I feel as though 2020 has opened my eyes to some of life's more simple pleasures, ones I have always practiced but never truly appreciated to this extent.
The simple art of napping outside.... breathing in the fresh forest air! How lovely, how pure and how very simple (yet totally perplexing to some) this daily rhythm has become.
Imagine a large childcare facility located in the forest of Victoria, BC taking on this task.
Years ago, back when I ran a small home-based business from my home, this was a hot- topic of discussion amongst parents!
In the warmer months I would set up the sleep mats all around the back yard and I would let the children sleep outdoors. Fast forward to today, where I have designed and built a sleep shelter... ( The Slumber Lodge) to allow for 16 children to nap all year long! Rain or shine, hail, sleet, snow or wind, we now have a safe and sound structure for children to sleep in.
It is not as simple as it may seem to organize and settle 8 to 16 children into a deep slumber. The educators have worked with many variances throughout the last few years navigating their way through bumps and hiccups in the road.
One of the funniest realities at nap time is that nature can be really noisy!
Tired little eyes will shoot open with a loud caw from a curious crow or a cheeky little squirrel making its way up a tree with a load of seeds in its mouth. It can also be extremely distracting when you are trying to sleep!
One educator told me a story about two birds in the spring (mating season) that were inside the Slumber lodge calling back and forth to each other in the rafters of the ceiling. She said it was so loud she couldn't believe all the children didn't wake up! ( sometimes these things just work themselves out!)
The educators found that the lull of soft, sleep music does help the children focus and slow down their thoughts. For this reason, the Slumber Lodge has power and fairy lights built in so they can plug in their phones and speakers for music and their computers for documentation.
Another hurdle was that its light outside in the afternoons! When we put children down for a nap indoors, we often have the room completely dark with sleep blinds and heavy curtains stopping any sliver of light to pass through. When you nap outdoors, there are no sleep blinds and there are no curtains. In fact, sometimes that sunshine might be streaming straight into your eyes! For these reasons, we thought an outdoor structure that was solid, had walls and a roof and a cement floor would suit best for all weather and all seasons. They are on cots which keep them warm and off of the hard floor, and the educators have low seating chairs (beach chairs) that allow them to move around and rub backs when needed.
Proper sleeping bags or sleep sacks would be needed for the cooler months when the rains are relentless and the snow covers the ground.
On the West Coast of Vancouver Island, we see a lot of inclement weather! Our winters are relatively mild compared to the rest of Canada , but they can be equally ruthless.
An outdoor washroom was also constructed in close proximity to the Slumber Lodge to allow any one to be within sight incase "nature-calls".
Lastly, while working closely with my (talented) Infant/toddler educators, we designed a cubby/storage and changing area that would allow the children to be comfortably changed outdoors rather then having to go inside. A boot rack and hooks were also installed for their shoes and jackets.
Essentially, the Slumber Lodge has become an outdoor classroom where both the educators and children can access everything they need for the day without having to go indoors.
This is where we insert COVID 19, and all that it has changed in our worlds...
We have learned so much since March 2020. I have written, re-written, changed and implemented more policies and procedures this year then in the 25 years I have been an educator! We have all been in different stages of fear for different reasons and for different lengths of time and we are all just holding on and doing our best given the circumstances we are in.
One of the greatest gifts that having an outdoor program has given us throughout the pandemic is the gift of space. We are on 4 acres of forest land, and we can distance ourselves in a way that many childcare centres cannot. The educators are able to come to work and feel safe. This means everything.
No one saw this pandemic coming, and we certainly had no idea it would still be going on past Christmas, but here we are.
Policies and procedures have been implemented and families have been incredibly resilient over the past 10 months... and we have endured.
Outdoor programming, sleeping in the forest, bringing materials outside, distancing ourselves throughout the property, eating outdoors, and an outdoor washroom where we play are just some of the ways we are getting through this pandemic together.
Children are incredibly resilient, even more so than many of us give them credit for.
We will one day look back at 2020 and reflect on all the LIFE that this year brought us. Hopefully, with a little luck, our children at Little Bears won't recall the extra handwashing, sanitization methods or perimeters we set.
Hopefully they will just feel that they have been safe, a sense of love and kindness from everyone around them and "knowing" that they spent their time outside, in nature with the trees swaying and the crows cawing, and taking their long winters naps outdoors, snuggled up with their blankets and sleep sacks listening to the rain on the tin roof.
I am thankful for nature and to be working with the most extraordinary educators through these uncertain times.
We will eventually unpack all of our thoughts on 2020.
But, today I will sit by the fire with my tea in reflection, and I am so thankful to be living here on Vancouver Island where I too feel safe...
"The human capacity for burden is like bamboo-far more flexible than you'd ever believe at first glance." Jodi Picoult, My sisters Keeper..
Thank you for reading. Stay safe out there!