Tag Archives: Outdoor Play

A Variation

I didn’t manage to write any posts about our activities this summer. Additional screen time from virtual meetings may have been a factor that deterred me from computer related activities like paper work and post writing. My preference for spending time outdoors over indoors was definitely a factor too, but that is nothing new. Probably the main reason I didn’t find time to write was due to our schedule and some of the changes I made to it.

This summer was different than usual because I had a much older group of children. All my part time ‘inservice day only’ school-age children needed summer care and with some juggling of family vacation times I was able to accommodate everyone. I also chose to wait until fall to fill a vacant infant spot so, for the summer, that space could be used for a school-age child.

This unusual grouping meant that only one of my children was under four years old. It also meant I was busier than usual and there is oh so much TALKING. Transitions between indoors and out, play and meals, etc take soooo loonngg. Honestly, dressing five toddlers for winter play takes less time than getting seven 4-9 year olds to stay focused on what they need to do to get ready. So much time discussing/planning what they are going to do – please just do it!

I was expecting this – I had witnessed it on inservice days even when ALL of them were not here. The older ones tend to arrive later than the little ones – maybe because they are used to the later start of school classes or maybe because their parents face similar delays getting the out the door at home. I decided to make a few changes to our daily routine to lessen the delays.

Usually the little ones have been here for an hour or more already and it is almost morning snack time when the older children arrive. If I let them go play ‘for a few minutes’ until snack then we have a transition from arrival to playroom, a transition from playroom to snack, a transition to get ready to go outside – which will also require a bathroom break because the first two transitions and snack took an incredibly long time. It will be at least 10:00AM before we manage to get everyone out the door – no way I’m waiting that long before going outside to play in the summer!

So, I decided to make some adjustments to our (my) schedule and in order to do that I’d have to modify the menu. In past summers we have occasionally packed snack to take with us to have on a hike or at the park. On our regular menu not many of the morning snacks are portable so I created a special ‘summer’ menu in which all the morning snacks were portable. Our picnic bag was packed and ready before the older children arrived. The younger ones who arrived early had some indoor play time, bathroom break and were getting ready to go outside when the older ones arrived – also ready to go because they hadn’t actually come in.

That one schedule change meant we were heading out about 30 minutes ahead of our ‘normal’ schedule when I have only preschool children but up to 2 hours earlier than if I had let the older ones play indoors and have snack before going out. It also meant we got our walk, picnic snack and active play/tag/game time in the park early in the day before it got too hot. We still had time for lower energy, outdoor constructive and creative activities in the yard under the sunshade before lunch.

active play in the park

Since that schedule change required a modified morning snack menu, I decided to do a completely different ‘summer’ menu for lunches and afternoon snacks too. Even though I intended to ‘simplify’ the menu for summer, it turned out to be a very time consuming endeavor.

I involved the children in the menu planning with discussions on what they would like to have the following week. They were not very helpful. There were the some who loved everything and couldn’t decide and others who really would prefer only marshmallows and gummy bears. We did try a lot of new recipes – some of them were very popular and have been/will be added to our regular menu. I might have time to write a post about them sometime in the future.

However, there were many weekends when I was left scrambling because I had no idea what groceries I needed for the upcoming week because I still hadn’t completed writing the menu. Meal prep was also arduous as unfamiliar recipes required more time and thought even if the recipes were ‘simple’.

Nap/quiet time in the afternoon was shorter with mostly older children. I barely had time to clean up lunch and only very occasionally got to take a ‘break’ before it was time to get nap/quiet time stuff put away and start prepping afternoon snack. We had ‘refreshing’ afternoon snacks like frozen fruit smoothies or ice cream and berries before heading outside again until home time. Some days I didn’t sit down at all between 6AM and 6PM. When I did finally sit down, writing blog posts was the last thing on my mind.

The older children have all gone to school now. Our routine is changing again. We have welcomed two new infants into our group. The four-year-olds are adapting to their new role as the ‘big kids’ setting examples for the new ones. The former ‘baby’ of the group is now suddenly the ‘middle’ child. It has been surprisingly quiet – and I’m doing a lot more sitting because if I stand there will also be an expectation that I carry one, or more, of the children.

It is another variation – a new phase – in a mixed age group in family childcare.

