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Swimming Upstream

Posted May 31, 2018

by Sarah Sivright

All Seasons Preschool is a small fish, swimming upstream. We have some good friends swimming with us, but the current is big and powerful, and hardly knows we are there. You all know how we spend our days here with your children; much of the day outside in wild spaces, and a classroom full of good books, writing and drawing tools, dramatic play supplies, manipulatives, blocks, art materials—and all available for the children’s choosing for most of indoor time. Outside of free play, we visit the seniors and go to the studio. We believe—and evidently you do, too–that the world we offer here is a pretty great version of what’s best for young children.

Years ago, as an assistant teacher, I had this very vision in my head and heart, and was ready to put it into action in my own classroom. My principal put the brakes on, telling me I needed to go to graduate school first, to understand child development, and have the pedagogical foundation and language to support what my instincts were telling me. Graduate school was crucial to my development as a teacher, and I was grateful to have the theories and research to explain good practice to parents, colleagues and student teachers.

But the “real world” kept getting in the way. My kindergarten teaching experiences were frustrating, with the obstacles of bureaucracy, state and federal standards and assessments, and parental pressure for early reading skills, feeling insurmountable to me. I moved to preschool, where I thought I would have more freedom to create the classroom I imagined.

I taught at Dodge Nature Preschool for several years, where the curriculum is similar to ours. The Lower School principal at St. Paul Academy was on our preschool board, and I asked him how our graduates fared in his kindergarten. He said they tend to be “behind” in knowing numerals and letters, but catch up in a month or two. He also said our students were outstanding in their love of books, creativity with materials, comfort outdoors, and social relationships. That was enough for me.

However, when I came to All Seasons and Amy, with her elementary school background, suggested doing fall and spring assessments with the children to demonstrate growth, I was a little nervous. I didn’t need to be. With our literacy and numeracy-rich environment, the results were gratifying. Children can and do learn through play very well, thank you.

Now on to kindergarten, and many of you are anticipating being shell-shocked by the transition. But truly, your children will do just fine, even if the first weeks are bumpy. What you and they will carry into the next years is the knowledge of what children need to thrive—you’ve seen it. So maybe you feel like being a bit of a rabble-rouser next year, and decide to advocate for longer recess, turning that little bit of woods off the playground into a play space, or contributing materials to a small dramatic play corner. You were willing to swim upstream with us—thank you! As Dory would say, let’s all “just keep swimming!”

Puff…Off They Go

Posted May 17, 2018

by Amy Lemieux

As the school year draws to a close and we say goodbye to some of our students heading to kindergarten, I get sentimental. Puff the Magic Dragon, a poem written in 1959 and later turned into a song, was a childhood favorite of mine, sung with great gusto. As a child, I knew it to be a happy song about a friendly dragon who empowered and played with a little boy. It wasn’t until adulthood that I realized it was about the enchantment and subsequent fading of childhood. (Author’s note; this blog will be meaningless if you don’t read the words to the song).

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honahlee
Little Jackie Paper loved that rascal Puff
And brought him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff
Together they would travel on a boat with billowed sail
Jackie kept a lookout perched on Puff’s gigantic tail
Noble kings and princes would bow whene’er they came
Pirate ships would lower their flag when Puff roared out his name
A dragon lives forever but not so girls and boys
Painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys
One gray night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more
And Puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar
His head was bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain
Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane
Without his life-long friend, Puff could not be brave
So Puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped into his cave 

