Category Archives: Preschool

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 A quinzhee is a snow shelter, or snow cave originally made by the Athapaskan Indians in central Canada.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.

The Power of Silence

Posted January 9, 2018

by Amy Lemieux

Late last night, I heard our black lab crying from somewhere inside our house. I began opening doors, assuming he was trapped in a room. After much searching, it turned out he was sitting at the bottom of the stairs, imprisoned, because guarding the stairs was our round calico, silently forbidding him to pass. All our other pets (we have many) dislike being near this big, clumsy dog whose movements are exaggerated and too rough. Yet their loud, repeated protests do nothing to deter him from cozying up to them. It is the silent but incredibly communicative cat who finds success in “correcting” his behavior. Without a sound, her message to him is always loud and clear.

Quiet with a convincing message

How is this relevant to children? It reminds me of the effectiveness of minimizing our reactions rather than over-explaining, which to me is tempting to the point of being irresistible.  I overdo it with my own children all the time, and at the time am certain my many words are sinking deeply into their hearts and minds, filling them with wisdom only their mother can bestow. Sadly, a casual observer could set their watch by the amount of time it takes for their eyes to glaze over as my words float into oblivion. We have these children in our possession for such a short time; we must make use of every teachable moment. It is our duty and right as parents to constantly be teaching. Except it doesn’t work. When you want to correct a behavior, less is more.  A simple, “We don’t do that because….it hurts your friend…it makes a big mess…people don’t like that…it hurts my ears…” is enough words. Then move on.  The likelihood of them listening plummets with each additional sentence. A graph of their diminishing attention would resemble an Olympic ski slope.

Message received

Experts say that over-explaining is worse than not explaining anything at all. After all, how much attention do you really want to give to the behavior you don’t want to see again? A short and firm statement packs more punch than a dissertation that begins to resemble the teacher’s voice from Charlie Brown. And while I have an overwhelming desire to captivate everyone with the fascinating research about over-explaining, I will stick with this, “Over-explaining to young children doesn’t work.”

The Last Time

Posted December 18, 2017

by Jenny Kleppe

There’s a country song by Brad Paisley called, “Last Time for Everything” in which Paisley sings about how the last time something occurs, we often do not realize it is for the last time.

And how true is that? These instances are tiny, little ‘last times’ that completely escape our attention, like the last time a child writes the letter “a” backwards, asks for help to zip a coat or put their shoes. I can’t recall the last time my daughter wanted her favorite book as a baby read to her or the last time I fed my son a bottle.

My son, now three, was quite the snuggler as a baby. He loved to fall asleep on my chest, and I loved it, too. I would lie on the couch for his entire nap time at the expense of dishes that needed doing, his older sister’s 400th request for Goodnight Moon, or any other “urgent task.” I loved his rhythmic breathing and his sweet-smelling baby breath. Well, I can’t tell you the last time that he did this. In fact, I couldn’t even tell you the last time he had a nap at home. Often we just do not realize it is the last time.

There is a line in Paisley’s song that says, “Getting woke up at 5 a.m. to see if Santa came…there’s a last time for everything…” Right now, in my parenting journey, it’s hard to imagine the last time my children run to the Christmas tree or stockings with bated breath. But this last time will come. The holidays are magical for preschoolers and young children. By hustling and bustling and focusing solely on our massive to-do lists, we may miss these “last times.” Sometimes there are things we must do with our children that are tedious or even painful such as; waiting for the three year-old to put his shoes on all by himself, honoring a request for reading That One Book I Really Hate but They Love, answering another question that starts with “Why…” But even these will have a last time- will you miss it? Will you know that it is the last time?

My suggestion this season is not that quaint adage of “enjoy every minute!” (because you won’t), but instead slow down and enjoy something special with your child. We get so caught up in what needs to get done and all the places we need to go that we do not make time for the little things. Go sledding. Make a snowman or five. Bake anything. Sing. Who knows? This may be the last time they get frosting in their hair while decorating cookies, the last time they break an ornament because they wanted to see it bounce, the last time that they ask what makes reindeer fly, the last time they scream from the car seat at the top of their lungs that THERE ARE CHRISTMAS LIGHTS OVER THERE!!! (By the way, all these things have happened to me in the last week). So take the time to enjoy some of these last times. Perhaps it will be the last year they believe in something magical. Or the last year you can take your babies go see their great-grandmother. Take time for people, not tasks.

