Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Mud Angels


A couple of weeks ago, we had a spring thaw. Most of the snow in the yard melted and the children we excited to find the sand and the mud again!  Although, there was a bit of grieving happening for the snow as well. Change is always hard, and with the change of the seasons comes a change in play. When the snow is gone, we can no longer sled down the hill...

We can no longer jump off the snowbanks........

We can no longer make snowmen, or push the snow around.....


We can no longer paint the snow.....


And, when we can no longer make snow angels, well.... sand or mud angels will just have to do!

Along with the disappearance of the snow, comes the marvelous spring mud! So, our grief does not last long as we gear up for running, dashing, sliding, and jumping through the puddles!


And... around here in Upper Michigan... the first "spring thaw" is usually just a tease anyway as we usually find ourselves with a few more winter storms before the snow is really truly gone for the year!
How is the weather in your area? How are your children playing outside??? I'd love to hear from you!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Bringing the Snow Inside


The calendar may state that it is spring, but here in northern Upper Michigan, it is still snowing! We had a a few nice days with a "spring-like" feel, and a thaw, but then it started snowing again :). Our winters tend to be long, but we do what we can to get out and enjoy them! If you have been a long time follower of the blog, I'm sure you remember many of the previous posts sharing some of our outdoor fun! Here are a couple you might want to check out:
(a quick search of the blog will yield you even more results if you are interested)
We love to play with and in the snow, and bringing it inside is just another way to play and investigate this wonderful white stuff! Sometimes we sculpt with the snow when we bring it inside, and we almost always find ways to paint it or add color whether we are inside or out.

Sometimes we use paintbrushes.... sometimes we use pipettes, turkey basters, straws, ... sometimes we just dump cups.... sometimes we use vinegar and baking soda to make "volcanoes" sometimes we use colored salt.... sometimes we use our hands, sometimes we use spoons or sand toys (shovels and rakes)..... It really depends on the day and what the children decide that they need.

Typically, the color that we use to paint the snow is our homemade liquid watercolors. However, sometimes it is powdered Kool-Aid paint, and when we are close to the end of the gallon jug of tempera paint, I tend to rinse the jug out and use the watered down paint for the snow as well. I know some places use other forms of paint or food coloring as well.


Most of our exploration inside happens inside of an under the washer tub that we picked up from a local hardware store. You could easily use a cement mixing tub, totes, or your sensory table. I really like the under the washer bins because they are large enough to allow many children to play at one time, and the sides are only a few inches high. This allows all of our children to easily access the materials and join in on the play.
Here is an affiliate link if you are interested in purchasing your own under the washer tub:

Do you bring the snow inside? What are your children's favorite indoor snow explorations? I'd love to hear from you!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Is my Child HyperActive


I worry a lot about children today. I worry that they have become subjects in experiments they have never consented to. I worry that we are stealing their childhoods. As a society we are continually pushing down curriculum and expectations upon children that are not appropriate and when children do not perform at higher levels we punish them for being children. I have witnessed far too many young children be punished and publicly shamed for doing exactly what young children are supposed to do. The levels and amount of medication prescribed to young children is appalling, and how much do we really know about the side effects of these drugs on children? Why are we so quick to medicate?  And, why are we finding alarming rates of anxiety and depression in our young people?
If you have not yet had a chance to listen to any of the podcasts I am co-hosting with Dan Hodgins, the first episode we recorded was on "hyperactivity" and ADHD in young children. I am weeks behind with my goal of sharing a bit more on each topic we discuss with you in a blog post, but better late than never, right??? If you have not had a chance to listen to the podcast, you can find it here:

(Click where it says episodes, scroll down, and choose the one entitled Hyperactivity).
Although I am not a medical doctor or a practicing psychologist, I am very concerned when looking at the statistics for diagnosis and the labeling of children as hyperactive. In the podcast, Dan shared a bit of research from the Mayo Clinic. It was quite disturbing to me to see so many symptoms on the warning list that are really part of "normal" development. Dan indicated that you only need 3 of the behaviors in order to be diagnosed. Some of these behaviors that we discussed are:

  1.  Fidgets frequently
  2.  Distracted easily
  3.  Likes to talk often
  4.  Daydreams
  5.  Difficulty Sharing
  6. Impulsive
  7. Ignores Rules
With some of these warning signs, Dan and I both decided that we both should have been medicated a long time ago! It is concerning to us that children as young as 3 years old are being diagnosed for behaviors that are really pieces of typical development.  We are not saying that there are not instances of ADHD out there, but our concern is that children are being labelled and medicated for "normal" types of behavior at a very young age. (The research Dan was using came from the Mayo Clinic and can be found here. )

So, the question comes down to, when should I be concerned? First take a deep breath.
Are the expectations being placed upon your child appropriate?
Does your child have ample opportunities to run, jump, swing, spin, stand.... wrestle?
Are they given the freedom and power to make many of their own decisions?
Are they being asked to sit for too long?
Do they have the option to choose activities that are important to them?
Are they being given enough time to explore or are they forced through too many transitions or activities that are not of their own choosing?
Evaluate the children's environment... Is it overstimulating? Is it under stimulating?
Are you asking them to do things that are not age appropriate? (Many adults still have trouble sharing...)
If after you have made adjustments to the child's environment and your own expectations for your child, look towards what your child is eating, how is their nutrition? Are behaviors tied to certain times of day or after eating certain types of food?
When you have evaluated the expectations, environment, and your child's diet and you are still concerned, Then I would recommend seeking further guidance and evaluation.
By no means am I saying that ADHD does not exist (although there are critics who will argue this), but I worry about labelling a child as hyperactive when in reality they are curious, active, and imaginative and being held to expectations well beyond the realm of typical development.
An article from 2012 in Psychogy Today brought out some clear cultural differences between the United States and France and highlighted the low percentage of children in France who have been diagnosed with ADHD. (The article can be found here.) I was very disturbed by some of the parenting techniques shared, but I think that we could learn a lot by investigating the social context and the environment rather than looking directly at medication. (I know.. I must have said environment at least a dozen times during that podcast!)
So... what does this all mean. Well... like everything, there is a lot of information out there to sift through and ponder.  I implore you not to take this matter lightly and to avoid negatively labelling young children as being "hyperactive."
I hope, at the very least my words and conversation with Dan have left you thinking more about this issue. As always, I would love to hear your thoughts! Feel free to leave me a comment or hop on over to my Facebook page and join/start a discussion!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Winter Waterslides: Pure Play

"It happens only once a year, twice if we are lucky.... With a quick thaw, the water runs nearly as fast as the adrenaline.....  When the conditions are just right, a winter waterslide runs right through the yard...... The sun shines down just enough to keep you from freezing as the water gently pushes you down. Child Central Station, March thaws, hilly yards, Pure Upper Michigan, Pure Play! "

If you live in or around the State of Michigan, I am sure that you are familiar with the ad campaign "PURE MICHIGAN." If not, I'm sure a quick internet search, or search of YouTube will bring you to many of the featured ads. Here at Child Central Station.... We have our own version... after a wonderful sunny winter/spring day.....

Our house is built into a hill, which provides us with many wonderful opportunities for play. With it comes a number of challenges as well. However, we do our best to turn things positively as much as possible. One of the things that tends to happen when the temperatures start to rise is that all of the melting snow/slush/water makes a river that runs right down our driveway and into the backyard. A couple of times of year we have a steady flow of water. When it happens early enough in the season, the water runs down right over our sledding hill.  The water does not seep into the soil, but instead runs on top of a thin layer of ice and slush. When this happens.... We have the perfect winter waterslide!

I'm telling you, the pictures do not do this justice! It is hard to capture moving water! The children cannot get enough of this kind of play! The splashing, the jumping... the gliding down the hill and the races back up to the top!

The allure of the water is too much not to explore with your full body.... some children opt to glide down the hill, others cannot get enough splashing and stomping in the slush....