The few times our student have gleefully sung this song upstairs with the seniors, I admit I couldn’t get through it without crying. It is not all tears of sadness for the passing of time, however. Mine are largely tears of gratitude that our teachers have created a space where children are free to play with dragons every day.  I am so thankful these teachers understand that joining the children in their wonder is a central factor that generates this magic.  It is walking into a classroom and to see Kylen strum her air guitar, getting as into the “Firetruck” song as the kids, or Jenny acting out a believable interpretation of the big bad wolf at our community room plays. It is Amanda being as wide-eyed as the kids because there are pirates living upstairs and poop trees growing outside, Rita composedly going along with having “witch hair” for Halloween, or Sal being as happy about a child getting his jacket on as the child. My gratitude comes from listening to Sarah Sivright read from Jenny and the Cat Club and being on the edge of her seat at the end of every chapter even though she’s read the book forty times, for Diane Dombrock whose passion has created a genuine reverence for rocks and for Diane Belfiori who is so generous and trusting with her own instruments that she allows preschoolers to play them. And it is Sarah Kern who excitedly created a cozy bear cave this year that not one child played in – ever.  Embracing the true nature of early childhood only happens with those who are totally devoted to and have an affection for children this age.
The original words of “Puff” were a poem written by Leonard Lipton, a 19-year-old college student at Cornell University. Lipton added another verse that never made it into the song, where Puff meets another child to play with. I know I would have found great comfort in this verse. As some of our children head off to kindergarten, new students will arrive to play with Puff and our teachers.

The World Feels Much Bigger When You Have Kids In It

Posted May 3, 2018

by Amy Lemieux

photo from “hybridparenting.org”

Cliché as it is to say, having a child changes the world for a parent.  Raising children is not for sissies.  The leap from “competent adult” to “hovering freak show who follows a tiny person around” is not that giant when you consider you’re responsible for the very survival of another human being.  The gravity of this responsibility can be misinterpreted.  In hindsight, I inflated my job of “keep him alive” to “make every aspect of his life perfect and don’t ever let him suffer a moment of discomfort.”  This distortion made letting go more difficult than it should have been and did a disservice to my son.

Maybe it started at ten weeks gestation when my husband suddenly started cooking vegetables for me every night.  Maybe it was when I began running through the neighborhood seven months pregnant thinking it might make me strong enough to deliver a baby with a perfectly round head.  It could have been me riding in the backseat with our infant son while my husband chauffeured us around, not just on the ride home from the hospital but for a solid six months.  When my sister-in-law asked, “Has Nick ever even cried for anything?” we should have heard her intended message, but we proudly said, “No.  Never.”

I remember the visceral reaction I had the first time my oldest was invited to play at a friend’s house.  I think the mother’s actual words were something like, “Eddie really likes Nick and talks about him all the time.  We would love to have him over for a play date.”  The words I heard were, “I’m going to rip your heart from your chest and take it to my house.  You might never see it again.”  My reaction was so strong and unexpected that seventeen years later I haven’t forgotten it.  Nick never did play with Eddie, even though I liked and trusted the family.  What I could not articulate at that time was how frightened I was to send my son into an unfamiliar setting even though I liked and trusted the family.    Eddie’s parents’ job was to keep Nick safe for two hours while he played, not to make his afternoon perfect.  But I felt like the universe was going to swallow my son if he wasn’t with me.

Obviously, his range grew as he got older, but I wish I understood in his early years that my job was never to make his life seamless, but to let him grow and venture away from me with the confidence of knowing I’d be his home base even if everything wasn’t perfect.  I wish I had let him tell me his needs (a necessary part of growing up) rather than anticipate them.  I wish I hadn’t taken my role as protector to such an extreme.  I wish I had let him play with Eddie.

The world really does feel bigger once you have kids in it, but it would not have felt so overwhelming if I hadn’t misunderstood my responsibilities when he was young.

The Power of Saying “Yes”

Posted April 19, 2018

by Kylen Glassmann

How often do children hear the word “no”? In a world of structure, rules, and routines, they are told “no” a lot. However, when we allow children to go with their interests, try out their version of problem solving, and take the lead in their own world, beautiful things can happen. It is a good reminder that children are often their own best teachers and by taking a step back, we allow them to learn and grow in a very meaningful way.

Saying “yes” is a big part of what we do here at All Seasons Preschool, and it can make all the difference for a young child entering a school environment for the first time. I have been reminded of this lately as the Autumn room grows more and more independent, cooperative, and creative. A few dominant play themes have become a classwide “obsession” and I have really enjoyed watching these interests blossom into more than I could have imagined, because we’ve embraced their ideas and said, “yes!”