Every now and then life throws us a do-over. Last weekend my son had way too much sugar at a holiday party, stayed up way too late, woke up way too early, and fell asleep while I was reading him a book on the couch. I pulled that little guy onto my chest and I treasured every second of what will most likely be the last time..

Treasure your 2017 Holiday Season. From all of us at All Seasons, Happy Holidays!

Promoting Positive Mental Health in Young Children

Posted December 14, 2017

by Kylen Glassmann

We have all heard the phrase “children are resilient,” and to an extent this is true. However, with the growing pressure on children, both socially and academically, we want to do everything we can to promote positive mental health and to safeguard against depression, anxiety, and emotional behavioral disorders.

Recently, the staff at All Seasons Preschool attended a seminar on mental health. Kelly C. Peterson, a school psychologist, spoke about some of the newer challenges our children face in the current society, challenges that play a large role in why many children suffer from some type of mental illness. We were surprised to learn that 9.5% to 14% of children ages birth to 5 experience emotional/behavioral disturbance, and that about half of all mental illness cases begin by the time a child is 14. What was not surprising is that “mental health is directly linked to educational outcomes,” and frequently mental health problems are more apparent at school than at home. Anxiety, stress, depression, and grief affect how a child sleeps, eats, and performs at school.  Both an increase in screen time and a decrease in play time have contributed to this rise in early mental health problems.

As daunting as all this sounds, there are some simple things adults can do to support children and strengthen their mental health. One wonderful strategy is to allow time for play!  Yes, play – simple and incredibly beneficial for several reasons. Not only do we see children practicing early academic skills through  play, but it allows them a chance to socialize, which protects us from mental illness. Also, play physically changes the brain in positive ways; it can increase serotonin and decrease cortisol. Play also provides opportunities for appropriate risk-taking. Without taking risks and making mistakes, kids do not develop self-help and problem-solving skills without interference from an adult. Practice allows them to learn from their choices and feel empowered by their ability to do things on their own; authentic achievement is positively correlated with good mental health.

Additionally, screen time should be limited, as it has been proven to induce stress, overload the body’s sensory system, and disrupt sleep. Sleep is incredibly important for young brains — preschoolers should be getting 10-13 hours each night! Children who lack enough sleep can be impulsive, hyperactive, and show signs of anger and even aggression.  Screen time also reduces physical activity levels and increases the level of the stress hormone cortisol.

None of us are perfect and children are resilient! We can strengthen this resilience by promoting caring relationships, providing high yet attainable expectations, and allowing children autonomy.
Last but not least, take care of yourself! The above information also applies to adults. We are one of the biggest influences on children. So, please take care this holiday season and enjoy time with your family and friends!

 

*Peterson, K. C. (2017). Promoting the Social Emotional Development of Young Children. [PowerPoint Slides].

An Unexpected Winged Visitor

Posted November 30, 2017

by Amanda Janquart

A rogue Blue Jay has landed smack dab in the happenings at All Seasons Preschool and Inver Glen Senior Living. At first, even as we ooohed and aaahed at seeing up close details of such a fast moving bird, there was a bit of fear. What was this daring bird doing, swooping down and skimming our heads? Teachers would duck and cover…then giggle, feeling goofy for being afraid. After all, we were the adults with preschoolers’ eyes watching every move. Two weeks later there were still visits from what we now called Our Friend Blue Jay. The Jay had become something to look forward to seeing, something to go in search of while carrying bags of seed. It would playfully flit from branch to branch and even land on the ground just feet away from toddler-sized boots. Parents texted pictures of Blue Jay, hanging out on their roof racks in the parking lot. Kath, who lives by our swamp, told us that the Jay visits her every morning and that maybe it was hand raised. This theory has been seconded in a response from a writer at the MN Conservation Magazine. On Teacher Sarah’s birthday the bird took a stand on her cake box! This Jay was uniting the classroom in adventures and laughter. The preschoolers began to wonder, “Had any of the Grandmas and Grandpas seen it too?!”

A small group headed upstairs to find out, and the very first person they asked had quite a story to tell. Yes, Grandpa Norm had not only seen the Blue Jay, but it had landed on the handle of his walker and kept him company for many minutes! The children couldn’t believe that the Jay had pecked on Norm’s cell phone and even moved his playing cards around. Grandpa Norm jokingly wondered if the bird wanted to play poker! The children clearly weren’t sure what that meant, but laughed along.

