Category Archives: tree climbing

Nurturing a Sense of Place

Posted November 23, 2016

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by Amanda Janquart

We set off with a true sense of adventure, the task to explore a completely new locale. A plan was hatched as the class stood and looked into the wooded area – some would go that way, others the other way and we’d meet on the top of the hill. One of the first finds was a small gap between two large tree trunks – a secret entrance! Everyone squeezed through to enter the new land. We were now in the newly child-named land of Cowallet. The feeling of excitement grew to giddiness – what would we find in this land?? Itty bitty mushrooms, a garden tag, and a tree that grew bark right over parts of an old fence – as if the wire was poked in on purpose. A child volunteered to climb the tree to help us get our bearings. Could she see the golf course? What was over the hill? Too many other trees were in the way to tell. Everyone gathered to rest in the fallen leaves and we sang Going on a Bear Hunt. This had been a great adventure.

*Excerpted from the Spring Room daily email to families of the preschool class.

How we interact with a place influences what it means to us. Think back to the places which helped define childhood. Were we told how to behave in the space, or given free range? Could we choose the paint color, or was it forbidden to leave fingerprints on the wall? Did we build forts and redirect streams or were we too nervous to leave the trail? For young children, emotion is the primary attachment factor, determining which places stay with us as we grow. At All Seasons, a positive emotional attachment to our outdoor space is the goal. And stewardship is a hopeful result of sense of place.

The quality of our interactions with places matter. With preschoolers, time to explore independently and as a community is balanced with an adult’s sense of wonder and appreciation. What does that look like at All Seasons?

~ We keep it playful. Every space offers a chance for pretend play.

~ We repeat visits throughout the seasons. The Swamp is transformed after a period of rain.

~Problems and challenges can be solved bit by bit. Pulling Buckthorn can be done in stages. Children can learn how to use sticks safely with practice.

~There is comfort knowing we can always come back. Forts can be worked on when interest swells.

~ Children have a say, helping decide where to go. A fire to roast apples in The Boulders can be planned and anticipated. A request to see if the Fairy House has changed can be easily accommodated.

~ Risks are allowed, and even encouraged. Balancing on fallen tree limbs or flipping over logs to see insects in The Woods takes courage.

~ Resilience is built when accomplishments accrue. Climbing into The Dinosaur Tree can take months of trying. Climbing up the sledding hill on The Golf Course takes patience.

~Families are kept informed of the spaces we explore through daily emails.

~ Teachers are always looking for ways to extend and expand experiences. In Cowallet, a newly named area of the woods, we planted seeds to return to. Yarn was brought to The Pines to expand the booby trap play. Journals, snacks, and books become more interesting in unexpected places.

In the end, we are building memories. Some bind the classroom community through shared experiences, and some connect individuals to specific places. We are doing our best, nurturing a sense of place and growing stewards.

The Second Year

Posted November 5, 2015

by Sarah Sivright

A regular question asked by parents concerns the second year of preschool. Children typically spend one year in each grade level—so why an extra year, sometimes two, in preschool? What happens in that second year that’s different, when the basic curriculum and probably the teachers stay the same?

Our answer would include two important truths:
• The experiences, though falling into familiar categories: story dictation, hiking in the woods, name-writing, pretend play, being read to, painting in the studio—are not the same the second or third year.
• The children are not the same.

We know that three year-olds are different in many ways from fours and fives. They experience the very same room, classmates, and teachers in completely different ways.
In a nutshell:
Threes are more interested in the environment and the teachers than fours and fives. Threes need to make a trusting connection with the teacher in order to separate from home. Toys and materials are more intriguing than other children, who often are seen simply as competition for these desirable objects.
For fours and fives, peers are all. By the second year, most children are very comfortably connected with the teacher, and enjoy checking in and receiving comfort only when needed. But interaction with their friends, either in dramatic play or use of materials, tops the list.

Since learning is not linear and most closely resembles a spiral, children need similar experiences, repeated at different times, in different conditions, with different people.

