Category Archives: Preschool

The Importance of Motor Development in the Early Years

Posted February 18, 2020

by, Kylen Glassmann

This Spring has presented me a new set of personal challenges. I have stretched myself professionally and taken on a new role as an adjunct instructor at the University of Minnesota, teaching a course entitled, “Creative and Motor Learning in Early Childhood” through the Institute of Child Development. So far this experience has been exciting and insightful. It has reminded me of the importance and interdependence of all developmental domains. Motor development is often thought of as something that children learn innately; eventually, everyone learns to walk, run, jump, hold a pencil, and color a picture; we don’t “teach” infants to take their first steps in the same way we teach a child to add, subtract, or read. However, a child’s environment and the support they receive while developing any skill is key to learning – as is repetition, new experiences, and practice.

As I began preparing for my course at the University, two things immediately grabbed my attention: the fact that movement frequently takes a back seat in elementary education, often to the detriment of our children, and more and more children are entering school with under-developed fine-motor skills. Fine-motor has to do with small muscles (e.g. fingers and toes), whereas gross/large motor involves the larger muscle groups (e.g. legs and arms). Think of walking and jumping versus gripping and pinching. Although these are separate sets of skills using different parts of the body, everything is interrelated and when one area suffers, the other can too. When a child has a hard time holding a pencil with a pincer grip, they likely lack strength in their hand, which makes controlled movement very challenging. More evidence is also pointing to the bigger picture; what about gross motor development? If a child lacks core strength, has weak hand-eye-coordination or balance, they will likely have a hard time sitting and controlling a pencil or manipulating scissors, even if their hand strength is fully developed. 

Although it’s not necessary to teach a toddler to write their name, and it is something that we structure appropriately in preschool depending on the child’s abilities, at home you don’t have to wait to support your child’s motor development! Just as we encourage infants to grasp an object or pull themselves up to standing by putting a toy just out of reach and offering encouragement, we can do the same for our toddlers and preschoolers. Children are tactile beings that learn through engaging with and manipulating the world around them, and I don’t mean screens! When our bodies move, our brains our firing, sending out healthy messages that help us learn and grow. Even as adults! We all know the worst part of working out is getting to the gym, because if we always felt the way we do after a good sweat, we’d never leave the gym! 

 

 

Supporting motor development can be as simple as putting children in the right environment and providing them with the right tools and materials. Make going outside once a day, or a few times a week, a priority and see how your child is encouraged to run, climb, and play with sticks. Set out some markers and paper while you’re preparing dinner. Have a dance party or do some yoga before getting ready to wind down for the evening. Go with their interests and encourage them to try new things! An important thing to keep in mind is to make things fun and don’t force something that your child isn’t ready for. 

Here are some other ways to support your child’s motor skills: 

  • Let them help with cooking or baking projects.
  • Let them serve themselves at the snack table, using tongs or their fingers. 
  • Encourage children to use utensils while eating (even if it’s messy). 
  • Put out coloring materials for them to use when they are interested.
  • Craft with them and encourage them to make things with their hands. 
  • Play a game of red-light, green-light when you’re outside or at the park (practicing different movements like hopping, galloping, crawling, etc.) 
  • Make an obstacle course in your backyard or basement and have them challenge themselves (I wonder if you can go faster this time, or slower and more controlled)
  • Turn a pretend play space into a gym or gymnastics tournament( This was my FAVORITE thing to do as a kid!)
  • Provide them with sensory materials like playdough, clay, slime, and even water or sand with funnels, pipettes, and scoops/shovels. 
  • Dance and stretch.

Using their whole bodies frequently – from fingertips to toes and everything in between – helps children develop their motor skills, and preparesthem for the work they will do as they continue to grow.

Friendship In the Early Years

Posted February 4, 2020

by, Sarah Kern

They are common questions at parent/teacher conferences: Who does she play with? Does she have friends? Who is his best friend? I surprised myself at my daughter’s own parent/teacher conference when the question tumbled out of my mouth: Is there anyone she likes to play with? She’s one year old! Clearly this is on the mind of parents — we want our child to be social, well-liked, and have friends. But how does friendship develop in the early years? There is a typical progression, but it should be said that the development of these skills varies from child to child and is affected by personality and temperament, the environment a child experiences, and any special needs a child may have.