The class thought that of all the residents, Grandma Marion must’ve met the Blue Jay on one of her many walks around the building. And she had! But instead of sharing her tale, she patiently listened to the children go on and on about the many places they had seen it – in the Pines, in the Woods, on the Playground, and even once it was perched on the front door to the building, having followed the rowdy class all the way from the Swamp. Marion promised to report any further sightings.

Grandpa Don

While visiting memory care, children used found feathers to tickle the Grandmas’ and Grandpas’ arms and cheeks as they told the seniors stories from the ever growing list of Blue Jay antics. Together, the generations sang a made-up version of the Itsy Bitsy Spider, changing the lyrics to reflect the Blue Jay sightings. Teacher Diane made a sock puppet, which delighted everyone as it moved its crest up and down and called out “jay” sounds.

An environmental educator was asked to visit and answer the children’s growing questions, and Pete happily came from Dodge Nature Center, bringing along a stuffed specimen of a real Blue Jay. We could see the variations in feathers, the strong bill, and the tiny sharp claws, while Pete answered endless questions. The most intriguing mystery had to do with what it ate, specifically what was our Blue Jay’s most favorite food of all. The guesses came flying out – yogurt, hot chocolate, peanuts, or maybe cake!

As children drew pictures of birds, using the mount as a model, they continued to chat about bird food. A plan was devised to set out all manner of food choices and watch to see what the Blue Jay picked first, then they’d know the very favorite. Two egg cartons were filled with food samples brought from children’s homes as well as some found in the school kitchen. The problem of not being able to see if the Jay came while they were at home was solved with a bit of teacher initiative. A trail camera would catch pictures while we were away!

The camera didn’t disappoint, and children and teachers alike could hardly contain their excitement. “Let’s do it again!” was chanted. (The favorite food?  Cake!!)  Finding and building upon a shared experience is what keeps emergent curriculum alive and ever changing. Where we go next is anyone’s guess. When the topic is shared across generations and brings communities together, it becomes a thing of magic, not easily forgotten.

Redefining Toddlers

Posted November 16, 2017

by Sarah Kern

When you think of toddlers, what comes to mind? Often we hear toddlers described as difficult, impulsive, and destructive. The “terrible twos” are a phase many a parent has entered with trepidation. Even educators struggle with toddlers; my sister recently told me of a daycare director she met with who flat out admitted she didn’t like toddlers. Certainly I’ve received my fair share of looks of horror when I’ve shared that I’m a toddler teacher. It seems toddlers have a strong reputation, and it’s not to say some of it isn’t deserved. Indeed, toddlers ARE impulsive. They can be difficult, and show me a toddler who’s never dumped out a toy basket or colored on a wall. It’s true that toddlers have a special way of button-pushing that grinds on the nerves of even the most even-keeled parents and teachers.

We often look at toddlers through the lens of what they can’t do. We’re fried by trying to meet their constantly changing needs and wants, frustrated by their testing, and exhausted by their big feelings. It’s a constant push-pull with toddlers; there’s so much they want to do for themselves yet so much they still need help with. But I think it’s time to reframe how we see our toddlers.

Lately I’ve been in awe of that all my toddler students CAN do. They are resilient, creative, capable, and empathetic. They know so very much about their little worlds, and they’re a vital part of them.

Seeing toddlers this way has changed me as a teacher.  I’ve gotten braver, and I believe my students have benefitted. My first year, I wouldn’t have dared take my little group of five toddlers upstairs to visit seniors. Now, it’s one of my favorite things to do with them. Do they run in the hall, push all the elevator buttons, and touch seniors’ fragile decorations? Sometimes they do. But do they greet seniors, spontaneously shake hands, and bring joy everywhere they go? Absolutely, they do. I’ve found that the more I trust them, the more I let them be and experience, the less they push my buttons (elevator buttons are another story).

I think what challenges adults most about toddlers is that they are unpredictable. We want to control them, keep them in a bubble, keep their clothes clean and manners perfect. That’s just not the way it is for them. They want to experience it all, hands on, and that’s how they learn. How can I expect my students to greet the seniors they meet out and about if I never give them a chance to try it? How can I expect them to try new things if I never let them take any risks? How can I expect them to be capable if I do everything for them? How can I expect them to care for their classmates if I never give them a chance to help?

Just in the last week, I watched toddlers jump off the retaining wall on the playground after carefully assessing the risk and choosing just the right height that felt safe. I watched a student help another who was crying because he couldn’t get his jacket off. I watched a child reach out and shake hands with a new grandpa, completely of his own volition. I listened as a student reminded others to wait for a child who had fallen behind.
It’s time to rethink our toddlers’ reputations.