Others opt to try to move the water, an attempt to control it and it's path...

I know that through my travels, some professionals really cringe when I talk about spending so much time outside in these types of conditions. I hear a lot of well, isn't it too cold? That looks way to wet... What a mess!
And yes.... what a beautiful, cold, wet mess! The exploration and learning that happens during this type of PURE PLAY is far to valuable to keep the children from experiencing it. They need to experience with every ounce of their being, to have the freedom to jump, to run, to splash... and to be cold..... They need to feel the running water, to hear it, to try to control it... and they can't do any of that by watching a screen or peering outside a window.
Did we get wet?- yes. Did their clothes dry?- eventually yes! Did we get dirty? - of course! Did we clean up! - of course! Was it a lot of work- YES!!!! Most Real Play is Messy! Get over it! Embrace it! Cherish it!
If you're looking to get outside more in various types of weather, I have it on good recommendation from a number of other early childhood professionals that these suits are AMAZING! (We plan to order a few to test them out! This is an affiliate link:)

Monday, March 21, 2016

DIY Watercolors Update


One of the busiest posts on this blog is from 2010. It is still by far my most popular post, where I first talked about re-using dried out markers. At that point, I really had no idea that this idea was not so well known! We have been up cycling our markers for.... well... over a decade now!
The process for making your own liquid Watercolors has not changed. Basically, you collect the markers that have dried out (I like to have a container available for each color) and put them in water. In the beginning... I would just put the whole marker in the water, but after awhile I decide to take them apart. (It was easier for storage... and quite simple to do with needle nosed pliers).  Initially, I would also use jars... like this:

Now, instead of glass jars, I use plastic condiment bottles.  Additionally, I don't tend to wait for a pile of markers to pull them apart. Whenever a marker no longer works, it is disassembled and the inserts are added to the appropriate bottle and stored for easy use!
 You can easily see the marker inserts inside the bottles sitting on the shelf.

We use our DIY liquid Watercolors a lot! We use them for a lot of different variations of painting, in our playdough, and basically any play recipe that calls for coloring that will not be eaten!  Here are a couple of photos from the last week where were used them:

Friday, March 18, 2016

Our journals


There is always a lot to talk about and write in our journals on a Monday morning....[/caption]
All of the children in our program are given a journal when they are about 18 months of age.  We store them on a shelf in bins where the children have access to them at anytime. (If you are a long time follower of the blog, you might remember that I have written about our journals previously when we first started using journals in the classroom.)  We have made a minor change since our first attempt. The difference in our journals now is that we do not attach a pencil directly to them. We found it is much easier to keep a pencil holder on the shelf next to the journals than it was to store the journals with the pencils attached)
 Children always choose when they would like to journal. This means that sometimes there are many children, but often it is an individual exercise.
Our journals are simple composition books that I tend to stock up on when there are back to school sales. They aren't anything fancy, but each child has their very own.  I label them on the front with a photo and the child's name so that they can easily independently retrieve their own. The children have an opportunity to decorate their journals as they wish--- many of the children choose to cover them with a myriad of stickers.

There is not a day that goes by where our journals are not in use... in fact they are used multiple times a day by most of the children. There is no handwriting instruction, there is no prescribed time or learning activity connected... There are no rules about which pages need to be filled first or that you have to use the whole page before moving on to the next... Each child has complete autonomy over their own journal. None of the adults write anything in a child's journal unless a child asks them to (this rarely if ever happens).
The children often revisit the same pages to add more "writing."

It is amazing to observe the growth and change in emergent writing when the children are given the time and the freedom to explore. (Have you read the research from Temple and Burris on the stages of writing?)
How do you promote child directed writing in your classroom?

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Big Green Booger


I'm always on the look out for inspiration. Working from home is a blessing, but also a curse. Although I absolutely love working with my husband and spending time at home, I don't have a handful of colleagues to bounce ideas off of or to problem solve issues with.... or to have a lot of new ideas coming from......  So what is a girl to do?

