Tag Archives: toddlers

Outdoor Babies – With Gravel & Rocks

There has always been gravel in our outdoor play space.  Way back in 1997 when I first opened my childcare home we didn’t have a ‘natural’ outdoor area.  We did however have pea gravel as a fall surface under the wood and plastic play structures.

I’ll admit that back then I was one of those ‘OMG, what if they eat the gravel?’ people.  Consequently I never let babies play in the gravel area.  So today, when parents seeking childcare visit/tour my childcare home and express concern over the letting their babies play with gravel and rocks, I can honestly say ‘I understand’. There was a time when I only let babies play here;

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There was a two foot tall fence dividing the deck area from the gravel area and I never let the babies go past the fence.  I even had some wire mesh on the bottom portion of the fence so they couldn’t reach through the fence boards and get a handful of gravel.  I was keeping them ‘safe’.

In fact, it wasn’t just infants and toddlers who were prevented from entering the gravel area.  I considered children ‘old enough’ to play in the gravel area when they could reach over the fence and open the latch without assistance – most children were three or four years old before they could ‘pass the test’.

Looking back now I realize that the ‘test’ was ridiculous because their ability to open the latch is irrelevant to what they may do with the gravel.  In fact, I discovered that the longer I prevented them from playing in the gravel, the more harmful their behaviour could be. Overexcitement in the new environment meant throwing gravel was a major issue.

In the last ten years since I began allowing the infants and toddlers to play with gravel and rocks I’ve discovered that many of them actually never try to eat it.  Those that do occasionally put gravel in their mouths do so for only the first week or so and then move on to more constructive gravel activities.

Activities like making ‘gravel rain’

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Testing gravel on an incline plane

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Lying in gravel to get the ‘full body’ experience

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Gravel is the ultimate ‘loose part’

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I thought this little girl’s ‘Rock Eyes’ were very imaginative

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Walking on gravel and rocks can be a challenge for young children and gives them the opportunity to further develop their balance and gross motor skills.

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Yes, eating or throwing gravel can be an ongoing issue for a small percentage of children but it isn’t limited to infants and toddlers.  By not allowing young children to experience and experiment with gravel and rocks we’re not ‘protecting’ them.  We are preventing them from learning about textures, weight, gravity and more.

With a combination of supervision, guidance and opportunities for experimentation gravel and rocks can offer many benefits for the infant and toddler development that outweigh any concern for safety.

Outdoor Babies – Introduction

I’ve started and scrapped this post several times over the past few months – it has been a difficult one to approach.  I originally planned to discuss the pros and cons of having infants of various ages in our outdoor play space.

In the last six months I’ve enrolled several new infants into our group and I’ve done a lot of reflecting about the intricacies of outdoor play with very young children.  Many of the new parents have voiced concerns about what their babies may do when they are allowed to freely explore the natural spaces in our yard.  After all, it is sometimes wet/cold, always messy, and there are so many possible hazards.

I began by trying to decide whether it was more difficult to allow a crawling baby to explore vs. one that is already walking – and climbing. Then I decided that it depended on the season but as I started to compare ‘winter babies’ to ‘summer babies’ I realized that there was another problem.  Every time I tried to write a generalized comment I’d immediately remember all the children I’ve encountered who were ‘the exception’.

Up to this point I had been trying to base this post on the child’s age and the conditions in the outdoor environment – but there’s more.  The child’s developmental level, temperament, and mood that day are equally – if not more – important factors that will affect their explorations and my response to it.

So, instead of being a single post about taking infants outdoors this is just the introduction.  The first in a series of posts about letting babies freely explore and experience the less than perfect world outside.  I plan to write more about my experiences with babies with sticks, babies with rocks, babies in gardens, babies in snow and much, much more. Stay tuned, and if there’s something in particular that you’d like me to address then please write a comment below….

Too Old to Crawl

The youngest baby in our group does not yet walk.  I expect that he will be walking soon – he stands to play but still prefers to crawl or scoot when there’s somewhere he wants to be. Some of the older children have taken to crawling now too.  On seeing this one parent responded by saying ‘Hey, you’re too old to crawl’.

Nope.  In fact, I’m waaay older and I crawl too.

You see, the youngest baby has only been here for a couple weeks.  He’s still a little clingy.  He’s content to play as long as I am sitting.  I don’t need to be close to him but if I stand he will scoot over to me and expect to be picked up. The quicker I respond the less severe the meltdown will be.

Two other toddlers have noticed this and are concerned the baby is getting too much ‘air time’.  They are faster and can generally reach me before the baby does. I drop to the ground and there’s a brief period where all three of them jostle for a position on my lap.  After everyone is certain I’m not leaving or excluding anyone they all return to playing.  It takes forever for me to get anything done.

I cannot carry three infants/toddlers every time I walk across the room – the ice pack on my back is proof that I’m too old for that.  So, I crawl – I’m not too old to crawl.  Soon I will be able to walk again.

It’s What They Like to Do

It took almost all summer for the school-age children to stop asking me where ‘missing’ toys were.  They claimed they had looked where the desired toy belonged and it was not there.  They had checked and no one else was using it – it was missing.

I asked if they had checked the washing machine.  They would then go look in the washing machine and be surprised to find many ‘missing’ items.

