An afternoon of apple pie and autumn play

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A few days ago,  the kids and I were reading a book called “The Apple Pie Tree” and before we even got to the end,  H was asking if we could make an apple pie.

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Fortunately, there was a recipe at the end of the book. It looked easy enough. I’ve never made a real pie before so I was hoping it would be half-decent.

The next day, H went grocery shopping with her papa and they bought extra apples. She was not going to let this apple pie thing go.

Today was the day. I told her we could get to work after nap. She helped measure and combine the ingredients for the dough, started rolling out the crust and helped to season the apples and assemble the pie. Y wanted an up close and personal view of what was going on so I put him in the baby carrier and he watched from there.

For a first attempt, I think it turned out pretty decent!

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She just couldn’t wait to eat it. Since we had to let it cool, we went for a walk. I gave H a plastic bag to collect things of interest. When the wind blew she said, “the wind makes my bag big like a balloon.”

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We decided to have the pie at the park (mainly because I wanted to play in the leaves hehe).

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I also wanted to give Y a chance to observe and experience the season out of the stroller and baby carrier. He really enjoyed watching the wind blow the big yellow leaves to the ground.  I’m relieved that he enjoys being outdoors!

This time is a favourite of mine.  It passes so quickly. I do hope to get outside some more before the trees become bare.

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Mobile Adventure Playground

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Since coming into the world of early childhood education and play, two of the concepts I’ve found most intriguing are loose parts and outdoor play. Calgary’s super cool Mobile Adventure Playground initiative marries these two ideas with some awesome implications.

As parents living in the modern world, when we think of parks and playgrounds, we (sadly) often think of permanent well-groomed areas covered in sprawling plastic structures meant to be played on (and not with!)

This mobile adventure playground challenges that concept. Instead of permanent fixed play structures, children (and adults) have access to a variety of parts (that would otherwise be lying in a landfill somewhere) and can use their imaginations, gross motor muscles, and cognitive skills (much of which can draw on science, engineering and math) to do with them whatever they’d like.

In my talk with one of the play facilatators, I discovered that thirty years ago, adventure parks and playgrounds could be found in Calgary and currently thrive in the UK, Denmark and other areas of Europe. Thanks to a grant from the Lawson Foundation, Calgary’s mobile adventure playground is one of three in Canada and grew out of a 2015 study on outdoor and play engagement and 2016 pilot period, when 2000+ people came out to play.

The mobile adventure playground is relatively easy to set up. Some of the items featured in this one were: tires, plastic crates, pieces of wood and cardboard, pipes, pieces of old play structures, kitchen items like bowls and colanders, scraps of fabric, logs, buckets, paper tubes, cable spindles and a wheelbarrow.

Like many great things, it’s not so much about product as it is about process. Initially, the children stood around not really knowing what to do but once they started exploring and imagining, their play really got going.

In my time there, I observed children create slides and fishing boats, obstacle courses and clubhouses, bunkers and moving vehicles.

There are so many great aspects of this playground:

  • it is mobile and will be set up in different locations throughout the summer (for a schedule, click here)
  • it is free to access
  • it reuses everyday materials in novel ways
  • there’s no one way or right way to set up the materials
  • the same materials result in different types of play depending on who is using them
  • the (big) size of many of the objects required children to work together to move them, fostering cooperative play
  • children that don’t know each other will probably interact, either by playing together or asking permission to use/share materials, helping to develop negotiating skills
  • socioemotional development: not only will children take pride in their play and creations, but they will also learn how to navigate more challenging emotions like loss (when someone might repurpose items they are no longer actively playing with as experienced by H and her friends); struggle and frustration (physically, cognitively and even emotionally) as children try to bring their visions to life;  and conflict when children may want to use the same materials or have different visions for what/how things should be done
  • the playground is set up outdoors allowing families to benefit from exposure to nature
  • the playground utilizes green spaces, temporarily transforming existing (neighbourhood) sites

This park is a break from the norm and would be a welcome change to summer play, especially in the case of children who:

  1. are very active and appreciate gross motor play
  2. love imaginative play
  3. enjoy using stem (science, technology, engineering, math) principles to bring their play into reality
  4. are bored of traditional park experiences

For more information on Calgary’s mobile adventure playground or to view the schedule/locations for the rest of the season, click here. If you’ve ever been exposed to an adventure park/playground, please comment with your experiences and location.