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Tapping trees for sap can be done multiple times with different concepts internalized each time; increased motor skills allow drilling into the tree, new observations are made and a deeper understanding is now possible. Maybe the child had anxiety the first year about tasting sap dripping from the spile, but is ready to do it the second year. Last year, he lost interest in checking the pails daily to see if the sap was finally flowing, and the second year, because of his more mature understanding of the process, is the first one down the hill every day, to peer excitedly into the pail. And when that sap is poured into the big bucket and then into pans on the stove to cook, the final delicious product poured over pancakes can be connected to that water-like drip from our very own trees.
Hiking for second years can bring new discoveries because less energy is used up trying not to trip on roots, pushing brush out of the way, being cold, not liking getting wet or muddy, or being freaked out by bugs or burs on socks. With second-year courage and confidence, worms and box elder bugs are held and closely investigated. Once unable to climb up to the high fallen branches, veterans now shinny along to the very end, climbing over bumps on the log, loving the view from up high and being admired by the younger students below. They’re leading the play rather than following, being the first to find the perfect pirate hideout or nest for the baby birds, and laying out the scenario for others.

Rita Thoemke, one of our teachers, brought her school-age daughters recently to spend the day. She was interested to hear their comments as they joined the preschoolers’ color mixing activity. “Hey, we’re doing this at our school, too. We’re mixing primary colors; red, yellow and blue, to get the secondary colors; orange, purple and green.” The teachers then remembered that the first attempts at this activity produced only muddy brown, as the youngest children dumped all the colors together. This time, the children who had had previous experience with the droppers and water paint, had moved on to intentional placement of the colors, one by one, for (mostly) predictable results.

Maybe the most dramatic development we see in the second year involves pretend play. Four and five year-old play looks strikingly different from that of threes, and is lead by children who have developed the skills of self-regulation, articulation and vocabulary, inclusion, and accommodation to others’ needs.  The second year gives them the maturity to listen to their friends’ ideas and the ability to incorporate them into the play with a deep understanding of particular roles and stories.

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Lev Vygotsky, a Russian developmental psychologist in the early 1900’s, who has greatly influenced our understanding of early childhood development, believed that children function at their highest level of development during pretend play. No other activity has the potential to ask so much of their social-emotional, cognitive and physical abilities. Vygotsky wrote “…the internalization of new understandings, or ‘cognitive restructuring,’ occurs when concepts are actually transformed and not merely replicated.” This process takes time and the optimal environment. Internalization takes place when children interact within the “zone of proximal development,”—that place between what a child can do on her own and what she can do with the help of adults or more competent peers. Providing an environment where a child can function in this optimal space—being appropriately challenged, reaching mastery, challenge, mastery, over and over—promotes growth and satisfaction. “Instruction aimed at a wide range of abilities allows the novice to learn at his own rate and to manage various cognitive challenges in the presence of ‘experts.’”  This “zone” exists quite naturally in mixed age classrooms like ours, and the benefits of this kind of setting are more evident in the second year, when children are intensely focused on their classmates, and learning through play is at such a complex, mature level.

These opportunities take on even more value when placed in the context of many of today’s kindergarten classrooms, which offer neither the time nor the environment for this important growth to happen. The “zone of proximal development” is alive and well at All Seasons.
*ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education, Urbana, IL. By Demetra Evangelou. 1989. “Mixed-Age Groups in Early Childhood Education. ERIC Digest.”

Every Child In the Woods

Posted October 24, 2014

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Richard Louv prompted an important focus on the benefits of nature play with the publishing of his book in 2005, Last Child in the Woods; Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. In the last decade, there has been an increasing amount of research on the cognitive, emotional and physical benefits of unstructured play in natural spaces. The All Seasons staff came to this school convinced of the value of nature play, and probably enjoy this part of the day as much as your children do. We see the research data written plainly in the faces and bodies of the children—the feeling of freedom and discovery, joy and confidence.
In 2008, the National Toy Hall of Fame inducted “The Stick” into its lineup of all-time best toys. Increasing numbers of nature play areas are being constructed, (see the article on the wall by Amy’s desk) including the Minnesota Zoo’s 30,000 square foot play space due to open in 2015.
As the notion of what constitutes an optimal playground for children has shifted, the question of safety has been raised. Danish educators, who follow a more open schedule and unstructured approach with young children, adopt the attitude of being “as safe as necessary, not as safe as possible.” Somehow the great outdoors has come to be seen as more dangerous than riding in a car, climbing stairs, or playing sports. We acknowledge the dangers involved with those activities and, for the most part, while taking some precautions, we conclude they are worth the risks.

