Tag Archives: Social Skills

Sandwich Day

Since I first began writing this blog I’ve had parents tell me I should write a post about Sandwich Day. Well, today’s the day I’m finally getting around to doing that.

More than two decades ago, when I first opened my childcare home, I created the original 4 week revolving menu. On this menu I ensured that each week we had one lunch that included rice, one with potatoes, one with pasta, one day for hot bread meals like chili buns, burgers or meat pie and of course one day we had sandwiches.

There was a period of time, very long ago, when I had a couple children who would have been happier if we had sandwiches for lunch every single day because they didn’t want to eat anything else. With the whole group we had many discussion on the variety of food preferences and eventually these children learned to enjoy many other foods too but sandwiches remained their favourite. Hence the cheers for ‘Sandwich Day’ began.

There were no cheers for ‘Pasta Day’ even though some children really loved pasta. There were no cheers for ‘Rice Day’ either, and potato day usually got groans instead of cheers. The types of pasta, rice or potato meals on our menu changed often but so did the types of sandwiches. Yet, even when the sandwiches on the menu were not everyone’s favourite type, there were still cheers for Sandwich Day.

Parents have told me stories about their child’s Sandwich Day chant throughout the drive to daycare. They’ve commented how their normally reluctant riser will bounce out of bed when reminded that it is Sandwich Day. Some of the children have created Sandwich Day dances and rhymes. When two of the children arrive at the same time on a Tuesday morning there are special Sandwich Day hugs.

On numerous occasions I’ve been asked for my sandwich ‘recipes’ by parents whose children flat out refuse to eat sandwiches at home. However, I will also admit that all the children don’t always eat the sandwiches here either. I believe that ‘Sandwich Day’ isn’t really about the sandwiches – it is really about the shared experience, the friendships and the community.

The children who first deemed that Tuesday was ‘Sandwich Day’ left a long time ago and would be adults now. Still the tradition has continued – passed on through group after group of children in my care. As much as I would kind of like to take credit for the enthusiasm of Sandwich Day, I know that it is not something I initiated. I like sandwiches but I wouldn’t create a special day of the week for them – not without also assigning a special day for potatoes or rice or pasta too.

Year after year I have done nothing to promote ‘Sandwich Day’ other than ensure the menu has sandwiches on Tuesday because that is what the children expect. Sandwich Day is their thing – I’m just following their lead – and that is probably why they think it is so special.

I planned to take a picture of our sandwiches yesterday so I could include it in the post but lunch time was just too busy. Instead, here’s a picture of the Apple Bread I made without using the bread machine. After all, bread is a very important part of the sandwich.

Quiet Spaces

Throughout the past couple months I have observed the children using dress-up clothes and blankets to create ‘snow forts’ in the playroom. I recognized this repeated behaviour as an expression of interest in exploring the enveloping/enclosing schema and at first I assisted by simply providing some clothespins.

The children were still often frustrated because in our play room the best places to create ‘snow forts’ are also the walkways. Consequently the builders were always getting into disputes with the children who were trying to pass by to get to the other side of the room.

I had another idea. Recently I’ve been removing many of the items in the housekeeping area because the toddlers were leaving many things strewn about on the floor after searching for a particular item – there were too many toys. I took away a few more of the lesser used items, consolidated the remaining ones and then removed the empty shelves from two of the boxes that form the base of the loft. Then I added some pillow to these otherwise empty boxes.

These boxes proved to be popular places to curl up with a few small toys.

Of course I also knew that two hiding spots would never be enough so I rearranged the musical instruments and created two more spots under the keyboard shelf. These ones are even more popular – probably because the children can feel enclosed while still playing ‘with’ their friends.

Sometimes the children add curtains too

I’m considering adding ‘peek-a-boo’ holes in the board that divides these hideaways – it might make them even more interesting. Even after all the children have gone home, these spaces are still popular.

