Tag Archives: toddlers

Space & Time

It is no secret that I prefer to be outdoors with the children instead of indoors. It is probably also not surprising that I spend a lot of time creating indoor and outdoor play environments. However, it may not be common knowledge that I really dislike planning group activities.

Autumn/Fall tends to make me a little anxious. I love taking long hikes and marveling at the colours and watching busy squirrels but fall is a transition season. After all our long summer days outside the children are starting to complain that it is getting far too cold to enjoy their favourite activities. Many fall days have frigid winter temperatures but there is little or no snow to make the cold exciting. I start to dread the thought of spending more time indoors – confined – bored – bickering – whining. *sigh*

So I start to plan for some additional activities that we can do indoors when it gets too cold to play outdoors for long periods. This year I had some activities that I was quite eager to try. There were even a few fall days when I considered trying them but I didn’t – because it wasn’t yet too cold to go outside to play – except it is never actually too cold to play outside. In fact, so far this winter there has only been one day that we didn’t go outside at all – and then the children were upset when it was lunch time and they realized they missed our outdoor time.

Most days this winter we have been outside for 1-2 hours and once you add the time for everyone to get dressed and undressed that is the entire time between morning snack and lunch. We haven’t needed additional indoor activities to keep us busy. On the contrary, all that ‘bored, bickering, whining’ stuff I was stressing about is because indoors we have too many transitions and not enough uninterrupted time.

We actually have too much to do inside – too many things, too many choices, too many distractions, too many disruptions and not enough space and time. In the confined indoor space every time someone picks up a toy, or moves to a different spot, or the phone rings, or someone comes to the door it changes the focus of all the other children in the room. The last thing I want to do is initiate yet another activity and create another transition.

Transitions – arrivals, departures, meal prep/cleanup, diaper changes/bathroom breaks, etc – even if they don’t involve the busy children, they are distractions that interrupt their play. They notice when I walk toward the kitchen and one of them will announce that it is time to clean up for lunch – it is not but someone will assume it is and an argument will ensue. The children have difficulty engaging in any activity because they are anticipating what is ‘next’ – no one is actually playing. They are in limbo, watching and waiting.

I can relate. I often put off doing paperwork, writing blog posts, working on my website etc – not because I don’t want to do it but because I know I won’t have enough time to fully engage in the activity and be able to finish what needs to be done. So instead of getting a little bit of work done I get none done because I didn’t even attempt to start.

Planned group activities don’t help the children. Certainly they can briefly create an artificial period of engagement and can effectively redirect when the children are in battle mode. However, they also create more transitions and ultimately they just make it more difficult for the children to make their own independent activity choices – the way they do when we are outside.

When we are outside, even though my yard is not huge, there is still more separation between the various play areas than there is indoors making it easier for the children to sustain their focus on one activity without being distracted by others playing elsewhere in the yard. My activities are also not a distraction when we are outdoors. I have several benches around the periphery of the yard that make it easy to blend in to the environment and observe the children without disturbing their play. I am present but not involved, not directing.

Indoors we have many of the same activity choice as we do outdoors – even many gross motor opportunities (that will be another post) but indoors there is less space and I am closer which makes the children less likely to engage in self-directed activities. When I am close their questions are endless; “What are you doing? Where are you going? Can I see in that box? Are we going to do a craft? What was that noise? Who is at the door/upstairs/in the kitchen?” They are not engaged in play because I am a distraction.

When I am too close there is an expectation that I will assist them, I will solve their problems, I will entertain them and they don’t need to do anything. In a small confined space it is more difficult for me to allow them more time to solve problems and I am more likely to redirect their activities. My involvement often increases the likelihood that they will do it again – there is a lot more testing of limits as I become a prop in their cause and effect experiments.

So, I don’t want to plan more activities – we don’t need more activities. I need to tweak our schedule and indoor environment to give us more space and uninterrupted time – or we could just go outside.

