Tag Archives: Mixed age groups

I Spy 2

Many years ago I wrote about a group of preschoolers who enjoyed playing their version of I Spy.  My current group of preschoolers has also developed their own adaptation of the game but for them it is location/time specific – they will only play it when they are sitting at the table before, during or after meals.

In my schedule as meal time approaches I take the infants/toddlers out of the playroom one at a time so I can change diapers, wash hands, and get them seated before I do the final food prep.  I expect that the three and four-year-old children will want to continue playing during this time so I don’t request that they start cleaning.  However, they anticipate the routine and rush to put their toys away so they can come to the table.

Children: “The toys are cleaned up, can we come to the table now?”

Me: “The food is not ready and I still have diapers to change. You have more time to play if you want to”.

Children: “We want to come to the table and play I Spy”.

Me: “You could play I Spy in the playroom too”.

Children: “We like to play at the table”.

So, I send them to wash their hands and then play I Spy as they wait for me to finish preparing snack/lunch.  It goes something like this;

Child 1: I spy something that is Cheryl’s chair.

Child 2: CHERYL’S CHAIR!

Child 1: That’s right! Now it is your turn.

Child 3: Cheryl’s chair is black, you were supposed to say ‘I spy something black’.

Child 1: There are lots of black things, I spied Cheryl’s chair.

Child 2: My turn, my turn, MY TURN!  I spy something that is brown and pink and blue, and green, and gold.

Child 3: AWWCK! That’s too many colours!

Child 2: No it’s not, look at that pillow – it is brown and pink and blue, and green, and gold – see.

Child 3: OK fine, my turn.  I spy something that is on that shelf.

Child 1: The shelf by the window?

Child 3: No, not that shelf, the one that is over there by that other thing – beside the curtain.

Child 2: The birdhouse, the pencil, the phone, the book, the paper, the candle, the…

Child 3: That’s right!

Child 1: Which one was it?

Child 3: Umm, the book I think.

I don’t actually think there are any ‘wrong’ answers when they play this game – the turn taking seems to be their main goal.  Their language and communication skills are what interest me.  Inevitably, no matter how quickly I try to get lunch ready, the excitement level will become far to high and I will have to intervene to remind them about volume and activity level before I can put food on the table.  Even once the food is ready the I Spy game usually continues.

Occasionally when the school-age children are here they join in, and sometimes they manage to briefly follow the preschoolers directions.  Often they try to enforce alternate rules but the preschoolers just dismiss the new rules and carry on. The little ones enjoy having the older children play along but it is ultimately ‘their’ game and they are not interested in changing it.  Just take your turn and carry on.

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New Space

About six weeks ago I sketched a playroom arrangement on a scrap piece of paper.  It was the my response to yet another dispute over someone knocking down someone else’s block tower which was built in a walkway – a result of a small room with multiple play areas.

This was the old room arrangement with the shelves splitting the room in half – it allowed some separation between play areas but was difficult for me to interact with young infants/toddlers on both sides of the room or quickly intervene when necessary;

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I wanted the room to have better flow and more open space but still have defined spaces for various types of play.  I thought again about all the wasted space above us with our nine foot ceilings and took inspiration from tiny house design to create a new loft space – just for building with blocks, out of all walkways and the reach of infants/toddlers who prefer to destroy instead of create.

Construction took a total of six full 14 hour days over four weekends.  Some of the pieces were assembled and stored, installation was done in two phases.  The result is a completely new, more functional play space.

A brand new kitchen design is located in the SW corner of the play room. The cupboards and appliances were created by stacking and attaching wooden boxes.  The old block bin now contains food and other items that can be used in the kitchen/restaurant/store areas. The table is in the center of the room and has multiple uses.

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The music/dance area was slightly reorganized but remains in the SE corner;

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The workshop area remains in the NE corner along with some blocks;

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And the mini-scenes and entrance to the nature area remain in the NW corner but the dress-up clothes and ‘car’/steering wheel (not visible in this picture) were moved to the space across from the scenes, beside the mirror, adjacent to the kitchen area.