First, the fire-station! “Firetruck, firetruck! I want to ride on a firetruck!” These words will forever haunt me, as I have spent too many evenings singing them in my not-so-deep sleep. However, they will also always remind me of some of my favorite memories from this year. Who would’ve thought that 16 three, four, and five-year-olds could get together and build a firetruck out of big blocks, decide where each block should be placed, who is the fire-chief, who is the driver, and where the truck is going, with little to no help from their teachers! Talk about problem solving, teamwork, and collaboration. Soon, the children were requesting boots, hats, coats, fire hoses, and of course, the fire truck song! This little idea blossomed into a full-blown fire station that has taken over our loft area for the better part of a month! Before we knew it, the kids were testing their literacy skills while they helped to make signs for the station, they were practicing problem solving while they delegated roles and shared the materials, and my favorite, they began letting their imaginations take over as they used the materials in very creative ways! They are still coming up with new things to add to the fire-station and it seems their ideas are endless; this is preschool play at its finest!

Next, hockey! It wouldn’t be a Minnesota winter without talk of hockey – hockey jerseys, hockey games, skating, and the Minnesota Wild! It wasn’t long before themes of playing hockey were coming out in the children’s’ play. One day, we noticed two children hitting a small triangular block around with some of the longer thin blocks, and said they were playing hockey. Hockey is not a quiet sport and things quickly became too noisy for the classroom. Rather than saying, “That’s too loud, please choose something else to play,” we told the kids that we would move the play to a more appropriate space – the square! It didn’t take long before everyone was curious about the exciting activity happening outside the classroom, and again, we said, yes – come on out and join in the action! Soon enough, the entire Autumn Room was taking part in the game. The children grabbed chairs for arena seats, used two larger chairs as the goals, and one child even took on the role of coach/referee, asking children on the ice to take a seat and instructing others that it was their turn. “I’m the guy who has people sit down so other people can play!” she happily exclaimed. Then, another child asked, “What about the zamboni?” This sparked everyone’s imagination and curiosity. The next thing we knew several children were calling for “timeout,” as another crowd of kids came in with some wooden “zamboni blocks.” It didn’t end here – the children played for 30 minutes (only stopping because it was time to see the grandmas and grandpas), and their imaginations kept going. We had ice dancers, timeouts, penalty shots, and a very excited crowd! They cheered for each other, watched out for each other, and respected everyone’s ideas. Again, they took the lead and we watched as they collaborated, solved problems, and had so much fun! We will probably hear children asking to play hockey in the square until the end of the year, hoping that we say yes!

We can’t always say yes, of course – children need structure and limits just as much as autonomy. However, it’s a nice reminder, when it’s appropriate, to let them take the reins and enjoy watching what they come up with. This is how they learn, and after all, they are the experts in how to play.

Good Books

Posted April 5, 2018

by Sarah Sivright

What are “good books?”

There are classics, which by their longevity in the “beloved” category are clearly Good Books. Folk/fairly tales and nursery rhymes were the classic staple in our grandparents’ era. Now there is a huge collection of books written specifically for young children. But, like the little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead, some are very good, and some are very, very bad.* What I’ve recommended are personal choices, as all books must be. My choices are partially guided by the belief that young children are routinely under-estimated. “Big messages” are delivered in a heavy-handed, preachy manner, with little or no subtlety. (In that category, Thunder Cake comes the closest to that failing, but has other good qualities.) Also, humor is over-done, like a slapstick comedy. Some books are fun in that way, but are not usually the ones requested over and over, one of the marks of a Good Book.
And poorly illustrated books are just off my list.

Promoting a child’s love of books involves several key pieces:
• Being read to from an early age
• Watching the people in their lives enjoy reading
• Being exposed to books with text that speaks in some thoughtful, creative way to the child’s mind and illustrations that are beautiful, creative or charming
A note about the illustrations—the Newberry Award is given by the American Library Association to the author of the most distinguished American children’s book, and the Caldecott is given to the artist of the best picture book, so the “experts” put a high value on both story and illustrations.