Happy Playing!

 

 

 

Drum for Fun!

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Last summer I happened upon a unique and creative gross motor program happening in my neighbourhood. It was a guided drumming and dance circle that used drumsticks and yoga balls on pails in a group setting. Due to prior commitments and the timing of Ranadan, I only attended it once with H who was 2.5 years old at the time. She loved it! But she was a toddler and lasted about 25 minutes before she wanted to play at the neighbouring park.

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H at the Drum and Dance program last summer at 2.5 years old

When I realized this program was happening again this summer, I was excited to take H, who now, at 3.5 years, would enjoy it even more. We planned for it, and when I returned after getting baby dressed (who H has now nicknamed Boomer), I found her asleep on the couch (this has literally never happened). After multiple failed attempts at waking her up, I decided to just go on a walk with baby. We walked by the park and while I wasn’t sure of the logistics of babywearing and participating, it worked out fabulously!

Baby Boomer (hahaha clearly not an intentional pun by my 3 year old) is not the best of nappers, but the one way he naps best is when I wear him. So in spite of some very loud Bhangra and Electronic music, the vibrations of the drumming and my various movements, he stayed asleep!

I love this program. It’s super family-friendly and combines basic music/dance skills like keeping time and following the beat with the opportunity to meet new people of various ages and circles and get a creative workout,  all while benefiting from spending time outdoors! The instructor is also super friendly and energetic; people drop in and out throughout the program. Best of all, this is an easy program to recreate – it can be adapted to meet the needs of daycare/preschool children, school-aged children, cultural groups and even corporate employees!

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I’m so glad I went out today, even though H wasn’t with me (she was the whole reason I was going in the first place). Being a parent (especially the mother) to a newborn can be very exhausting and isolating- this was exactly what I needed tonight!

For more info on this free program, check out the poster below!

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Snow Play

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One of the best parts of winter is getting outside and playing in the snow. I’ve come across quite a few people (cough* adults* cough) who hate winter because it’s cold. I admit, winter is cold. But it can be a lot more enjoyable for you and your family if you find reasons to get outside.

You don’t have to be a “ski family” to take advantage of winter (although, I do aspire to become one at some point). Something as simple as just going for a walk and stopping to observe changes can make winter more pleasant. Not to mention that winter is full of rich opportunities for learning and development across various domains. Here are some photos of us at play in the winter.

1.Take a walk: Sometimes the simple act of walking outside can lead to discoveries and rich exploration.

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Earlier this winter when we were playing in our local playground, my daughter became entranced by the sheer number of geese that kept flying overhead. Soon she started making the association between honking and geese flying above so as soon as she heard the honking, she would stop and say, “Momma! The Geese are coming!” She hypothesized about where they were going (to work and to look for food, specifically waffles). These ideas prompted us to borrow a book from the library called Honk, Honk, Goose!

In the past, one of H’s favourite things to do was to pull at snow-covered Evergreen tree branches and get a face full of snow.

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As temperatures started to drop and rise, H discovered icicles. Here she can be seen breaking off icicles and using them to draw in the snow.

In the past, she has also drawn with twigs and marveled at how big her shadow becomes on the beautiful white canvas that freshly fallen snow leaves behind.

One of H’s favourite discoveries from this winter was to see how as ice forms and melts, it creates routes for water to travel. She became fascinated by this “river” that was flowing outside of our house and checks regularly to see if has come back.

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She made similar discoveries when she went under the slide at our local park and watched ice dripping.

