Building Fires with a Purpose.

Building Fires with a Purpose.

The discussion about building fires in child care programs is growing as ECE’s are trying to spend more time outside as a way of dealing with Covid. The general idea is that a fire will give kids and adults a chance to warm up while being outside for long periods of time in the cold weather. I think we need to go further with this idea. I learned about fires in a child care program, not as a way to warm up, but as a skill and knowledge to expose kids to; how to build a fire, what the purpose of fire is, and how to respect and be safe around fire. I was first introduced to the concept through Gill Robertson who was a family child care provider at the time. She then connected me with Niki Buchan who shared the concept of lab fires. These are not large bonfires for the sake of having a fire. They are small fires build in a small metal bowl/caldron and used to teach children about fire. This was the first time I had ever used a fire steel. My own skills were growing. I had such a sense of accomplishment when I finally got my little fire going! As most of you already know I operate a family child care program for infants to school age as well as a forest and nature school program. I offer fire building opportunities in both these programs. If I want children to respect and understand the power of fire, I need to offer these opportunities. We don’t just ‘have’ a fire, we have conversations about fire; fire being a tool that we use for heat, cooking, light, safety. I know some people are thinking,  “There is no way I would ever be comfortable with a fire around the children I care for!” We have very strict rules and procedures around this whole process. We go over and review the rules each time; how we behave around the fire, how we move around the fire area and where we sit to be safe. There is always an adult at the fire pit when starting a fire and while the fire is burning. We start at the very beginning and explore how to start a fire. We talk about what we need and why; cotton balls, petroleum jelly, small kindling, and the flint and steel. I demonstrate how it works and then anyone who wants a chance to try, is able to. The kids can tell me the rules and what we need after their first time being exposed to these tools. The absolute joy on the kids faces when they are able to create...

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The Most Beautiful Christmas Tree!

The Most Beautiful Christmas Tree!

I love December and all the traditions we have created in my child care program over the years. We all talk about how busy it is this time of year, but for me it is a busy I enjoy. I find myself making the ornaments the kids can paint, getting the Graham Cracker ‘gingerbread’ houses ready for decorating and  gathering the supplies for the Reindeer Munchies.  These are just a few of the activities that bring me joy. Some of the kids remembered what we have done in previous years and wanted to make some paper chains. One of the children asked if we were going to make treats again for the garbage collectors. It touched my heart that he remembered this tradition of sharing with others in our community. We do this throughout the year but make it extra festive at this time of year. With Covid and being in code red at the moment I explained I needed to look into the rules about this and what we could do. Another of our traditions in putting up the tree. It is a little tree that comes in two parts. It slides together and is done. Together we add the lights which are very durable and then the kids are in charge of the rest of the decorations. They have garlands and they can make ornaments; add and rearrange as much as they want. We are a multi-age program and so we have children one year old to five years old. They all can look at and touch the tree. Yes, it has gotten knocked over several times already. We just stand it back up and carry on. The little ones love to look at the lights and gently touch them. Almost daily the older kids love to rearrange the garland and decorations. Last year one of the kindergarten kids stated our tree needed a star. He promptly headed off to the construction paper and cut out a star from a yellow piece of paper, added a pipe cleaner and hung it on the tree. That star never left the top of the tree all last December.   Is it the grandest tree you ever saw? It just might be because it is theirs. Theirs to decorate and redecorate how they like. They are in control of how it looks and how it is cared for. It is part of their world that they can be in charge of. In all these uncertain days, this is one little piece of their world that they know is theirs....

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Has Children’s play changed due to Covid-19?

Has Children’s play changed due to Covid-19?

Has children’s play changed during these (what I call) weird times called Coronavirus? Do they play differently? Has their play taken on a new ‘tone’ or manner of play? Some Background Early into this, around the end of March, the majority of the families attending my program decided to hunker down at home. We were being told to stay home, limit our exposure to people outside our bubble. As everyone well remembers schools were closed, many business were closed or greatly changing the way they did business, and people were embracing this call to action and we were flattening the curve in Manitoba. I was happy and relieved to be operating a small program. I was able to stay open and with discussion with my husband who is in the EMS field, I decided to offer care to essential service workers. I had very few children needing care which was interesting as we were told so many families were in desperate need. By June we were pretty much back up to full capacity, spending the vast majority of our time outside enjoying being back together. We did all this while helping to flatten our curve, maintaining quality and not having to wear a mask as we were told we were low risk. All was happy in my world until September hit! We have to WHAT? Our province now had raising covid numbers, many people seemed to be not following the rules, and the curve was very far from flat! Word came down that staff in child care programs and children 9 years and older are to wear a mask inside. To say I took this news with grace would be incorrect. Oh, I had a hissy fit, I swore, I ranted and raved, I cried, I swore some more… and I put on the darn mask. It has taken a few days (actually weeks) but I am adjusting more and more. I still have some tough times like when trying to get shoes on a child, I have an age related heat surge and I work up a sweat and get all hot inside that mask! It’s a challenge to keep the frustration at bay.  I am glad this didn’t come into effect in the heat of the summer. Has Play Changed? So… back to my original question; has children’s play changed due to Covid-19? I really have not seen any here. They are still playing the same types of games and pretend play they engaged in before; horses, puppies, science type experiments, caring for babies, Zombies, catch the bad guys, etc. The themes have not included talk or play around ‘the virus’ and it hasn’t involved wearing masks....