December Fun

I am seriously behind on writing posts for my blog so just clearing some out some of the December photos with brief descriptions…

Last summer I had bought some waffle bowls for ice cream but nobody liked them and they were just going stale in the cupboard. I decided they could be put to use as ‘gingerbread’ houses for the toddlers.

We simply used cereal for decorations and ‘glued’ the pieces on by dipping them in icing.
Some chose to make a ‘hat with a pompom’
The bowls were fragile so if you used too much decorating force you created a ‘bear cave’
Some chose to create… a bowl for their cereal LOL

Everyone seemed to really enjoy this activity and because process is much more valuable than product I was fine with our non-traditional gingerbread houses until…my husband came home and said ‘Cool, you made yurts’. Huh, I should have thought of that.

Of course in December we also had to take advantage of my school bus driver husband being off work and able to do fire duty (it is too risky for me to watch both toddlers and fire by myself). We didn’t cook our whole lunch on the fire as we have in the past but bannock cooked on the fire is sooo good.

Add homemade Christmas Jam supplied by one of the children’s parents…
and we don’t care how cold it is..mitts are off and it is time to eat!

Pumpkin Tarts

Pumpkins are popular around here. We collect pumpkin seeds and plant them in our garden – sometimes they grow. We use pumpkins for decorations – usually we just paint the shell so we can still use the inside for our favourite pumpkin activity – baking!

I’ve previously written about making pumpkin pie with the children in 2012 and again in 2016 but it was a new experience for my current group of toddlers. This time we decided to make tarts instead of pie – a smaller product for my little one and two year olds.

First we removed the seeds;

Then we cut the softened pumpkin to practice some knife skills;

We measured all the ingredients and of course had to smell the spices;

The toddlers found mixing and mashing to be the most exciting part of the process;

Everyone got a turn to use the ladle to fill the tart shells before baking. There were enough tarts that each child got to take some home to share.

Of course we also got to eat some for snack too!

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? 🙂

Autumn Adventures

I started writing this post so long ago then got too busy to finish it – almost winter now, may seem irrelevant to publish it but here I go anyway 🙂

Autumn is a period of change – the leaves, the weather, our schedule and much more. There are new discoveries to be made and even some new challenges. This year, the weather has impacted our activities more than usual – there has been so much rain. We like rain but when it is combined with cold then playing in the yard can be troublesome because it is so wet and sitting anywhere gets uncomfortable so we prefer to keep moving and go for walks.

Walks provide much more than just fresh air and exercise – on walks we have some fantastic conversations. Years ago I wrote about how our long walks enable us to have better conversations. However, this Fall going for walks has been a little challenging since all my older children have gone to school and I have no hand holding helpers.

In my current preschool group all the children are just one or two years old. The toddlers do like to walk together and hold hands but they are usually so engrossed in their own conversations that they don’t pay enough attention to their surroundings. Also, as ‘normal’ toddlers they often require significant processing time for verbal requests. The delayed response is very stressful for me particularly when it is related to road traffic.

So, this Fall I again began using the Safe-T-Line when we go for walks. I have previously written another post about using the Safe-T-Line. All these toddlers love holding the handles and have taken turns as line leader – some are better as followers.

Even though muddy puddles are a popular attraction for these little ones, ‘goose poop’ seems to be a major concern. Even when there is not a goose in sight every unidentified lump on the sidewalk or pathway gets dubbed ‘goose poop’ and is given a wide berth followed by “Ewwww, that’s disgusting!” and fits of laughter.

One of our favourite walks is through the Elmwood Cemetery – mostly because there are very few cars and very many squirrels, rabbits, birds, and especially geese. On one recent cemetery walk the grass was being mowed and there were large clumps of wet grass on the road. Initially they were of course labeled ‘goose poop’ but then there was an argument about the clumps being too big to have been made by a goose. So, after some discussion it was determined that these were in fact ‘dinosaur poop‘.

Yes, that is why I like taking toddlers for walks. We never find dinosaur poop in the yard. Now we just have to figure out where that dinosaur is hiding. Time to go for another autumn adventure.