[I was going to include some examples of Bad Books, but that didn’t seem very nice.]

Some of my favorites…

Big message
Fire Cat—Esther Averill (a very big exception to my illustration standard!)
Crow Boy—Yashima
Mr. Gumpy’s Outing—Burningham
Owl Babies—Waddell
Thunder Cake—Polacco
Extra Yarn—Barnett
Anything by Leo Lionni

The Fire Cat

Drama (just scary enough for preschoolers)
Three Robbers–Ungerer
Edward and the Pirates—McPhail
Abiyoyo—Seeger and Hays
Tough Boris—Mem Fox

The Three Robbers

Humor
The Mitten–Tresselt
Boo and Baa series—Landstrom
Anything by Jon Klassen

Chapter Books
Frog and Toad series—Lobel
Little Bear—Sendak
Jenny and the Cat Club–Averill

Seasonal/Nature
Gilberto and the Wind—Ets
Any nature books by Jim Arnosky—nature info with enough of a story to engage young children
And the Are you a Bee/Butterfly/Spider series by Allen and Humphries
Owl Moon—Yolen
Peter Rabbit—Potter

Lullaby books
Hush! Minfong Ho
Little Fur Family—Margaret Wise Brown

Grandmas and grandpas
Nana Upstiars and Nana Downstairs & Now One Foot, Now the Other—both by dePaola
My Little Grandmother Often Forgets—Lindbergh
Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge—Mem Fox
Miss Rumphius–Cooney
My Grandson Lew—Charlotte Zolotow
The Two of Them–Aliki

Nursery rhymes/Mother Goose
There has been a lack of exposure these days, partly because of the increase in good children’s lit, but don’t neglect this important part of every child’s education!
*See “There was a little girl…”

Multicultural  (The beauty of these books is that there is no Big Message. These are books about children and families just being themselves—many colors, many styles.)

Jamaica series—Havilll. These are simple stories about family, friends, school, where the main character just happens to be African-American
Louie & Peter’s Chair—both by Keats.  A series about Peter and his friends–multicultural children just being children
Sam—Ann Herbert Scott (try reading this one without crying)
Fancy Nancy series—O’Connor/Glasser—individualism of family members, especially Nancy, is supported.

Mrs. Katz and Tush – Polacco – Such a story!

Happy reading!

A Thank You to All Seasons

Posted March 22, 2018

by Sarah Kern

It’s one of my favorite times of the school year. The warm sunshine and peeks of grass remind me that spring is around the corner. The days are longer, and the children are blissfully comfortable at school. We are all deeply connected, having shared many hours and meaningful moments together over the last six months. I’ve wiped tears and noses, held hands and given hugs, and laughed and learned alongside my students. But this spring I prepare not for walks in the blooming woods, gardening, and year-end reports. This spring I prepare for my own greatest time of challenge and transformation: Motherhood.
I have a job that humbles me constantly. In the fall, with my tiny baby in my belly, I teared up reflecting on the trust parents had in me, who many of them hardly knew, as they handed off their screaming toddlers. Someday, would I be able to trust another to care for my child in that way? I’ve marveled with a special attention to the way each of our parents know their own child so very well, how they adjust their parenting for every little moment and need. Someday, would I know my daughter in that way? As I recently sat with parents at parent-teacher conferences, I appreciated their honesty and their humor. How will I see my daughter one day? Will I be able to be honest about her challenges as much as I can celebrate her strengths?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I do know that the parents I’ve been so fortunate to know over the last six years at All Seasons have taught me more than I have ever taught them or their children. I am so grateful. I’ve felt it all around me this entire pregnancy — your support, concern, excitement, and love. So many of you have gone out of your way to offer me kindness and support. When I have a baby question, I know just who I’ll contact; you are the true experts.
I can’t express my gratitude for this school without mentioning the staff. The women who run this school are my second family. I’ve asked them many times to raise my child for me (they thought I was joking). Many of them are extraordinary mothers themselves, rich with knowledge, experience, and humor. They pulled off a surprise baby shower under the guise of a licensing meeting, got me my favorite cake on my birthday, and outfitted me in XL men’s snow pants to get me through the winter. They were among the first people I contacted when we found out our baby was a girl (I think one of you still has a chicken cage to clean for betting it was a boy!). They haven’t batted an eye as I’ve had to make adjustments to what I’m able to physically and mentally do this year, even when it’s meant more work for them.
Another facet of this wonderful place is the seniors. They’ve asked after me with the care only a grandparent can express, in a way filling the void I feel from the loss of my own grandparents. They’ve given me advice, shared their birth stories (I’m so grateful for modern medicine!), and reminisced about their own lives as new parents. One of the things I look forward to most is visiting and seeing my baby in the arms of these dear people.


