking necessary precautions.  Learning safety is a process and it requires practice – practice requires taking risks.

The Piano Keyboard

There was a time, very early in my childcare career, when we had ‘music time’ as a regularly scheduled group activity.  I’d bring out various musical instruments and together the children I would listen to music, play with the instruments, sing songs and do music and rhythm exercises.  It was a structured, adult led activity that required all the children to participate in a music activity at a specific time.

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Over time I rearranged and expanded our play space so that it could include a music area – place where the musical instruments were always available and could be used by one or more children at any time.  We no longer had a scheduled music time but the children could initiate a group musical activity.  I was available to guide and assist but the children were not required to participate if they were otherwise engaged.  Some of the children spent much of their time immersed in musical exploration.  Others would come and go depending on their mood and other interests.

The music area also included a small piano keyboard which became one of the favourite musical instruments.  Many of the children learned to play their favourite melodies on this little piano and some began to make connections between printed music and the corresponding keys on the keyboard;

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This little piano was popular but it was also annoying.  This was not a true piano keyboard – simply an electronic toy with major limitations.  It had a repertoire of recorded songs to listen to but not play along with.  While a song was playing if anyone touched a piano key the song would stop – how frustrating!  It also listed several different instruments but each one was simply a slightly different irritating digital tone which sounded nothing like the instrument it claimed to be.

Recently I replaced this toy piano with a better keyboard – this is the newly purchased item that I referred at in my last post.  It has 90 recorded songs – that we can play along with – and 150 rhythms and 400 beautiful tones that sound similar to real instruments.  It is a wonderful addition to our music area;

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OK, so some of the tones are not so beautiful – or even musical – but they are interesting.  The children have made many discoveries about this keyboard through experimentation with little help from me.  In fact, on a couple of occasions I’ve had to ask them how they did something.  One of these instances had nothing to do with music.

They were engaged in a ‘army’ dramatic play activity and used the ‘helicopter’ and ‘gunshots’ tones.  They discovered that if they selected ‘helicopter’ and held one key down the helicopter tone would continue playing and they could select a second tone.  Of course the ‘gunshot’ tone was then used to shoot down the helicopter.  Not an activity I would have initiated but it did require a fair amount of cooperation and collaboration from the group of children involved.

I’ve printed and posted the entire list of songs, rhythms, and tones so they are available for those who can or want to learn to read the names and select specific songs or tones.

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Currently the most popular song choice is Pachelbel’s ‘Canon’ which has elicited discussions about what makes certain songs popular.  We’ve done some research into the history of many of these songs. The children have identified some of the recorded songs as being ‘from’ movies and television shows and are surprised to discover that these songs are ‘so old’.

Another song that produces a lot of excitement is ‘The Wedding March’ which is always played during the numerous toy weddings and often the children use the other instruments to play along as part of ‘the band’.  This is just one of the many ways the children can incorporate music into their free play activities.  They are so much more engaged in musical activities when they have control over when and how the music is used.