Garden Glory-Sunflowers!

My little sprouts and I harvested over 70 pounds of produce this week AND a table full of amazing sunflowers.  It’s been a very productive week in the garden.  Some of the tomato plants are turning brown and our cucumbers are dying.  I’m not exactly sure why, but it’s sad to see them go. 

On Saturday while the kids were gone I took the time to trim some things up in the garden that were out of control.  I harvested a bunch of herbs for drying.

On Saturday while the kids were gone I took the time to trim some things up in the garden that were out of control. I harvested a bunch of herbs for drying.  This is thyme and oregano.  I also harvested some lemon balm, bee balm, and tarragon.

This is a big CHAIR full of basil.  Even though it had flowered, I took it off the stems and ground it up into pesto and put it in the freezer.  I had over two pounds.  And I didn't even put a dent in what's out there, I just cut what was blocking the walkways.

This is a big CHAIR full of basil. Even though it had flowered, I took it off the stems and ground it up into pesto and put it in the freezer. I had over two pounds. And I didn’t even put a dent in what’s out there, I just cut what was blocking the walkways.

basil

I also harvested 8 pounds of greens including swiss chard, spinach, and this kale.  I washed and stemmed it and dried it in the dehydrator.  Then I ground it up finely in the blender to use as a nutritional enhancer in the kid's food.

I also harvested 8 pounds of greens including swiss chard, spinach, and this kale. I washed and stemmed it and dried it in the dehydrator. Then I ground it up finely in the blender to use as a nutritional enhancer in the kid’s food.

Brussels sprouts are tough to harvest WITH the kids because I had to saw the stalks down and cut the sprouts off with a knife.  They have helped me pick the sprouts off one stalk at a time, but with several, I thought it was safer to do it without them.  I harvested 4 stalks and got 3 pounds of sprouts.  They are one of my favorites.  The kids liked them too!

Brussels sprouts are tough to harvest WITH the kids because I had to saw the stalks down and cut the sprouts off with a knife. They have helped me pick the sprouts off one stalk at a time, but with several, I thought it was safer to do it without them. I harvested 4 stalks and got 3 pounds of sprouts. They are one of my favorites. The kids liked them too!

I harvested all of these beautiful hot peppers to make pickled peppers for Mr. Kent.

I harvested all of these beautiful hot peppers to make pickled peppers for Mr. Kent.

I found a few more tomatillos when I had more time to really look.

I found a few more tomatillos when I had more time to really look.

Monday's harvest included lots of tomatoes and cucumbers.

Monday’s harvest included lots of tomatoes and cucumbers.

We got okra and tomatillos as well.

We got okra and tomatillos as well.

And some cantaloupe and kohlrabi, and parsley.  Yum yum.

And some cantaloupe and kohlrabi, and parsley. Yum yum.

We were planning to let our sunflowers dry on the stalks, but the birds had other plans, so we cut them down, explored them a big and laid them on a screen to dry in the shed and harvest them from there.

Tuesday we harvested some of our sunflower heads.  We were planning to let our sunflowers dry on the stalks, but the birds had other plans, so we cut them down, explored them a bit and laid them on a screen to dry in the shed and harvest them from there.

Yesterday's harvest gave us more tomatoes, melons, okra, cucumbers, a few green beans, and some more tomatillos!

Yesterday’s harvest gave us more tomatoes, melons, okra, cucumbers, a few green beans, and some more tomatillos!  (And as usual, plenty of SMILES!)

Music and Movement is FUN!

What’s the big deal about encouraging the kids to sing and dance?  Rich environments produce rich brains and every experience we present to the kids we provide care for is another way to enrich their learning.  But is music really important to development?

music and movement time

Obviously it helps develop motor skills, develops a positive attitude toward physical activity, and is just plain fun, but there are deeper reasons to expose young children to music and movement opportunities.  I totally geek out when it comes to brain development in young children.  I am in awe of the mold-ability of children’s brains at the age I teach in my home preschool.  Sometimes I get a little sciency when it comes to this subject, but I am totally enamored with the power we hold in our hands as we teach!

