Wednesday, August 24, 2011

It's a sad day indeed, when baking soda and vinegar no longer cut the mustard.

The stage had been set.  Books had been read.  Flour, salt and water was measured, stirred and squished.  Slowly the volcano took shape.  It looked a little like the mountain Richard Dreyfus kept seeing in the movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," but when three and four year olds sculpt a mountain for the first time, who expects perfection?  It sat out all night to dry, but was still a little squishy the next morning.  No matter!  There will be no delays in the eruption of this volcano!  The children applied brown paint, encouraged to paint the soft volcano gently.  We left it outside in the sunshine to dry during lunch and naptime.  After waking up from nap, we went outside and drizzled red and orange paint down the sides and around the top of the crater (which was supported by a water bottle around which the clay was shaped).  The sun was hot.  It did its thing.  The salt clay sculpture was hard to the touch.  The paint was dry.

It was a very impressive volcano indeed.

We brought the sheet cake pan with our beautiful, dry volcano proudly into the Play Room.  The children were so excited to show it off as their parents arrived to take them home.  I was very surprised no one poked or punched it while parents admired the volcano.  Usually children do very strange things when parents arrive to pick up them up at child care.  But this time they were subdued, genuinely protective, and very proud of what they had created.  I could tell by their behavior how much they liked the volcano. 

I was touched.

As each child arrived the next morning, first stop was to check on the volcano.  Parents wished us well.  Told us to have a great time.  A few wished they could stay.  Excitement was in the air. 


We had free play time as usual, waiting for everyone to arrive so we could get this show on the road!  Time for morning snack.  Very unusual.  Normally never-ending requests for refills didn't happen today.  Something was different, very different.  The children were so excited about erupting the volcano, it was affecting their appetite.  I hoped everything was going to go well.  I hadn't checked, but I hoped the baking soda hadn't expired.  It seems to last forever, but it doesn't really.  Surely it was still good......

Back to the Play Room for the beginning of 'school.'  The Happy House Cheer.  The Safe Keeper Ritual.  Wish Wells.  Hello Song.  During our Morning Meeting I suggested we invite the toddlers from our Infant/Toddler program my daughters operate next door.  They loved the idea, so we got a big piece of drawing paper and made an invitation for the little guys.  We drew a big volcano in the middle of the paper.  Each child drew lava and fire on it.  I wrote on top "The Big Happy House Kids Invite the Little Happy House Kids to Come See the Volcano Erupt today at 11:00 AM."  Each child 'signed' it.  We walked next door, one child rang the door bell and another handed the invitation to my daughter Tara.  They invited us in and called their little guys to come see what we brought. 

They promised to come.  The time was 10:45 AM.

I gathered the materials needed for the chemical reaction necessary for the eruption:  baking soda, white vinegar and red liquid watercolor, so the lava flow would be red like the pictures we had looked at in our books.  Whew, baking soda still good till Sept 2012.  Looking good......

We walked outside and sat the tray with the volcano on the frame of the outdoor water table. 

It was just the right height.  All the children, big and little, gathered around.  Everyone was very quiet.  I took a funnel and poured vinegar mixed with red liquid watercolor into the "crater" which actually was an empty water bottle hiding inside the volcano.  Then with a little flourish, I shook baking soda into the funnel.  It packed into the tube and would not budge.  Quickly I grabbed a stick from the ground and poked at the baking soda.  Suddenly the baking soda dropped into the vinegar.  The reaction was immediate.  Bubbles of all sizes, tinged pastel pink, poured out of the crater and spilled down the sides of the volcano.  I'm saying, "Look at the volcano erupting!  Look!  This is how the lava flows out of the crater.  Wow, look, guys!  Isn't this awesome?"  By the time the liquid got to the tray it looked like pale pink water.  Soon the bubbles stopped.  All the pink water stood at the bottom of the volcano on the tray.

No one said anything.  Their faces looked a little puzzled, but not really impressed. 

I picked up the box of baking soda again.  "Okay, let's make it erupt again!"  I just dump some straight into the crater.  Maybe the funnel and the stick stole some of the magic.....It starts to bubble again.  I look at the children. 

They look like they are watching a black and white movie with no sound. 

I think they're trying to figure out why I'm so excited.....why I hyped this volcano erupting thing for over a week, and then this is what it does?  Unspoken words hang heavy in the air, but I hear them all....."where's the fire; the lava's not gooey or red; what's that stinky smell?"  The pale pink bubbles fizzle and pop, leaving smelly pale pink water in the tray. 

