Looking at the sky is a simple and relaxing activity that fosters observation and creativity skills. It can change your perspective of the world as you have to explore a broader view. Children can see different animals or flying objects, some we may have missed if we don’t look up. They can also observe cloud formation and shape. Develop their creativity in describing what clouds look like and the stories the clouds are telling us. Next time you are outside, encourage children to look up and explore the sky. You can invite them to this activity by simply laying down a blanket or, if available, providing binoculars!

 

One of our favorite and must exciting activities is exploring worms. To start, we first figure out where worms live; often, children have seen worms out on the sidewalk or crawling on dirt and have a good idea of where to search for more. Exploring all the places in our outdoor space where they can live—asking children where they saw them and where they could have crawled under. By taking on this approach to finding the worms, we set the groundwork to learn more about worms’ habitat. Plus, it is fun to look for clues.

Once we decide where to look, the fun and messy part starts, children can use their hands, or I provide shovels so they can dig in the dirt. Figuring out what children are comfortable with is key; some will love to touch the dirt, while others may not want to. The same can be said for when we find a worm. Some children are curious and want to pick them up immediately. Others may want to see them from afar. We give children space and allow them to go at their own pace in the exploration.

If they are touching the worm, we talk about kindness, responsibility, respect, and compassion for the worm. Years ago, when we saw a worm or bug, I would immediately say, “look with your eyes, we might scare it or hurt it”. Over time I have learned the importance of having children experience holding insects, animals, and materials. I had to shift my thinking, and instead of avoiding the touching. I began to trust the children. Talking with them about how we treat animals and how we want to make sure we are caring for nature. Allowing them to take responsibility and feel proud of how they care for others helps them develop a great sense of self.

 

Maple samaras or helicopters are winged seeds of maple trees; because of their shape, it is fun to see them fall and twirl in the air. Stephanie Mckinstry of My Caterpillar Clubhouse shares fun ways to utilize these seeds in your program.

Start by collecting the leaves, having children gather as many leaves as possible, and then setting them out so they can explore.

Get creative and encourage the kids to use their imagination!

 

 

Town Square had the pleasure of sitting down with Jill Russell, family child care provider and owner of Rusell Family Childcare, to discuss the importance of policies and how they protect her business and families in her care. Listen below

 

 

Gardening has many benefits for young children, including developing responsibility skills , fostering a sense of community, and developing confidence as they care for the plant and observe the growth. To begin, all you need are a few materials, and gardening doesn’t need an ample outdoor space; you can easily create a small indoor garden to fit your program.

Stephanie Mckinstry from My Caterpillar Clubhouse, a Certified Nature Explore Classroom, shares more benefits of gardening, how she begins her garden indoor  and transfers the seeds to her outdoor garden. Watch below.

 

Stephanie Mckinstry from My Caterpillar Clubhouse, a Certified Nature Explore Classroom,  shares how she incorporating books and images of nature into her program. Listen below for her tips.

 

Sharing this excellent webinar recording by the National Center on Early Childhood Development, Teaching, and Learning – Meaningful makeovers: Overcoming Challenges in the Family Child Care Setting.

While makeovers help make the environment look appealing to children and their families, the makeovers are also meaningful because of the environmental changes that support children’s learning and development.

 

Following along  a provider as she makeover her space and gives you suggestions to create a change in your own space

When I was a family child care provider I was lucky enough to live in the Chicago Metro Area and had a world of museums at my fingertips. I would choose every year to have a different annual membership and we would spend a couple of days every month exploring every nook and cranny of that museum. The next year I would move on to another museum. We spent hours and hours exploring Brookfield Zoo, the Chicago Children’s Museum, the Field Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry, and Wonder Works Children’s Museum. It was relatively inexpensive for the annual passes and I could take as many children on the annual pass as I wanted.

Many of you are probably thinking I am crazy! Field trips can be very stressful I know. But, the trick is to not see it as a field trip, but rather as an extension of your learning environment. Having an annual membership that allowed us to visit a couple of times a month meant I was not stressed out about making sure we saw everything in one day. We would often go spend 3 hours just in one or two areas of the museum. There was never any rush. Today some museum policies have changed, you can’t always bring in as many children as you want and the parking (at least in Chicago) can be terribly expensive unless they offer deals for annual pass holders. But, it’s still worth thinking about. Many of you may have local small museums right in your backyard that you don’t even know about. These smaller museums are easier to navigate with young children, cater to smaller groups, and are often really excited you are there. It can be worth inquiring about a membership as a provider if information is not listed.

For example Wonder Works Children’s Museum is in Oak Park, IL, a suburb just outside of Chicago. It has free parking and is small at only 6,400 square feet as compared to the Chicago Children’s Museum at 84,000 square feet. But it packs a lot of fun into its small space. It has six experience areas including art, dramatic play, farm to market, outdoor theme area, construction, and gardening. Children will be happy to spend many days at this small museum and will love returning for things they remember fondly.

Though transporting children can be challenging (and this is especially true if you only venture out once or twice a year), it gets easier once children know the routine and understand why they are doing it.  So, don’t judge your outings based on that once a year jaunt to the pumpkin patch. It can be helpful to remind children “If we get settled in the car quickly, we can get to the museum and play sooner.” It is also helpful if the children know where they are going. I know that once I told my children it was a “Wonder Works Day”, they would begin to get excited and talk about what they would do once they got there, which made the transportation process that much easier. Please remember that you must always follow licensing guidelines when transporting children.