Music and Movement

Listening to music and playing music games helps children use both sides of their brain at the same time.  It stimulates the frontal lobe, which develops language and motor skills.  The rhythm of music reinforces language.  Since the brain goes through a major growth spurt between ages 2-6, music and movement is of utmost importance in the toddler and preschool years.

music and movement instruments

Movement causes the brain to produce endorphins, our feel good chemicals.  These chemicals increase energy levels and the ability to learn.  In addition, movement increases oxygen in the blood which sends more oxygen to the brain helping in thought processes.

music and movement dancing

Music and movement activities include cross lateral movement, or crossing the midline of the body.  Think of making big scissors with your hands in front of your body or giving yourself a hug.  This movement is incredibly important in brain development.  When children’s arms or legs cross the midsection of the body, both sides of the brain work together which strengthens brain connections exponentially.  This stimulates critical thinking, and problem solving, as well as math and reading skills.  Music and movement is full of opportunities for producing stronger brain connections.

music and movement, preschool

Children of any age as well as adults receive benefits from music and movement activities. Singing songs and doing finger plays and rhymes with kids are great ways to get them interested in the rhythm of music.  Exposing children to all kinds of music gives them an appreciation for a variety of rhythms and tones and increases their learning as well.  Every week we have music day where I play music on cds and let the kids dance with instruments and dancing ribbons and scarves.  It’s truly the highlight of our week.  We use disco music, oldies rock songs, kid’s songs, show tunes, and soundtracks from movies to get in the mood.  The kids get to choose what they want to dance to, but I will tell you that disco is king here.  I don’t know how the children I get all seem to come here loving disco, but it has NOTHING to do with me.  Finger plays are good for stimulating development as well.  Letting your kids make homemade instruments or dancing props is a great way to get their interest going.

music and movement joy

There are innumerable games, songs, rhymes, finger plays and chants available online to beef up your repertoire.  We usually learn one new song, rhyme, or finger play every two weeks or so.  When we have our daily music time, we usually do that activity along with two others the kids choose, so we focus on really learning the new one well.  How ever you choose to add music and movement into your day doesn’t matter, just do something to increase the kids’ exposure to it and you are on the right track.

Music is the life of my soul.  I love most kinds of music.  I love loud music, quiet music, elevator music, I don’t care.  I just love it all.  Music can soothe my broken heart, bring me into the throne room of God to worship Him, wake me up, get my heart beating, connect me to others, calm me, put me to sleep, and many other things.  There’s magic in the melodies and harmonies that are created by the artists who make songs.  I think people NEED music.

music with kids

The lives we touch are ours to change.  We make a difference every single day.  Whether you work with kids or adults, or whoever, be the best you that you can be.  Do something new today that will change a life for the better.

Share some music memories you have:

People-Plant Relationships, What’s the Connection?

I wrote this genius article for a certain gardening magazine and was rejected with a stinging reply. Now that I’ve dusted myself off and gotten over the looking-downiness of their rejection, I decided to post it here so people can enjoy the wonderfulness of this great information. 🙂 What do you think?

Could Gardening Change the World?

