Tag Archives: Summer

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.

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.

Mud and More

June 29th is International Mud Day – something we celebrate every year.  This year the school-age children were thrilled that there was no school so they were able to join in the day’s activities.  I had the water table set up full of dirt – it was up to the children to add the water and make the mud;

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I also put out another bin with plain water for hand washing but some of the children enjoyed making repeated trips from mud to hand washing and back so really there were TWO mud bins.  I cleaned the hand washing bin and added fresh water several times but it always looked like this;

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Because of this;

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We were outside all morning and the children took breaks from mud play to build bridges;

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play tag, and capture things like this;

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There was a five minute downpour which was very exciting after I reassured the children that we would NOT have to go back inside.  We do often play in the rain but because we didn’t have raincoats and boots some of the children were concerned that we were not properly dressed for the weather.  However, it was Mud Day and everyone had clean clothes waiting inside so  all that rain was just a bonus 🙂 It created some muddy puddles and the tarp became a slip and slide;

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and the mud table got soupier;

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Then, one of the children notice that the first tomato has begun to grow.  Three of the children decided to ‘watch’ it for nearly 20 minutes ‘waiting for it to turn red’.

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I think maybe it will be ready when they return in two weeks – after my vacation.  I wonder if they will remember to check, or will they be too interested in exploring all the other new things – my ‘vacation to-do list’ is two pages long.  I love vacation time but the return of the children is so exciting too!

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.