Most injuries from outdoor play involve minor scrapes and bruises, yet parents and caregivers can often be heard to call out to the child climbing a fallen long—“Be careful!”  But All Seasons parents have entrusted their children to us and to this nature-rich environment. Right outside the classroom door, you’ll see a “stick box,” where children’s sticks are deposited when returning from outside. Several forts, a teepee, and two tents are visible throughout the grounds. A couple years ago, Amy’s dad constructed a wooden frame for the children to build onto, and additions and accessories continue to be created by each new class of students. Countless fallen logs and trees fill the woods, ready for climbing and transforming into hideouts and homes. Boulders provide chances to balance and jump and hide. The Meadow and Pines are environments with their own flora and fauna, and pretend play backdrops. Rain gardens, ephemeral pools, and “The Swamp” provide chances for water fun.

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What about safety? Goggles are worn when hammering new planks onto the boulders house. Children can climb trees and branches to the height a teacher can reach. No one eats anything unless the adult gives permission (blackberries are a favorite wild snack in the summer). “Stick training” includes: no touching sticks to another person, always ask first if your friend wants to sword fight, one stick per person, long sticks must be dragged or used as walking sticks. And—children come when they are called.
But we teachers have found that most children monitor their own safety, and err on the side of caution rather than risk. We probably spend more time saying, “I bet you can do that,” rather than, “Don’t do that, it’s dangerous.” Our role is that of a guide, a facilitator, an observer, a cheerleader, and sometimes a playmate. Most of all—and maybe most importantly–we share in the wonder, the curiosity, the pleasure, and the peace, that spending time in the natural world brings.

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“Breathless, we flung us on a windy hill, laughed in the sun, and kissed the lovely grass.” – Rupert Brooke

Posted July 30, 2014

What have the children been up to this summer? Imagine the things YOU did as a child in the summer; that is precisely what we did at All Seasons Preschool. Climb trees. Dig in the garden. Have a picnic. Play hide-and-seek in the meadow. Build a fort in the woods. Get dirty. Roll down a grassy hill. Endless hours outside. These are the elements of which summertime memories are made.
Last week I walked our dog through our neighborhood park, the same park I’ve walked through almost every day for fourteen years. For possibly the first time, I saw young children (ages 7-10) at the playground without an adult present. This was so remarkable that I had to slow down to watch for a while. The neighborhood kids at the park in the absence of an adult was not the only thing that attracted my attention, the nature of their play was entirely different than what I see on my walks there.

Seven children huddled together, discussing the rules of their game of tag; who was IT, what bases were safe zones, and which parts of the park were off-limits. There were brief negotiations, but no arguments and certainly no fights. This was all accomplished without any parental input and everyone was happy enough to play the game. No parent stepped in to “rescue” the person who was unhappily selected to be IT, to negotiate the safe zones, or to remind everyone to take turns. Everyone was satisfied ENOUGH to play. Children, given the opportunity, understand that in order to be part of the play, they must sometimes concede to the wishes of others.

Not once did I hear, “Watch me do the monkey bars! “ or “Push me on the swing,” or the worst, “Come take a video of me going down the slide.” These children were not preoccupied with being the center of an adult’s attention. Rather, they were completely immersed in an elaborate game of tag with rules they came up with on their own. So engrossed were they in their game, they did not even notice me or my dog, who they always ask to pet when I walk past their homes. Absent was the erroneous belief that one must be the focal point at all times. How freeing for a child to know they can exist and have fun even when Mom or Dad isn’t there to watch or to document it for the scrapbook.

Breaking down this play, these young children were required to plan, organize, and make decisions on their own. Socially, they all needed to exhibit some flexibility and self-regulation in order for the game to succeed. Most obvious, each individual was immersed in vigorous exercise for an extended amount of time. This gift of free play in early childhood, is offered each day, under the careful supervision of teachers who trust in children’s ability to regulate their own play.

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