So check out the big and small museums in your areas and make them into an extension of your learning environment.

 

 

When preparing children for school, parents and teachers acquire all the tools that will be essential for their success in the classroom. Pencils, paper, crayons, blocks, baby dolls and books are all accessible for making the year successful. They are considered important pieces of the education process.

If you are fortunate enough to have a program that also provides fresh air and time for play outdoors in the winter months, consider yourself extremely lucky! However, your child will need a whole different list of supplies to make sure this time is equally successful.

Suit Up and Boot Up!

Clothing is a crucial piece of the outdoor experience!

A few years ago it became clear to me that if I was supplying stumps, loose parts and the time to be outdoors in nature, our program had to have clothing available for backup. Clothing is a crucial piece of the outdoor experience. Teachers often ask me how long it takes to get everyone dressed to go outdoors? Trust me, the time it takes will get shorter and shorter very quickly. And the process is a learning lesson in itself. There is a sequential order involved. It is a lesson in self-sufficiency. What could be a better use of our time? With so many children attempting to get ready at the same time, children learn to independently get ready on their own. Our children love to play in the snow and they know that getting ready is part of the process. A few years ago I had a two year old that could Suit Up and Boot Up faster than her older counterparts.

I am always curious how others make this work in their programs. Like anything else in our classroom, I start with baby steps and tweak it as I go. I encourage you to try and get outdoors every day. It is so good for both our mental and physical health. However, you need the tools for this to be successful. If you have children who don’t bring their “pencils” to class, you must supply them.

Here is our version of Suit Up and Boot Up.

You can do this! Baby steps!

  1. I start by setting up stations or centers. There are many stages of dress and it can take a lot of space, so offer that space to keep peace in the room and the focus on getting dressed. You don’t want everyone standing on top of each other trying to get dressed. I start at one end of our room and lay the stations out ending at the exit door. You could also do a circle. After a day or two the children will help you lay out the stations.
  2. After everyone has gone to the bathroom, we are ready to get serious! 
  3. We start with snow pants. Be aware that for some families this is an extra expense that they have not budgeted for or simply don’t understand because the adults quit playing in the rain and snow! We always try to have an extra set or two around. If we supply the blocks and dolls, we also need to supply back up winter clothing for those who don’t have what they need on any given day.
  4. Then we have stations for their boots, coats, hats and mittens. By now they are standing by the door for the last inspection and the help they may need with zippers, buttons, buckles or mittens.

Car mittens vs snow mittens

Which brings us to mittens or gloves. For the very young, I am a big fan of mittens, just because they are so much easier to get on. As the children get older though, sometimes they just need the flexibility and precision to build or pick things up with gloves. This is where I am on a one-woman campaign for new vocabulary words.

Car mittens vs Snow Mittens (gloves qualify but it ruins my campaign slogan!) Fleece and wool mittens are good for car rides, but if you are going to sled, build snowmen, eat icicles or just PLAY in the snow you need SNOW mittens or gloves. Any waterproof glove or mitten will work, but really great ones go up past your wrist. They allow you to play for longer periods of time and stay warm in the winter temperatures. I knew my vocabulary word was catching on when a four year old sadly walked in the door and announced, “I could only find my car mittens today.” Poor kid. He looked devastated. He knew the consequences. There are of course natural consequences to not wearing the proper clothing. You get wet, cold, tired and very crabby! Many times, children will not remember the snow play from a year ago. This is a brand new experience for them, even if they were outdoors daily last year! We want this to be a successful and enjoyable experience for them. We need to supply the tools for our day to be fun and stress free!

What do you do in the snow?

I often get asked, “What do you do in the snow?” We play! The night before the first predicted snowfall, I retrieve all the sand buckets and shovels and molds. These are great tools to add to snow play. If they are buried or frozen in the sandbox, it is an impossible task. Trust the voice of experience on this one!

Our little friends love to help shovel, build snow friends and snow angels. This is a whole new world of adventure and investigations for them. Just walking or running in snow is a new adventure! We have spent hours searching for ice and then working to remove it from whatever container it may have formed in. Slipping and sliding on ice? Ice skating without the cost of skates! Giggles galore, no broken bones to report! One hard fall will usually send a child off to find something else to do, but there are always a lot more laughs than tears. Trust the child! Jumping off any height only to land in a pile of fluffy white stuff to break the fall, can entertain us for long periods of time. Sliding down snow filled slides or jumping off a swing when the snow is just inches below it, are all new experiences. Finding animal tracks from brave squirrels, hungry birds or the neighbor’s cat can buy us a good half hour of fun. When the winter days are so short that the children are coming to us in the dark, and heading home in the dark, getting outdoors in sunshine or at least daylight is so very good for our mental health.

Don’t forget the clean-up!

After hours of play, the order is reversed. I set up laundry baskets and child size benches outdoors, with the last basket for boots next to the door so they can step right in on a dry floor. The children strip off their clothes and put them in the proper basket. This works well for separating wet clothing and boots away from our dry hats and coats. It also reinforces independence and sequencing as the children try to do this process on their own! (Those snow pants can be ornery sometimes!)

Of course nothing completes outdoor winter play quite like a big warm cup of soup or hot cocoa! If the temperatures cooperate and the sun is warming your soul, try an outdoor lunch. Hot soup, cheese and crackers, apples and carrots and milk! You can do this! Start with little steps and build your way up!

Remember, there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing! It will change your winter play!

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