Tag Archives: Learning

A Change of Pace

Learning to ride a bike is a childhood milestone and all children enjoy riding bikes.  Many people believe that statement to be true but I am not one of them.  Yes I, somewhat unwillingly, learned to ride a bike when I was about 6 years old. My younger sister was already a bike expert speeding around the neighbourhood and my father was insistent that I would learn too.

With an awful lot of coaxing I eventually did manage to wobble around on a bike but I never really enjoyed the experience.  Every time my sister got a new bigger, fancier bike she was thrilled.  My father would offer to get me one too – ‘Please don’t’ I would say – but he did.  Maybe he was hoping some day I would be ‘normal’ but probably he just didn’t realize that my quiet demeanor hid the torture I felt when forced to ride a bike.

I have very few fond childhood memories of bike riding excursions.  I do remember crashing, falling, and jumping off my bike.  Yes, there were many, many times that I purposely chose to jump off a moving bicycle because landing in a ditch seemed to be a better choice than staying on the seat.

A friend recently suggested maybe I don’t like things with wheels – she knows I don’t enjoy driving a car either.  I do drive – when I have to (and I’m much better at driving a car than riding a bike) – but I’ll never turn down a ride if someone else wants to drive.  Likewise, if walking is an option, I will always choose to walk.  I think maybe I feel so uncomfortable when driving or riding because I am disconnected from the earth.

In the last few years my husband has begun to join me on hiking adventures – this has been wonderful because he is willing to drive to distant trails that I have not had to opportunity to explore before.  Often on our hikes he would remark ‘This would be a great trail to bike on if you had a bike’ and I would reply ‘No,no it would not’. *Shudder*

My husband enjoys biking much more than hiking so eventually I relented and agreed to get a bike so we could occasionally go biking together.  He was much more excited than I was, checking out all the store flyers and bike displays, pointing out various features of each model.  My main concern was ensuring I’d still be able to touch the ground when I was on the bike.

Finally he picked one out and went to get it on his day off work.  I was in the back yard with the children when he came home and unloaded it from the car.  As he wheeled it through the yard all the children oohed and awed and excitedly asked ‘Cheryl, whose bike is that?’ ‘Mine’ I replied without much enthusiasm.  ‘Are you going to ride it?’  ‘Not right now.’  It had been more than 25 years since I last rode a bike. They say you don’t forget how to ride but I had my doubts especially since I was never very good at it and I’ve tried very hard to forget.

Later that week I tried a few practice rides up and down our back lane – cue fits of laughter.  When I reached the end of the lane I got off the bike, picked it up and turned it around to head back.  My husband/coach yelled down the lane ‘You don’t need to get off to turn around, the lane is wide enough, just keep pedaling and turn the wheel.’  Seriously? I would need the lane to be four times that wide before I’d make it all the way around without falling. 😛

On the weekend we packed the bikes in to the van to drive to a nice, paved, car-free bike path.  I think I did a bit better. There were only a few times that considered jumping off and even then I just put my feet on the ground and skidded to a stop.  Yes, sometimes when I panic I forget the bike has brakes.

Periodically my husband/coach would point out something interesting in the area surrounding the trail.  I’d reply, ‘Can’t look, trying to stay upright’.  Sometimes he’d suggest something new for me to ‘try’ – like standing on the pedals etc.  ‘Nope, don’t want to die today’.

It’s frustrating, I imagine that is how children feel when asked to move on to the next new skill/task when they just want to continue at the level they are currently at for a little longer.  What’s the rush, they’ll move on when they decide they are ready.  Pushing too hard or too soon might make them quit completely.

My bike ride was certainly not a stellar performance.  In fact, even my FitBit failed to recognize it as anything. It will auto-recognize a trip around the block at toddler speed as a ‘walk’.  It will auto-recognize a walk with a stroller as an ‘outdoor bike ride’. However, my first afternoon bike excursion left it confused – it had no idea what to call that.  A three-year-old, without training wheels, stopped his bike on the side of the trail to watch me -silently.  Other people I’m certain went home with stories to tell their friends and family.

Still, I rode my new bike on my terms – when, where, and how I wanted and most importantly, I will do it again.  I will never be an expert rider.  Biking on trails will never replace hiking on trails but it is an interesting change of pace.


Professional Development

The 2016 Manitoba Child Care conference was held May 26th – 28th and as usual I attended all three days.  Three full days of workshops always leaves me with information overload so I give myself a little break before I go review my notes to remind myself of all the points I found noteworthy.   This year’s theme was ‘Be Inspired, Be Incredible’ and the workshops I attended were truly inspiring especially Teacher Tom!

I’ve attended various workshops and conferences annually throughout my childcare career.  I’ve written about some of them here, here, here and here.  Occasionally I have met ECE’s who appear to be there against their will – completely apathetic and unwilling to participate.  It always makes me wonder why they chose childcare as a career if they have no desire to learn – how can they expect to inspire the children they care for?