Those of us who garden know gardening has untold benefits, but what about people who have never tried it? How can we teach them gardening is the great life changer it is? I saw a report on ABC News about the benefits of gardening with prisoners. The prisoners shared feeling a sense of peace in the garden that gave them a short respite from the harsh prison environment. They were able to reconnect with their feelings in the garden as they connected with the natural world. The prisoners also commented on connecting spiritually with the garden. Most prisons with garden programs report a return rate in the single digits, much lower than the national average. Some even state that not one of their garden graduates returned. So if someone who has repeatedly committed crimes is changed in a way that they no longer do, our world is a better place because of gardening. As I listened to this amazing report of how gardening was making the world a better place through rehabilitating prisoners, I thought about my kids. I know that behaviors that lead to prison time can begin as behavioral disorders in children. I was curious if introducing children to the garden could deter some of them from a life time of poor choices that have the potential of leading to crime, and incarceration.
I have been a family child care provider for over 19 years. What can gardening do for children with behavioral disorders? After some study into the benefits of gardening, I discovered many benefits of which I had not previously been aware. I was stunned. According to kidsgardening.org, gardening significantly increases science achievement scores in students, social skills, behavior, attitudes about the environment, and appreciation for nature. Gardening also improves life skills, interest in eating fruits and vegetables, and nutrition knowledge. In addition, gardening contributes to communication of knowledge and emotions, and has a positive impact on student achievement and behavior. So gardening with my kids could totally change their paths in life. It could help them be smarter, get better grades, build better relationships, and take care of their bodies and this earth in a more effective way?
What behavioral disorders effect children? There are many, and the symptoms include lack of patience, lack of concentration, poor impulse control, poor problem solving skills, and the inability to be calm or to calm themselves or relax. In addition, there are many that cause explosive behaviors, mood swings, stealing, lying, and destroying property. So, if working in the garden can help kids feel appreciation and respect for plants and the environment, and it can help them focus as well as relax and feel peaceful and be able to delay gratification for some time, could gardening be an answer to problems that we have with children and managing their behavior? Many behavioral disorders result in low self-esteem and self-worth which can cause the behaviors to repeat themselves and increase in severity. If gardening can increase one’s self-esteem, couldn’t it stop the downward cycle in a person’s life that comes from behavioral disorders? These behaviors if not properly dealt with can lead to impulses in adulthood that cause criminal behaviors. Could something as simple and pure as working in the garden be an answer for making the world a better place? We could be on to something. If we can improve social skills and change attitudes and behaviors with this simple activity, it is certainly worth some time and effort to find out. Focusing on something positive is a great way to curb impulses for negative behavior as well. I know when I introduce new toys to the kids at my daycare, they are focused and engaged with those toys, and many negative behaviors are decreased during that time.
I dug a little deeper into the subject of garden benefits for children and I found that children learn much from growing things according to betterhealth.gov. They learn nutrition, creativity, cooperation, physical activity, reasoning, discovery, love of nature, self-confidence, understanding, and responsibility. I don’t know about you, but I think that those are some pretty awesome benefits for making this world a better place. I know that the problems I see us facing today have a lot to do with the lack of responsibility that people take for their own actions. Studies show that good nutrition can help manage behavior as well. Some people believe that some mental illnesses are caused by nutrition deficiencies of one kind or another. If this is the case, gardening can help correct that as well. And children who grow their own food are more aware of the nutritional value of foods and are more likely to eat the things they need to have a well-rounded nutritional intake.
As I was learning about these mental and physical health benefits, I was just beginning to garden with my kids. I was learning the skills I needed to grow sustainably with my group of young children in a chemical free garden environment. Teaching them the skills for a lifetime of growing practices that could not only help them feed themselves and their families, but heal our earth. I have been learning and teaching my kids that growing food chemical free is important for our world, but just as important for the kids who are working with their hands in the soil here and eating the produce that we grow. If we were spraying chemicals on everything, the kids would be exposed to the dangers of those things and could be even more at risk than if we weren’t gardening at all.
My kids LOVE being in the garden. “Gardening is funner than video games”, “the garden is pretty and smells good”, and “the garden is awesome” are some of the things I have heard the kids say about being in the garden. I have one child who, every time we head outside to play, asks me if he can go in the garden. Every day I tell him he can go in the garden whenever he wants to. And then every day he walks through the rows of the garden with his face toward the sky and his arms out, lightly brushing against the plants as he goes by. Then he sighs a big heavy sigh and runs off to play. You can’t tell me he is not having a reaction in that magical place.
I have learned there is an amazing sense of peace for me in the garden as I struggle with an anxiety disorder myself. I want to share that feeling and teach others how to experience it themselves. The garden calms me, it soothes me, and it makes me feel part of something bigger and more important than myself. It brings me close to nature and give me exercise and sunlight that I need for good physical and mental health. The garden gives me an appreciation for nature and all the things God has created. It bring me closer to Him. It distracts me from my worries and problems in a very productive way. My anxiety level has decreased exponentially since I started learning to grow food. I want to give that experience to my children because I know it changes their world as well.
There are many studies about the effects of stress and anxiety and the effect the garden has on people’s management of it. Healthyplace.com and stress.com note several. There is a sense of satisfaction to watch something that you planted grow into something you can eat. Fresh air and physical activity reduce stress, and release aggression. The physical activity in the garden helps your mind and body by increasing your fitness and helping to reduce excess weight. Another benefit is the satisfaction of caring for the needs of dependent plant. The plant needs the grower in order to survive. Being needed is an essential element for humans. We need to be needed. Sunlight increases the body’s vitamin D. Fresh air is good for your health. Feeling more removed from daily stresses is increased when we are outdoors in nature. And the garden is a place of great beauty as well. The beauty and amazingness of the art you can create in the garden along with God’s creations are a great stress reducer. Using that gorgeous space for thinking, relaxing, and meditation is a great way to improve mental health. Additional benefits of gardening include increased decision making abilities, self-control, self-esteem, hope for the future and confidence. I know from personal experience gardening does bring calm in this chaotic world. Whose life would not be made better by this? Even the most confident, happy person you know could enjoy more of these feelings. I just can’t see any way gardening could not improve someone’s life. Even if it’s just a small container growing radishes or lettuce, growing something can change your world. And I know reviving this dying art form is one of the most important missions for my life. There are a multitude of ways to garden, things that can be grown, soil mixes, methodologies, opinions, and the list goes on and on, but there is one thing that really matters, and that is getting people to grow SOMETHING. I believe in my heart if we spread this message and get some seeds or plants into the hands of the very young, so they can grow up and lead the world by teaching them to plant something, gardening really can change the world. When God wants something done in this world, He sends a child, and then He waits.