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She was also captivated by the water flowing out of the eavestrough/gutter. She insisted it was water for Dora (her snowman) to drink.

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Another fun thing children are usually drawn to while outside is making and looking for footprints. It’s fun to retrace our own steps as we walk in a circle or try to determine what animal created the footprints we see while on our walk.

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There is a lot of opportunity for rich discussion while going on walks. Children will point out things that you may have never noticed and share their theories with you. The following exchange happened with us as we passed by some bare trees:

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“Plants grow. There are very different plants. Big ones and small ones. Momma ones and bushy ones. Don’t you love how they grow?”

2. Visit the Park: The reality that it is covered with snow will add an extra layer of novelty and challenge.

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H loves going to the park, no matter the weather. While this year she discovered it’s quite difficult to swing in the winter with the snow being so high and the swing being so low, she thoroughly enjoyed the experience last year.

She did, however, find other reasons to love the park this year: she loves the gross motor challenge that climbing over snow banks provides. She spent quite a bit of time figuring out how to climb over and slide down walls of snow.

She also enjoyed cleaning off the slide and didn’t mind landing on her bum. What ordinarily might cause tears resulted in hysterical laughter as she tried to get up off the snow.

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I also introduced some basic physics to this experience – I made a snowball and let it slide down the hot slide on a sunny day. H had fun racing against the snowball while she pondered about how smoothly it slid and how it became smaller by the time it reached the bottom. We raced different sizes of snowballs.

3. Create: There is something so beautiful and inviting about a blanket of white snow- like a canvas beckoning.

Snow is one of those versatile mediums that can be completely empowering or very discouraging depending on other weather conditions and what you are trying to achieve. H wanted to build a snowman for so many days but the conditions just didn’t work for us. Finally as temperatures started warming up, the snow started packing together and we were able to finally build a snowman this year. Mind you, it melted by the end of the day and she was a little sad.

Other classics include snow angels and forts. This winter we brought sand toys to the park and used them as molds.

We also found this cool structure at a different park although we didn’t hang out too long since the floor was all iced over and H slipped as she tried to run across.

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Other fun ideas could include using coloured water in spray bottles to paint pictures on the snow. I remember going on a field trip as a child in Ontario (which is full of maple trees). We tapped sap and added it to fresh snow to make (and eat) taffy. It was a great experience!

4. Travel through the snow and ice: Many modern winter sports seem to have originated from people simply trying to travel over snow and ice. Even though we have found more efficient ways of doing so, these activities have become great hobbies.

Our family is not particularly athletic so here are some ideas in case your family isn’t either!

Pull your child through the snow on a sled. While sledding downhill is fun, with younger children, a pull sled may be easier. Last winter before my daughter was comfortable (and fast enough) to walk long distances in the snow, I would strap her in the sled to take her to playdates in our neighbourhood. This worked out well for me since I was usually carrying food.

Snowshoeing is an easy winter activity. Last year, we rented snowshoes from the University of Calgary and headed over to Confederation park. We brought extra rope and attached my daughter’s sled to a caribiner on our backpack to pull her along hand’s free. This year, I hope to get H to try out snowshoes for herself!

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Dog sledding was another easy winter activity we tried last year. H really enjoyed this activity. She got to sit cozily in the sled and quickly learned the commands. It was quite cute to hear her yelling “mush!” She also got to interact with the dogs which is something she enjoys doing (but doesn’t have much opportunity to in her daily life).

Next winter (post-pregnancy), I hope to be able to go skating and cross country skiing with H. By then, I can push baby along in the stroller (and lean on the stroller for support as I brush up on my skating skills) or use a covered ski pull during cross country skiing.

5. Bring in the snow: If all else fails, bring some snow indoors!

Depending on how much snow you use, how particular you are about mess and whether you have a water table at your house, you can structure this experience to meet your needs.

