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Monday, 28 September 2015

Call us Corny

Sure - Go ahead and call us Corny because, as it turns out, we are gourmet and creatively corny people!

The day before the last big grocery shop I decided to offer each team a "Mystery Ingredient" to spice up their snack time.  

I chose local corn and sent each program 3 ears of corn.

Of course I made it a competition.

And as usual the teams did an incredible job of creatively using corn.  From soup to pizza to cornbread and corn muffins and even corn flowers and aquariums.... and a rhyming story!! I kid you not!  

Below you'll see the creativity of some of the finest, and corniest, Early Childhood Educators in the land...How to pick a winner?

Entry 1
BGR Toddlers

Our Toddler educators discovered after playing outside, many of the children’s hands were cold.  After a discussion with the children about how we can warm up, we decided to make corn soup together.

All of the children tried to help!

We added homemade garlic flavored croutons and parsley from the centre’s garden.
Ta da!

We enjoyed this fancy Gourmet Corn Soup

West Cambie Preschool ( a program with no stove!)

Entry 3
West Cambie 3-5

Entry 4
Terra Nova Children's Centre

Entry 5
Bowling Green 3-5's

If You Give BGR Children Some Corn...

If you give BGR children some corn,
...they will observe it,
...they will smell it,
...they will tell you it smells like a peach, pizza, dirt, mango, brownie, a veggie or corn!

They will give you snack ideas such as cheerios with corn, animal crackers with corn and muffins with corn!
We went with muffins with corn, well, actually, fresh corn bread muffins!

If you let the children know they can help with making fresh corn bread muffins,
...they will wash their hands,
...they will rush to the kitchen,
...they will get ready to make fresh corn bread muffins!

If you put the corn in front of the children,
...they will rip up the husks,
...they will smell the corn again,
...they will tell you stories of popcorn, corn soup and other delicious corn recipes!
If you cut up the corn and bring out a blender, the children will,
...touch the corn kernels,
...smell it again,
...puree the corn in the magic bullet machine...the “grinding machine”.

If you give the children some ingredients, a big bowl, a big spoon and a big whisk,
...they will take turns,
...they will mix, mix, mix,
...they will lick their lips in wonder and anticipation!
If you give the children muffin cups,
...they will put them in the muffin tin,
...they will continue to lick their lips,
...they will wait patiently for the muffins to be baked.

If you give the children the fresh corn muffins,
...they will eat them at snack,
...they will say it is yummy,
...they will say “can we have some more”!

Entry 6
West Cambie Toddlers

For those of ya’ll who don’t yet know, I’m a southern belle, born and raised in Atlanta, Ga. I trained as a chef at the Art Institute of Atlanta, many years ago, graduating in 2001, before I even thought of going back to school to become an Early Childhood Educator. So, when I found out about this mystery ingredient challenge, and that our ingredient was corn, my thoughts immediately turned to the quintessential southern food: cornbread! We take cornbread very seriously in my family, from the properly seasoned cast iron cook ware we bake it in, to the hot, melted honey butter we serve it with.
Choosing to make cornbread with the children in the West Cambie Toddler Program was not a difficult decision to make. The children already love baking day, and they are very used to making bread (we make our own loaves of white bread monthly.) I also know that any time we serve a bread for snack, it is always gobbled up!

          To begin, I did what we call mis en place, which basically means to get out all of your ingredients and tools before you start. I then gathered a small group of Toddlers to help with the mixing and measuring. The children were excited to help me count and measure the different ingredients, and they especially enjoyed cracking the eggs. We creamed the corn by hand, and added it to make our cornbread moist. After it was done baking, we had a most enjoyable snack! 

 Entry 7
Cranberry Children's Centre Infant/Toddler Program

I'm sure you wish you were having snack with us! 

Well done to all who played along with the Mystery Ingredient Challenge!

Thursday, 16 July 2015


We hold the value of "Relationship" very tenderly but very firmly in the SRCC.  We believe that everything happens in relationship and we do a disservice to our work if we do not pay special and careful attention to the relationships in our centres.