Some of their noses are a little wrinkled, reacting to the smell of the vinegar.....or maybe their disgust at the pitiful showing of this volcanic eruption. 

We all stood there a few more seconds, then I said, "Okay, you can go play!"  All of them ran off to the playground, except one precious little girl who turns three next week.  She was still standing by the now quiet, wet volcano.  White powdery baking soda 'volcanic ash' covered some of the red and orange painted lava on the sides of the mountain.  She starred at the volcano, then looked up at me. 

"Miss Debbie, is the volcano going to erupt while we go play?" 

I looked down into her eager little face.  She didn't even know the volcano had erupted!   She was still waiting...... "No, Sweetie.  I think that's all it's going to do."  She ran over to the monkey bars and started climbing.  I just stood there, feeling a little cheated.  I wanted them to be impressed.  To 'oooouuu' and 'aaaaahhhh' and ask for it to erupt again.  I'd done this same project before with decent results.  I wasn't sure what I did differently this time.

This time the volcano eruption went over like a lead balloon!

While wondering how I could make gooey red lava flow out of a salt clay volcano NEXT time and still get an eruption to happen without using baking soda and vinegar, I heard excited voices urging everyone to "Come SEE!.......LOOK, LOOK, oh my gosh, LOOOOK!"  Two boys held up the two foot by four foot piece of plywood laying on the ground that we call the "Discovery Board."  All the other kids were squatting, leaning over, intently starring at the ground.  Three worms were sliding along the dirt in tracks they had made while hiding under the board.  Big beetles scurried to hide in their holes.  Three enthralled children cupped the worms carefully in their hands, proudly showing the wriggly creatures to me.  Another boy ran up to me, just as excited.  "LOOK!  Look what I found!"  He held up an empty, crispy brown cicada bug shell.  "Can I put this in the bug jar in the science center?"  "Sure," I said.  "Our bug jar needs a cicada shell."  He ran to show his friends what he had just found.

As we went in to wash hands before lunch, I thought about what had just taken place.  The best plans, the most outstanding projects, the most exciting activities.....sometimes they just fall flat.  On the other hand, the process of discovery, the time to explore, and the simplest things can be the most exciting and memorable moments of any day spent with children.

When the parents came to pick up their children, some asked how the volcano eruption had been.  The children were kind.  No one said it was stupid or boring.  No one said anything about the missing fire or red, gooey lava.  Some even acted like they liked it and said it was fun....but then the parents were taken to the science center to see the most exciting treasure of the day......the empty, crispy, brown cicada shell in the bug jar.

No matter what kind of curriculum is used or what kind of lesson plans are in place, the best kind of learning happens on the spur of the the drop of a hat........ in a teachable moment....... in an environment ripe with curiosity and exploration.

I think I learned as much as the children did on "Volcano Eruption Day."

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

When you need to teach everything, it can feel overwhelming

Summers here at Happy House are flexible and laid-back.  We had a few school-agers this year.  I keep the normal routine, with the focus areas for each month, adding things the older ones will be interested in too.  The alphabet, numbers, shapes and colors are on a 'review' status for the summer.  This year we tried some new outdoor games and added a few crafts.  We don't "do" crafts normally.  We are "process" art oriented, not "product."  But the big kids like to make things, so make things we did!  The school-agers this summer were a wonderful group....respectful, helpful and kind, but they also really liked to talk.  They also do not take naps.  Need I say more?

School started last week.  WHEW!  Breathe with me.....we did it!!  Now here we are, making the transition from a house full of big and little kids, to a group of eight preschoolers.  Life is wonderful!  It's funny, but I'll take a group of three and four year olds any time! We all have our favorite age group, which is a very good thing both for children and providers. 

Now the real work begins....I start to feel overwhelmed when I think about the task at hand, which is getting this group of diverse, lively children ready to go to kindergarten.  Not every one is heading to kindergarten next fall, but three of the four year olds will turn five during the year, making them PreK kids at Happy House.  I take that responsibility very seriously.  Very possibly, others will join them along the way as new children enroll and fill empty slots in the enrollment.

Since I'm a traditionalist, I begin our preschool/pre-K program ceremonially on the day after Labor Day, since during the summer we've been on a hiatus in certain areas of our school work (alphabet, numbers, shapes, colors).  I change the room around and make learning centers new and different.  I get as excited about it as the children! 