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The new 21 square foot loft is over the kitchen area.  It is 5 1/2 feet off the ground so the children and I can walk/stand under it.  Inside the loft there are bins of blocks and the dollhouse shelf is on the back wall.  I still have to find all the dollhouse furniture and people – most of them were removed from the playroom long ago because they were too small or delicate to have out when babies were present.  Only older children go in the loft so these toys can be there.

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The kitchen area shelves and appliances form a series of platforms that create an enclosed staircase along the side and back of the loft;

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Here’s another view of the new kitchen area and staircase. For perspective, the counter height is 24 inches and the fridge is 36 inches tall.

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I also added some new storage features inside the fridge but haven’t yet finished painting the inside white.

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There’s more new storage under, on, and beside the counter now too;

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The children are thrilled with the new play space.  From the loft they can ‘see everything‘ – makes me laugh when they include their house, favourite store, and the zoo in their list of things they can see from the loft.  Good imagination 🙂

Yet, of all the changes, the one that still excites them the most is the addition of this bell by the cash register.

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My Dream

In Manitoba a licensed family childcare provider can care for a maximum of eight children under 12 years of age.  Of those eight children, no more than five may be under six – the other three must be in grade one or older.  I love having a mixed age group and the opportunity to build a relationship with the children in my care from infancy through school-age.

Over the twenty years I have been providing childcare in my home I have known many amazing school-age children who have thrived in this setting.  Some struggled with peer relationships in their school environment but enjoyed being the ‘leader’ here – idolized by the younger children.  Some embraced responsibility and enjoyed helping the little ones.  Some were wildly creative and independent and of course there were also some who resented being with ‘babies’.

I’ve watched older children gain confidence and build their self-esteem by mentoring the younger children.  I’ve seen younger children develop skills they learned from watching and copying the older children play. I’ve also had some older children that taught the little ones things/words that I wish they hadn’t. *sigh*

I’ve noticed something else – the cost of providing food, craft supplies, activities and equipment for school-age children often exceeds the income I receive for their care.  I find that the school schedule is disruptive – breaking up what could be longer periods of engagement in learning activities for the preschoolers.  So, for several years now I haven’t made an effort to fill empty school-age spaces.

Summer was the exception.  I loved having all the ‘big kids’ here for the summer – working in the garden, going on adventures, making incredible creations, sharing fantastic stories – without the rigid school schedule.  It was wonderful to have all this time with the older children instead of just the fleeting moments before/after school when everything was so hectic and there wasn’t really any time to do anything.

Yet, when I only enrolled school-age children for the summer I was finding that the first month was spent getting everyone acquainted with each other, learning routines etc. Then, just when we were starting to develop relationships, summer was over and they were gone. The ‘freedom’ of summer wasn’t quite the same with ‘new’ school-age children instead of ones we already knew.  So, for the first time ever – I didn’t fill any of my school-age spaces  this summer – and I’m loving it.

The school-age table has been empty;

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The little ones are engaging in more age-appropriate dramatic play.  They are demonstrating their creativity instead of copying someone else. I haven’t heard ‘I’m bored’ once this summer, nor have I had to spend hours shopping for tons of additional food and supplies.

I’ve also been imagining what the little ones and I could do with that extra space I have set aside for bigger children and all the supplies they need but the little ones don’t.  I’ve started to think that it would be really, really nice if the province would let me exchange those three empty school-age spaces for one more preschool space.

Group childcare homes have two licensed providers and up to 12 infant/preschool children – that’s a 1:6 ratio.  I have five preschool spaces and although three of those five could be infants I rarely have more than one or two – sometimes even none. If they stay with me until they start school each one year of infant care will need four years of preschool care.  Hence, I’d have to kick out preschoolers if I wanted to keep those infant spaces full – I would never do that.  One more preschool space would help.

Big dream – I know.