So despite the pain of sitting in tiny chairs and my near constant exposure to germs and various bodily fluids, I’m quite sure there is no better place to be pregnant, and in the fall, there will be no better place to be a new mom. It’s all thanks to this wonderful community.
So I’m passing my classes on for this lovely season of spring, saying farewell for now as I prepare for the mystery of being a mom. Thank you doesn’t seem enough to say to all of you wonderful parents and teachers, but know I will pull a thread from each of you as I shape who I am as a mother.

A Night Hike

Posted March 8, 2018

by Amy Lemieux

Skirting the edge of our woods, almost to the pines

We left the building at dusk and within moments heard, “Look at the half moon! It’s a half moon! And stars! The stars are out because it’s night time!” This little girl’s exclamation was the reminder we all needed to notice our surroundings, familiar spaces that look entirely different in the dark.

As the person who “sits at the desk,” this night hike was the best possible reminder of the part of our school’s mission that I don’t see on a daily basis; getting outside with children in all conditions. What a gift; an exclusive demonstration of what being outdoors with children can offer them at a time when youngsters are “sheltered” from what has only recently been considered too risky for them.

Here is an excerpt taken from the article, “Children That Play Outside in All Weather Grow Up Resilient” by Andrew McMartin:

“Most challenges, risks, and hurdles are swiftly removed from childhood in efforts to prevent anything bad from happening to the children that we love.  Imagine children that have grown up playing outside in all manner of challenging conditions, in all seasons of the year. Imagine how they’d be different than kids taught to come inside when it’s raining, or cold.  Kids who play outside in challenging weather are more positive, more creative, and more adaptable. They don’t let challenges stop them. They rise to challenges and find ways to carry on in spite of them.”

Waiting for everyone to catch up

That night, there was a reverence for our outdoor spaces in the dark. We began at the big snow pile, a familiar space right next to the building. As children noted the increasing darkness, teachers kept the mood playful, laughing, jumping and sliding down the hill of snow themselves. We decided to venture to the boulders and flashlights were turned on for the hike. “It’s getting really dark now! Turn on your flashlights, guys!” As we approached the boulders we heard this exchange.
“Let’s hold hands. We should always hold hands at school.”
“The boulders look like monsters!”
“No, they look like giant marshmallows.”
“Let’s go find out.”
“They ARE the boulders.”

Lying in the snow, looking up at the sky, a child asked, “Why isn’t the sun out all the time? Where is it?”
Another said, “Hey! There are little lights up there! Airplanes.”
“Those lights aren’t coming. They’re staying there. They’re stars.”
“We should hold hands again.”

On we continued around the edge of the woods and through the pines. As we walked, a girl said, “I love this. I love my flashlight at night. I hope we see a fox!”
“Yeah, I think the deer are sleeping in here.”

Flashlights buried in deep snow are still visible!

Toward the end of our hike, there were two stragglers, tired from trudging through the deep snow. A teacher stayed behind, giving them a chance to rest and play with their flashlights. Seeing how far ahead the larger group was, a girl said, “It’s really dark now. I want to go back to our school. I’m a little scared.” The boy with her put his arm over her shoulder and said, “I’ll protect you.” And off they went to join their friends for hot chocolate on the playground.