When H was about 14 months, I would bring snow inside the house for her to play with. You can use a shallow container, but I just used a table cloth near the entrance of our door. You can add tools (I just added things from around the house) and other loose parts depending on if your child will mouth them. H was pretty good about fine-motor play and didn’t try to eat everything. On this day, she played with dried kidney beans and stayed engaged for a long time.

In Calgary, we are also blessed with chinooks. This means that the temperature can get ridiculously warm while we still have snow on the ground. On those kinds of days, we would bring H out to the porch and play with the snow there. Here she is exploring and making snow muffins with her dad.

Here are some photos of children I worked with exploring snow in an indoor setting (at a water table).

Along with bringing in snow, you can freeze ice all year long to use for sensory play. Here are some photos of ice blocks I froze over the summer with my students. I froze small items in big blocks of ice so multiple children could play at once.

This was just an overview of the easy winter/snow play we did over the past few years. I hope it has given you some ideas to make your winter more enjoyable!

I Like Pumpkins – Post #1 : Field Trip

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I have to start by explaining the the title of this series. “I Like Pumpkins” is the name of a book we must have read at least 15 times in the past few months. As any parent with a young child knows, sometimes children develop strong preferences that are then imposed on you. I have to admit, I have hidden this book twice  (not that it’s not a good book, but I am so bored of reading it!) but every time my daughter finds it, she brings it to me to read. She knows the story so well that sometimes, I ask her to “read” it to me.

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Our work with pumpkins this year started off with a visit to Cobb’s Corn Maze. This is the same place we went to last year, however, because H was a year older, she was able to participate in many more of the activities. There were lots of opportunities for gross motor  (large muscle/full body) play that were included in the admission ticket. These play opportunities were appealing to both adults and children!

There was an element of biology/natural learning that happened as well. We saw a pig eating a pumpkin which prompted questions on H’s end about eating raw pumpkins and animal diets. We could also see and smell pumpkins being roasted. The intense smell and display of black and white scorched pumpkins was definitely intriguing.I wish there was some more information/exhibits on how pumpkins grow or an opportunity to see pumpkins on the vine, however this is an area that can be explored afterwards if it is of interest to the child.

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While we had initially planned to go near the beginning of October, snowy weather and other commitments kept us away until the end of the month. The hot food served on-site was particularly welcome on this chilly day. H had her first taste of poutine and used a porter potty for the first time.

Before leaving, we stopped in the pumpkin field to take photos,check out the tractors and pick out two pumpkins to bring home. Of course H picked out pumpkins bigger than I could carry so our dear friends helped us transport them back to our car.

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For a lot of educators, it seems to make sense to have a field trip at the end of a unit once children have become well-versed in various concepts, but another approach is to go on a field trip before project work begins due to its ability to spark inquiry and curiosity. Field trips can also lend themselves to symbolic play and representations, making them a rich source of inspiration and a perfect starting point for projects.

While the work we did with pumkins is still more traditional activity-based than Reggio-inspired project work, it was beneficial for me as a parent and educator to gain a better understanding of H’s interests, skills and needs.

Cobb’s Corn Maze was a great field trip experience that I think could have been enhanced by going in a group with other children and parents. Perhaps I will try to organize a field trip group to go back in the spring/summer for one of their other festivals!

Fall Fun

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Fall is one of my favourite seasons. I love watching the leaves change colour. I love the warm days and cool crisp breezes. I love hearing the leaves crunch below my feet as a I walk and smelling hints of cinnamon, nutmeg and pumpkin that seem to linger in the air. After becoming a mother, it gives me so much joy to be able to share in these experiences with my daughter.

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Throwback to H’s first fall – 2014

Here are some photos of my daughter and niece enjoying the season.

While the brevity of fall reminds of the ephemeral nature of this life, this year, it seemed to go by particularly quickly. I was dealing morning sickness and a new job that zapped a lot of my energy, so we had a late start to our work with pumpkins this year. But here it finally is!