Social awareness begins at birth. Babies prefer to look at faces above all else, and some studies suggest babies can recognize their parents’ faces within a few days of birth. We are programmed to be social, right out of the womb. For one and two year olds, the interest in others begins to grow. In the toddler classroom at All Seasons, we see lots of independent and parallel play. Children are beginning to prefer to be near their peers as they play, but they aren’t quite able to organize play with a peer. Playmate preference is dominated by shared interests. We also see growing empathy at this age — reading emotions and the beginnings of checking in with a classmate who is hurt.  Children are also learning how to enter play, and much about social development can be gleaned by watching this behavior. In fact, asking the question, “Can I play?” is often the beginning a friendship. 

At age three, we see social skills continue to grow. Independent and parallel play continue to play a predominant role. Children this age understand sharing and taking turns, but they may still struggle to consistently implement these skills. Symbolic pretend play becomes more common — a block can now be a cup of coffee, a stick can be a wand. Children this age feel most comfortable joining a group activity, such as playing at the play dough table. Observation and imitation are an important part of development, too. 

At age four, children develop the ability to collaborate and cooperate with peers. Playmate preference increases, and a child may mention a “best” friend at this age. Conversation and negotiation increase, along with increased self-regulation. This is also the age children may begin to exclude others. A child is more likely to proclaim, “You’re not invited to my birthday party!” than they are to hit, and the sting is often worse. Still, children are generally quick to bounce back from this kind of conflict.

At five, play becomes more elaborate, developed, and imaginative. Themes can last an entire playtime and even pick up again at a later time. The ability to take turns, share toys, and understand differing ability levels is generally solid. Helping a younger child is appealing, and the sense of humor grows. 

The adult has an important role to play in the development of these skills. Adults model important social skills, facilitate play, and help children read and respond to social cues. In our mixed age classrooms, peers help each other, too. Many of our students have the opportunity to grow through these stages in the same classroom at All Seasons. It’s a magical thing to watch, and few things are more satisfying to a teacher than a moment of kindness between two children, or the simple answer of “YES” to the question of “Can I play?”

Our Grandpa Al

Posted January 21, 2020

By, Amy Lemieux

 “I once was what you are.  What I am, you will be.” – ancient epitaph

Our Grandpa Al.  The first senior to come through the door of All Seasons Preschool in 2009.  That single fact is telling; he was the first one. Grandpa Al was a doer. He participated.  When something needed to be done, he did it. Wherever Al went, he made a contribution. He was a leader in our community, but he was a leader in many communities before he ever arrived here. 

At Al’s funeral, I was reminded that we only know our “grandmas and grandpas” upstairs for a small moment in their lives.  We catch a glimpse of them at of the tail end of their journey on this planet. Sometimes we experience who they were most of their lives, and other times we see someone totally unlike who they once were.  One of the things I deliberately remind myself regularly is that the seniors upstairs had long, rich lives long before they landed here. At his funeral, listening to tales of Al’s life was a powerful reminder that he accomplished many things long before he became a reader in the Autumn Room.  That is inspiring and also humbling. At one time, these seniors were us. They were even our children. 

Our Grandpa Al lived a full life long before he ever arrived at Inver Glen.  Al was born in rural Kansas. He went to a one room schoolhouse and skipped second grade.  His father died when he was only fourteen, so his mother became a teacher to support their family.  Al forever had an affinity for practical jokes and loved to entertain himself (if not others) with jokes.  After graduating from high school early, he joined the military. He learned to fly planes but was badly injured in a car accident just before being deployed for WWII.  While in the hospital, he fell in love with the the nurse who cared for him and they were married for 62 years. Al and Gloria had four children, all musically talented.  He was an industrial engineer and time keeper for Honeywell. Keeping time was a skill that Al retained wherever he went (ask any of the staff of Inver Glen whose time Al diligently monitored).  Always an active member of his church, he taught Bible study and confirmation well into his 90’s.  

Gloria and Al were two of a handful of seniors to sleep at Inver Glen the first night it opened.  He frequented the preschool, starting the week we opened. He never missed a preschool event. Al led senior exercise class when Sue (the activities director) was gone, helped decorate the building for holidays, and pitched in wherever there was a need.

Al was a friend.  He was a friend wherever he saw the need.  Since 2009 Al was the leader of “the guys’ table” in the dining room.  Whenever there was a single male who needed a friend, Al invited him to sit at their table.  Over the years he was here, he made and then lost several good friends; Dick, Jack, Norm, Ed, and Paul.  When my own father died, he generously checked in on me on a regular basis, calling himself my substitute dad.  Until the end, Al was always alive to possibilities. The day he died, he graciously welcomed us into his new apartment, proudly showing us his WWII mementos.  Then he headed to his last Friday happy hour.