I can’t imagine not being interested in expanding your interests – to have no curiosity – to be stagnant.  I’ve attended some workshops that turned out to be much different than I had anticipated/hoped yet I have still found at least some tidbit of useful information.  If it turns out that the workshop presenter and I have completely different views/goals I would still consider it a learning opportunity – even if it is only to reinforce my own beliefs.

I am disappointed that there are rarely more than a few family childcare providers in attendance at conferences.  I’ve heard the excuses ‘It is too expensive’ (It’s a write-off), ‘I can’t afford to close for two days’ (Attend an evening or Saturday workshop),  ‘There is nothing that interests me’ (really?!?!), ‘I already know all that stuff’ (so go lead a workshop – be the expert of your group – mentor others!),’I don’t know anyone else who is going’ (Great! Make some new friends).  In fact, I think that last one is really important – possibly the most important reason you should be going. Family childcare providers work in isolation and it is really easy to get stuck in an old, outdated routine and never grow.

Certainly we can develop wonderful relationships with the families we have enrolled but that can’t provide the type of benefit we get from interacting with peers. Besides – we get food at conferences – food we don’t need to cook ourselves!  I love food that someone else cooks – except fishy things, I don’t like seafood.  One of the reasons I joined a gym is so I never have to turn down food when someone offers it to me.  Ooops, sorry, I got a little off topic for a moment…

The Province of Manitoba Best Practices Licensing Manual for Family and Group Childcare Homes recommends:



Networking with colleagues is extremely important whether through conferences, committees, courses or some other type of training.  Although useful at times I don’t think looking for new ideas on Pinterest or interacting with peers on social media sites counts as professional development. Personally I believe professional development should be a regulation, a requirement for licensing not just a best practice.

So, here are a few points from my notes from this year’s MCCA conference;

  • Attitude matters, 100 positive people + 1 negative person = 101 negative people.
  • Quality is only as strong as your most marginal performer.
  • Cooperation is hardwired, competition is taught.
  • Formal instruction prepares people to work in factories.
  • Education is not the filling of an empty vessel – it is the ignition of the flame.
  • If it is not interesting to you it is not interesting to them either.
  • Play is what children do when adults stop telling them what they should do.
  • Young children are the most creative problem solvers in the world.
  • The role of the teacher is to prepare the environment for the children to play.

To be honest most of these points are not new knowledge for me but the conversations I was involved in surrounding these points were extremely enlightening and that is why I go to conferences. Counting down the days until my next conference – The Manitoba Nature Summit is just three months away – so excited!

Favourite Things

I always find it interesting when an old favourite toy from the play room becomes popular with a new group of children. Many of the toys once belonged to my own children and are no longer available in stores.  There are no commercials on TV to entice the children to want to play with these toys.

With a mixed age group in Family Childcare often the younger children develop a preference for certain toys based on their observations of the older children at play – a learned behaviour.  The younger children use the toys the same way the older children use the toys.  The toy itself is not necessarily the attraction – the younger children just want to be with/like the older ones.

There are some items that one or two children may love but others never show much interest in.  Of course, there are often items that are popular simply because someone else wants it.  These items are rarely actually ever played with – just hoarded for the sole purpose of being in control.

Some toys are loved by many of the children – different groups, various ages, over long periods of time.  These are the toys that interest me the most.  Why are they so popular?  One such toy is this little set of 25 year old blocks;


Every time the Duplo/Mega blocks are out in the play room there will be at least one child in the group who will choose these nine little blocks every time they enter the room.  Of all the blocks in the bin the child/children prefer these ones.  Sometimes just one particular one – like ‘the puppy’ – which is the current favorite for this toddler.


Yet many children have never even attempted to put the blocks together create the characters.  They don’t seem to care or even notice that there are three feet blocks, three body blocks and three head blocks that together can form 12 different characters.  Yet, of all the blocks in the bin these nine are almost always chosen first.  Some children never even play with any of the other blocks – just the white ones or none.


There are other people/animal toys in the block bin and other areas in the room but they are not as popular.  There are other ‘rare’ blocks – there are only a few black or purple blocks compared to the plentiful red, yellow, blue or green ones yet only the occasional child will specifically seek out the other rare ones. There are other puzzle/matching toys throughout the playroom – they don’t engage any of the children the way these nine little white blocks do.

I regularly rotate the toys in and out of the playroom.  Two of the children in my current preschool group have never seen these blocks before and have not been influenced by the older children yet they still choose the little white blocks first.  Why?

I may never know the reason these toys are so popular.  There may be a different reason for each child.  I do know that I will continue to enjoy observing the children as they explore and make discoveries.  I will continue to wonder why.  I will continue to be amazed.