Unexpected

We love playing outdoors in the winter. Compared to the warmer seasons our winter walks are shorter as is our total time outdoors but we still manage to spend 1-2 hours playing outdoors everyday.

In the winter there are no ‘toys’ in the yard – most break easily in the cold. Of course we still have sticks, pots, and the ultimate loose part – SNOW! I also routinely make various ice blocks for building, collecting and sorting. It is the perfect activity for frigid cold winters.

small coloured blocks of ice

With the addition of liquid watercolour paint to the water before freezing these blocks add a nice pop of colour to the yard. Sometimes I freeze dozens of trays full of coloured ice cubes and scatter them all over the yard. It is best done just before a snowfall because the children love hunting and digging for ‘gems’.

This year I decided to make some bigger ice blocks using both ice cream pails and square containers. I imagined the children may enjoy using them for stepping stones – they love the slippery spots in the yard. I also figured with bigger blocks they could build bigger structures than they could with small ice blocks. The gross motor skills required for manipulating the large blocks would be a bonus.

ice blocks and pails

The result was unexpected. The combination of the large containers and the above normal January temperatures meant the blocks took longer to freeze – I expected that. What I didn’t expect was that the liquid watercolour would separate from the water during freezing and even disappear completely!

green circular block of ice

Only four of the ten blocks remained intact when I removed them from the containers. The other ones were fragile because they were hollow! That was certainly unexpected and why it happened I do not know.

hollow round ice block

The centers of these hollow ice blocks were not wet and any colour that remained was a fine powdery texture. It was like, once the liquid watercolour paint separated from the tap water, the liquid part of the paint evaporated. How that was possible confuses me – the tops of all the blocks are solid thick ice – the bottoms are the thin delicate parts that shatter when touched to reveal the hollow centers.

hollow square ice block

Well that was unexpected and I still wanted some usable ice blocks so I filled all the containers with water again. I decided to not use any liquid water colour paint this time but I wanted something to make the ice blocks stand out a little in the snow. I found an old bag of potpourri and tossed a few pieces in each bucket. Interestingly, the next day the water had turned a nice shade of red,

containers full or red water

However, after four days outside, in the shade, in January, there is only a thin partial layer of ice on the surface of each bucket of water. How is it possible that in Manitoba I cannot freeze water outside in January?

That is unexpected.

Changing

I’ve been neglecting my website – haven’t written a blog post in almost three months!

This pandemic has brought many changes. For me personally most of these changes have had very little negative impact. I don’t like crowds, concerts, festivals, sports, traveling etc so these limits/closures haven’t bothered me but I understand many people have been greatly impacted.

Line-ups for the grocery store and empty shelves were a bit of an annoyance but nothing I couldn’t adapt to. I’ve always been a borderline hoarder – I have three freezers and two pantries to store all the stuff I stock up on when things are on sale. Still, there were a few items that even I ran out of and had difficulty finding and the increased costs have been rough on my budget.

Luckily my hoarding tendencies apply to my bank account as well – I’ve been called a miser – so my lowered income level wasn’t a disaster. I could still feed my family and pay my bills. Yet honestly, when CERB was announced I did fantasize about what I could do with even a one month paid vacation. I haven’t had a paid vacation in….my entire life! It was just a fantasy though as I didn’t qualify for CERB.

I did have two months of low attendance – which means lower income for the same 11 hour work day. Same number of meals and activities to plan, same amount of supervision, just slightly less busy throughout the day – and that for me is a negative. I would have much preferred either the, sometimes hectic, excitement of having everyone here or having no children here and uninterrupted time to tackle some other projects.

However, knowing that I would have low attendance for an extended period of time did allow me to make some changes. I was able to close some play spaces temporarily – I still had to wait until the children were gone before I could do any of the rearranging, demolition, or construction but I didn’t have to finish the project before they returned. Even with some ‘off limits’ areas there was still enough play space available for the number of children attending.

Work on the loft was the big project I had originally planned to tackle on my summer vacation but instead I was able to break the project down into smaller phases which I could then complete over several weekends in April and May. The finished play space looks like this;

Open gate between main play room and art/dining area with new table (previous post) and reorganized shelves.
Rearranged housekeeping/store area under new loft.
Entrance to housekeeping/store area, side view of loft stairs, animal/nature shelves.
View inside housekeeping/store area and stairs to the loft.
Looking North in the new loft – two separate areas, one for block play, one for doll house
South view from loft block area into doll house area.
Wide view of West side of playroom including entire loft and entrance to quiet/relaxation space.