This is no small task but its very complexity is what leads to the deep enrichment it brings when we do it.  When we invest in building authentic relationships we enrich ourselves and one another.  Most importantly we honour the children and model for them the meaning of belonging, of community.
That is not to say we get this right all the time or with everyone.  

This is to say this commitment to building relationships permeates all we do.
  • From our relationships with the people and organisations we do business with.  Adding value there, taking a moment to help them understand our work, the impact we can have on one another...that builds community and collaboration.
  • From the time we first meet families we seek to understand and connect as  the basis for a relationship that is critical for the wellbeing of the children we all care about. We choose to disclose what we can about ourselves as you choose to trust us with this time in your families life.  We walk together with you through these years and we want to know you and mutually add value to each others lives. 
  • From the relationships between families that often become a support network, where deep friendships often develop.  We want to offer you ways to build and strengthen these relationships (like having Family Fun Day!)
  • From the time our Educators spend building relationships in their teams, wrestling with big ideas, with how to support challenging behaviour, how to extend children's thinking, how to communicate effectively and 1001 other things they need to dialogue about.
  • From the relationship between Educators and the children as we seek to really know each child.  To know who needs a hug and who needs to run and who needs art and who needs the build trust and camaraderie and compassion in the classroom to facilitate the relationships.
  • From the relationships we support between children.  Those foundational social skills of listening and hearing and compromising and challenging we nurture and grow them in relationship. 

All these things came to mind this week when our Program Director Jennifer sent me a photo of siblings at Terra Nova Children's Centre that she caught in a moment of tenderness, of love.

It is not always easy for us to foster sibling relationships.  The artificial age groupings separate siblings.  There are constraints.

But when a value is held, is central to our work, like relationships are, then we do not settle in to the constraints and shrug our shoulders and say "Oh well", or "it would be nice BUT".... we work towards the value.

In all our multi-age sites we offer as many opportunities as we can for siblings to build their relationships.  We have the big brothers and sisters visit one another in program or we find a common space and invite just those sibling groups to engage in a stretch of time to play together.  When a brother or sister (or even a cousin, as we have lots of those!) is having a hard day or a sad day or a celebration day we offer them time to be with their brother or sister( or cousin), to draw some comfort from their familial togetherness.

At this time of year we sometimes have the rare privilege of having a Kindergarten bound sibling still with us in the summer as their younger sibling, just 3, joins the program and they have the summer together.... this is the case for this sibling group.  We trust their time together will strengthen their bond and that they will have fond memories of their time together.

I am thankful to these two (and to Jennifer) for the reminder that we are all connected.  We belong to a community and we are all the richer for the belonging.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Not just any "play"

I am often asked what children "learn" when at our centres.  And too often we Early Childhood Educators answer with "children learn through play".  This statement we make is not untrue.....we know that through play children learn many things.  

But it's not just any play.

The kind of play that facilitates curiosity and discovery and adds knowledge to a child's world is play that is intentional and engaging.

To get this type of play requires two things 
1) Educators who bring their knowledge of child development, their keen observations skills and their ability to facilitate conversation with children to deepen their thinking.
2) An environment that fosters curiosity, that has open ended materials that can be used in multiple ways, that allows for independent, autonomous functioning of the children as well as social competence.

This all seems like a lot of ECE speak..... let me illustrate this with an example.  

This example took place in 5-10 minutes, mid-morning at Terra Nova Children's Centre.

To set the scene:  An Educator had set the table with a variety of plastic and real insects (dead real ones), some magnifying glasses, paper, markers and pencils.  We call this a provocation.  This Educator had observed the children had a keen interest in insects and was offering them an opportunity to study them more closely and then challenging them to draw what they were observing. 

This is what R did with this opportunity

1. First she studied the caterpillar.  She put it on her paper and very carefully began to draw

2.First the body

3.Then the head and antennae and the "back antennae" which we both agreed were very interesting.

4.Then "all those legs"....we did some counting of "all those legs"

5. Finally all the legs were drawn

6. R looked carefully, using her scientific tool, to see if her caterpillar was accurate

7.  R then began to write letters across the top of her paper, carefully making a line and then writing on top of the line.  When asked she said she was writing "notes" about the caterpillar.