Caprese Salad

These Little Sprouts have been picking 20-30 pounds of tomatoes a week for the past few weeks, so we have been coming up with all sorts of ways to use tomatoes. Here is a yummy grown up salad that is more for Mr. Kent and me. I haven’t tried it with the kids, but they may actually surprise me and like it if I did. 🙂 One of my favorite things about it is it’s super pretty.

Slice up some fresh mozzarella as thin as you can.

Slice up some fresh mozzarella as thin as you can.

Remove a couple of stems of basil from the stems and coarsely chop.

Remove a couple of stems of basil from the stems and coarsely chop.

Basil

Slice a perfectly ripe juicy tomato.

Slice a perfectly ripe juicy tomato.

Layer the mozzarella alternately with the tomato slices on a plate or platter.

Layer the mozzarella alternately with the tomato slices on a plate or platter.

Sprinkle with chopped basil, salt and pepper.  Then drizzle a little bit of balsamic vinegar and some olive oil over the top.  YUM!

Sprinkle with chopped basil, salt and pepper. Then drizzle a little bit of balsamic vinegar and some olive oil over the top. YUM!

Mr. Kent who claims he does not like tomatoes loves this salad. It’s time for us to try it with our picky eaters. 🙂 Enjoy!

Finding Joy…

There are times in my life when I find joy elusive. My life is incredibly fulfilling. I have everything I need. But some days its just hard to feel joyful. When I have days like that I pray and I think about things that make me feel joy. I wanted to share just a few of the things that bring me unspeakable joy in my life.

The beauty of this momma duck and her babies.  She made her next just feet away from some of the swiftest rapids I have ever witnessed.  I was in awe of her.

The beauty of this momma duck and her babies. She made her nest just feet away from some of the swiftest rapids I have ever witnessed. I was in awe of her.

The pure joy of children.  It's contagious!

The pure joy of children. It’s contagious!

This pancake cactus.  I LOVE it!

This pancake cactus. I LOVE it!

Children being silly.

Children being silly.

Baby toes.

Baby toes.


Hummingbird bootys.  Is that not the cutest?

Hummingbird bootys. Is that not the cutest?