I’ve had all eight children here full days for the past three months – the longest I’ve ever had all my school-age spaces full. I decided not to close for a summer vacation this year because the need for summer care was so high and I had already finished my summer projects. It has been an amazing summer – we’ve really enjoyed the new spaces during the limited time we’ve used them.

Really, 6:30 – 8:30 AM is our longest indoor play period. Otherwise the majority of our day has been spent outside. In fact, the reason I haven’t been writing is mostly due to long periods outside, away from my computer – trying not to obsess about what the government has done to childcare in Manitoba.

Spending plenty of time outside is nothing new for us – if the pandemic had restricted our outdoor time we would definitely have struggled – even with our new indoor play spaces. September will bring more changes. The school-age children will be leaving again – we will miss having them here all day. We hope they will still get to spend plenty of time outside – even in the winter. We may not be outside all day in the winter but we will still be outside several hours every day – and loving it.

Change isn’t always easy – sometimes it seems like an insurmountable challenge. We’ve faced it before and we’ll do it again. The unknown factors may be scary but we’ll figure it out.

To Close or Not To Close

Everyone is being affected by the Covid-19 pandemic – for some it may be just a mild inconvenience, for others it may be a major disruption to their daily lives. Some people are overwhelmed and beginning to panic while others are completely nonchalant.

For those of us working in childcare the big question has been ‘Is the daycare going to close?’ and the only available answer has been ‘We don’t know.’

Even in the field there are arguments both for and against closing childcare facilities. Many think that because the schools are closing, childcare facilities should too. Others argue that childcare is an essential service and must remain open for those parents who need to go to work.

My personal, possibly not popular opinion, is that licensed childcare facilities should NOT be forced to close.

Certainly, any sick children or staff should not be there and should be isolated at home, but what about those children whose parents still need to go to work? If they have a spouse or other family member who is temporarily off work then they have options but what if they don’t?

What if their only available childcare option is Grandma – whose immune system is already compromised? Maybe another choice is the unlicensed childcare provider who wasn’t forced to close and now has agreed to temporarily take in any and all the children who need childcare.

Wouldn’t a licensed childcare facility – with strict cleaning and disinfecting procedures already in place – be a better option?

Yes, social distancing is a very difficult if not impossible concept for children but most trained early childhood educators have the skills to implement games and activities to limit direct contact. Many of us will actually be spending most of our time playing outdoors in the fresh air.

If licensed facilities are forced to close where will those children go? Are they able to be with their family or are their parents at work and the children are huddled on the couch watching movies with their friends. What if their parents’ only option now is to send them to that one person on the block who says ‘No problem, send them all here, we’re having a party’.

Sure, if parents are off work and able to use this situation to be isolated at home spending quality time with their family that is probably the best option. The reality is that there are still a lot of parents who need to go to work and closing all licensed childcare facilities might just be the worst thing to do.

Garden Produce

Yes, yet another post that I’ve been slow to write – there is snow on the ground and I’m writing about the garden… Well, actually, I’m writing about stuff leftover from the garden. I just used our last tomato so we have no more ‘food’ from our garden but our garden provides some wonderful loose parts that we will continue to use.

This year our sunflowers grew very well – I wrote about them already. We didn’t just get seeds and flowers though, we also got to use the big sunflower stalks in our construction area;

Sunflower stalks are very light for their size so the toddlers feel super strong carrying them about. They make good bridges and paths;

Other popular loose parts we get from the garden are the beans. We usually grow several different varieties of beans. Some of course are grown to eat but the scarlet runner beans we grow for fun. This year there were some pretty impressive beans;

Taking the seeds from the pods is a very popular activity – partly because many of the toddlers love disassembling stuff (disconnecting schema) but it is also great for developing fine motor skills.

We were surprised to discover that the biggest pods did NOT contain the biggest seeds. The variety of seed colours and sizes is also very interesting.