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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Old Cats, New Cat

Mali and Malta joined our family in July 2006 when they were just five weeks old;

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They were sisters and best friends and together adapted quickly to living in a busy childcare home.  They usually loved all the attention they got from the children but also knew they had quiet spaces to escape to when they had enough.  I often commented on their ‘synchronized sleeping’;

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Over the years they got bigger – too big actually – Malta carried a little extra weight but Mali was very overweight;

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They were put on a vet recommended diet and dropped down to a healthier weight.  They still sometimes beg for food from the children so ‘Don’t feed people food to the cats’ has been an important lesson for the children.  It has also resulted in many wonderful conversations about healthy diets for both children and cats.  Through it all Mali and Malta remained best friends and still enjoy playing with the children and having alone time too.

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Last winter when we first introduced a new cat into our family I was slightly concerned that the two bigger, bonded cats may pick on the little newbie.  Sure, Mali & Malta considered children, and even our old dog to be acceptable housemates but they had never lived with another cat.  I wasn’t certain how the ‘old’ cats would feel about another cat in the house but I optimistically envisioned that the old cats would teach the new cat all the house rules and everyone would live happily ever after.  I was wrong.

Although ‘Button’ was the name given to the tiny little cat at the humane society and is her official name on her license and other papers, she was soon renamed.  We call her ‘Monkey’ most of the time – sometimes ‘Monkey-Butt’ because she is a very mischievous, naughty, sometimes ornery little cat with a big attitude.

She taunts and torments the older cats.  She pushes boundaries – growling in protest when removed from places she shouldn’t be and then immediately returning – sitting there glaring as if to say ‘I go where I please, when I please and you can’t do anything about it’.  She opens doors and cupboards and has stolen whole sandwiches left unattended for just two seconds.  Her early life as a stray allowed her to perfect her hunting techniques and stealth mode – for the old cats there is no escape.

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Malta seems very afraid of Monkey – running/hiding from her and refusing to enter a room Monkey is in.  I wouldn’t say Monkey is mean – just more like a toddler who keeps poking you trying to get a reaction and then laughing.  Mali has become grumpy – like the angry old woman who yells ‘Get off my lawn!’ when the neighbourhhood children play there – Mali hisses and snarls and chases Monkey off counters and other places she thinks she shouldn’t be.  Places that include my lap – I have battle wounds from cat fights that have occurred on my lap.

Monkey is not longer the scrawny little stray she once was – she has become a little ‘chunky’.  Mali & Malta however have lost more weight than they ever did on their diet. I started giving them regular food instead of ‘light’ food and when they threw that up I gave them food for sensitive digestion.  They still had difficulty holding that down and were getting so thin that I was concerned about their health.

I took them to the vet and after a thorough exam and blood tests he ruled out any illnesses.  They are however very stressed and have developed stomach ulcers.  I now have to give them medication twice a day and they have prescription cat food.  I also have a plug-in diffuser that spreads peace & joy & love (cat pheromones) throughout my house.

Fingers crossed, so far there have been no more cat fights or vomit to clean up.  Mali & Malta seem more relaxed – we’ll return to the vet next month to see if they’ve managed to regain some of their lost weight.  Monkey (finishes licking all the dishes in the sink and leaves a trail of wet footprints on paperwork as she walks across my desk) hasn’t lost any attitude yet though.

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People & Pets

Throughout my life I have almost always had some type of a pet – some fish, a couple birds, a few dogs and many cats.  I believe that pets are a wonderful addition to almost any family including a childcare home family.

Here, even children who cannot have pets of their own can reap the benefits of having pets.  They get to play together;

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The children often include the animals in their dramatic play activities – ensuring everyone has a role to play;

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When playtime is over and it is time to relax – the pets often like to be there too;

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Sometimes they enjoy being the centre of attention;

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And other times they prefer to keep their distance;

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Our number one rule about pets is that if they come to you then you can play with them but when they want to leave you cannot restrain them or chase them.

Respect their space.

I have found that many children who struggle with social interactions with other children have a much easier time understanding ‘gentle’, ‘calm’ and ‘respectful’ when interacting with animals.  Pets are also wonderful at comforting children who are withdrawn, anxious or distraught.

Back in 2014 when we lost our nearly 15 year old dog Mindy there was some discussion about whether or not we should get another dog.  A new pet is a big commit so it is very important to take everything into consideration and I felt the requirements for another dog were too much.  Although Mindy had been a wonderful dog I am admittedly much more of a cat person.

