Tag Archives: Social Skills

Screen Time

Yesterday I read an interesting CTV News article about children and screen time.  I thought it was wonderful to compare screen time to nutrition – an analogy that puts the focus on the content of the programs.

Recently I was asked to speak to a group of Red River College students who were just completing their ‘Introduction to Family Childcare’ course.  As part of my presentation I included a slideshow of the past and present learning environments in my childcare home.

Screen time was briefly discussed during my presentation and the subsequent question period.  Yes, I used to have several computers available for the children in my program to use – and I did not even restrict the amount of time they engaged in the activity.

No, I don’t currently have any computers, tablets, or televisions that are available for the children to use at any time during the day.  The reason for the elimination of the ‘computer area’ was due almost entirely to the quality of content available and the fact that the children had no interest in ‘healthy’ content once they had experienced the ‘junk’.

Years ago when I first started my blog I wrote about the use of computers in my childcare program and their gradual elimination.  It is not that I don’t value technology – I use it all the time.  When the children have questions that I can’t answer we can find the answer on the internet – it is an invaluable resource in addition to their hands on experience.

Unfortunately I think the content of children’s media today has far too much focus on competition instead of collaboration.  The smaller screens further emphasize the ‘individual’ over the ‘group’.

I once had a discussion with the staff at my son’s school.  My son was extremely slow to engage in new situations and had a tendency to withdraw from social interaction.  They were concerned because he refused to use a new program they had recently introduced in their computer class.

I suggested that they should let him sit with and watch another child until he felt comfortable enough to try it himself.  They said that was not possible because it would be considered cheating and would not be fair to the other child. Seriously?!?! What were they hoping to teach?

The children and I have discussed the use of screen time – they all have access to screens at home.  They’ve described how they like to use their hand held devices when they are bored – it is easier than finding something else to do.  They’ve retold me all their favorite parts of the movies and shows they’ve recently watched.  If there are any ‘good’ parts in these shows I haven’t heard about them, the children  focus on the violent, destructive, mean or rude segments – that’s what they remember.

As I write this there are two children here – they are reading the label on a cereal box and debating the nutritional value.  Maybe I’d have screen time as part of the program if there were ‘nutrition’ labels on the content of every program.  However, I’m not sure I have the energy to break through their addiction to the junk so instead my program will continue to be screen free and really they don’t complain about the absence of screens when there are healthier options available.

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State of Flux

I like things to be organized – if you look at my desk or my filing cabinet you might disagree.  That’s because I also tend to lack focus for mundane tasks like paperwork. When it comes to my childcare program I am a little conflicted regarding organization.

Some synonyms for organized include ‘ordered, controlled, structured’ – none of those words reflect my view of activities in a flexible childcare program.  However, other synonyms like ‘prepared’, and ‘well thought-out’ would be appropriate.

According to Dictionary.com ‘Organized’ is defined as “having a formal organization or structure, especially to coordinate or carry out for widespread activities: organized medicine; organized crime.”  To ‘Organize’ is “to form as or into a whole consisting of interdependent or coordinated parts, especially for united action”.

I like these definitions because in order for any of our daily activities to be successful we need to be able to function as a group.  We need to find a balance between our unique individual needs and the needs of the others in the group.  We need to get to know each other and that takes time.

We’ve been in a state of flux for what seems like a very long time – two whole months. We have not had a ‘normal’ schedule for two months and it has been frustrating at times.  It began with the start of the new school year where the little ones go through a period of ‘loss’ and sometimes struggle with missing their mentors who are now away much of the day.

We’ve had many other adjustments too.  Some parents have had changes in their work schedules which resulted in altered pick-up and drop-off times.  The little ones get used to a routine where certain children regularly go home first or last and variations can be confusing.

We’ve said some good-byes and enrolled two new babies.  There have been some necessary adjustments to nap times, meal times, seating and sleeping arrangements.  We’re trying to accommodate each individual without being too disruptive to the group.

