Fun in the Mud

Spring is hard in daycares. You’ve been stuck inside more often than not all winter, due to extreme cold, icy winds and freezing rain. You’re going stir-crazy and your kiddos are too! Finally, the temperature starts to rise and everything starts to thaw. Everyone is so excited to be out…until the first fall into a mud puddle, which occurs approximately 3 seconds after the kids are let loose. You forgot…spring means mud. And dirt. And puddles. And MESS!

Despite frying your last sane nerve, it would be easier to remain indoors until the weather dries up. Being outside, however, is so beneficial for children (and for adults, too!). There is so much to see, explore, touch, and learn outdoors. Climbing, jumping, and other forms of outdoor play encourage risk-taking and improve kids’ balance, coordination, and sense of confidence. The list of benefits of being outside goes on and on. So how to enjoy the outdoors without having multiple toddlers completely destroy your house every time they go in and out?

Tip 1: Dress for the Weather

Invest in proper outdoor weather gear. Tall rubber boots (without cracks along the soles!) are essential for surviving puddles and muddy playgrounds, and one-piece splash suits are more than worth the initial cost. Buy a set in multiple sizes, all in one colour so your kiddos are easy to spot, and you won’t have to worry about parents remembering to send splash pants. Multiple pairs of spare mittens for cold mornings are also a good idea.

Designate certain toys as “outdoor toys,” and be ok with them getting dirty or possibly broken. Pick durable, hard-wearing toys that are designed for fun outside and easy to clean; they are even a selection of play-learning toys specifically made for your mud kitchen. Instead of play food that could get destroyed or cracked, use the new Fruit or Vegetable Sensory Play Stones that can hold up to the elements.

You can also use materials found outside like sticks, branches, rocks, bark, pinecones and more in non-conventional ways; enlist the children’s help in a scavenger hunt and have them help decide how to use the items they find!

Tip 3: Get the Kids Involved with Cleanup

Allow the children to help you clean toys and themselves before heading indoors. Provide a tub of warm soapy water and encourage them to wash the cars, animals, or any other toys that have made their way outside. If you can, keep a boot tray right outside or inside your door for muddy boots to dry. Teach your kiddos to hang their mittens and scarves to dry (simple clothespins on a string work well), and keep a mop handy near your entrance.

Getting outside in the spring does take extra effort and planning, but in the end, it will be well worth it, for you and your kiddos. Happy puddle jumping!

Written by Erin Rifkin, owner of a Reggio/Montessori daycare in Ontario

Coding in Real Life

Picture this: it’s springtime and the kids are outside enjoying the sunlight on their face and the fresh air in their lungs. What does this mean for you? A bunch of happy children… and muddy clothes.

After their fun but (begrudgingly) messy day, their clothes get tossed into the washing machine – you set the washing machine to normal and adjust the temperature to warm, then go on with your day. What are we left with? A fresh pair of jeans that are ready for all the upcoming days of stomping around in rain boots and a fresh sweater ready to wick watery mud off their brows… into the wash, they go again.

Now, let’s dig a little deeper. How did we get from squeaky clean to needing a wash to clean again? As much as I am sure we all wish we could get from one end to the other in an instant, as with everything in life, steps must be taken in between in order to achieve our result.

Something even as habitual as laundry also requires steps! We get dressed, we go outside to play, we come inside, we notice our clothes had a bit too much fun, we put the clothes in the washing machine, we set the washing machine to our desired settings and the final product is clean clothes ready to get dirty once again.

It seems like such a simple idea that a certain number of steps would be needed in order to achieve a result, that exact same principle can be applied to many facets of life, including… Coding!

Arguably, coding and coding literacy are some of the most important skills for future generations to learn. Every task requires directions to complete, utilizing the fundamentals of coding. Daily, we’re surrounded by technology that requires coding to work, whether that be your average appliance or coding specific toys such as Botley The Coding Robot.

Botley teaches the basics of coding through active play, providing a foundation for what will be necessary for our children in their future endeavours and everyday lives!

Botley is 100% screen-free to limit screen time and includes a 45-piece activity set with fun and interactive features such as the ability to detect objects – and move around them, follow looping commands, navigate obstacle courses, follow black lines and even has additional hidden features to unlock!

Botley is also only one of the many coding products we have available that will equally benefit your children and their familiarity with coding, such as Coding Cards, Pre-coding Penguin Activity Cards and Coding Critters Ranger & Zip. Any of these products would be beneficial in furthering your children’s knowledge regarding coding.