Last month, out of the blue, my husband commented ‘We should get another cat’.

!?!?!!! 🙂

The seed was planted….

The search began….

Last Sunday our new family member came home…

She’s still in quarantine but soon the introductions will begin.  It will be a slow process, there are many new family members for her to meet and we don’t want to overwhelm her.

Soon though, it will be time to say hello…

 

The Train Debate

It has been just over three months since I last had the train tracks available in the block area.  There are several building sets that have not been our for over six months but the boys (there are no girls in my current group) had been begging for me to bring the trains out again.  I was hesitant because we have a new infant here now – babies are not usually very ‘helpful’ when it comes to building with train tracks but the boys were so insistent.

Last year I wrote about how wonderfully this group plays with the trains and tracks so I relented and brought the trains out again.  Even though all but one of these children were here last year, they are currently at different stages than they were before and the dynamics are much different.  Having the trains out now has been… interesting.

There is one boy who loves to sort and classify everything.  Now that the trains and tracks are available he arranges them all according to size and shape.  He creates groupings and lines the pieces up in straight lines.  He gets frustrated and very vocal when others come near or disrupt his methodology  in any way.

Another one just wants the train cars – ALL of them.  Upon entering the playroom he tries to pick up and hold all of train cars at once but that is impossible.  Instead, he makes a pile of train cars and sits on them.  If any other child has one or more train cars he will sit and whimper, complaining that they have ‘his’ trains.  If I suggest that maybe he should build a track for the trains he has, he will attach two track pieces together, pile his train cars on the track and then sit on them.

The third boy loves to create several small circular tracks.  He is an expert builder and can quickly select all the appropriate track pieces and assemble his tracks.  He excitedly shows everyone his accomplishment and then walks away.  When I remind him to put away his toys if he is finished with them he wails.  For each track section there is dramatic effort required to pick up and take it to the bin.  Each piece is so heavy that he couldn’t possibly carry more than one and often he is unable to even stand so he must slither and drag himself to the bin while sobbing “I CAN’T DO IT…I caaannn’tttt

The fourth boy is so concerned about and distracted by what everyone else is doing that he has difficulty settling into an activity.  He seems eager to play with trains, states his intentions and invites others to join him however it takes a very long time before he begins to play.  Often he hovers around the block area and complains about what the others are doing.  Once he does finally sit down and become engaged in the activity he can play cooperatively, it just takes so long to get there and there are so many disputes along the way that the others lose interest or we run out of time.

Boy five has little interest in building with the tracks but enjoys driving trains on the tracks that others have built.  He reenacts elaborate scenarios complete with narrative descriptions and sound effects but seems oblivious to the others playing around him.  He is fully engaged in independent play but will get very upset if others interrupt or ‘bother’ him.

Boy six likes to build complex track systems using as many of the track sections as possible.  He enjoys having the others watch him build but is easily frustrated if they attempt to assist – he has a plan.  He discusses his design plans with the others and explains how they will be able to use it once complete.  Occasionally he too plays with trains – briefly – but usually once finished building he loses interest and leaves the block are.  However, he cannot clean up because the others are still playing – they do love this massive track.  When finished playing the others will be overwhelmed by the prospect of putting away all those tracks – they would never have built anything that big.

*Sigh*  By the end of the first week of train play I was ready to pack them up and put something different in the block area.  It is not that anyone is using the toys ‘wrong’ but that they are all using them differently.  It wouldn’t be a problem if they would sometimes play with other toys but for the whole first week they all wanted to play with trains – only trains – together but not in agreement.  Essentially it was a week long argument.

I know that dealing with disputes is an important skill to learn but personally I’d prefer to avoid all confrontation.  It would be easier for me to put away the trains and say it is a consequence due to the incessant fighting.  It might be easier for me to create a chart and assign each child a specified time slot where they can each have an equal amount of uninterrupted independent play with trains. However it is probably better if I let them work it out themselves.  I can tell them what I see.  I can facilitate conversations and mediate physical disputes.  I just don’t like to.

