Tag Archives: toddlers

Hiking in the City

It has been just over a week since I returned home after Nature Summit 2016.  I’ll admit that for the first few days I did seriously consider putting my tent up in the backyard because I really missed spending all day, every day outside.  Summit was fabulous as usual – I got to participate in many outdoor workshops.  I went for a ride on a zip line, climbed almost to the top of this;

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And of course I did a lot of hiking through the woods.

I know I really enjoy a nature hike and so do the  children in my care.  I also know that, even in the city, there are many places where we can hike and feel like we are out in the wilderness.  However, a city hike can be pretty special too – especially to a group of boys who can tell me the name and purpose of almost every type of construction vehicle. 🙂

My little group and I have spent the last few months exploring the the nearby neighbourhoods.  Our city hikes vary in length from just a few blocks to up to 8 km.  They can take anywhere from a half hour to several hours and it is rarely the children that suggest we’ve been walking too long and it is time to go back.  Pretty amazing when you consider that these are 2 and 3 year olds.

So, what do we see when we go on an 8km city hike?  Back hoes, buses, dump trucks and trains.  Cement trucks, front loaders, street cleaners and cranes.  Yes, there is a lot of noisy traffic but there are also many quiet spots too.  In fact, one of our favourite paths takes us through the cemetery.

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We look for birds – the children know where all the nest boxes are located (there is a nest box in the above picture but it is hard to see).  We listen to the wind in the trees and watch the river in the distance.  Inevitably the river sparks the topic of bridges – which one will we cross today?  Within walking distance of the cemetery there are FIVE bridges we can go over, and THREE that we can go under.

There are several more bridges we can explore if we pack a lunch and make it a day long hike but that tends to be too much even for this active little group.  Once this past summer we did make it to two distant bridges but the children were obviously tired and there was not much excitement.  Besides, when we stick to the familiar, nearby areas there is a whole more to our hikes than just walking.

In some cases we can cross one bridge and examine the structure of another bridge at the same time.

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There are bridges for people, bikes, cars and trains. Only some of our bridges cross over water.  Others cross over roads or train tracks and give us a whole lot more to talk about.  The children often complained that there were never any trains on these tracks when we crossed over them – but twice this summer there was a train here!  So of course we had to stop for a while to watch.

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One time the train was moving so very slowly that we were able to continue our walk, loop around and walk under the same train we had just been standing over.

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Standing under a train bridge while a train slowly squeaked and creaked, clanged and banged overhead was a new experience.  Trains on bridges sound much different than cars on bridges. The children also enjoyed yelling ‘ECHO!’ as they do every time we venture under bridges.

We don’t spend all our time on noisy city streets.  For contrast we also explore parks and riverbanks along the way.  We get to hear and smell the difference between the roadway and the forest.  On this particular hike the ‘big’ boys were with us and the ‘littles’ enjoyed showing them all our favourite spots.

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Just as we use the bridges to compare the traffic and trains from above and below we can also do the same with the river.  Standing on the bridge we watch the water flow, count geese and ducks, and watch sticks and other debris float by but there is the noise of the traffic crossing the bridge too.

It is amazing how just a few steps away from a busy road can feel like a totally different world.  What can you hear now?  Our river bank trails offer another perspective of the water.  We can get closer to the water – but not too close, this is not a swimming river.

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There is a tree they want to climb.  Normally I’d say yes to a tree climbing adventure but a quick risk assessment resulted in a ‘No’ to climbing on this tree;

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Yes, I love a good nature hike but a city hike offers something special too.  We could read books or watch videos and memorize facts about cars and trucks, trees and birds, rivers and roads or we can go for a city hike, experience it, and begin to understand the impact we have on the natural environment.

Cucumbers and Zucchini

Cucumbers are technically a type of fruit but because they are more savory than sweet they tend to be referred to as vegetables.  They are definitely the most popular ‘vegetable’ around here – almost all the past/present children love them.  Even the really picky eaters will usually eat cucumbers.  Salad haters will often eat the bits of cucumber from a salad and leave the rest.  Cucumbers are soft compared to other raw ‘veggies’ so toddlers find them easier to eat.

Zucchini – also technically a fruit – has proved to be a difficult ‘veggie’ to get the children to eat raw.  Personally I much prefer raw zucchini over cucumbers mostly because they have a very mild flavour.  I’ve wondered if that is why the children don’t like zucchini.  When served both zucchini and cucumber slices I’ve noticed that they eat all the cucumber but all the zucchini slices are discarded after just one bite.  Were they disappointed by the (lack of) flavour?  Did they think it was a ‘bad’ cucumber?