It has been challenging.  Only once in the past two months has attendance been ‘normal’ – by that I mean no one was absent and everyone was dropped off and picked up on time.  It’s hard to call it ‘normal’ when it has only happened once but on paper that’s the way it should be.

It’s impossible for anyone – especially young children – to feel part of a group when you don’t understand what that group is.  We can’t focus on learning and growing until we find our place.  We need to get organized because this state of flux has been hard on us all.

Weekend Outing

Last Sunday was Open Farm Day.  First off I must say that I was thrilled to have found out about the event before it actually occured instead of from an evening news report after the event is already over.

My only complaint was that the event was held on the weekend when I had no children with me – well, two of my sons tagged along but they’re really young adults not children.  We didn’t have much time – weekends are busy times – so we only went to one of the participating farms.

With a time limit on our excursion we needed to pick a farm that was nearby.  It was an easy decision – Perimeter Alpacas – because alpacas are basically the same as llamas and we LOVE llamas.  Granted, alpaca isn’t nearly as fun to say as llama but seriously, look at them;

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SQUEEEE! I just want to hug them;

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I managed to drag myself away from the alpacas long enough to see some ducks and and a peacock family too – pretty birds but not soft and fluffy like an alpaca.

There were some other displays and sales of products from the farm.  I bought a stuffie – handmade from alpaca fleece.  After I paid for it the woman asked “Do you want a bag or are you just going to cuddle it all the way home?” — silly question;

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Of course I would have preferred an alpaca shaped stuffie – they had one but it was out of my price range.  Still, I do love this one too.  My cats also love it but they’d like to shred it so I have to keep it out of their reach.

I’ve brought the stuffie out for the children to see/feel.  It would be irrelevant to try to ‘teach’ them anything about alpacas without any actual experience with alpacas.  However, it has been very useful for our discussions about ‘gentle’.  With four infants/toddlers ‘gentle’ has become an important part of our curriculum.

Be gentle and take turns – difficult lessons even for me when you’ve got something so lovely that you just want to squish it and never let go.

Let’s Be Fair

Every day begins the same.  As the children arrive they agree on an activity to play together and begin the process of making sure everything is ‘fair’.  This is a very, very, long process.  In fact, often the actual game never even begins because they can’t agree on what is ‘fair’ so they switch to another activity instead – another activity with another set of toys and another lengthy period of deliberation over what will be ‘fair’.

The problem is that each has a different definition of ‘fair’.

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The ‘quantity’ child believes that it is fair if everyone involved has the exact same number of toys.  ‘Quantity’ maintains that everyone must have the same number of characters, blocks etc. before play can begin.  Even if the other children involved only want one or two toys this child delays the game until everyone has an equal number of the toys to use.  “That’s not fair!” is often heard.

‘Ruler’ insists that all the biggest, most powerful toys belong to their personal group of toys.  ‘Ruler’ often tries to use ‘Quantity’ as an ally by pointing out that each of them has the same number of toys so it is fair.  In essence it is not fair because although the number of items is equal, the quality is not. ‘Ruler’ is a very competitive child for whom ‘fair’ means they are in charge and their team always wins.

‘Cluster’ doesn’t really care how many toys are on their team as long as they all match.  ‘Cluster’ wants all the members of a family group and doesn’t worry if someone else has more toys or better toys. ‘Cluster’ believes it is fair when everything matches and gets frustrated when ‘Quantity’ insists on assigning additional dissimilar members to ‘Cluster’s’ families.  Another conflict occurs because all the ‘fathers’ of the family groups tend to also be the power toys that ‘Ruler’ has already claimed thereby leaving ‘Cluster’s’ families incomplete.

‘CoOp’ will happily accept any toys the others don’t want to use.  CoOp has favourite toys but they don’t mind if others use them and will wait patiently while the others choose and set up the activity.  ‘CoOp’ will never complain nor be assertive.  ‘CoOp’ believes it is fair when everyone is able to participate harmoniously – conflict is their greatest fear.  ‘CoOp’ often ends up playing alone either because they felt overwhelmed by the negotiations or the others failed to invite them to play.