Did I get to know “the real Al?”  The Al I knew was not a strict rule-keeper like he had been with his own children.  For the preschoolers he had all the patience in the world. He told me, “Sometimes I look back and wonder why I was so strict with my kids.  I don’t really think the things I worried about are really all that important.” The Al I knew was most definitely not “The Flying Martini” we heard about at his funeral.  He told me he was no longer a firm believer in the black and white teachings of his former church. “I don’t think God cares so much about the little details any more. I think God cares about what kind of person we are while we’re here.”

While I only knew Al for ten of his ninety seven years, I believe I got to know the essence of who he was.  Al was a man who changed and adjusted as life evolved within and around him. He was a contributor and a friend.  As he was, we are. As he is, we all one day will be.

 

Talking About Differences

Posted January 7, 2020

by Joanne Esser

Preschool-age children are noticers. Their brains are naturally designed to soak in many details of what they observe and then sort and categorize those details; that is the way they learn. They constantly compare and contrast objects. (Think about when you offer your child their favorite dessert – and they immediately compare the size of their piece to the size of their brother or sister’s piece!)

Their brains are especially attuned to noticing differences. Children are apt to recognize, point out and comment on anything that is different from what they are accustomed to seeing – including differences in people’s appearances. Not only do they notice, but they want to find out about why someone looks different.

This is an age at which children are beginning to see that people’s skin comes in different colors, that people’s hair comes in a variety of textures and colors, that people’s bodies come in lots of different shapes and sizes. Many parents have had the embarrassing experience of being out in public with their young child when the child notices someone whose skin is a different color than their own, or someone who is very short, or someone who uses a wheelchair, or someone with another visible difference, and the child (very loudly) asks, “Why does that lady/man look that way?”

It’s tempting to hush the child and hurry them away from the scene. It can feel uncomfortable to talk about differences and easier to avoid it. But shying away from the topic can send the wrong message. This is the prime age at which we should intentionally initiate conversations with our children about all the similarities and differences between people. They are noticing anyway; that makes it a perfect time to broaden the conversation, give them true information and put it into context with our values, promoting positive ways of understanding, accepting and honoring differences. As teachers of young children, discussing similarities and differences is something we do all the time, not as an aside, (such as only during Black history month).

Because the children at All Seasons interact with seniors every day, they have many opportunities to notice and talk about differences that come with aging: the children have caring relationships with people who walk slowly, may use wheelchairs, have trouble speaking or hearing or have even lost a limb. The children feel comfortable looking closely and asking questions. The seniors know the children are simply curious and are not judging, so they are not offended and don’t shy away from talking directly with the children about their questions.

 

Talking about skin color/race can be particularly challenging, though, especially for white parents and teachers. For white children, it is critically important to have conversations about skin color/race when they are young. Some white children don’t even have an awareness that their skin has any color at all – while children of color often have a keen awareness of their skin color from an early age. In many regions, including ours, “white” has been the assumed default or the norm; we only mention someone’s skin color/race when it is other than white. Children can unintentionally internalize the idea that white is superior. If we don’t talk about skin color with children, our silence also conveys a message: that race is a topic that is off limits or embarrassing. Children may feel that it’s not okay to ask questions, and we miss opportunities to correct misconceptions.

At All Seasons, one way we spark a positive conversation about race/skin color is through the process of drawing and painting self-portraits. Every year we ask children to look at their own faces in mirrors and at the faces of their friends, and really study their features. We talk about specific observable differences in skin color, eye color, shapes of faces, eyes, noses, mouths, hair color, length and texture and the uniqueness of each face. We read aloud books about skin color differences and melanin, and show children photos of people from many ethnic backgrounds with many, many varieties of skin color. The children work hard to draw their own faces realistically and to mix paints to match their skin tones. They compare and contrast “their” colors with each other’s and even give their colors made-up names.

In the art studio, we’ll be spending time this winter mixing many beautiful shades of brown, ranging from very light to very dark, matching the colors of objects from nature and creating a group art piece using all those colors. Then we’ll launch our annual self-portrait project. Children revisit this work each year, exploring it at a different level of depth as they get older. In the classroom, teachers can amplify the conversation using selections of good quality read-aloud books and guided discussion.