Of course all the children love it when I bake zucchini in a loaf, muffin or brownie yet cucumber cookies failed miserably.  I wonder if the cucumber’s stronger flavour makes it less appealing in baked recipes than mild zucchini.  Some children will eat zucchini in a casserole or stir fry but many do not like any cooked veggies.  Raw is usually preferred and ‘from our own garden’ is the best 🙂

In the past we have grown both cucumbers and zucchini in our garden but they use a lot of space.  Luckily we get plenty of both in our CSA share from Wild Earth Farms.  A few weeks ago when we were having a picnic lunch I included both zucchini and cucumber slices in the raw vegetable assortment that accompanied our turkey sandwiches.  The children raved about how great the ‘yellow’ vegetable was.  I told them it was zucchini – a yellow zucchini – and watched as they devoured it all and asked for more.

I wondered if I finally had a group of children that liked zucchini or if it was just the thrill of having lunch outside that made it more appealing.  I have given them zucchini several times since then and they still love the yellow ones.  The green ones remain on the ‘dislike’ list – sometimes they get eaten reluctantly but most of the time they get discarded after the first nibble to determine if it is a cucumber or zucchini.  Apparently colour makes a difference when feeding zucchini to preschoolers.

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Castle Blocks

A few years ago I bought some sets of Castle Blocks from Quality Classrooms. Like all the various types of blocks I have they are rotated in and out of our play space depending on the interests of the children in my care.

My current group of children has enjoyed building with these blocks for several weeks now.  They particularly like to design and build impressive towers.

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I enjoy watching the cooperation when the children agree to work together on a building project;

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However, they have encountered a bit of a problem – the baby of the group gets so excited when he sees a tower that he can’t resist knocking it down.  He does immediately attempt to help rebuild the towers but the original builders are still very disappointed by the destruction.

One of the solutions that the children have come up with is to only build towers when the baby is not in the room.  Although effective, this strategy also severely limits the block building time.  Then one day, while the baby was playing in the room, I observed the three-year-old building this;

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I asked him to tell me about his creation.  He said “It’s a tower – that the baby can’t knock down.”  Hmmm, very interesting.  These horizontal towers have become quite popular and can be built all day long without any issues.

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Nice problem solving 🙂

 

The Christmas Bin

I have a couple of big bins that I call sensory bins.  Mostly we just use them for mixing stuff for messy play.  Recently I added a bunch of Christmas items to the biggest bin.

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There are so many decorations that have wonderful sensory qualities but wouldn’t be acceptable to have as loose parts in the playroom with infants & toddlers (and cats).  Putting them in a sensory bin gives the opportunity for exploring these materials in a safe, contained, easy to supervise manner.

I included some of our tubes which were used as funnels for dropping other items through.  The bead chains were a challenge because if you let go before you got them in past the half way point the weight of the chain pulled the whole thing out.  It was frustrating but with a little trial and error and a lot of persistence there was success.

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Many of the children enjoyed wrapping and tying the long strands.

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Decorating the tubes was very popular – sometimes you couldn’t even see the tube after it was decorated.

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I was going to add scented items to the bin but it still smells like the sweet grass we had stored in it last year – Mmmm.  I did add some bells, they don’t make much noise if you hold them but sound great as you dig through the bin.

So many colours, shapes, and textures to explore. These star shaped springs were fascinating.

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The older children enjoyed collecting and sorting all the tiny, little rubber shapes (erasers – hundreds of them).  It was like a tactile seek & find.

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We are all really enjoying this bin.

 

Train Tracks

I have several types of construction toys which are never all out because there is not enough space and too many toys is overwhelming.  The various construction sets are placed in the block area bins as one complete set or a combination of two or more partial sets.  Selecting the set(s) to have available is dependent on the interests and ages of the children enrolled at the time.

The train tracks are one of the construction sets that sometimes cause issues in a mixed age group.  Some children enjoy building large elaborate track systems but this requires cooperation if there are several children involved.  When infants and toddlers are present this is not always possible and many young children find building with the train tracks to be frustrating.

My current group of infants and toddlers may be the exception.  The train tracks have been available in the block area for almost three months now and the children are showing no signs of getting tired of playing with them.  I have changed the other items in the block bins several times since the tracks were introduced – now we have the stacking cups – but the train tracks remain.