8.  She switched to a pencil to make some letters from her name.

And then took her drawing and put it in her cubby.  
Just one more thing to take home.  
And yet so extraordinary!

I hope you can see how much learning was in this brief time with one child in one centre..... literacy, numeracy, math, science, art, fine-motor practice, pre-reading skills... R showed us she is a careful observer and is skilled at translating what she sees on to paper and making sense of it, an important cognitive milestone.  R is also showing her curiosity about letters and writing...all of this done from R's own initiative, on her schedule and fueled by her own curiosity..... thanks to the opportunity offered by the Educator.

A play-full few minutes but so rich in learning.

Imagine this moment, or one like it,  happening hundreds of times a day across all our centres...THIS is learning through play.

Do you have other questions we could try to answer?  

What more do you want to know about our work with your children? 

PS  please excuse R's green hands - she had just been over in the art studio playing with goop....

Sunday, 10 May 2015

SRCC Mom's

Dear SRCC Moms

Happy Mother's Day

We wanted to say something to you today.

We see you.

We see you coming in juggling one or two or three children, lunches, bedding, extra clothes.

We see you kissing those little cheeks, calling out goodbye, drawing a picture on the window

We see you regretfully leaving after a cross word

We see your worry, sadness at tears

We see you coming back after your day, weary but eager to see you little one

We see your frustration when things haven't gone well at the centre that day

We see your joy in art handed to you, arms flung around you.

We see you connecting with us and other parents, building community

We see you mothering every day

You are amazing!

And we want to thank you for the trust you place in us everyday.

For sharing this part of your life, of your child's life with us. 

We know that is no small thing and we hold that trust carefully and tenderly.

We wish you all much joy in your mothering this Mother's Day.

Friday, 1 May 2015

What matters most!

I have been on the phone with lots of families over the last few days offering spaces in our re-opening Cook Road Children's Centre. (almost full!!)

Not unsurprisingly many ask me what the centre looks like?  Is is new? Is there new equipment? Many make the comparison to our newer centres hoping it will look similar (a tall order for a 17 year old space!).

I totally understand concerns about the environment parents are placing their children in and this is in no way meant to minimize those important questions.

For me, the space is just a container in which we do the important work of nurturing curiosity and honouring childhood.

A beautiful container is .... well.....a beautiful thing!  

We believe children, and the adults who care for them, deserve to spend their time in spaces built for them, that function for their needs, that soothe and inspire, that offer possibilities for discovery and creativity.  

I love this part of my work, designing these spaces and I keep the children and Educators at the forefront when choosing colours and finishes and cubbies and toilets!  We consider traffic flow, light, space to store things, space to build, beautiful outdoor spaces and SO much more....right down to draw pulls and the colour of grout!

But here is THE thing.....a container is just a container, no matter how lovely, it can only offer so much value.  

What matters the most, by many miles, is the Educators in the space. 

Educators who are lively, joyful, observant, attentive, engaged and curious.  Who are well trained and hopefully bring some experience of working with children and families.  Who daily offer children ways to think deeply, explore ideas, take on new knowledge, learn how to be good citizens.....and how to clean up and wash their hands!  

It is my daily privilege to see such Educators at work.  

I hear their voices, see them come alongside to comfort or guide or celebrate with children.  Always building the trust in relationship that is necessary for the days we spend together to be joyful and productive and engaging.

I see them add things to the space every day to spark the children's interest, to provoke a new thought or line of discussion, to try a new art form.  

I hear laughter and cheers and singing....I smell baking (and the necessary evil of bleach - for make no mistake there are many many chores that have to be done to keep the space healthy and functional), I see them walking outside hand in hand a child, an Educator, in conversation...... living life together in all its joy and messiness in as authentic a way as we can manage. 

The space matters.  

The Educators matter much much more!

Monday, 30 March 2015

Corporate HQ

I will admit there are times I actually dream of the SRCC having a head office.....and dedicated space for the Leaders to have actual offices...together....and maybe a board room..... sometimes my dreams are a little over the top

Or a bit ridiculous (although I do believe this is at Google?)