Here are a few of the books we may use at school to initiate conversations about skin color, similarities and differences. You might like to read some of them aloud at home to spark your own family conversations.

The Colors Of Us, by Karen Katz

All the Colors We Are: The Story of How We Get Our Skin Color, by Katie Kissinger (text in both English and Spanish)

The Skin You Live In, by Michael Tyler

Happy In Our Skin, by Fran Manushkin

Just Like Me: Stories and Self-Portraits by Fourteen Artists, edited by Harriet Rohmer

Black Is Brown Is Tan, by Arnold Adoff (an older book, copyright 1973, but still a good one)

The Best Part Of Me: Children Talk About Their Bodies In Pictures and Words, by Wendy Ewald

 

 

Conflict Resolution with Preschoolers 

Posted December 20, 2019

by Roxie Zeller

Many times, conflicts for preschoolers revolve around toys and materials or excluding others. Young children’s usual method of solving these problems tends to be yelling, playing tug-of-war with the toy, or hitting each other — all of which tend to end with an adult  solving the problem and having the final say. It can look silly at times watching children fight over toys. I have often thought to myself, “It would be ridiculous if adults acted like this,” but the reality is some adults do. When they do, I think, “Well this is silly. They are acting like preschoolers.” Watching adults arguing like children is a good reminder to me of why we teach our children to resolve conflicts. 

While in college, I was taught how to help children work through conflicts. First, everyone involved must be calm. Then both children need to tell their sides of the story; they brainstorm solutions, decide on one that works, and finally an adult monitors the situation. This is a very common practice in preschools and in some elementary schools. By having very clear steps, the goal is for children to eventually be able to walk through the step on their own, thus resolving their own conflicts. This method, I think, works well when children need a mediator, or when both parties can remain calm when talking about the problem on their own. It does also give children a great framework to learn the steps needed to resolve some problems. At All Seasons we teach children that in order to solve a problem, you need to be calm, listen to other perspectives and work together to find an acceptable solution (sometimes their solution is not one teachers would choose, but it is acceptable to them). The more time I spend teaching in the classroom, I have learned that although this strategy works well to teach the skills of conflict resolution, it is not the only way that children are learning how to solve problems. 

Many times children learn by watching their peers and adults handle conflicts. Children then apply what they’ve seen when attempting to solve their own problems. As much as children learn from having an adult guide them through a conflict resolution strategy, nothing is as impactful as when children are given a chance to handle things on their own. One thing that I love about All Seasons is how much we trust the preschoolers to handle their own conflicts. We set them up for success by giving them the tools that they need to solve their own problems and often intentions get out of the way. From the first day of school, we tell children that our school rule is “you can’t say you can’t play.” If another child asks to play, they need to offer that child some role in the game. The child who asked to play can choose to join the game in the offered role or play somewhere else. If a child comes to us saying that another child took away a toy, we encourage the child to talk directly to their friend. We might say, “Go tell them that you were not finished with that toy, and that you’ll give it to them when you are done.”  When the child goes back to solve the problem, the teacher monitors from afar, giving the pair a chance to solve the problem on their own. More times than not, preschoolers can resolve it independently. Only when necessary, a teacher steps in.

By giving the children the opportunity to work things out with their peers in a real-life situation, we are setting them up for a lifetime of success. Being able to solve problems that will inevitably arise is a life skill we want our students to carry forward.

Changing the “Gimmies” to an Attitude of Gratefulness and Giving

Posted December 10, 2019

by Jenny Kleppe

It’s that time of year again — the time we hear children say, “For my present, I want….” or  “Can I have that?” or even worse, “I WANT that now!!!” I even witnessed a child at Target the other day clinging for dear life to a tiny stuffed Olaf shouting, “Nothing else will ever make me happy again!!!” Sound familiar? There is a lot of “special” out there this time of year – special events, special treats, special visitors, and so on. No matter what tradition or celebrations your family follows, gift requests, list making, and “the gimmies” seem inevitable during this season.

While I still plan to give my children gifts, what I get the most excited about this time of year is the creating and passing on of family traditions. With a five-year-old and a six-year-old, they are finally old enough to remember traditions and request them. “Remember when we drove around for hours [reality: 30 minutes] and looked for lights and then drank hot cocoa?” asked my son. “Will we decorate cookies with all the frosting and sprinkles?” inquired my daughter. These early years are my favorite time to start the traditions that I want them to recall year-to-year now, and then again when they are grown, possibly even to repeat with their own families someday.