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“How did you know it would be there?” they asked

Missing toys were always there.  I explained that every day when the toddlers came in the playroom they would take toys from the shelves, put them in the washer, and then go play elsewhere.  Often, these toys were then missed at clean-up time because they were hidden from view.

Granted, it may have taken the older children so long to learn this because we were outside most of the summer.  I have spent more time indoors with the toddlers during the school year.  It is not just the currently enrolled toddlers that do this – the ones before them did too.  It’s what they like to do.

I know toddlers enjoy filling containers and dumping them out.  I know they like collecting toys and hauling them around.  Because of this I have many baskets and bags specifically for this purpose.  These are just a few of them;

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Why the toddlers liked putting things in the washing machine was somewhat confusing though.  They couldn’t dump it out and they couldn’t carry it around.  They were not using the washer as a toy bin because they didn’t do it at clean-up time only when they first came in the room.  Maybe they were hiding toys.

I saw this interesting room divider on Pinterest.  It gave me the inspiration for something similar for the playroom.  I used heavy cardboard tubes that I painted first before attaching them together.  I had small tubes too but I chose not to use them because they would be too small for any toys to fit inside and I hoped things would get put in the tubes.

I have the ‘divider wall’ in the block area under the loft so of course the first things that got put in the tubes were blocks;

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I did purposely leave some larger spaces for the bigger toys but so far the children just like using the smaller tubes;

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It has only been a week since these tubes were added to the playroom so we’re still experimenting.  It’s another option for the little ones to sort and store toys.  It’s what they like to do.

The Delightful Mistake

I wanted to do some type of play dough/sensory activity with the infants and toddlers but didn’t have the time to make a batch of cooked dough.  However, I did have some flour and baby oil to make cloud dough – such an easy recipe.

I starting adding flour to a bowl containing the baby oil.  At first it was a little too sticky and wet so I added more flour.  Then it was too dry – this was a problem because I had no more baby oil left.  I considered other liquid options.

Vegetable oil would work but it would make the dough turn yellowish and I was hoping to keep it white for now.  I wasn’t sure what plain water might do to the texture of the cloud dough and I didn’t want to experiment at the moment due to the limited time I had.

I decided to check the cupboards to see what other liquids I could find.  First I had to wash the dry flour mixture off my hands though.  As I rubbed my hands together with the soap and water I made a discovery.  The white cream soap could be the perfect liquid for the dough.

It took a little trial and error to get the texture just right.  Too dry – add more soap.  Too wet – add more flour.  I was slightly concerned that it may just be an endless cycle but it didn’t really take long to get the perfect consistency.

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At first the toddlers only poked at it.  Even with rolling pins and play dough tools they still prefer to simply poke the dough or tear off little pieces.  I provided some tissue paper for them to tear up and add to their dough.

This was why I wanted to leave the dough white.  I know when we use glue with tissue paper the dye from the paper tends to transfer onto hands and other surfaces.  Usually I find this a little annoying but this time I thought it could be helpful.  I hoped that as the children mixed little pieces of tissue paper to the dough the dye would spread through the dough.

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It didn’t.  I guess that the dough wasn’t wet enough to release the dye from the paper.  The little flecks of colour still looked pretty and the children enjoyed adding the little paper pieces.

We also discovered that the addition of the cream soap instead of more baby oil made the dough stretchy.  Wonderfully pliable without falling apart even when the infants waved it about;

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Then I gave them each a small container.  Their favorite activity is putting stuff in containers and taking it out again.  This amused the little ones and extended the activity for much longer.

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Even though it didn’t necessarily go as planned it was still a wonderful engaging activity.

 

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.

A Period of Adjusment

School has begun again – for me this is somewhat sad.  I’m going to miss the long periods of uninterrupted free play.  I’m going to miss watching the interaction between the preschoolers and the school-age children.

Yes, I’m excited for the older children heading off to new adventures.  I’m also looking forward to being able to focus more attention on the little ones and planning some activities specifically for their developmental levels.  I’m eagerly anticipating the autumn leaves and yes, even the winter snow – these are such wonderful sensory experiences for the children (and me).

September brings many changes; changing seasons, variable weather, different schedules, new friends and more.  As I was making my grocery list for the upcoming weeks’ menus I realized that there are some changes needed there too.

With the larger group here over the summer I needed to double many of the recipes to ensure we had enough food for meals. Last school year I had no school-aged children here for lunch but I did have several preschoolers with good appetites.  This year’s preschool group is much younger and I again have no school-age children here for lunch.  Even without doubling recipes there will be far too many leftovers from the current menu.

It’s time to revamp the menu again.  I’m going to remove some of the items that cannot be scaled down for the younger/smaller group.  I want to add menu items that encourage the infants and toddlers to be more independent at meal times – menu items that can be easily scooped onto a spoon or picked up by tiny fingers.

We’re going to need more cooked vegetables.  The raw veggies and dip are magnificently nutritious but can be too difficult for many of the toddlers to chew. Salads are not popular with this little group – that doesn’t mean they won’t be served but they won’t be the only vegetable offered with a meal.

Yes, it’s time for me to go back to some old menu favourites and begin trying some new items too.   Let the experiments begin – mealtime science during a period of adjustment.