Easter Eggs

Easter egg hunts and other types of hide & seek games are always popular activities – previously I’ve written about them here (2011) and here (2017). A few weeks ago I hid twelve large plastic eggs around the playroom before any of the children arrived. Then, throughout the day the children discovered eggs as they were playing – it was always an exciting surprise.

The children enjoyed the activity so much that I have hidden the eggs every day since then. When they arrive the first thing they ask is ‘How many eggs have been found?’ So far they have never found all twelve eggs. Usually they manage to find 10 or 11 but some days a few less.

Some of the children actively search for eggs almost the entire time they are in the playroom. Others just play as usual but are equally thrilled when they find an egg. I’ve run out of original hiding spots and am now repeating past ones. The children don’t seem to mind – they still expect the egg hunts to continue.

There is no competition about who finds more eggs nor any reward for finding one. It is the search that they enjoy. Easter my be over now but they still want to search for eggs so I will still continue to hide them. Maybe today will be the day they find all twelve…

With or Without

It is no secret that I enjoy walking. There are so many great reasons to go for a walk. It could just be a means of transportation to get from point A to point B. Maybe you want to spend some time outdoors exploring , getting fresh air and/or exercise. Walking could be a social activity you do with your friends or a solitary activity you use to reflect, rejuvenate, and unwind.

For me, walking is all of those things. Below I have my Fitbit data from some of my recent walks. The route and distance for the the first two walks is the same but the difference is whether I am walking with or without children.

This first one is one of my 4:30 am ‘perfect-way-to-start-the-day’ brisk walk without children. This is an exercise walk – I wear my weighted vest and sometimes ankle and/or wrist weights too. I walk quickly and throughout the walk my mind is busy too. I make mental lists of what I need to do that day, what food needs to be prepped before the children arrive and what supplies I need to gather for the day’s activities. Sometimes I even ‘write’ drafts of blog posts during these walks. I was actually surprised that this ‘exercise’ walk didn’t have a much higher heart rate – probably because it was a lovely spring morning – my -30 C winter morning walks are more strenuous.

This second walk is with six children – three of which are toddlers. Two of the children in group were enrolled during this past winter – they are not yet familiar with our long hikes but have gone on a few shorter walks with us. Even though the route is exactly the same as my morning walk, this second walk is slower – taking almost twice as long to cover the same distance. Notice my step count is also higher – I take smaller steps when holding toddler hands. Although the time is doubled on my walk WITH children, my ‘active’ minutes are not because we do stop to look at things periodically. I don’t set the pace for these walk – usually the older children do but occasionally I have to remind them that the toddlers have very short legs.

Now this third walk is a different, much shorter route with children. This walk is half the distance of the first two but it takes us through a park where we stop to play. The step count is about the same as my early morning exercise walk but this walk with children is half the distance and takes more time.

Both my walks with children averaged 4 calories per minute and my exercise walk was 5 calories per minute – not as big a difference as I would have expected. I guess that even though my walks with children are much more relaxed than my walks without, they are still good exercise. Also, there is so much more talking during my walks with children – talking burns calories too. These conversations are one of my favourite parts about walking with children – here you can read more about walking and talking.

Quiet Spaces 2

Our indoor ‘nature area’ located just off the main play area has always been considered a quiet space. Decorations include trees, flowers, rocks, birds, butterflies and grass-like carpet. The large window provides plenty of natural light (when the sun is shining) and a view to the real outdoors. The entrance/exit gates serve as a reminder that toys were not supposed to be brought in here. The babies’ cribs are also in this room allowing them to nap if necessary while the older children play in the play room – another reason why this was not a play area. This is where the children can come to read books or just relax.

There were some cushions here for sitting or relaxing on but some of the children thought they were better for tossing or using for pillow fights. *sigh* While most of the children appreciated this quiet space, there were occasionally some that thought the 30 square foot ‘grass’ area was a good spot to play tag or wrestle.