With the ever-changing times and the development of new technology, it has never been so important to rely on parents and early childhood educators to stimulate and educate our youth. Let us make sure that they are ready to take on life’s challenges regarding this new technological age, encouraging them to become bright individuals with even brighter futures.

This is How We Roll

I’m a mom of four, with another on the way, and a home daycare provider for the last seven years. To say I’ve done a lot of research into large strollers would be a major understatement! I’ve owned multiple models, brands and sizes and each has its pros and cons. If you’re in the market for a large stroller, you have many options to consider. I’ve owned a Foundations Triple, a Foundations Quad, a six-passenger Bye-Bye Buggy and, finally, my pride and joy, a six to eight-passenger Runabout.

Foundations strollers definitely have their place in the market. They are relatively affordable and – their biggest plus – they fold up for storage. If you have no outside stroller storage, Foundations is the way to go. The downsides to these strollers are that they can be a bit heavy, and I struggled sometimes in the snow when it was fully loaded.

I was thrilled to own a six-passenger Bye-Bye Buggy (four-seater pictured). It turns very easily due to fully rotating front wheels and moves smoothly for its size. The weight (150 lbs before passengers) is a con for me, as is the limited storage space. The accessories (sun canopies, storage cover, and infant seat) can all be purchased separately.

Two years ago I had finally saved the funds to purchase a Runabout. I’m confident this amazing stroller will outlast my daycare career. The six to eight-seat model offers multiple seating arrangements, including being able to turn two seats backwards. The seats all have five-point harnesses and recline, so no need to purchase an additional infant seat. The large air-filled tires are the best by far in snow, and at eight months pregnant, I can push my stroller loaded with six toddlers with one hand.

The large storage basket is very useful, and I love the removable sun awning and rain shield. There is a learning curve with Runabout strollers; they are back-heavy, and so must be loaded from the front to avoid tipping backwards. Sharp turns require tilting the stroller onto its back wheels to pivot, which takes some getting used to. If you pop a tire, all four wheels easily pop off with the push of a button and replacement parts can be ordered through Quality Classrooms. The Runabout’s frame is one long metal piece, but it’s still really light, and the easily removable seats, wheels, storage and awning offer flexibility when you’re trying to cram it into your minivan to bring home.

With its larger price tag, a Runabout is obviously an investment in your childcare business. The brand’s superiority and flexibility, however, will make it the last stroller you will ever own. While the other strollers have their benefits and could work for other childcare centres, the Runabout is the stroller that fits my needs. I am looking forward to many years of daily use.

Written by Erin Rifkin, owner of a Reggio/Montessori daycare in Ontario 

The ABC’s of Childcare Centre Design

As a graduate of the Master of Interior Design program at the University of Manitoba, I had the opportunity to conceptualize a Children’s Art Centre that supported a child’s well-being through positive development in mental, physical and social aspects. Throughout my research, I noted overlapping design concepts that I referred to as the ABC’s (Approach, Boundaries and Cues) that informed what was important to remember when designing a child-centred space.

A is for Approach

First impressions make or break how a child understands and experiences space. Design begins before even entering the building. The physical approach to the building, if unruly and unkempt, easily deters a child’s want to interact with it. Whether it’s building art, a playground or a flourishing garden–the maintenance of the outside area and the use of territorial markers act as points of positive recognition for kids.

B is for Boundaries

As we move into the building, the arrangement of spaces creates spatial zoning so that children define areas. The application of boundaries also creates awareness to know what is meant to occur in a specific space. A common example of a change in floor material or furniture can designate a change in function within a space. With the proper setup, a child knows that we read on the carpet by the bookshelves or we paint pictures on the easels without being told, giving them a sense of independence.

C is for Cues

Cues, both visual and spatial, define space like boundaries but also incorporates meaning or symbolism. Children rationalize their want to be in a space when they relate it back to something positive. If a child makes a friend at the playground, they will refer to that specific playground as the place they met so-and-so. There is no need to go against the grain in designing a childcare centre — familiarity is your friend. Whether the interior design is dynamic and vibrant or plain and simple, kids recognize specific objects, shapes and colours when they are designated with a purpose or meaning. A chair will always be a chair, no matter how avant-garde, so plan your spaces accordingly.

These three concepts are just the tip of the iceberg when designing a place for kids. In the end, I hope they begin to build your own themes and elements that you’d like to include in your space. For a more detailed look at what I wrote about, you can read my thesis Mind, Body and HeART: The Design of an Expressive Art Centre for the Health and Well-Being of Children.