The primary tradition my husband and I want to emphasize this year is a tradition of helping others. We strive to do what we can to take our children’s focus away from the materialism and receiving perspective and center it on service, generosity, thankfulness, and giving. 

This value is important to us, because when my daughter was around 6 months old, my husband found out that he would be laid off shortly after Christmas (and what we didn’t yet know is that we would be having our son join us about 7 months later). I am not certain what we would have done that Christmas, or for the weeks and months following that, had it not been for the generosity of others. We received  food donations from a food shelf, a gas card from our church, grocery cards from others, cash to cover holiday expenses from an anonymous source, and my mother was watching our daughter during the day for free so I could teach at All Seasons and my husband could find the job he still has now. I think back on this stressful time and realize that each of these singular items so generously given may have seemed small, but together they made a sum that truly made the difference for our family.  

Because of this experience, it is incredibly important to our family to give back by “paying it forward” to others in need of a hand up during the holidays. Each act of service, kindness, or generosity, however small, will help build an attitude of gratitude in young children and will certainly benefit others. Having an attitude of gratitude modeled for them or participating in appropriate service projects will also  help them see a bigger picture of the world and focus a small bit of their attention on helping others. 

Children shared what they were thankful for in a classroom project

 

This is no small feat. It can feel impossible, especially with relatives constantly asking my children, “What do you want?” There are so many things vying for our attention as parents this time of year, and working towards an attitude of gratitude can be as simple or involved as you want to make it. It could be a part of a daily prayer or dinner conversation asking your child, “What are you thankful for today?” or “How did you help someone today?” It is vital that parents model this with their own brief answer, such as “I held the door open for someone who was carrying something heavy,” or “I bought the coffee for the person in the car behind me in the drive through.” 

Children working on a thankfulness project with Seniors.

Your family can also take further steps toward a tradition of generosity and giving by participating in a family-friendly service project together. What a tradition to start or to get excited about! My family started doing this last holiday season, and the result was surprisingly successful. My children even asked if they get to pick out presents again for children who might not get other presents. Get your children interested in a service project by focusing on things they can understand, using clear and concise language, and participating in something hands-on in which children can take a role.

Here is a list of ideas of ways your family can turn that “What do you want” question into “What can we do for others?” 

  • Make a list of your family’s favorite foods/meals. Go shopping for the needed items to make these and then donate to your local food shelf. Here are a few:
  • The Sheridan Story is an organization that provides meals to children in the Twin Cities who qualify for free and reduced lunch over the weekend or when they are not in school. You can donate money or sign up to pack meals into discrete backpacks. Learn more at www.sheridanstory.org.
  • Feed My Starving Children is an organization dedicated to providing nutritious meals to children worldwide.  Learn more or sign up to pack meals as a family at www.fmsc.org.
  • Take your child shopping for a small gift for someone else: a sibling, a grandparent, a parent. Ask them to really think about what the other person might like!
  • Have your child circle items in a toy catalog or ad and then they pick one out to purchase for Toys for Tots.
  • Help shovel the sidewalk in front of a neighbor’s house or a neighbor’s driveway.
  • Encourage your child to say “thank you” to cashiers, servers, baristas, postal workers, etc. when they accompany you on errands.
  • Draw holiday pictures or make cards for the seniors here at Inver Glen.
  • Draw pictures or make cards for soldiers and service men and women serving abroad over the holidays. http://www.usasoa.org/christmas-cards-for-our-deployed-troops
  • When you are shopping for pet supplies, have your child pick out treats, food, or toys for pets in shelters- nearly every pet store has a donation box by the entrance this time of year.
  • Encourage children to put allowance, piggy bank money, or other small coins into the Salvation Army kettle.
  • Ask your child to help make a list of things they can do to help your family or others- their answers may surprise you!

An Invitation to Visit

Posted November 26, 2019

by Amanda Janquart

The children at All Seasons Preschool spend part of every day with the residents of Inver Glen Senior Living. We bring trays of art supplies, baskets of blocks, books, props for plays, instruments, and giant bowls of popcorn to them. We are welcomed into their living rooms and memory care coves. We sit on their couches and spread out on the carpet in the community room. We peek in on exercise sessions and salon appointments, stop by their library and card room, and are regulars passing through the dining room. 