After creating the little quiet nooks I wrote about in my last post, I wondered if we still needed this quiet space – maybe I could somehow re-purpose the nature area into an active play space. I decided against it. We have the music/dance space and we use balance pods, resistance bands and tunnels for some indoor gross motor play when we can’t go outside. We spend a lot of time outdoors and that is still the best place for tag and rough and tumble play. Even if our indoor nature area mimics an outdoor space, it is still indoors and not to be used for active play.

I needed to find a way to encourage all the children to use this indoor nature area for its intended reading/relaxing purpose. So, I purchased this nest swing;

It is small enough that is doesn’t use the whole space but large enough to discourage running and jumping. I have it hung less than one foot off the ground so even the toddlers can easily get on and off the ‘nest’ (we don’t call it a swing) without assistance. It is also the perfect height to use as a table/desk – some of the children prefer to sit on the ground around the nest and place their books on it instead.

I have the nest anchored on two sides so it does not swing far but still provides a gentle, relaxing movement. It is especially nice when laying down and looking up at the trees above.

It has definitely become a favourite quiet space for everyone to read and relax.

Winter Yard 2

We plan go outside to play every day throughout the year in all types of weather. In winter there is only one restriction that I put on our outdoor time – we don’t go on long hikes. We do still go on some shorter walks on warmer days but on cold days we just stay in the yard.

In winter the weather conditions are unpredictable. Even on short walks we’ve discovered that what feels like a lovely mild winter day can suddenly feel like a blizzard when you round a corner and face the wind. Toddlers in particular can go from comfortable to too cold in a very short period of time and the return trip will be nearly impossible if we’ve wandered very far.

My yard is sheltered from the wind and faces South so it gets plenty of sunlight. There are very rarely days that we feel are too cold to go outside to play – in fact, this year so far there have been no days that we didn’t venture outside for at least a little time. There may be days that are too cold to sit or stand outside and do nothing, but the children don’t do this and neither do I. When we are outside I spend the majority of my time ‘sculpting’ the yard.

Yard sculpting is a continuous process which some of the children enjoy helping me create but most just ‘use’. There are some children who would still love playing in the snow if I did nothing to the yard at all. Others – especially the littlest ones – sometimes find the snow and ice frustrating. I don’t want them to become discouraged and end up sitting somewhere shivering – learning only that winter is simply a miserable cold season.

I have a fairly small yard – only about 650 square feet – so I make the most of it by ensuring there are some special places and enough variety that no one gets too bored. There are many different spaces and activities to keep the children engaged, moving, exploring and most importantly enjoying their winter play experience. The little ‘cave’ under the cedars which provides a natural shelter from the hot summer sun also provides shelter from the cold winter wind.

The tipi is a constructed shelter which also serves as a storage area for loose parts. All our warm weather toys are not available here in the winter but we still have our pots, sticks and pipes.

Instead of toys I’ve added some coloured blocks of ice. I thought the children might like to use them for building blocks but so far they mostly just use them as hockey pucks.

As the children run and play I use my shovel to clear snow from some areas and pile it in others. I don’t just have one path from the house to the gate, I have multiple interconnecting trails that allow the children to go over and around obstacles. There are places to climb, jump, roll or slide and places to build and dig;

There are six circles to run around, five tunnels to crawl through, a bridge to go over, many steps/stumps, four different elevations to provide a variety of viewpoints, some flat open areas for building or playing group games and two hills. All together there is roughly 250 feet of trail with many forks and endless route options.

When I’m not shoveling I’m packing the trails. My Fitbit has auto-recognized a 30 minute hike while I repeatedly walked all the circles and loops around my yard. It is not unusual for a little toddler train to follow along behind me while I traverse the trails. When people marvel at the super long summer hikes my toddlers are capable of, I point out that summer hikes are pretty easy compared to our winter adventures on ice and snow while bundled in layers of heavy clothing.

Most of the pictures in this post were taken before the last big snowfall so we do have a little more snow than what is shown here – we would still like much more though. Sure, we love the other seasons too but we’re not tired of winter yet so come on Mother Nature – let it snow!

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.