‘Tyrant’ is impulsive – recklessly stumbling through block structures and grabbing any toys that appear interesting at the moment.  It doesn’t matter if the toy is in a bin, on the floor or in someone else’s hand, the moment ‘Tyrant’ wants it ‘Tyrant’ takes it.  Thankfully ‘Tyrant’ tends to have a short attention span so the toy is usually soon returned to its original user. Sometimes ‘Tyrant’s’ behaviour is fuelled by the reaction so it is important not to overreact to because it will intensify the conflict.  “Tyrant’ is usually a toddler so the behaviour is a ‘normal’.

Actually, all these children are ‘normal’.  They represent the children of various ages, temperaments and developmental levels who co-exist in a family childcare setting.  The conflicts don’t mean the children need to be separated or that an adult needs to intervene.  The conflicts mean that the children are learning to get along with others who have a different point of view.

Fair is not always equal.  Fair is not always the same.  Fair is not always without conflict.  Accepting the conflict is difficult but it is part of the process – the process of learning to be fair.

Summer Group Dynamics

Many people are surprised when I say that I look forward to summer time when the all the children are here for the full day.  I’ve even considered taking my vacation in the spring instead of summer just so I could have even more full days with the children. Unfortunately, closing for vacation in spring, during the school year, would be troublesome for bus schedules and school/work routines so I don’t.  I do, however, take only two weeks of vacation time in the summer instead of three, four, or even more that many other providers choose to take.

Summer is over now and the older children have returned to school.  This year I say that with a sigh of relief.  This summer was very long – and complicated. This was the summer that I wished I had taken more time off.  This was the summer that almost did me in – there were some days that it took so much effort just to unlock the front door and greet the children with a smile.

So why was this summer so troublesome?  There was only one new child in the group; the others have been here for at least a year – and up to six years.  Over the summer I spent a lot of time observing their interactions and reflecting.  There were a couple of children that tended to stand out – not in a good way.  It would be easy to label these children as ‘difficult’.  It would be easy to say that if they were not here then everything would run smoothly.

Easy would not be correct.  Although many of them have been attending here for years this ‘group’ has not been together before.  I actually have 11 children enrolled in my eight childcare spaces because some only attend part time.  Some attend only during school hours while others only attend when school is out.  Some have spent plenty of time together but not recently – and they’ve discovered that their ‘best friend’ has changed since they were together last – they have new interests.  There was a lot of turmoil within this group.

So, here are some of my observations – I’ve given the children bird names because I can’t use their real names and I didn’t want to number them;

Finch is curious, energetic and at times – defiant. Robin is imaginative and often oblivious to the conduct of the rest of the group.  These two have little interest in most group activities but will participate for short periods before wandering away to something they find more interesting.  Sparrow is wildly creative and independent, always has elaborate plans and is proficient at free play.  Sparrow enjoys cooperative group activities but gets frustrated by conflict and will usually return to solitary activities instead.  These three require very little guidance from me.

Canary is bubbly and full of energy but relies on others to make activity choices. Often Canary has difficulty staying on task.  Canary can become deeply engaged in cooperative play activities with Sparrow if not distracted.  Others sometimes take advantage of Canary’s trusting nature and they encourage undesirable behaviour.  Canary can be easily redirected and is never rebellious.

Jay is a keen observer who is very concerned about status and focused on results – definitely product over process.  Easily overwhelmed, Jay is drawn to group activities but rarely participates – preferring to watch or be watched.  When frustrated, Jay resorts to disrupting play in an effort to divide the group into smaller, more manageable clusters.  Jay can play cooperatively with one or two others in a non-competitive activity – preferably something constructive but not challenging.  Jay is very sensitive and views any suggestion or advice as a personal attack.

Pigeon….so wants to be where the action is, hates to be alone and is willing to do anything, absolutely anything, to be a part of the group.  Others often view Pigeon as annoying and therefore avoid contact which intensifies Pigeon’s efforts to be noticed.  Pigeon has little self control and cannot refuse a dare – no matter how outrageous.  Pigeon has great difficulty with unstructured activities but enjoys adult led group activities.  If the others allow it, Pigeon makes a wonderful addition to any group activity.  One rule infraction and Pigeon seems to feel the day is a total loss and any further attempt to behave or cooperate is now pointless.