Mr. T, MY guitar hero.  :)

Mr. T, MY guitar hero. 🙂

Thing in nature that amaze me like these trap door spider tunnels.

Thing in nature that amaze me like these trap door spider tunnels.

Children discovering and learning.  The pride they feel in their accomplishments.

Children discovering and learning. The pride they feel in their accomplishments.

Gorgeous Oklahoma skies.

Gorgeous Oklahoma skies.

Hugs...

Hugs…

And one of my favorites, dancing in the rain.  Growing up my sister and I would get our umbrellas and sing and dance in the rain.  I used to do it with my cousin too.  And I still enjoy dancing in the rain today.

And one of my favorites, dancing in the rain. Growing up my sister and I would get our umbrellas and sing and dance in the rain. I used to do it with my cousin too. And I still enjoy dancing in the rain today.

This morning I was feeling unusually down for a number of reasons, none of which were a very big deal. I just had a sadness that I couldn’t shake. Any time I see kids that I keep or used to keep, it makes my heart leap and brings me unexplainable joy. There is a teenage boy that I kept until he went to preschool, so he’s been gone for maybe 12 years. Anyway, today when I was feeling sad, I saw him, and when his eyes met mine, my heart lept its usual leap and then he got a smile on his face that made me feel a foot taller. He quickly realized and, as a typical teenage boy, tried to stop smiling because he was embarrassed by his show of emotion. But that look on his face when he saw me is why I do the job I do today. If nothing else goes right in this world, I KNOW I am making an impact on these kids. When the day seems too hard, I think of kids like that and I remember that it’s all worth it and I wouldn’t trade this life for anything. So remember that joy can be found in tiny moments and small pleasures. I know God intended for that to happen today. I drove home through downtown where there are about six stop lights in a row really close together, and as I approached each one, it turned green right before I got there. I knew that it was a wink from God telling me He was there and He loves me.

What small things bring joy to you?

Garden Glory-Cantaloupe

Me and my sprouts harvested over 52 pounds of food from the garden again this week. I’m amazed at how much the garden is producing right now. Tomorrow I plan to try to trim some wiley things back and open up the walkways so we can get to it easier if it’s not too hot in the morning. Wow, it’s a scorcher out there today! We picked almost 15 pounds of cucumbers this week, 20 pounds of tomatoes, 13 pounds of cantaloupe, and okra, tomatillos, peppers, and carrots. I’m amazed at what the kids have learned about growing this year, and what they have learned to like eating.

Monday's harvest.

Monday’s harvest.

Today's pickings.  We usually pick on Thursday but yesterday we got a lovely 2 1/2 inches of rain that kept us from working outside.

Today’s pickings. We usually pick on Thursday but yesterday we got a lovely 2 1/2 inches of rain that kept us from working outside.


The rest of today's score.

The rest of today’s score.

Today also marks the end of my time watching a very special young man. I’ve taught and taken care of him for over 10 years and it’s super hard to let him go. It’s always hard to say goodbye…

Saying goodbye to daycare kids.

saying goodbye to daycare kids

I Reached for the Stars…

In 1998, the state of Oklahoma implemented the Stars Program for rating quality. One star was for providers who meet minimum license requirements, one star plus was working toward a higher quality level, two star was better quality, and three star was the best. As a new childcare provider I thought this was a GREAT idea and was on board immediately to get the highest rating.

In order to reach the two star level, you have to have a Child Development Associate (CDA) credential or a Certificate of Mastery in early childhood education, as well as numerous other qualifications. To reach three star level you have to have all of the two star requirements plus be nationally accredited. All of the requirements are great. They include goal setting, parent conferences and meetings, parent involvement activities, additional hours of yearly training required, and things of that nature. I feel like all of those things make me a better provider.

I learned so much through the process of getting my CDA and I know it made me a much better provider and mother. I would recommend every provider do it. It was hard to work 55-60 hour weeks and still go to class for 10 hours a week and then have projects and homework after that. At times I thought it would kill me. My husband continually complained about the extra work, so I quit several times. It took me two years to finish the year long program because I didn’t stick with it. When I was taking my last two classes, he started complaining and I said, this is why I never finish this, now I’m almost done, be quiet! What’s crazy about that is he is my biggest supporter in everything and he is always on board with whatever I come up with as a goal or dream. We got through it and I felt like it was such an accomplishment.