Making a Quinzhee; a Lesson in Team Work

Posted February 22, 2018

by Jenny Kleppe
Every year at All Seasons we make a quinzhee with the children. What’s a quinzhee, you may ask? A quinzhee is a snow shelter, or snow cave originally made by the Athapaskan Indians in central Canada. Quinzhees are big piles of snow that are hollowed out into caves for protection from the elements*. Our typical quinzhee is obviously not for shelter, but instead for fun and for the experience of building it together. This year, instead of a snow cave, we made a snow tunnel instead.

Loading the snow

 

Hauling the snow

 

 

When the teacher first described what we were going to do, the children were eager to start piling up snow. After a few shovels full of snow, the children were ready to start digging out a hollow. When the teacher broke the news that we needed a pile of snow bigger than the tallest child in the class, one boy looked at her and said, “But that’s going to take forever!” And it did, at least in time measured by a preschooler’s standards. It took several days of shoveling and hauling snow with many children working together. It warmed our hearts to see children encouraging and complimenting each other with words like, “Wow! That’s a big one! [chunk of snow]” or “You’re really strong!”
At one point, a group had the idea that if they filled up the wagon with snow, that would be a WAY easier way to make a big pile. So, as we often do here at All Seasons, the teachers hung back and watched the team work play out.

A class train heading through the tunnel

First, the “discussion” had to occur about who would pull the wagon, who would push, and who would fill it up with snow. Then, once filled with snow, the now heavy wagon needed to be moved from its easily accessible spot to the snow pile. This took a quite a bit of muscle power, and the group needed to enlist more of their peers to help. Cheers rang out when the group could get the wagon to the right spot. After dumping the wagon, some children returned it to the bottom of the hill to get more snow while others worked to pack the load down tight. A well-oiled, quinzhee building machine!
The preschoolers were the most excited to start digging out our cave, which would eventually turn into a tunnel. But alas, a group of sixteen excited children, four with digging shovels, is not necessarily a wonderful equation. Unless, of course,  you want children to practice skills like self-advocy, compassion for others, and sharing. With minimal teacher involvement, everyone who wanted to got a chance to try digging out the snow to slowly chip away at the tunnel in our quinzhee. Children dug from both sides of our tunnel, and shouts of joy erupted when the first shovel and boot poked all the way through. “We did it, we did it!” was heard over and over.

We did it!

Well done, preschoolers, well done.

*As taken from The Four Seasons at a Nature Based Preschool Curriculum Manual

Celebrating Beyond Red and Pink; Valentines at an Intergenerational Preschool

Posted February 1, 2018

by Amanda Janquart

Fostering relationships with the grandmas and grandpas at All Seasons Preschool is woven tightly into our curriculum. While interactions are a part of every day, holidays lend added excitement and opportunity. February pretty much becomes a solid month of Valentine’s Days, with preschoolers on a mission to make everyone they meet feel special.
More than anything, there is a love of sharing with the seniors. Some of the most well-received Valentine activities over the past years have been the simplest. As February approaches, we look forward to repeating some of our favorite ways to share affection with the seniors. We love roaming the halls with sheets of heart stickers and decorating whomever we meet. Having something to share allows even the most timid three year-old to step up – there is an important job to do! Watching a grown-up taste something they have made is a delight to children. Will they receive a thumbs-up or down? Handing out meringue hearts, a less familiar treat, was extra thrilling. And while it was clear to the teachers that a few residents weren’t so sure they liked them, the class was always given a positive review! A neat spin-off was asking each taste-tester who they thought might also like to test a meringue, sending the preschoolers on a hunt to find them.
Another engaging activity is to go on a “heart hunt.” With clipboards in hand, children explore the decorations up and down the halls. With each heart decoration found, a heart on their sheet is colored in. Often the seniors hear our excitement and open their doors, inviting us in to find more hearts. The teachers prompt conversations, asking a grandma to share a memory, perhaps how she celebrated as a child. Did she make Valentines for someone special?
Many of the apartments at Inver Glen offer views of children playing outside and the residents often tell the class how much they enjoy watching them play. With this information, a plan was hatched to build a surprise on the playground! The preschoolers knocked on doors and were giddy leading the grandmas and grandpas to their windows, calling out “You’re going to love it!” On the playground hill, a giant heart made with sticks the children carried and carted from the woods took center stage. “We made it for you!” This sweet gesture touched so many.