At first the toddlers were mostly just interested in the trains and rarely attempted to use tracks.  Those that did use tracks were content to just put a few pieces of track together and drive a train back and forth on it.  Then one day they wanted to make a circle so we learned that eight small curves make a small circle;

15-11-tracks01And eight large curves make a larger circle;

15-11-tracks02Curve, turn, flip, and direction were some of the words we used often during the process. For a couple weeks they were content with these two designs and became experts at building them without assistance. Then I suggested we change things a bit and use both types of curves – four small and four large – still eight pieces but arranged in pairs first.

15-11-tracks03Words used for this one were ‘pair, sides, ends and oval.  Then a new word – alternate – and with that we created this;

15-11-tracks04By this point several of the toddlers had become expert builders able to connect several shapes together and create their own shapes.  My role was mostly just observing and introducing some new words like ‘elongate’;

15-11-tracks05and ‘spiral’ when they created this;

15-11-tracks06With this group of toddlers the train tracks may be out for a while yet – they are still showing no signs of getting tired of building train tracks.  In fact, the two year old was super excited to build and name this ‘heart’ all by himself.

15-11-tracks07We love train tracks.

Lumpy Dough

Play dough and other sensory materials are very popular with children of all ages.  I like play dough because unlike paint and many of our other sensory activities there is little set-up time required for play dough.  I always have a batch of prepared play dough stored in my refrigerator.  The fact that it is cold at the beginning of the activity and warm at the end is an added sensory experience.

The recipe I like to use most often is;

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 3 Tbsp cream of tartar
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil

Combine flour, salt and cream of tartar in a medium sized saucepan.  Add water and oil: cook over medium heat stirring constantly.  When mixture pulls away from side of pan and forms a large ball, remove from heat and let cool.  Knead dough, divide and add food colouring if desired.

I do usually add some time of colouring to the dough and sometimes I add herbs, spices or some other scented material as well.  I have plenty of tools to use with play dough – knives, scrapers, icing decorators, cookie cutters etc but I find that many of the children become so focused on tool ‘ownership’ that the play dough gets forgotten.  Since this is a ‘process’ activity there is never a required product so I rarely offer tools unless the children specifically ask for them.

I chose not to add any colouring or scents to the latest batch of play dough.  Instead, I started the activity by introducing foam ropes and tissue paper.  The children then got to rip the tissue paper into tiny pieces and cut the foam rope – this was more challenging than I anticipated.  The foam was so dense that none of the children’s knives could cut through it.  Scissors worked but the cut pieces tended to fly everywhere – amusing to some of the children but annoying to anyone (me) trying to collect all the pieces.

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The children then had the opportunity to mix the foam and paper into their dough – three very different textures.

15-10-LD02Some chose to add their ‘decorations’ one at a time while others did so by the handful.  Some used tools and played with their play dough as usual during the decorating process.

15-10-LD03Interestingly several of them mixed the paper and foam pieces in the dough and then meticulously picked them all out and then mixed them in again.  In fact, we have played with this dough several times since we first made it and ‘undecorating’ it has been a very popular activity – fantastic for fine motor skills.

15-10-LD04By far my favourite response to this activity came from the school-age children.  When they arrived after school and went to wash their hands for snack they saw the post-activity play dough on the counter.  They were super excited about having ‘cookies’ for snack – followed by a little disappointment that it was just play dough.

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A Lovely Autumn Hike

We have a new favourite park.  I’ve passed it often in the car but for some reason always thought it was too far away to take the children hiking there.  I failed to realize that it was really just a block passed some of our other routes.  Yes, it may be too far away for some toddler groups but my current group has no problem with the distance.

The weather was wonderful on Friday – it was hard to believe it was October already.  The park was quiet;

15-10-fall01We headed to the bench.  This was the halfway point of our planned route so it was the perfect place to take a break.  It also offered a relaxing view of the river – the children all sat quietly, mesmerized by the scenery;

15-10-fall02We met some new friends – they were wary but let us get fairly close;

15-10-fall03The children got very excited when they saw a ‘new’ bridge.  We have never walked over this one and wouldn’t today either but we got close;

15-10-fall04We did stop by one of our other bridges on our way back but we couldn’t sit on the bench this time;

15-10-fall05As we passed under the big bridge we listened to the echo as usual.  One of the toddlers expressed concern that he couldn’t see our shadows anymore.  We walked a little farther and there they were again – he insisted that I take a picture now that they were back;

15-10-fall06It was a lovely Autumn hike in the city.