Nature Connection

Posted November 2, 2017

By Sarah Sivright

Last Saturday I went to a workshop led by a new organization, the Minnesota Early Childhood Outdoor Learning Network–a bit of an unwieldy title and they’re open to editing suggestions.  But this was one exciting day for all gathered!  We nature educators have been talking about the need for just this kind of network for years, and finally we have this organization for support and change!  All Seasons staff and families know first-hand the benefits of outdoor play and learning.  Play and learning go hand in hand for young children, and never so powerfully than when this happens in the natural world.  So here I was, in a room filled with like-minded educators, from both preschool and elementary classrooms, eager to learn and share ideas and experiences.

The workshop was held in Savage at an early learning center, created through a partnership with the private non-profit Jeffers Foundation and the Savage-Prior Lake school district.  This has been a remarkable partnership that has resulted in school-wide nature curricula that keeps widening to include other grade levels and schools. It made me think of the transformational success of our nearby Garlough Elementary School in West St. Paul.

The breakout sessions and visit to a nature-based preschool classroom were all great chances to meet new people, get ideas and feel affirmed by what we are already doing.  This spring, All Seasons teachers will be traveling to Duluth to visit several sites that are part of their nature-based consortium.

The nature education movement has been slowly gathering steam, and this newly formed network will only help that move more quickly.  They will hold a workshop every quarter, and have asked us to host one in 2018-2019.  I asked the organizers to put one question on the gathering’s next program—how to encourage parents to advocate for nature-based education in kindergarten, first grade, and beyond.   Parents regularly ask us to open a kindergarten classroom, after bemoaning the brief or non-existent recess time and lack of natural spaces around the school—such culture shock after All Seasons and other schools like it.  We all need to be advocates for nature-based learning.  I’ll let you know after the winter meeting what ideas I get for empowering us all!

 

*Copies of a parent’s guide to outdoor activities by Ken Finch, a leading nature educator and former director of Green Hearts Institute for Nature in Childhood, will be out to take.  We’ll get more copies if need be.

The Joys of Teaching at All Seasons Preschool

Posted October 19, 2017

by Kylen Glassmann

As the newest member of “Team All Seasons,” I wanted my first blog to speak to the joy that I have experienced in my first few months as a teacher in the Autumn room. I think that it is important to point out the wonderful things that happen each day and how lucky I feel to be in a place where my teaching philosophies align with those of the creators and the rest of the staff here at All Seasons Preschool. It is, although unfortunate, rare to find a place that services children and their families in such a unique and appropriate way. In our current educational system, so much emphasis is put on academia that vital aspects of learning in the early years are being unfairly swept under the rug.
Children need a supportive and safe place to learn; they not only need to learn the beginnings of academia, like writing their name and recognizing letters and numbers, but they also need to learn how to socialize. The social/emotional piece of early childhood is critical and has a larger role in learning academic skills than is currently emphasized in our test-oriented educational system. The most important way young children learn social/emotional skills is through play and this is verified through research. Without play, children don’t have the same opportunities to problem solve and learn how to interact with other people; without play they will not successfully learn skills like empathy, perspective taking, persistence, and patience. This, in turn, will affect how successful children become later in life, both socially and academically. At All Seasons Preschool, we provide children with these opportunities. We offer a safe and challenging environment where children are encouraged to take risks and make mistakes. We offer support, while encouraging children to be independent and to learn to problem solve on their own.
In my graduate studies in early childhood development and education, we consistently came back to the idea of “developmentally appropriate practice,” and what this means in the context of the classroom and development. Development is on a spectrum, and the way children behave is often indicative of what they have the capacity to do. It is our job as educators to help show them what they can do on their own, as well as help them to see what they are capable of with support and/or practice. In the world of early childhood, we call this “scaffolding”, and it is a beautiful thing! At All Seasons Preschool we are proponents of developmentally appropriate practice, like scaffolding, providing many opportunities for play, and allowing children to learn to problem solve on their own. Another way we implement appropriate practice is by having a mixed-age classroom. With a mixed- age, child-centered, and play based environment, we allow children to learn at a pace that is appropriate for them.  The older children become leaders and the younger children learn from their older, more experienced peers.


These are just a few examples of developmentally appropriate practice at All Seasons. I cannot express enough how impactful these customs are on a child’s growth. I can also speak to the amount of research that supports what we do here at All Seasons Preschool. I am lucky to have these experiences and to work in a place that believes in and works hard to create a beneficial environment for children and their families.