“We made it for you!”

One additional way we have involved all those at Inver Glen in Valentine’s Day was through a prop. Like the stickers, carrying around a grapevine wreath with a simple and clear goal put both generations at ease; all the children needed to do was ask people to look through the decorated wreath and have their picture taken. Those that would typically turn down a photo couldn’t resist this silliness and actually let loose making goofy faces, enjoying being included. After all, Valentines is about being recognized for what makes us special. The chocolate and roses go fast, but the feeling of being loved stays.

bonnie

Who’s Missing

Posted January 25, 2018

by Sarah Kern

Games have been a childhood pastime for thousands of years. All over the world, historians have discovered evidence of humans playing games, from ancient game boards, fragments of gaming pieces, and even written rules. Your own personal history probably includes memories of games, from tag to kick the can to hopscotch.

Games are an integral part of preschoolers’ play. We see children play classic games, such as hide and seek, and we see children create their own games, whose rules might seem nebulous to the outside observer, but are agreed upon and understood by the children. Regardless of the type of game, all games feature agreed upon rules, elements of chance and competition, and are played for personal enjoyment.

While some of the best games are self-organized by the children, teachers also lead games in our classrooms. Teacher-led games offer a bit more structure and a bit less wiggle room than child-led games, and both have their place in an early childhood classroom.

Children play a variation of Who’s Missing? called Bug in a Rug

 

 

Recently, I introduced a game called Who’s Missing? to a group of preschoolers. While one child covers his or her eyes, the teacher selects another child to run to another area of the classroom to hide. As the group sings, “Who’s missing, who’s missing, who isn’t here?” the guesser looks around and tries to identify which child is missing. It may sound simple, but this is a major brain workout for all of the young children involved. Let’s start with the guesser. First, the guesser must keep her eyes covered until the group sings, indicating it’s time to look. Then the guesser must recall the children who are in the class and look around to see who isn’t there. Identifying a person or object that is NOT there can be quite abstract and challenging to a young brain. The child must utilize an understanding of object permanence — that an object (or person) that cannot be seen still exists. Now if the child cannot guess who’s missing on her own, the rest of the group steps in with clues to help. Here comes our biggest exercise in self-regulation — give a clue to the guesser without saying the missing child’s name. This is downright impossible for many three year-olds and a true challenge for fours, too. Even some fives struggle with this level of impulse control. As the teacher leading the game, even I sometimes have to bite my tongue not to call out the missing child’s name! Now back to the hider. He has been in his hiding spot this entire time, listening as the guesser struggles to think of who he is. He, too, is exercising impulse control as he resists the urge to call out or run out from his hiding spot, revealing himself before he’s called. Finally, our guesser calls out the name of the hider, and you can feel the relief as the problem is solved and our class is whole again.

If you had been in the classroom observing as we played this game last week, you would have been shocked at what a challenge this was for the children. You may have wondered why I pushed on with this game as rule after rule was broken and guesser after guesser struggled. At times even I wondered why I pressed on when we could have played an easier game or called the whole thing off entirely.

The answer is because I believe in the kids. I think they need chances to challenge themselves, chances to play within the confines of structured rules, and chances to fail, all within the context of a safe classroom and a supportive group. Even as children struggled to guess the hider after the most obvious of clues, there was not a trace of negativity or judgment amongst the children. There was a goal, and they were all on board to reach it.

That reminds me of another thing games have in common: They build community. If you’re an All Seasons family, you know that’s what it’s all about.