Tag Archives: Weather

Unexpected

We love playing outdoors in the winter. Compared to the warmer seasons our winter walks are shorter as is our total time outdoors but we still manage to spend 1-2 hours playing outdoors everyday.

In the winter there are no ‘toys’ in the yard – most break easily in the cold. Of course we still have sticks, pots, and the ultimate loose part – SNOW! I also routinely make various ice blocks for building, collecting and sorting. It is the perfect activity for frigid cold winters.

small coloured blocks of ice

With the addition of liquid watercolour paint to the water before freezing these blocks add a nice pop of colour to the yard. Sometimes I freeze dozens of trays full of coloured ice cubes and scatter them all over the yard. It is best done just before a snowfall because the children love hunting and digging for ‘gems’.

This year I decided to make some bigger ice blocks using both ice cream pails and square containers. I imagined the children may enjoy using them for stepping stones – they love the slippery spots in the yard. I also figured with bigger blocks they could build bigger structures than they could with small ice blocks. The gross motor skills required for manipulating the large blocks would be a bonus.

ice blocks and pails

The result was unexpected. The combination of the large containers and the above normal January temperatures meant the blocks took longer to freeze – I expected that. What I didn’t expect was that the liquid watercolour would separate from the water during freezing and even disappear completely!

green circular block of ice

Only four of the ten blocks remained intact when I removed them from the containers. The other ones were fragile because they were hollow! That was certainly unexpected and why it happened I do not know.

hollow round ice block

The centers of these hollow ice blocks were not wet and any colour that remained was a fine powdery texture. It was like, once the liquid watercolour paint separated from the tap water, the liquid part of the paint evaporated. How that was possible confuses me – the tops of all the blocks are solid thick ice – the bottoms are the thin delicate parts that shatter when touched to reveal the hollow centers.

hollow square ice block

Well that was unexpected and I still wanted some usable ice blocks so I filled all the containers with water again. I decided to not use any liquid water colour paint this time but I wanted something to make the ice blocks stand out a little in the snow. I found an old bag of potpourri and tossed a few pieces in each bucket. Interestingly, the next day the water had turned a nice shade of red,

containers full or red water

However, after four days outside, in the shade, in January, there is only a thin partial layer of ice on the surface of each bucket of water. How is it possible that in Manitoba I cannot freeze water outside in January?

That is unexpected.

The compromise

More than a decade ago I wrote my first post about walking with children – since then I’ve written many more posts about the subject – search ‘walking’ or ‘hiking’ in my search bar if you want to read some of them.

We go on some very long walks though distance and time are not always relative as other factors like snack breaks, exploring, playing games and destinations like the library or store may affect the length of time but not the distance. Some of our walks are great distances – our longest has been about 10 kilometers – though these long distance walks require advance planning so they can’t be spontaneous when the children ask.

I’ve received stunned responses like “Why do you make them walk so far?” and I have to explain that I don’t ‘make’ them – I ‘let’ them. Most of the time it is the children choose the destination and/or the route. We go on a walk everyday as part of our daily routine. As soon as babies take their first steps I let them walk – they become our pace setters. At first it may just be out the front door and around the short block to the back yard. Once they become more confident we add some more distance.

Back in 2012 I wrote about adapting our walks to accommodate the abilities of children at various stages of development. Being able to understand/accept the needs of the younger children is a learning experience for the older children too. I am not opposed to carrying or putting a baby in a stroller when they don’t want to walk, however, I am opposed to assuming they can’t walk as far as the older children when given the opportunity. Please don’t underestimate their abilities!

I have had a 19 month old child that walked nearly 9 km in under 4 hours – I had the stroller available if he wanted to use it but he adamantly insisted on walking until we were almost all the way back (and it was approaching nap time). Last summer on our longest/farthest (4.5 hour 10 km) walk, every time we stopped for water/snack breaks I was the only one who chose to ‘rest’ – the children (aged 18 months-8 years) always wanted to run around and played tag instead.

Over the years there have been a few children here who were reluctant to walk anywhere – honestly most were school-age who came here only briefly and had never been required to nor given the opportunity to walk anywhere – they also struggled with the complete lack of screen time options here. With the little ones often all they need is a chance to choose their walking partner, or the destination, or even just carry a stick or leaf to make walking an enjoyable activity.

