Tag Archives: Mixed age groups

Tiles

When one of my childcare parents asked me if I wanted some tile samples from her workplace I of course said yes – I wasn’t certain what I would use them for but I knew I’d find something.  Removing all the tiles from the sample boards/books was a very long and difficult task but sorting and organizing them by size and colour was much more fun.  If the tiles were not so breakable they would make wonderful loose parts just like that but with a mixed age group that includes infants and toddlers there are some safety concerns.

My first project didn’t involve the children – I glued some of the tiles on an old spool to create a table for our outdoor play space.  This was done during my vacation as part of my most recent outdoor play space renovation.

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Still, I also wanted to find a way that the children could use the tiles too.  I decided that mosaic pictures or stepping stones for the garden would probably be the best choice.  The majority of the tile samples were too large to use whole so I thought the children would like to help break them up.  For a few hours on two consecutive summer days I sat in the yard breaking tiles while the children ran around fully engaged in other activities.  I was a little surprised my invitation to smash stuff got no interest but I certainly wasn’t going to insist they stop what they were doing and join me.

Initially I planned to use cardboard trays as forms for cement ‘stones’ and let the children decorate them with the broken tile pieces – with direct supervision I thought even the youngest ones could do this.  However, after reading cement making directions and calculating the amount of cement needed to fill each tray, I had doubts about being able to make enough cement to fill all the cardboard trays I had collected AND supervise children too.

I thought about how I had glued the tiles to the old wooden spool and decided that would be an easier way to do it.  I cut cedar fence boards into squares to use as the base.  Using cedar the finished ‘stones’ could be used outdoors for garden decorations or indoors if they preferred. Also, because the cedar squares were much smaller than the cardboard forms I originally planned to use there was a better chance the children would complete at least one.

There were many steps for this project so this allowed us to work on it over a long period of time.  Not all the children worked on their creations at the same time but most of the work was done at quiet time when babies were sleeping.  Ultimately, due to the sharp edges of the broken tiles and the toxicity of some of the supplies, I felt  it was not a developmentally appropriate activity for the littlest ones even with direct supervision.

For the first step I provided each child with a cardboard base the same size as the cedar squares.  They used this to dry fit the tile pieces taking as much time as they needed to choose and arrange tiles to create their designs.

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When they were happy with their design I mixed floor leveler cement to use as an adhesive for the tiles.  I had considered several adhesive options but decided on the floor leveler because;

  1. I had a bag of it already because I’ve used it on my home floors
  2. I pretested it on the cedar & tiles and it worked very well
  3. I can mix it in small batches as needed
  4. It dries quickly (maybe a little too quick)
  5. Cleanup is fairly easy

The next step was to put the cement on the cedar boards – the children enjoyed watching the wet cement flow across the board.  No pictures of this as we had to work quickly at this point.  Each child then had to transfer their pattern from the cardboard template to the cedar board before the cement dried.

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Interestingly all three of the four-year-olds managed to complete this step with only a couple ‘extra’ pieces that didn’t fit on their boards.  The school-age children were much slower, overthinking the process and trying to change their patterns. They ended up with many leftover pieces and some spaces where the cement dried before they could get any tiles on.

Now, when I originally planned this activity this would have been the finished product but although the floor leveler cement worked well to adhere the tiles to the boards, it wasn’t thick enough to cover the sharp edges of the broken tiles.  If we had used thick concrete in cardboard forms we could have pushed the tile pieces in far enough that they would have been flush with the concrete surface.  Alternatively, if the tiles had all had straight edges and been arranged close together then there wouldn’t have been large gaps.

However, we did have large gaps and sharp edges and my solution was to use grout.  Luckily, I had plenty on hand leftover from when I tiled the back splash in my kitchen.  I mixed it in small batches and let the children spoon it into the gaps – I know, not proper grouting technique but it worked.

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Then came the final step – washing off the extra grout.  This proved to be everyone’s favourite step.  In fact, now that I know how much these children LOVE using warm soapy water and sponges I have many more ‘projects’ planned for them 😉

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This was a very long project – nearly six weeks from the time I first broke the tiles until the last child completed their mosaic board.  Probably wouldn’t have take that long if we didn’t work on it only in small groups at quiet time and didn’t have to wait for things to dry between steps. Yet, those were some of the ‘special’ things about this project too.

Here are a few of the finished products;

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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.