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We have really been Growing Wild! (the story of our first Forest and Nature School Adventure)

We have really been Growing Wild! (the story of our first Forest and Nature School Adventure)

I have had a dream for a while now. My dream was to be able to run a forest and nature school program, to be able to completely embrace the pillars and principles. For ECE’s who are already child-led, inquiry based, this is a natural extension. The concepts are really a way of thinking, a mind set. In June 2019 I started my journey to become a Forest and Nature School Practitioner. I took the 1 week, hands on course with an ECE friend. We had such a good time and were inspired by 2 wonderful facilitators. From that week until this summer I had assignments to complete and I was so excited when I was notified that I was DONE!! Then the planning began.     For the 2 weeks, this summer, I was able to create and offer Growing Wild Forest & Nature School for children 5 to 10 year olds. It was a fantastic experience. With low ratios (1:5) we offered real tools to build with. The kids had access to hammers, nails, hand drills, saws. We practiced our fire starting skills. So much great ‘risky’ play and so many great conversations about assessing those risks.     The kids embraced the experience! We would begin with a gathering circle around the fire pit and learning about the land we were on and the people that were here first through land acknowledgment. Desiray taught us a bit about her culture and lead us in smudging.       When the kids went off, I was able to observe all that they were exploring, the challenges the successes, the new friendships and the rekindling of old ones. They helped each other and cheered each other on! We were building a FNS community in 4 short sessions.       It was so sad to have to have it all end. For me, it gave me a chance to put my FNS skills into action and leave the world of pandemics aside. I like to think it was the same for the children and their families who attended.     What is next? I am already thinking about what I want will be my next Growing Wild venture … Stay tuned!     until then… Go Be Wild and...

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I LOVE PVC Pipes?

I LOVE PVC Pipes?

For anyone who knows me, knows I LOVE all loose parts! Do I have a favourite? I really don’t want to pick just one… I have so many! Let’s start at defining what loose parts are? For those who may not know what loose parts are let’s start there. Simon Nicholson, the founder of the idea of Loose Parts in 1971 says: “As long as materials can be moved, redesigned, put together, and taken apart in a variety of ways, they are classified as loose parts.” A very basic explanation is loose parts are anything that can be used alone or with something else in a multitude of ways. Our imagination is the only limitation! Think of the toy you give a child as gift… how often are the kids more interested in the box than the expensive gift inside? The box is a LOOSE PART! I could make a very long list of loose parts I love; PVC pipes, tape, sand, water, logs, tree cookies, thread spools, beads, buttons, makeup sponges, pinecones, sticks, leaves, stones, curlers, string, ribbon, …I could go on and on… (and usually do, just ask my family!) I Love PVC Pipes! Is it weird that I proclaim my love of PVC pipes?  I just love this stuff. It comes in black, white, and the best is CLEAR!! What is more fascinating than watching seeds, sand, or water (maybe even coloured water) flowing through the tubes. It can be used inside our outside. It is durable, can be cut into various lengths, and can be found in a variety of diameters as well as lengths. I first discovered the magical world of PVC pipes when I attended a child care conference in North Dakota in 2018 and had the privilege of attending and meeting Tom Bedard. His observations and reflections of children’s play are inspiring.  Sand and Water Table  Tom creates some absolutely amazing constructions using many materials but often uses PVC pipes. I have told him that when I smell duct tape I think fondly of him.   My first attempt at using PVC was pretty basic. A couple pieces, some duct tape and golf balls in the water table.     After that I got a little more adventurous. I used smaller PVC with holes drilled in and all duct taped together. I loved listening to the children get so excited about exploring it and all the different ways to move water through it.   Then there is outside! The creativity and imagination along with PVC and a bit of duct tape can move water along in so many ways). This is more than just what you see… it goes back to the...

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“She’s Capable!”

“She’s Capable!”

One of my greatest joys is to be able to sit back and observe, truly take in and watch what the kids are doing. I love to hear the laughter, the making up of games, the impromptu negotiations that happen when everyone is engaged. One particular day as I was observing a child of about 14 months old was playing. She was climbing in and out of a wagon and I heard one of the three year old kids say, “She’s capable!” My heart soared when I heard that. I think of the many times I have said that to not only adults but to the children as well. We are all so eager and quick to jump to the ‘rescue’ of children. We often don’t give children the time and space to figure things out on their own. I have worked really hard at taking a breath and a step back when children are struggling. They often come up with their own creative solutions. When children are stuck  in “I can’t do it” mode or have never been giving this opportunity before, I try to help with a question or two to get that thinking going. I find great joy in hearing “I did it!” when children discover that they can.   My program is built on my strong belief that children are capable. Adults seem to be so quick to jump in and open the play doh container, pull the wagon, push the swing, draw the picture, solve the disagreements… for children. Is it because we believe children need us to do all this for them? Is it our need to feel needed? Marie Montessori said, “The greatest sign of success for a teacher… is to be able to say, ‘the children are now working as if I did not exist’. ”   What does this mean to me? It means I have to set up the environment, support the children socially and emotionally and give them the tools and confidence they need to manage situations on their own. Am I still here if they need me? You bet!! …but an adult will not be around all the time after they leave here and enter school. I want them to leave with the belief that they are capable. Recently a child was riding a bike, then briefly left it to get something and came back to continue her play. When she returned another child was on her bike. I watched from a distance as she was clearly telling him she was not done with it yet. He argued and tried to get her to ride something else. Neither was budging. I walked over, knelt down beside them...

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