Winter tends to be the biggest obstacle that limits the distance of our walks. Even experienced walkers sometimes struggle with winter conditions. Slippery ice, deep snow, cold wind gusts and bulky winter clothing can be frustrating so we don’t often go on very long winter walks.

However, even in winter we do play outside every day so at minimum we walk around the short block from the front entrance to the back yard. The side yard and back entrance are not childcare areas and that makes them more difficult routes than the familiar walk around the block.

This past summer/fall was one of the few years that it wasn’t the weather that made walking difficult. Baby One did not like to take more than about 10, very slow, consecutive steps without being picked up and carried – but not for more than a minute before demanding to be given the opportunity to take a few more independent steps. They did like long stroller rides and that was fine until Baby Two – an accomplished hiker – decided it was not fair that Baby One got to ride. *sigh*

I do have two little strollers but I can’t push both of them at the same time or push one while carrying a baby. Some of the school-age don’t mind pushing a stroller but when they are in school they are not available to help. Besides, if the older children do not enjoy the additional responsibility it could ultimately lessen their desire to walk and we don’t want that.

I have discovered that often it is easier/quicker/better to just leave the stroller(s) and take the chance that I may have to carry TWO babies if they both decide to quit walking. Someone suggested I should get a double stroller but I am stubborn, haven’t needed a double stroller in 23 years – not going to concede defeat now. Besides, the gym is closed and I need a workout.

The short block hike from the front door to the back yard is my physical limit for carrying two babies – but with the addition of slippery snowsuits it is extremely difficult. The three older preschoolers have threatened to mutiny if we have to walk super slow baby speed – all the time. They have also lamented that they miss the longer walks.

So, I compromised and bought a sled – the heavy duty cargo kind with high sides. The babies love it. The three older ones have been so excited about not being limited by baby steps they have demanded some longer walks. In fact, with all their pent up energy their 1-2 km winter (actually fall with snow) ‘walks’ are really runs. Great – more non-gym workouts for me to keep up with energetic preschool pace-setters while pulling babies in the sled.

Sadly, most of our early snow has melted away so we are back to walking slow again until we get some more snow for the sled. Interestingly though, Baby Two has decided they don’t need to be carried any more so we’ve managed to take a couple slightly longer walks without the sled and only one baby to carry.

Maybe I didn’t need to compromise after all – I just needed to wait a little bit longer for this particular group to find a balance that works for all of them – together. I bet by Spring even Baby One will be itching to walk independently on a long walk too – they just need a little more confidence and the opportunity to discover how fun it can be.

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.

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.

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.

Warm in Winter

The weather recently has been a bit of a deterrent to long periods of outdoor play.  Even when bundled up in warm clothing the littlest ones can get chilly crawling around in the snow.  The heavy clothing and deep snow can cause a lot of frustration yet we have still managed to be outside for at least some time every day.  After all, long periods of being stuck indoors is very frustrating too.

One perk to having my husband home from work during winter break means I have an extra set of hands.  So, for an extra special treat we had an outdoor fun day complete with lunch cooked on the fire. I did most of the food prep before the children arrived and hubby had the fire good and hot before the children and I headed outside.

The foil baked potatoes had been cooked first – I thought I had a taken a picture of them cooking but I guess not – it was funny because the fire nearly melted the metal colander I stored them in 😉  The bannock went on second – I chose to make them biscuit style instead of cooking on sticks because few in this group would have the attention span to stand still long enough to cook them.

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The children were much more interested in mostly playing on the hills and just occasionally stopping by to check on the food and warm up by the fire.

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Of course the tipi on the far side of the yard is another favourite place too;

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The wieners were the last thing left to cook.  Some of the children helped briefly but were a little too far away to get much heat.  It probably would have been better if we had more flames like we did at the beginning but the low fire worked eventually;

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It was a learning experience for all of us – not our first fire but our first entire meal cooked on the fire in the winter. Oh so yummy;

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Everyone just devoured their lunch – and two fell asleep at the table – after all, it was a long morning full of outdoor play.