These ones we brought inside to add to our seed collection to plant in the spring. We have many more out in the yard – they get used as ‘ingredients’ for potions, sorting by size and shape, transporting in pails and trucks, land art, and so much more. Sometimes we even discover bean plants growing in random spots outside of the garden. Wonder how that happened? 🙂

Sunflowers & Squirrels

Squash, peas, beans and sunflower seeds are large enough that the toddlers can plant them independently so we plan to grow them in our garden every year. We always grow a little bit of wheat so we can grind it into flour and bake something with it. Tomatoes are a staple in our garden too but we usually purchase seedlings to ensure we get plenty of tomatoes. Each year we also try some different things for variety – this year it was dill, radicchio, and carrots.

The weather was crazy this summer – most of our plants did OK but not great. All four types of squash failed to produce any usable fruit. The wheat and radicchio started off nicely and then fizzled and died – first time we’ve ever had a complete wheat crop failure. We had a fair number of tomatoes and a few beans and carrots but would have liked more. The sunflowers grew very well – almost taking over the whole garden.

We had planted two different types of sunflower seeds but there seemed to be more than two varieties of sunflowers – many different sizes and colours, some stalks with just a single flower, others with multiple flowers, some with few seeds and others that were mostly seeds. These fancy ones were my favourites;

The sunflowers created a lot of interest in the garden. Butterflies and bees were plentiful all summer long.

Squirrels were also frequent visitors in our garden – and they were not overly concerned about sharing the yard with toddlers.

The cats were entranced – probably wished they were allowed outside too instead of just watching through the window.

The squirrels were very messy – leaving piles of discarded shells and debris all over the yard.

They also left our sunflowers looking like this;

Luckily we still managed to collect some seeds to plant next year – and we discovered that the seeds from those fancy sunflowers turn your fingers bright purple!

Even without seeds the sunflowers made wonderful loose parts for outdoor play. The biggest one was a whopping sixteen inches wide!

Both squirrels and sunflowers were welcome attractions in our yard this summer.

Frigid Cold

I’ve been working on a post about our winter yard and what we like to do out there. I will not have time to complete that post today but I did want to write a quick post about the weather.

Today’s weather forecast states the high temperature will be minus 25 C with wind chill of minus 44 in the morning and minus 35 in the afternoon. Yet, the children and I will still be going outside for at least a brief period of time.

Why? Well, first of all, any of the children who arrive here today will have at some point had to go outside so saying ‘It is too cold to go outside’ would not be true.

Second, if I don’t take them outside there will at some point be a mutiny because at least some of the children really want to go outside and I definitely don’t want to keep them inside all day.

Third, and probably most important, cold weather like this is a fantastic learning opportunity. As we prepare to go outside we will discuss how to dress appropriately for the weather. All the children (even the littlest ones) will work on completing self help skills, independence and decision making. We will experience the way the sun warms us and the trees shelter us from the wind. We will build resilience.

The children will make the decision as to how long we can play outside. They will learn to realize how they and others feel – are they warm enough but their friends are too cold? What can they do to help?

So, I didn’t get a chance to complete my post about our winter yard, but this quick little post may be the perfect introduction to the importance of having a outdoor play space designed for winter.

Mud Day 2018

The problem with having Mud Day on the Friday before my vacation begins is that then I’m too busy working on my vacation projects to write about anything.  So, since my ‘vacation’ is nearly over and my projects are almost complete here’s a very quick post about June 29, 2018.

The weather forecast said there was a chance of rain and there was a tiny bit of rain before we got outside – we wouldn’t have minded if it had continued.  Once outside, the children immediately ran to check out the pool full of semi-dry soil;

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Some were curious why it was only dirt but then I asked them if they were certain it was only dirt.  They dug deeper…

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Surprise!

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It took much longer than I expected for them to find all the ‘dinosaur bones‘ hidden in the dirt so I didn’t bother bringing out the new activity cards – today the mud play was their main focus – I’ll introduce the card activities another day.

The children were becoming less interested in playing in the pool of dirt and seemed to prefer playing in the bins of water meant for washing the dirt off the bones.

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So, I changed it up a bit…

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Some of the children liked this much better;

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Later we added some corn flour to the mud to make mud dough which the older children enjoyed playing with all afternoon while the littles napped;

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As I watched the children engaged in their mud day activities I was already making plans for Mud Day 2019.  I knew that one of my vacation projects was removing the old deck – where we were currently playing with mud – but I also knew that there would still be space for mud play and so much more.