It makes sense that we go to the residents. There are seniors with mobility and cognitive difficulties or with hearing aids. Preschool classrooms can be overwhelming to the senses, especially to those sensitive to volume. And for seniors with mobility strains, our school can be a long journey from their home. All this isn’t to say that we don’t get occasional visitors. A handful of seniors come weekly, taking on the role of classroom reader or attending an art session in the Studio. Our ‘regulars’ are dearly loved, but we want to make sure all the residents know they are welcome to visit us. 

Simply popping by isn’t a comfortable prospect for many of the grandmas and grandpas. Having a specific date and time to put on their calendars was needed, so an Open House gathering was created. Children made colorful invitations, which were hand-delivered or taped to every resident’s door if they weren’t home. We shamelessly enticed guests by offering treats. Preschoolers grew excited to be hosts as they baked banana muffins and brownies. They helped to prepare their classrooms, tidying up their cubbies, making way for wheelchairs, and adding adult-sized chairs. They practiced their greetings, like “Hello Grandpa Ed. Thanks for coming. Can I show you the toy cars?” 

As each guest arrived, children eagerly shook their hand and encouraged them to look around the room. The children started conversations, like: “We can pop off corn kernels over here.” “Do you want to spread the (shaving) cream with me?” “This is the pumpkin we hammer into.” “Did you like the brownies?” “Will you write my story next (in their story journal)?”

Our hope is that we took away any hesitation to come to our “living room” and sit back on one of the cozy couches – placed there for that exact purpose!

   

 

Let Them Jump and Let Them Fall so They Can Soar

Posted November 12, 2019

by Kylen Glassmann

Do you remember the last time you took a risk and succeeded? Or maybe you even took a risk and failed, but learned something from the experience? Risk-taking is something you hear a lot about in early childhood; teachers and parents are encouraged to foster a safe environment in which children feel comfortable trying new things, making mistakes, and taking risks. It may seem counterintuitive – we want children to make good choices and be safe, so why encourage risk-taking? It’s simple, really: children need to learn how to make safe and appropriate choices. How else will they learn these skills without testing boundaries and pushing their limits? Even as adults we are faced with difficult situations and it is important to learn to push ourselves outside of our comfort zone. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have the ability to learn from each other, gain insight from new experiences, and evolve. 

So, what does this look like for children and how do you we encourage risk-taking safely? Think back to your childhood. When do you remember taking risks and being brave? I remember countless summer days that were spent at my local rec center with a huge pool and an infamous high-dive. It took me nearly an entire summer to feel brave enough to jump off the high-dive! However, my friends were encouraging me, and I knew I was safe. My parents were nearby and there was a life guard to help, just in case. And boy do I remember that feeling of jumping off for the first time; I felt like I could take on the world! Little did I know I was teaching myself that I am brave and can do hard things.

For our toddlers and preschoolers, risk-taking looks a bit different. Take one afternoon playing out in the Boulders, for example. While climbing a favorite fallen tree, one preschooler took a giant leap off the highest part of the tree. Others looked on with admiration and interest. “I want to jump off,” said another child. “Try!” said the first child. This blossomed into 20 minutes of safe and appropriate risk-taking. Several children took turns climbing and jumping off. Some children jumped from smaller heights that were more comfortable to them. Another child was motivated to make the leap off the top, but first he sat there for about 10 to 15 minutes, contemplating the jump. He stood up eyeing the distance and moved around to different spots, but always returned to the highest point. You could see the moments where he nearly went for it, but stopped himself. Finally, he jumped and succeeded! “I did it and now my body wants to jump 100 times!” The smile on his face was infectious! As their teacher, of course I was worried someone might fall and scrape their knee or land too hard, but how I could intervene and take away this learning experience? I didn’t need to say a thing because the other children were there with encouragement, “You can do it!” Instead, I chose to sit back and let them do their thing; they knew I was there if they needed help.  

 

Long story short, encourage your children to try new things! Take them outside, let them climb trees, jump off of playground walls, and let them struggle! We want to foster pathways in the brain that build confidence, and it can be as simple as creating a safe space for children to try hard things. Nothing is as powerful as a child accomplishing something on their own. It is challenging to sit back and let this magic happen without intervening, but remember the phrase, “Would you rather your child have a broken bone, or a broken spirit?”  We don’t want broken bones, but wouldn’t you rather your child try something difficult so that when they succeed, they can own their accomplishment and know deep down, “I am brave, I am strong, I am confident!”