Spring 2016

There is a thin layer of snow on the front sidewalk but I am stubbornly refusing to go sweep it off.  The temperature display on the weather station reads ‘0’ degrees at 6am so I am confident the sidewalk snow will melt soon – the snow on the steps has already melted.  Yesterday morning when we went out to play there was no snow anywhere in my back yard and there was a collective “Awww, there’s no snow” 😦 from the children so I’m certain this recent snowfall is Mother Nature’s response to that lament.

I like winter too and this past (present?) winter has been quite pleasant.  There have been a few indoor issues with running across the playroom and jumping in and out of the nature area.  I’ve tried several indirect measures to curb the reckless behaviour – most had limited effect but this has been quite successful;

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These cardboard circles used to be attached to the loft for toy storage but we no longer have the loft – of course I kept these ‘just in case’ I found another use for them… 🙂  The smaller children enjoy using the ‘tunnels’.  The school age children and I can step over.  Either way it slows down traffic – like the pot holes on the street.

Speaking of cardboard tubes, I can’t believe we still have these ‘binoculars’ made from plastic wrap tubes and tape;

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I quickly put them together for some toddlers who wanted them for a dramatic play activity they were engaged in two years ago!  I never expected them to stay in the playroom for more than a day or two but they are just as popular as ever and they haven’t been damaged yet.  I’ve considered making, or having the children make more, fancier ones but no one is really interested so these ones stay.  The current group likes to lay on the floor in the nature area and use them to look for butterflies and birds in the trees.

Another constant in the playroom is these eggs in this pot;

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Upon entering the playroom one of the toddlers will place these eggs in this pot and set it on the counter.  If at any point someone else moves the pot, puts other food in the pot, or puts the eggs is a different pot there will be a scuffle.  I can’t explain it but it has been like this every day for months now.  No one ever actually plays with the eggs in the pot and the toddlers will happily put them away at clean up time but they MUST be on the counter like this during play time.

However, there have been several complaints that I have not yet taken down the Easter decorations;

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Honestly, I’m happy leaving them up as ‘Spring’ decorations.  I have many window clings for Fall, Halloween, Christmas, Winter, Valentines, St Patrick’s Day, and Easter but for the period between Easter and Fall all I have are butterflies.  Butterflies are nice but I’d like to have some variation over the 5 month Spring/Summer period.  Flowers or birds would be nice.

Yes, there is snow on the ground – again – but summer is coming.  Check out our seedlings;

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We’ve started our peppers, corn and several types of squash.  The corn surprised us – we don’t usually plant corn but we found an old package of corn seeds in our seed collection – we were not certain they would grow.  I don’t usually buy seeds – most of our garden plants are grown from seeds we collect from our garden or produce from the store or CSA box.  Our peas and beans will be planted directly in the garden outside but it is too early yet – we’ve tried digging in the soil every time the snow melts but the ground is still frozen.  Some of us are very eager for Spring to arrive.

 

 

Bridges

I like to provide plenty of opportunities for the children to explore nature.  Even though we are near downtown and there are many major roadways we still manage to find nature in the city. We go on many, sometimes lengthy, hikes around the neighbourhood in all types of weather. On our last post storm adventure the toddlers walked 4.4 km in search of puddles to splash in – we traced our route on Google Pedometer when we returned.

If I was the only one choosing destinations we would always be hiking through forests but the children often have other interests and I let them lead.  One of their favourite destinations is the river – particularly watching it from the middle of the nearby bridge.  We often go up one side of the bridge, stop in the middle to watch the river flow away and then hike down to the corner so we can cross the street at the intersection before heading back down the other side of the bridge to watch the river flow towards us.

We see the changes in the river as the ice begins to form in the fall and as it breaks up in the spring.  The children notice – and express concern over the things we see floating down the river.  Sometimes they prefer to sit on the hill in the park to watch the river – the ‘stuff’ in the water is less noticeable from there.  It is also much quieter without the all the traffic noise from vehicles on the bridge.

During the beautiful summer weather we have been venturing further away – our longest hike this summer was 7.8 km.   On many of our longer walks we have gone to ‘the other bridge’ – which is actually TWO bridges  – bonus.  Even though it takes longer to get there there are two reasons we love to visit this bridge.  First, the children get really excited as we approach the bridges.