You though, will have to wait until after my vacation is over and I’ve finished all my projects before you get to see the new outdoor play space. 😉

Summer 2017 – The Hill Project

As usual my summer ‘vacation’ project list was very long – too long for the two week time slot I allotted.  The back yard was not actually on the list at first but in June I suddenly had an idea to solve a concern I had about ‘the hill’ (sometimes called the bridge or tunnel).  This is a picture taken last summer of the view of the hill/bridge/tunnel from the tipi;

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The hill was originally created back in 2010 when the old play structures were removed leaving the gravel area looking quite bare.  I didn’t want another large structure but I did think the space needed something.  The hill originally had a slide on one side, the tunnel was very popular, and the native prairie plants provided some much needed greenery in the yard at that time.

The slide and log steps never stayed as secure as I would have liked so they were soon removed.  For a few years the platform and tunnel were very popular for many dramatic play and gross motor activities like ‘Motabular’ (the children named that activity). As the interests of the children enrolled changed, play on the hill also changed and two years ago I added some rocks.

The children liked to use the platform to ‘play hockey’;

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And sit on the ‘bridge’ to go fishing;

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But there were many disputes over who would be on each side.  There were also problems with reckless behaviour like racing up and down the hill or jumping off the bridge without first looking for obstacles or hazards. Additionally, the structure was beginning to show its age.  I decided it was time for the hill to go.

My first step was to gather some supplies (thanks Annika);

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Then I spent two days removing rocks, transplanting plants, moving pails of soil to the other gardens, disassembling the bridge and cribbing and raking gravel.  It was beginning to take shape;

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I used the new stumps in addition to the old ones to create a full circle with little space between the stumps.  The majority of the gravel was raked to one side of the inner circle to three distinct levels.  Outside the circle the gravel in the ‘walkway’ is about 8 inches deep and fairly well packed as we haven’t dug here in years.  Inside the circle there is no gravel, just an old blue tarp on one side and nearly two feet of gravel on the other side.  The slope between the two sides is held in place by all those big rocks that used to be on the hill.  So now the gravel area looks like this;

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And from the other side;

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The view from the tipi now;

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And in case you were wondering what happens when it rains….I said it was an old blue tarp – it has holes in it so the water drains out.

Within seconds of entering the yard on the first day back after vacation this is where the boys were, happily chatting about what they did on their vacation;

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Spring Roundup

Spring is such a busy time for me.  As usual I’ve been collecting pictures to use in blog posts but not leaving myself enough time to actually write posts 😦

So, here is a roundup of what should have been three posts;

I made a batch of homemade glue for an art project but then realized the recipe made much more than we needed and it doesn’t keep for very long. So, I dumped it in a big bin along with paper bits from the shredder, wool scraps, glitter and paint powder.  The children enjoyed mashing it all together – no pictures of that part because it was way too messy to have a camera nearby.

Initially the mixture was extremely sticky and some of us were not impressed by the sensation of having our hands coated in the goo.  Eventually the paper absorbed enough of the glue and made the mixture easier to handle.

Later each of the children took a portion of the mixture to work with;

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Or form into mini balls and throw around the room;

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They pressed the mixture into the shape of the bowl and then we let it dry;

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It took a lot longer than anticipated – nearly a week before they were dry and ready to take home;

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Outside, now that the snow is gone, the boys have been begging for me to open the ‘summer toys’ bin. So far I have resisted – knowing there will be a big issue over who gets the one Batman figure (which may mysteriously disappear).  They’ve managed to keep themselves busy with the loose parts and eggs;

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The longer periods of outdoor time have meant some are very tired by nap time (or earlier).  One however, has been using quiet time to become a jigsaw puzzle expert. He has now completed ALL of my 100 piece puzzles several times and can finish two of them in one afternoon.

I decided maybe we should try something a little more challenging – so I brought out a 500 piece puzzle.  This part took him two days with no assistance from me;

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He did find the trees and mountains a little more difficult so I assisted with sorting some of the pieces. He is persistent and refuses to give up without finishing.  By the third week – after about 12 hours of actual work – he had done this much;

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I think that is very impressive for a four year old 🙂  I’m not the only one who has been busy.