 

Nature Play in the Twin Cities

Posted October 29, 2019

  By Tracy Riekenberg 

Since you are reading this blog, I can guess that nature play is important to you and your children. Afterall, you either currently attend All Seasons Preschool, or your children have graduated from All Seasons, or you know someone who goes to All Seasons, or you are considering All Seasons for your children. And since nature play is an important part of our day at All Seasons, I can conclude that it must be important to you. 

But what about when you are not at All Seasons? After your children have graduated or on those long summer breaks or even during a weekend, you and your family can engage in nature play. And don’t worry! There’s nature play available right here in the Twin Cities that matches your comfort level, whether it’s hiking-on-paved-paths comfort or drop-me-in-the-woods-with-a-compass comfort. 

I know this because my own children did not attend All Seasons Preschool. I sent them to a very lovely, very peaceful, very play-based preschool in St Paul that we loved dearly, but where they never went outside. When I came to work at All Seasons, I found a huge gap in my children’s comfort with nature. They were 7- or 8-years old and had never really climbed trees or hiked in the snow. We had been playing outside all those years, of course, but it was more prescribed, playground play. We hadn’t spent a lot of time in a nature setting with no agenda other than to explore. 

But once I started working at All Seasons and seeing the amazing things kids learn in nature and how much they grow their confidence and play skills, I began searching out places where we could be with nature right here in the Twin Cities. We live in St Paul, so we don’t have the luxury of acres of woods and pines out our back door, but we have a van and a plan to find where to go. We are also grateful that so many nature areas are right near us in the city! They offer the perfect amount of nature for us “beginners” — paved paths, bathrooms, shelters, and just enough explorations to last an hour or a whole day.

Here are some of our favorite places so far. This is just a beginning list, so let me know if you have more ideas for places for us to explore! Where have you found near by to be with nature? 

Hidden Falls Regional Park
We are very grateful that our favorite nature space is less than a mile from our house! Hidden Falls has actually been a favorite of ours for years and years. It is where my children can throw rocks in the river for hours, climb weird trees with their roots exposed (when the water is low) and “hike” along a paved trail. We watch boats go by and wave to dogs and their owners at the Minnehaha Off Leash Dog Park across the river. This is a definite favorite of my own dad, who loves to come to the park with my children. 

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Crosby Farm Park
Just a bit farther down the Mississippi River from Hidden Falls is Crosby Farm Park. This park has many paved trails for hiking and biking as well as water access. The sand banks are a lovely place to sit and watch water traffic, and fallen trees are great for climbing! A picnic shelter and modern bathrooms make it a great spot to spend a day. You can hike or bike from Hidden Falls to Crosby Farm (and even keep going to get to downtown St Paul!). 

Fort Snelling State Park
I am a bit biased, but aI am grateful that the parks I have mentioned so far are all within a mile of my house. But Fort Snelling State Park shouldn’t be missed! With a swimming beach, visitor center, hiking paths, park rangers, picnic areas, and scheduled programs and equipment to rent, this is a really good “I am new to nature” nature place. My family participated in an “I Can Fish” program here where rangers provided poles, bait, and instruction for fishing. We have also gone on a candlelight hike on New Year’s Eve. I have done training runs on Pike Island, and we swam at Snelling Lake and watched planes land. There is fee to get in to the park (or an annual state park pass), and it was closed all summer because of flooding. But it is open now, thank goodness! 

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Patrick Eagan Park
This park is a dream come true for anyone not comfortable with extreme nature play. It has a zipline, trees to climb, built structures to climb, and a sandbox. There are also woods, hiking trails, and acres to explore so you can really do what you are comfortable with at this site. My kids love to meet up with their best friend and climb up a structure and chat for an hour. 

Nokomis NatureScape Garden, Park, and Lake
Another really good area for families just beginning to venture out in nature is Lake Nokomis. The NatureScape Garden offers walking paths and foliage to explore. Swimming at the lake was a new experience for my kids, who had only ever swam in a pool. (We aren’t fortunate enough to have a family cabin up north). There are also trees to climb, a walking path around the lake, boats to watch, and a restaurant on site! It is the perfect nature escape in the city. 