At the moment I really don’t like trains either.  Yet, during train week two there were a few moments of hope.  I few fleeting periods when I thought maybe – just maybe they had figured it out.  We are now beginning train week three and the debate continues….

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Rough & Tumble

Many parents and childcare providers are uncomfortable allowing children to engage in rough and tumble play or ‘fighting games’ for fear that someone may get hurt.  However, the problem isn’t the type of play but the ‘environment’ – both physical and emotional – in which that play takes place.

I firmly believe that rough and tumble play is very beneficial but in my program I do enforce some basic guidelines.  The first ‘rule’ involves location.  ALL play involving chasing, wrestling, jumping etc is discouraged when we are indoors.  Our main indoor play space is just 150 sq ft and when you add toys, shelving and up to eight children there is simply not enough room – the risks are greater than the reward.

That changes when we get outside.  Although my yard is not a large open space I did design it for gross motor play. There are still some rules like ‘If someone is in front of you, you have to slow down/stop’.  There are many obstacles and the walkways are narrow so when two or more children are trying to maneuver through the same space pushing someone out of your way  is not allowed.

One of the greatest benefits of chasing games and rough and tumble play is that they require/teach awareness and self control.  If you are unable to avoid colliding with another person it is not ‘an accident’.  The problem is NOT that ‘they got in your way’ or ‘they were too slow’- it IS because you were not watching where you were going or you were going too fast for the conditions.

The consequence for knocking someone down isn’t yelling ‘Sorry’ over your shoulder as you continue running away.  The consequence is that you need to stop, help them up and make sure they are OK before you continue playing.  If that is not something you are willing to do then you are not ‘playing’ you are being mean.  If you got hurt too then getting angry and blaming the others isn’t the solution – you need to be more observant, adjust your speed, or find another game to play.

Another ‘rule’ I have is that we only use imaginary weapons.  Now, this is not because I’m totally against weapon play with toy weapons but I have concerns about using toys as weapons in a mixed age group setting.  Yes, I have seen a group of older children involved in a wonderfully cooperative and respectful fighting game using toy weapons.  I have also spent hours/weeks/months teaching toddlers that hitting hurts.  The children and I have many conversations about how super heroes ‘help’ others.

Certainly most school age children can visualize an imaginary scenario, understand the difference between soft and hard objects, regulate the amount of force they use and aim appropriately but the  toddlers are not developmentally equipped to do all this.  The little ones watch, they see hitting and laughter but they don’t understand all the concepts involved and someone will get hurt. So, the imaginary weapons allow the older children to play their game without encouraging the little ones to hit with toys.

The third and most important ‘rule’ is that ALL the children involved in any type of rough and tumble play or fighting game must be willing participants.  This includes ‘shooting’ non-players even with imaginary weapons – in fact, I usually say ‘no people as targets’.  Each player must agree to their role in the game.  If at any point someone says ‘STOP!’ – even if they are laughing – the activity must stop.  If someone cries or gets upset then the game play stops until the problem is resolved.  Stop always means stop or the game is not respectful.

If someone wants to play and agrees to the game rules the others may NOT exclude them. If someone doesn’t want to play there has to be some type of mutual time/space agreement so  multiple activities don’t interfere with each other.  If someone says they want to play but cannot/will not follow the group’s game rules then that person may have to find another activity.

Creating game rules is an important part of the activity and all the children who want to play must be able to participate in this process before play begins.  When only one child is in charge of  creating the game, assigning roles, making the rules, and determining the ‘winner’ then it is not a cooperative game.  This ‘do as I say’ type of activity often enables bullying behaviour and allows the ‘leader’ to change game play in order to control outcome.

One wonderful example of a cooperative rough and tumble game was ‘Fight Club’.  The group of children who created and engaged in this activity were all between five and eleven years old.  They set boundaries for play area.  They chose opponents or teams based on physical abilities and size. They set rules for entering and exiting the game including the option to tag in/out when you got tired. They only played this game outside when there were no little children present. This particular group engaged in this activity on/off for more than a year and never needed me to intervene.  It was perfect.  And it never would have happened if there were no fighting games allowed.

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