Next I set out to get nationally accredited. Oklahoma had a mentoring program and someone came out once a month and watched me with the kids, taking notes. I was given advice, books to read, and support on whatever areas I would need to improve. After a year of observations, I applied for a grant to get supplies I needed to meet the requirements. I was awarded money for impact material for outside and edging to hold it in, and multicultural dolls and supplies. (Believe it or not there are strict requirements on what can be accepted as multicultural and the only dolls available that meet it are super expensive). After I dotted all my I’s and crossed all my t’s I was awarded national accreditation. I was so excited.

After 10 years of being three star and accredited, I was beginning to tire of all of the paperwork involved. In Oklahoma, there is a massive amount of paperwork involved in just being a licensed provider. Every year the state adds more requirements and more paperwork to the load and continually more and more providers quit (or more likely provide care illegally instead). As the load increased, I began to get disheartened with the process.

For the first nine years I was accredited, the fee was $495 every three years. That is A LOT of money for a childcare provider whose profit margin is laughable. I got a scholarship one year, did a fundraiser one year, and one year paid for it by saving up for two years before it was due. Then I got a notice from the accrediting agency. The price would increase to $600 every three years PLUS a yearly renewal fee of $150 on year two and year three. The fees went from $495 to $900!

A provider who wants to get accredited must have FBI fingerprinting done for a federal background check in addition to our state background checks already required. Guess when you can get those? Monday through Friday 8-4. A provider must also have a TB skin test. Guess when you can get those? Monday through Friday 9-4. I work Monday through Friday 7:15-5:30 so I have to take days off to get those things. Guess what happens when I take days off? I don’t get paid. A provider must also PAY for all of those things. Fingerprints are $53, TB skin tests are $27, copies of your last three years of training cost money, postage to mail a box full of paperwork costs money, fees, fees, fees. Time off and time stressing out about mountains of paperwork and requirements I could be spending to just BE with my kids. Laughing with them, talking to them, and loving them. Spending my evenings getting rejuvenated so I can run and dance and play with them in the days. I felt the process had become more about money than quality. Anyone can put on a show while they are being observed, even if the observation date is a surprise.

I felt like the state had taken us on a journey to the wilderness and then left us out there. When the stars program was being promoted to us, we were told it would be advertised, and the whole state would be informed about what it was. That never happened. We reached for the stars and when we got them, we were left hanging from them. Most parents have never heard of the stars program or have no idea what they mean.

Over the year the grant program was shut down, scholarships discontinued, and raises for DHS subsidy for starred providers did not reflect the amount of work and expense they required. One year the three star raise was 75 cents per day. For paying $500 to get certified, I was receiving 50 cents more per day than a two star provider. That spoke volumes to me about how the state felt about quality. They eventually fixed that a couple of years later, but it was such a slap in the face at the time.

I had a long talk with myself and then with my husband. I wanted to spend my time being fun instead of grouchy and drowning in paperwork. It was really tough for me to give up my rating because I thought the program was such a great idea, but I knew I would be the same me without the stars behind my name. So I decided after 12 years of being three star, to let my stars go and quit the program. I would celebrate my gifts and not worry about what the state ratings said about me.

Sometimes the popular decision or what looks right to everyone else is not what’s right for you. I’m finding that in several areas of my personal life right now, but I can see God makes everything work together for the good of those who love Him! That scripture is very real in my life right now as God is working on me in another area. I never tire of trusting Him, HE’s a great and amazing God!

I have not regretted for one minute letting my three star go. For me, it has been the best choice. In childcare word of mouth is your best tool for success, and I do my best to meet the needs of my families, so they naturally talk to their friends about it.

What steps can you take today to simplify your life? Less is more, you won’t regret it. Have a super day!