Minnehaha Falls
We can’t talk about nature exploration in the Twin Cities without talking about Minnehaha Falls. Of course, there’s the falls to look at — from above or below! Have you ever been there in the winter? It is a sight to behold! There are also walking paths along the creek and fun bridges to cross. Picnic areas, gardens, playgrounds, a restaurant, modern bathrooms, and more make this a great place to spend the day. Our favorite thing to do at Minnehaha Falls is to go to a wading area by Bridge 2 and explore. I have found crawdads there, and my children find rocks, “body surf,” and climb trees. 

 

 

The nature centers & regional parks in the area are also a fun way to safely explore nature. We love Tamarack Nature Center, but others include Lebanon Hills Regional Park, Wood Lake Nature Center, Hyland Lake Park Reserve, Lake Elmo Park Reserve, and Como Regional Park, just to name a few. Many state parks are a short drive away, too, and we especially love Nerstrand Big Woods State Park with its short, paved hike to a beautiful waterfall. 

And even with all these wonderful nature spaces nearby – remember that to a child, an empty lot can be a wide open field, a couple of trees can be a forest, and a stream can be a rushing river. Don’t forget to engage in the small nature spaces at your home and in your neighborhood. We live across the street from a city park that is a large grassy area with pine trees and maple trees. My kids love to look for pinecones there, climb the trees, and run through the grass. And the St Kate’s Duck Pond isn’t too far away, and nothing is more fun than feeding the ducks! Large snow piles and ice skating rinks and sledding in your backyard are easy nature play areas, too! Maybe you have a space near your home that is inviting for your child to engage in nature in an easy, stress-free way. After all, the whole point is to love being in nature where you are!

 

 

 

After compiling this list and thinking about how my family plays in nature, I can say my children have more nature experience than I thought they did! It is easy to get in the mindset that the only genuine nature play is camping, roughing it, backpacking, and wide open spaces. But all variations of nature play is available in the Cities, probably closer to you than you thought. 

 

Legos: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

Posted October 15, 2019

by Jenny Kleppe

Ah, Legos. A favorite toy of any building-loving, construction-engrossed, creative, inspired child. They are also a favorite gift given by well-meaning relatives. But as with all things, Legos come with the good, the bad, and the ugly.

We shall start with the ugly. Without fail, when playing with Legos, the floor looks like this:

Now, I am a professional educator, an educated individual, and an experienced mother. I know that the little ones need their time and space to exude their creative whims over their Lego hoard. I know how wonderful loose parts are for developing creative minds. HOWEVER, just looking at the above picture makes me shudder. Makes me cry out at the painful memory of stepping on a rogue Lego in the middle of the night with bare feet. Legos take up a lot of space. Cats bat them under furniture. Dogs eat them (and eliminate them). They are difficult to clean up, and the young construction workers always want to save something for a completely irrational (from the adult’s perspective) amount of time. 

Recommendation: Is there a dining room table in your home that gets used only a few times a year? It can be the Lego table. Or in a play room you could set up a card table or blockade a “Lego area” on the floor, preferably a space away from pets. Laundry baskets turned upside down to cover Lego creations have worked in my small house, where we have no magical separate play room. Not having to pick up the Legos each time saves much time and negotiating.

Next, the bad (really, the not-as-good). Legos come in two forms; the giant box of mixed up parts (more on that below) and the prescribed, instruction-specific set. Building anything does use energy, but the kits where someone follows a step-by-step plan to build something that looks exactly like the picture on the box does not require imagination, decision-making, or planning skills. These are direction-following activities. Also, these finished products usually remain simply that, something to look at or set statically on a shelf. As children age, they are much more likely to want to build the Star Wars ship, the Harry Potter Castle, etc. from Legos.

Recommendation: Instead of the theme sets, procure a large bucket of mixed Lego pieces. Remember the joy from your own childhood of the giant bucket (that was also shaped like a Lego!). It felt like you could make a thousand creations and there would still be Legos to spare. And speaking from experience, obtain as many wheels, steering wheels, and windshields as you can. These are always the most coveted items.

And now, finally, the good! With a healthy dose of patience and the right storage options, Legos can be a wonderful toy that engrosses the young and young-at-heart for hours at a time. They are a timeless toy that does not need explanation or adult involvement.  Many children have an innate desire to build, create, and make things from their own imagination. When there is no prescribed pattern to follow, children will make what they see in their mind’s eye, and then use these creations as part of their play. The best part is you can use them over and over again for a million different combinations and inventions. 

Recommendation: Play Legos with your child! I promise they will have fun, and you might even have a little fun too!