During the year we follow a monthly curriculum that I developed last year.  It's a framework of focus areas that includes a nursery rhyme, classic story, certain letters, numbers, a color, shape and positive affirmation.  I also divided our books into bags that go with the monthly focus areas.  For me the curriculum must be specific, because I need to be sure I cover what needs to be covered....and there is SO much that needs to be covered.  Daily activities are not written and are very flexible.  Actually, during the weekend I plan in my head what the main activities will be for the coming week.  (If I need to purchase or find something from what I have, I do that during the weekend's errands and organizing/cleaning which is always on-going.)  I'm a bit ADHA and can be very spontaneous about developing activities on the spot.  In this line of work, that's a very good thing.  But I need a framework so I don't leave out something important.  That's what the year's worth of monthly curriculum is for me.  This is not "sit down and be quiet so you can learn" type curriculum....oh, no....quite the opposite.  This is "come here and touch this, smell this, experience this"....hands-on learning experiences that are fun and make remembering the activity how we remember the learning.  I love the philosophy of Bev Bos, a renowned early childhood educator and advocate:  “If it's not in the body, it's not in the mind.”  I believe it is that important for children to explore the world through their senses.  That's where learning their eyes and ears, their noses and mouths, and in their hands.  If it doesn't begin there, you've already lost them.

Each month the curriculum I have developed uses four focus areas. In the beginning (last year) I started doing one focus area each week, but I've found that the children seem to enjoy and learn much more by mixing the focus areas even daily.  It's been really easy to blend them during our day and pull one thing into another.  Dinosaurs and fossils are one of our focus areas this month.  The "Five Senses" is another focus area along with "I Can Be A Friend" and "Camping."  This week is "Friendship Week."  All during the day we talk about what makes a good friend and how we can practice those attributes.  The last week of August we'll set up a tent in the backyard and if the weather is nice, have naptime in the tent one day.  We'll do camping activities (like use a fishing game to go fishing) and we're going to pretend to be paleontologists on a dinosaur dig with chicken bones and shells buried in various places in the backyard.  (See how the focus areas can blend?)  Here's some examples of things we've been doing: 

I found perfect dinosaur skeletons at Dollar Tree a couple of weekends ago.  Two in a pack for $1 with various kinds in different packages.  I made cooked playdough during naptime last Wednesday.  Every now and then we have to start with a fresh batch.  The kids have had so much fun making imprints in the clay with the "bones" of the dinosaur skeletons.  The dinosaur skeletons are made very durable, all one piece, and so far none have come apart or even lost a rib...quite amazing for fifty cents each.  Fossils.  Hands-on fossils for three year olds.

We made "coffee sand" yesterday for the outdoor sensory table:  4c. used, dried coffee grounds, 2c. cornmeal (yellow or white, doesn't matter), 1c. flour, 1/2c. salt; mix all together.  It smells wonderful, looks like sand, but brushes off and feels so soft.  Everyone loves it.  We put our tiny dinosaurs in it, then got the dishes out when they got bored and stirred, spooned and transferred it all over the playground.  There's almost none left in the sensory table, but it was good for lots of engaging quality play....for cheap.  They helped me make it, which involved reading the recipe from Lisa Murphy's Ooey Gooey Handbook, looking at each ingredient, measuring, counting how many cups to put in, smelling it, stirring it.  We told each parent about it at pick up time and the children retold how we made it.  Of course, some of them took a little home: in their hair, shoes and pockets.

At the end of the day, it seemed like we just played all day.  That's exactly what we did!!  But in the meantime, the children learned a lot and it was all hands-on learning.  They learned about reading being necessary to make something really fun.  They measured, counted, looked at letters on the bags of cornmeal and flour and talked about where those things came from (not the grocery, the farm....).  We talked about how it smelled and how it felt, using descriptive words.  Since one of the focus areas is  "Our Five Senses,"  this activity wasn't just about dinosaurs.  It's a good example of how our themes or focuses mesh and blend during each month.

Today we started work on a volcano.  We always learn about volcanoes during the dinosaur theme.  They just seem to go hand in hand.  There's always pictures of them together in books, and it's just so much fun to see them erupt!  We made a double batch of the flour/salt clay that hardens when it air drys.  Each child added ingredients and helped stir.  We made a big mess and had a great time.  We formed the clay around an empty water bottle inside, copying a volcano I found online.  They squished and patted and smoothed the clay as the volcano took shape.  It's on a sheet cake size cookie pan so we can move it around as we need to.  With the bottle to fill inside, the clay mountain will be much more sturdy when the vinegar/baking soda solution erupts a dozen times, as the kids shout "do it again, do it again!"  Hopefully it hardens enough tonight so we can paint it tomorrow.  I'm not sure if the kids can wait one more day if it doesn't dry.  They are so excited about the eruption, they almost can't bear it.  I thought about baking it on a low temp, but with the water bottle inside, not sure that would be a good idea.