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I have to admit that a huge part of my family’s motivation to work with pumpkins again was to have lots more pumpkin puree. Last year, it lasted us into the spring, and the delicious breads and pancakes became a staple in our house. It was a sad day when I used up the last of our puree to make pancakes as a surprise for my brother when I visited Toronto last April. He had gotten a taste when he visited me in January and fell in love.

Some of our experiences are similar to last year’s but the majority are new. Thank you for following us on our learning journey.

Enjoy!

 

 

Treasured Moments

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Much of the content featured in this blog might seem intimidating to some. A lot of what I’ve posted about necessitates some kind of planning or forethought, but I also wanted to share the other side. Most of life is not made up of pre-planned curriculum. Instead, many of the most beautiful learning moments happen naturally while children play.

What dictates how much value your children receive in these moments and how much they will be able to thrive as curious and independent learners has to do with your attitude. If you dismiss and limit these moments (example: “Don’t touch that, it’s dirty!” “Don’t be silly, there’s not really a pink three-headed monster hiding behind that bush,” “It’s too __________ to go outside”) you pass on your biases and limitations to your children. You are creating the very box that you will demand they learn to think outside of as they grow.

Alternatively, cherish those small moments. While they may seem insignificant at the time, they are not only setting the course of your relationship with your child (possibly the single biggest predictor of later success), but they are going to act as a trove for future inspiration.

Here are some photos from a walk we took in September, just as summer was getting ready to melt into Autumn bliss. We didn’t know where we were going or what lay ahead. We had a lunch bag full of snacks, and an adventurous spirit one afternoon while visiting H’s grandparents and decided we needed to get outside.

One of the reasons that this was such a memorable excursion for us was that it was spontaneous. This removed a lot of the stress and work from it. We had no expectations other than to go outside. Another big reason that this was one of my favourite outings was that the natural environment provides so many deep and valuable opportunities for learning. Here are some of the concepts/play that emerged that day:

  • Bridges – we crossed a bridge and while we didn’t spend time making explicit observations, things that can be extracted (either right then or in the future when photos and memories are revisited) are that bridges usually join two things, in this case, two different types of terrain. This bridge signaled that we were leaving behind the pavement and traffic of the city and about to slip into a natural escape.
  • Shadows – not only are shadows fun, but if a child spends enough time playing with shadows, he learns that the size and position of shadows are linked to something greater, in this case, the sun. My daughter’s most frequent observation about shadows, is “Look! I’m big!” as she excitedly imagines herself much taller than she actually is.  There’s a lot of cool stuff that can be done with shadows, some of which I hope to explore in a future post.
  • Bugs – My guess is that most children are not inherently afraid of bugs. It is a learned behaviour, so try to control your squirms. My daughter marveled at discovering multiple ladybugs on the slide and we talked about how many spots they had and how they had wings hidden under their shells (she was elated to see them fly away). My summers were filled with trying to catch grasshoppers in my backyard and enumerating the variety of bugs my brother and I could find.
  • Pebbles/Sand – Some of the newer playgrounds now have this rubber type of floor but as an educator, I love the pebble/sand-filled playgrounds. The volume of loose parts this provides and the potential for open-ended play makes them significant.  Through the pictures, you can see my daughter using an empty Starbucks bottle she found on the playground to fill and pour pebbles and then later using these pebbles as “money” to for the ice cream she ordered.
  • Natural found items – At one point, I asked my daughter to find anything she thought was beautiful and place it on the platform where I was sitting. I joined her in this task and at the end we admired our collection. The park is filled with so many varying and rich materials – drawing children’s attention to their properties can help create an eye for detail.
  • Dandelion Puffs– On our walk back home, we stopped to rest in a field where dandelion puffs blossomed in abundance. H was intrigued by these and I showed her how we can make a wish/duah and blow them away. It’s truly a magical moment for children to witness the dandelion seeds blowing into the wind.

We didn’t bring any toys or special equipment on this trip. All we had was time and a sense of peace that filled the space. So if you’re at a loss about what to do with your child, take a deep breath and head outside. Let go of your expectations and follow your child’s lead.