When the reality of this office/store room gets me down......

I imagine this......

With an assistant.....

While this is all fun to dream about the truth is that the SRCC needs a HQ ..... soon... and to that end a grant proposal is before the Provincial Government that may help us realise an appropriately scaled down version of this dream so please cross your fingers and toes for us!  And if you know anyone in me!

But the work goes on regardless and in a effort to hold our Leadership Team Meetings in a professional setting our local Credit Union came to the rescue.  Vancity Credit Union has a "Community Stage" they offer to local organisations at no cost!

Of course our meetings are usually very early in the morning so I had a key fob and alarm code to get into the bank this morning

As if my palms weren't sweaty enough I caught sight of myself on the closed circuit TV which made me very anxious for some reason

I managed to get in without setting off the alarm - PHEW!  And set up the room for my Leadership Team...... yup..... I gave them each a million bucks......

Breakfast helped us get through a long agenda

We saw this and were sorely tempted to write ourselves a cheque with a few zeroes but we figured we'd trust the saying that "all good things come to those who WAIT" .....

Our thanks to Vancity for offering this lovely space to us for free  - it's a great solution for us while we wait.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Scaffolding - a story

In our work we use the word "scaffolding".....and just like builders use scaffolding on a building, going up one level at a time, making sure each level is secured properly before moving on... we believe children's knowledge is constructed in much the same way.  

Our job as Educators is to notice their interest or provoke their thinking in a contextual and 
meaningful way, layer upon layer, as they show readiness for the next step.

In the example below from our Preschool Educators I was struck at the way they very carefully "scaffolded" with this group of children in order to help them be successful at the task/experience the teachers had in store for them.  Less experienced and less thoughtful Educators would have just taken the children for the walk and hoped for the best.. the way these Educators handled the situation set the children up to be confident and successful was wonderful to read.... here is their story..

A Neighbourhood Adventure awaits...... (West Cambie Preschool)

Our children enjoy playing in the outdoor playground every day, rain or shine. 

We discussed taking the children for a longer walk through neighborhood.  Until now we have only left the playground to go to our designated spot to practice our monthly fire drills.  This is a short distance to walk but even during the short distance some of the children struggled to follow directions and needed many reminders to stay in a group.  

We wanted to go on adventures with the children but it we could see the children would need a little more coaching to do this successfully. 

Tianna and I discussed how we could prepare the children for our first walk. First we needed to figure out activities that would prepare them for the big day.
 We decided that the children needed to become familiar with certain safety rules.  We needed to teach the children to walk behind a teacher, walk together with a partner, understand the reasons why we need to stay together and show the children what the side walk, road and stop signs were all about.   

  We began setting up activities for the children. We drew a road and sidewalk with chalk  in the play area and set up the cars and acted out what our walk would look like.  This way the children could experience walking together with partners and follow the rules that the teachers had set.  

Next we set up a road on the art table with toy cars and people and the children reenacted crossing the street with the dolls and cars safely. Not all of the children participated in the road activity, art is optional for the children, so we presented the road at circle time and all of the children had turns to walk the dolls across the road safely. 

We wanted to make learning the safety rules fun and used our tunnels as an entry to the classroom after outdoor play this required the children to wait in line and take turns.  

We played "Go Go Stop" and "What Time Is it Mr. Wolf" which required the children to listen and follow the instructions.

After all of the practice and activities we decided it was time to go for our walk. 
We reminded the children of what they had learned about walks already and made our way out of the building for our very first adventure.  

We crossed the street and waited in line at the stop light. 

It was exciting to see the children walk so well as a group. On the walk the children noticed many things some of which were rocks, leaves and branches to bring back to the classroom. 

We were so proud of the children and happy that we had had our first walk with such success, excitement and discovery!

Since the walk we have taken several walks and will continue to go on our walks and venture out further each time.      (Written by Kulvir Dulay)
I hope you see the thoughtfulness and intention of these Educators..... "scaffolding" children's knowledge so they can have more experiences and big adventures!