By they way, when we learn a new word, one that's new in the kids' vocabulary, I print it (by hand or computer) on a blank business card (cheap cardstock for making your own business cards from Sam's Club, like 1,000 for $5.99).  We add it to our word basket for the month's words, then put them in a photo album or glue them onto paper in page protectors in a binder.  You'd be surprised how many they remember.  Let the children copy them, identify letters, sound them out.  Preliteracy skills abound as you play with language and make your child care areas "print rich" by having reading materials and words all around the room.  I bought enough clip boards from Sam's Club (3/$5 something) so everyone has their own.  There's a pencil box of colored pencils.  Those are a favorite writing tool!  Writing is serious business at Happy House.

I sit here now, covered in volcanic ash (aka flour).  I think I'm as excited as the kids about erupting the volcano.  Think I'm going to add some red liquid watercolor to the vinegar to make the "lava" look more realistic.  I found instructions online for making a volcano (for erupting outside) out of the spray foam used to fill cracks in houses.  You make it big, with a 2 liter bottle inside.  It erupts using Diet Coke and Mentos.  Have you seen that trick on YouTube?  It shoots way up several feel high.  The kids would LOVE that!  I can hear them now...."Do it again!!  Do it again!!" 

I've already bought the can of Great Stuff gap & crack filler.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The first step is the hardest part of the journey....

Well, I've wanted for a long time to begin blogging, but didn't know how, where to begin, you name it, I had an excuse for not doing it!  If you ask anyone close to me, I can find an excuse for not doing anything....but I'm tired of excuses.  I have so many things on my "want to do" list.  Seriously, if I don't begin doing some of them I might run out of time....and I plan on living a looong time.  My maternal grandmother died five days short of her 105th birthday.  I'd love to way outdo that!  Now that I've put 'pen to paper,' so to speak, I'm very excited to begin sharing my days as a family child care provider with you.  I've been on this journey as a provider for 33 years.  It's time I share what I've learned along the way:  the good, the bad and the ugly.  Those experiences are 'bridge builders' and hopefully will help someone finding difficulty along the road of life as a child care provider and especially, someone who 'lives at work.'

I've decided on the "Caring Provider" title because I think that's what describes the majority of family child care providers: 
we CARE. 

In fact, we CARE about everyone and everything....our child care children, their parents, our spouse, our own children, our grandchildren, our own parents, our siblings and extended family. 

We care about our homes and its cleanliness, or lack thereof; the balance in our checking account and the status of our bills;

We care about the food we buy and serve; how safe and healthy it is, and how much it costs; and maybe even how much weight we can lose by not eating it.  We care about how long it takes to cook it and if it's credible on the Food Program.

We care about what we teach the children in our child care homes and how ready for kindergarten they become; if they behave and what to do when they do not; how our own children feel about sharing their home, mother and everything else with the children in our care. 

We care about how promptly the parents pay, sometimes, even IF they're going to pay.....Will they pick their children up on time?....Will their children still be enrolled this time next month?.....Will we get calls, have parent interviews (that show up at the appointed time), meet the parents' expectations......Will we fill the empty spaces in our enrollments?

We care about passing the next licensing inspection, food monitor inspection, quality rating observation and accreditation observation.  We care about filling out all the paperwork correctly for all the various agencies and turning it all in at the correct time.  We care about the food reimbursement check coming on time and if the CCDF payments will be the correct amount or if the parents are still qualified to participate in the voucher program.  We care if congress or the governor decides to keep funding those programs that we depend on.  We care about the economy, because parents who need us, first need jobs....

Lastly, do we care about ourselves?  I'm afraid that many of us just barely squeak by....if we really CARE about all the above listed situations and circumstances, there's precious little time to do a lot in the area of self-care.  Take a shower, brush our teeth, fall in bed....or fall asleep on the couch, then stumble to bed....if this is the norm of our self-care, then that's not okay.  We have to take care of ourselves FIRST and do it to the ultimate power!  Because we give so much of ourselves everyday by caring about everyone and everything, we must begin by caring for ourselves:  physically, mentally, spiritually and any other way that restores us.  There's a reason why during the flight emergency demonstrations the flight attendants instruct us to put on our oxygen masks before putting them on any dependents with whom we are traveling.  We have to nurture ourselves so we are able to nurture the children in our care.  Taking good care of ourselves is very important.

The journey officially begins....