Written by Leanza Barra, an Interior Designer in Manitoba

Daycare Essentials

I’m a mother of a busy 4-year-old boy and have been working in the childcare field for 15+ years.  Throughout the years, I’ve learned that a few items are absolutely necessary (in my opinion) for running a daycare.

Furniture is the first essential for any daycare, so items such as lockers are great as they keep items organized and accessible. Organization is key in encouraging children to put things away for themselves independently. A great way to help organize a daycare is to put toys inside of a clear or open container so that the children can see what’s inside and where it goes; labelling the bins also helps with this. Items like the Preschool Enviro Upholstered Furniture Set are wonderful as the pieces are comfortable, simple, durable and easy to wipe clean. Easily cleanable surfaces and furniture is definitely a must for daycares, as items need to be cleaned very often to ensure the health and safety of the children.

My overall must-have is engaging areas and toys for the children to interact with.  For this, my top pick is a sand and water table and a sensory light table for all of the children’s sensory exploration needs.  Items that would be good to accompany these would be modelling sand, play foam, tree blocks and numbers and math signs.  These tend to be items that most children don’t use often if they are not attending a daycare centre, so thus they are already captivated by a new area and new materials to play with and expanding that play and learning. Adding simple materials and loose parts can do wonders for a child’s development and imagination to create.

My overall personal favourite area in daycare is an open, organized art area filled with all the materials available for the children to create with at their fingertips.  Arts and crafts supplies, like loose paper, pencil crayons, markers, scissors, glue sticks, tissue paper, popsicle sticks, googly eyes, pom-poms, pipe cleaners and any other materials that a child can use to make anything they desire.  This is a great area to add reusable materials to as well such as paper towel rolls, newspaper, Kleenex boxes, and old greeting cards and so on.

Daycares don’t need to be busy and complicated; they just need those key areas for children to be fully immersed in to keep them constantly learning about themselves and their environment.

Written by Michelle Ducharme, an Early Learning and Childcare Supervisor in Alberta

Big Results From Taking Risks

“You didn’t eat enough dirt as a kid.”

These words were said to me after I caught my third cold in a month (the flu-pocalypse was strong this winter). The idea of exposing ourselves to all those icky germs is pretty taboo nowadays, but it’s necessary to build a strong immune system (within reason, of course).  Just like germs help build our immune system, experiences build our risk-management skills, which is why risky play can be so important.

Risky play is all about children exploring and trying new things; they experiment with their environment and learn from the results. Kids are full of curiosity and while we may know the outcome of their next endeavour, they need to learn from their mistakes. As a kid, I used to take my bike to the very top of a large hill and bike down, picking up quite a bit of speed. My parents told me to slow down, but I never listened until I hit a pothole and literally ate dirt (though apparently not enough *coughcough*). My parents cleaned up my scraped elbow and knee, and I learned to slow down.

The Power of Play documentary breaks down the benefits of risky play and how you can incorporate it into your childcare centre. Risky play encourages a child’s confidence as they learn about their capabilities, teaches resilience and, of course, risk-management skills.

Maria Brussoni, a professor at the University of British Columbia and BC Children’s Hospital, studied how nature play meets risky play, using natural elements to encourage development and growth. Brussoni introduced “nature and challenging play opportunities” to the outdoor environment of two childcare centres. The early childhood educators observed increased focus, social skills, self-regulation, self-confidence and more benefits in the children.

Brussoni recommends a 17-second rule. If you’re worried a situation is too risky, give it a moment – 17 seconds to be exact – and see how the children handle the situation. You and the children will discover what they’re capable of and they learn risk-management skills.

Through Brussoni’s research, we can understand how important outdoor play, coupled with risky play, is for a child’s development. A 2017 survey conducted across Canada concluded that children spend considerably more time indoors than they do outside – almost three times as much. There’s a lot of factors for this, including weather, the pressure to put kids into organized and structured activities and the ever-prevalent lure of screens. The same survey found that 35% of children said they prefer screen time to play outside.

So how can you incorporate risky play into your centre? Think of risky play as the loose parts of the outdoors. There’s only so much a child can do with a slide or swing, but the elements of nature are limitless. Allow children to use their imagination and go a little wild. Maybe they’ll climb a tree? Or sword fight with sticks? (Even writing that my brain was screaming, “You’ll poke your eye out!”)

Risky play may result in some bumps and scrapes, but its benefits are so important for children developing into well-rounded people, that the pros outweigh the risks. Besides, we’ll be ready with the alcohol wipes to help clean them up after their next adventure.