Crow is extremely intelligent but easily bored and has little interest in most free play activities.  Crow follows instructions impeccably when participating in adult led group activities or working independently.  Within the group Crow’s favourite role is that of ‘puppet master’ – controlling others activities as a form of entertainment.  Crow has superb leadership capabilities which should be used more constructively.  Initiating or encouraging others inappropriate behaviour seems to be a great source of amusement for Crow particularly with Falcon as an accomplice.

Falcon is the oldest/biggest/strongest of the group and also highly competitive. Falcon does not like to play independently or cooperatively.  Falcon excels at constructive activities.  Whenever others are engaged in a cooperative group activity Falcon swoops in and modifies the activity into something where Falcon is most successful and the others either fail or quit playing.

When Crow and Falcon collaborate world domination is possible – and Jay and Pigeon are guaranteed to be casualties.  The others are safe if they have somewhere to play independently – if not, then they will be part of the fallout too.

This was my summer group.  I will not say any one of these children was the sole cause of disturbances nor were any of them completely faultless. It was the group dynamics and it was a very difficult group. Working on ‘prevention’ is so much easier than dealing with the ‘aftermath’ but both were very time consuming endeavours.

I was constantly analyzing and anticipating – trying to determine whether we needed more structured activities or more free play, more group activities or time to be independent.  How could we balance the needs of all the children in this group?

Certainly there was a ‘best’ scenario: Finch and Robin playing independently, Sparrow and Canary playing together in an elaborate imaginary world of their own,  Jay helping Falcon to create another great superstructure and Crow sitting with Pigeon working together on a planned project.  Yet, I couldn’t keep them separated like this indefinitely.  Besides, avoiding conflict will never teach us how to deal with it.

We had some really great times this summer and some terrible, horrible, wish-this-day-never-happened times too.  I didn’t keep score but for the first time I’m very, very glad that summer is over and school has started and the group dynamics have changed.

Reno Boxes

Another exciting thing about renovating is that you get some really cool boxes like these;

There are eight children in the above photo – all inside the boxes 🙂 We decorated the boxes too;

My current group of children is evenly mixed – four boys and four girls – so at one point the boxes were labelled “Girls” and “Boys” That didn’t last long since the girls did most of the decorating and soon changed all the labels to ‘Girls only’ but the boys were still allowed to visit.

These boxes kept the children engaged for two solid hours and eventually the larger one was flattened so everyone piled into the “rescue ship”;

This is why renovating is so much fun.

 

Waiting for the Bus

Several of the children in my care take the school bus to school and normally the bus stops to pick-up and drop off the children directly in front of my house.  Due to some major road work in the area the bus can no longer turn onto my street during the morning rush hour so the stop has been moved to the end of the street.

If the lunchtime or after school drop offs had been moved I would probably be annoyed – those are hectic times of the day and a change like that would be very disruptive to our schedule.  The morning walk to the bus stop is actually quite enjoyable.  We listen to the birds, visit with the neighbourhood cats that come to greet us, and enjoy the refreshing spring weather.

There is a lot of traffic at the corner so while we wait the children count cars or play eye spy type games. Last week a police car passed by and the children waved at the officer – who waved back.  The children were ecstatic and a new game began.

The children stand side by side and wave at everyone who passes by.  They smile and wave at every pedestrian, cyclist or vehicle that goes past our location.  They also keep score: one point for everyone who smiles back, two points if they smile and wave too.  The children cheer every time they get a response from these morning commuters and there is a collective groan when there is a surly unresponsive one.  The children could hardly contain their excitement when one driver smiled, waved and honked the horn – THREE points!

So, if you see a group of children standing on the corner smiling and waving make their day and wave back.  Hopefully they will make your day a little brighter too. 🙂