Rewards, Punishments and Learning

The teacher was standing at the blackboard surveying the group of children in the class.  She had just demonstrated how to print the lower case letter ‘f’ within the three horizontal lines that were neatly drawn on the board.  Now she was looking for a child to come to the board and prove that she had been successful in ‘teaching’ the proper placement of the letter.

I sunk lower in my seat, trying not to make eye contact.  The words ‘Please, not me’ looped silently in my head.  I knew how to print the letter ‘f’.  I knew how to print all the letters in the alphabet but I didn’t want to go to the board and show her or anyone else.

The teacher called my name.

I stood up and walked slowly to the front of the class.  I looked at the ground in front of me – trying not to notice everyone staring at me.  I wanted to scream and run out of the room but that would have drawn even more attention to me.

I took the piece of chalk that the teacher offered me.  I could feel the other children watching me as I tentatively placed the tip of the chalk against the board and drew a straight line down.  I knew I had already failed to follow the instructions and I contemplated how to correct it.  I quickly placed the chalk back at the top of the vertical line and added the curve and then finished the ‘f’ with the line across.

The teacher’s reaction was swift.  “Wrong” she said sternly as she took the chalk from me and proceeded to demonstrate the ‘correct’ method.  She then instructed me to go to the other end of the blackboard and fill two full lines with properly formed f’s.

I scuttled to the end of the board and began the task.  The class continued to ‘learn’ other letters and then they went out for recess. With the now empty classroom my printing improved.  The teacher came to inspect my progress.  Satisfied, she released me from the task and I went out to play.

More than forty years has passed and I still pause and shudder each and every time I print an ‘incorrect’ letter f.  Yet, how I print the letters is irrelevant to others as long as they are readable.  So, was the teacher’s lesson successful?

I’d like to believe that we don’t teach like that anymore.

Printing is a tool of communication – one of many.  Using tools takes practice.  Not right or wrong, reward or punishment.  Learning requires trial and error; freedom to explore and experiment without fear of being wrong.  Punishments and rewards only teach compliance – nothing more.

Like Chalk & Cheese

I’ve never heard that phrase before but when I asked Word for a synonym for ‘different’ one of the options I was given was ‘like chalk & cheese’.  I thought it was very fitting since neither chalk nor cheese is bad but they are very different – as are things around here.

I’ve had another day without batteries for my camera because I’ve been too busy to get to the store. Watching the children play has been different – but not necessarily bad — without a camera in hand.  Sure, there have been moments when I wished I had been able to take a picture but there have also been more opportunities for me to interact with the children too.

Of course sometimes ‘interacting’ seems more like ‘interfering’.  Like yesterday morning as the children were playing outside and one of the preschoolers was wandering back and forth across the yard carrying on what seemed to be random conversations with possibly imaginary playmates.  Although she didn’t appear to be talking to me I felt somewhat compelled to answer her questions when she was near me.

After the third or fourth time I answered a miscellaneous question she stopped pacing, stared at me and with an exasperated tone said “I’m not talking to you”.

“Who are you talking to?” I asked.

She sighed and lifted her hat just enough to expose the piece of bark – with wheat straw antenna – that she had stuck against her ear. “Can’t you see my cell phone?” she replied.

Yes, now I do. I love symbolic play. Now please excuse me while I go make a camera so I can take a picture of your phone…:-)

The other children were busy too.  Several of them were playing with the hoola hoops.  They had started by playing some sort of tag game in which their movements and ‘escape routes’ were restricted to the pathways created by the hoops. I thought it was a cool game, they were cooperating so well and it was such a unique way to play tag in a small space.

Then they began using the hoops to make wings.  Some of the children were butterflies.  Others were birds.  One used four hoops to create a really wide wingspan and announced that he was an eagle.

One of the girls used her two hoops to form a circle and then she curled up inside of it.  “What are you?” I asked.

“Right now I’m a cocoon” she said “but soon I’ll be a butterfly”.

Following this we then had many eggs and cocoons which became birds and butterflies which laid more eggs and spun more cocoons and so on….

You get the picture – even without a camera.

School starts next week so I’ll have few ‘full day’ children here.  Everything will be so different.  I’m going to miss the long periods of free play – the creativity, cooperation and imagination.  I’m going to miss watching them learn.

However, I can’t say the days will be quiet or boring. We do have some of our old friends returning and a young infant will be joining our group. So the learning won’t end, it will just be different.

Laying a Foundation

There has been some amazing development around here.  The children have been busy building more than just towers. The addition of the wood scraps and other loose parts have enabled the children to create some really impressive structures.

They’ve been laying foundations. Like piers for bridges;

Solid footings for buildings;

Able to support traffic;

Additional design elements;

Incorporating different sizes and shapes;

Experimenting with angles and viewpoints;

Amazing architecture;

Creativity and imagination;

To build foundations and develop skills for problem solving, colaborating, communicating, calculating and so much more.