20150825_095622It is here that they begin calling out “Echo, Echo where are you Echo?” Their excitement and volume increases dramatically when we are directly under the big bridge.  Here the echo is fabulous and they can see the little bridge too!

20150825_095826The little bridge is for pedestrians only so it is much quieter than the busy bridge we usually visit and it doesn’t shake when big trucks pass over.  That feature of the old bridge is a little scary for some of the toddlers.  There are also several lookout points on this bridge – of course our favouite one is right at the top in the middle of the bridge.

20150825_095930As we head to the top of the bridge we stop to look at the boat, our shadows, and today there is a fisherman too;

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At the lookout point the children may spend as long as they want watching the river.  On this particular day they were looking for submarines and unicorns.  Rivers and bridges are magical places. 🙂

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Winter Clothes

It is that time of the year again – sweaters, ski pants, hats, mitts, coats and boots.  All that clothing for every one of the toddlers in my group.  Getting ready to go outside to play now takes a large chunk of time out of our morning.  For some, the arduous process of getting dressed can briefly interrupt their excitement for outdoor play.

I usually lay out all the children’s clothing and then begin with the youngest child and start dressing.  When the youngest is dressed I move on the the second youngest who may, or may not have already started getting dressed.  The oldest child always gets the most time to get dressed independently – our ultimate goal.

This year, the two youngest children in the group both really, really dislike all the bulky, ‘tight’ outerwear and resist every step of the process.  The youngest child is sometimes so worn out from the struggle to get dressed that he will fall asleep while waiting for me to dress the second child.

So, I made a slight change in the routine.  Instead of dressing the first child completely before moving on the child two, I began alternating between these two for each step of the dressing process. Ski pants on child one then ski pants on child two.  Coat & mitts on child one then coat & mitts on child two.  Hat and boots on child one then hat & boots on child two.

Several shorter battle rounds with a break between each step allows the toddlers a brief period of time to adapt to the feel of one piece of heavy outerwear before another is added.  Throughout the process of dressing the youngest two, toddler three usually sits and waits patiently singing songs but making no effort to get dressed.

The oldest in the current group is fully capable of completing the task without assistance except for the jacket zipper.  She usually dresses, undresses, and dresses again several times while the others struggle through.  Occasionally, just to add a little excitement to an otherwise boring task, she’ll do something to annoy one of the toddlers.  Sigh.

Last week I saw a small glimmer of progress.  Toddler two put on his ski pants without any assistance.  Instead of just sitting and waiting, toddler three put her ski pants on too!  The resistance to getting dressed is lessening.  The oldest now sometimes feigns helplessness because she feels I have too little work to do.

Now things will change again.  We’re welcoming a new toddler into the group so we’ll have to adjust the routine a little more.  All the struggles are worth it though – we LOVE our outdoor play in all types of weather. 🙂

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Fluffy Rain

One of my fellow family childcare committee members coined the term ‘fluffy rain’ in reference to the white stuff falling from the sky during our meeting last Thursday.  Maybe it was positive thinking or maybe it was just denial – none of us wanted to believe that it was snowing again at the end of April.

There was no school on Friday and although not all the children were here we still had a larger than normal group.  The ‘fluffy rain’ did not dampen anyone’s mood – outdoor play in any type of weather is still preferred over being stuck in a classroom all day.

Most of the morning there was an elaborate dramatic play activity involving an eccentric designer, an art exhibit, and various other characters.  I was assigned the role of ‘photographer’ to document the event – perfect because I was taking pictures already.

There was artwork everywhere;

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Then someone discovered the steady stream of water running out of the rain barrel overflow spout;

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Eventually we had to go back inside because it was too cold for soaking wet toddlers (my decision, not theirs).  Before that though we still had some more time to play with wet fluffy rain – on the plexiglass;

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One toddler was super excited to discover ‘flowers’;

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Hmmm, those ones might be remnants from last summer.  However, the pasture sage has been eager to get growing this year.  It has been active for a couple weeks already.

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Hopefully it won’t be deterred by a little fluffy rain – after all, it is a hardy native prairie plant.  It, like the rest of us Manitoba prairie dwellers, should be used to this by now.