I'm pretty fortunate to have a group of other local providers who I stay quite connected with, and I am also truly grateful for the many friends and colleagues I have found via the web and social networking. (Some of which I have had the pleasure to meet in person... others that I am sure I will meet 'someday'). They help keep me sane, and by sharing what they are learning and doing, I have a constant source of inspiration!

Okay....  So, you're probably thinking.....  what does this have to do with BIG GREEN BOOGERS? The other day I was browsing through my feed of wonderful early childhood pages and posts... when I saw ONE OF THE MOST AMAZING THINGS! .... It was this photo of 3 children.. inside a big ol' red stretchy thing-a-ma-giggy.... I had no idea what to call it..... but I knew instantly that I HAD to have one!

See.... This is the photo I saw... Can you imagine... I knew instantly. I needed to have one!

Fortunately, the awesomeness I saw came from a post at Community Play School and I happen to be good friends with the founder, Courtney Gardner! So, a quick message to ask her about the photo and how exactly to acquire one of these things..... a tap of my phone log into Amazon Prime(affiliate link)...  I looked at a couple of options, and decided to order one just a bit bigger than what I saw in the photo (perhaps... the red color is a smaller version from this company)... and 2 days later... Viola!!!! We now have our very own.... GIANT GREEN BOOGER!

Well, technically, it is not a booger. If you are looking to get one for yourself... It is called a body sock. The green one instantly became "The giant green booger" because of it's color and one child deemed it so and so it stuck. The children have enjoyed pretending to be a booger moving across the floor! There were lots of giggles........ and some of the children took turns being "The Booger Queen" when they were using it solo!

Are you as impressed as I was?? Is the sheer awesomeness of the play with a "giant green booger" urging you to get one for your program? If so, I've made it even easier... you don't even have to search on Amazon! I have provided you with an affiliate link!


And.... if you are even more like me and after spending just a few hours playing

Monday, March 14, 2016

You can Call me Buttcheek

Name calling happens. Sometimes it is playful and fun.... and sometimes it is an attempt of verbal power/control.  As an observer, sometimes it is difficult to tell. The only person who can really decide if they are okay with the nickname is the person who is being called by that name.
"You're a crazy chicken nugget!"
When children opt to call others by different names, like other things, we try to allow them to work it out. The best way to do that is to carefully observe. When a child seems uncomfortable with a name they have been called it is appropriate to ask, "Do you want to be called.....?"  Sometimes they will say yes and I encourage them to let the other children know that "you can call me .... if you want to."
"Hey Butt cheek!" (Giggles)
"You can call me butt cheek if you want to!" (More Giggles)
When a child is truly uncomfortable with a name they are being called, I help them to talk to the person who is using a name or nickname they do not like. I try to be there as a silent support/witness to the conversation. I encourage them to tell the child that they do not want to be called by that name and I often suggest that they remind the other child what their name is.

"I don't like it when you call me 'Sweetie!' My name is Sue. Please call me Sue."
If a child has a hard time remembering not to call a child a specific name, sometimes they need to be reminded. "I heard Sue tell you that she does not want to be called 'Sweetie.' Did you forget? Her name is Sue."
I have to tell you the examples I used in this post are real (I did change names to protect identity) and the same child was called "butt cheek" and "sweetie." I found it amusing that this little girl was okay with being called a "butt cheek," but was definitely not okay with being called "sweetie."
Personally, I would rather be called "sweetie," but who am I to judge?

Monday, March 7, 2016

New Podcast!


If you haven't yet heard.... I am a couple of weeks into co-hosting a podcast with Dan Hodgins!  I am super excited about this new adventure! If you are not familiar with Dan, he is a former child, author, consultant, international speaker,.... You can find his website here, and his Facebook page here. (click on the word here).

It Wasn't Peek-A-Boo, Respecting Infants at Play

Last week, a colleague of mine asked, "What does a child-led, play based program look like for infants and toddlers?" For man...