Category Archives: Preschool

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.

It’s Okay Not To Help

Posted October 2, 2017

By Jenny Kleppe

“Teacher, can you help me get up there?” says a little girl, pointing up a tree she just watched another climb.

“I bet you can climb up there all by yourself,” replies the teacher.

“But I can’t!” wails the little one, “You have to help me. It’s too hard!”

And so it goes, every year at the beginning of a new school year, we teachers watch children struggle when their requests for help are denied. Help to climb a tree, help to balance across a log, help to cross a puddle, help to stand on a rock, or help to get down…Teachers patiently decline and instead encourage children to try it out for themselves. Over and over, we say no to helping our students with physical tasks, even when other children can easily accomplish the task, even when they are disappointed, and even when they cannot do it without help.

It is a basic instinct to help young children, and it can be truly challenging for adults to watch children fail to do something on their own. We want to rescue them, help them complete a task, assist them in doing something that other children can do. We want children to feel included, to feel proud, and to feel accomplished. But if we help that little girl climb that tree, are we really helping in the end?

If children never experience challenges that they must overcome themselves, how will they ever learn to do deal with daily life experiences that are hard for them? How will they learn to evaluate or take a risk? At All Seasons Preschool, we encourage children to take part in healthy risk-taking and learn to challenge themselves. We are dedicated to our students’ safety; however, we do all that we can to increase a child’s reliance on themselves and decrease their reliance on teacher involvement.

There are so many benefits to healthy risk-taking in young children. They learn to practice self-reflection — “Can I do this yet?” “Is it safe?” “Should I jump down from this boulder?” Once they decide to make that leap, they can evaluate if their choice was a good one, often in the form of “Wow, that was fun!” Children who practice taking risks develop strong large muscles and greater strength and coordination. They also learn the adage of Try, Try, Again! (also known as persistence and patience).

This is not to say that we walk away when an eager child asks for our assistance. Instead, we redirect our students to find something that they can do on their own. We guide them to watch their peers, to ask others how they climbed that tree, and to watch where the climbers put their feet.

As the school year goes on, we return to the same outdoor play areas over and over. Since they have so many chances to practice safe risk taking, we get to hear our students’ joyous exclamations of “Did you see me!?” “Now I can do it!” and every preschooler’s favorite, “I did it all by myself!Tiana

So Long, It’s Been Good to Know Ya (taken from the Woody Guthrie song we sing at the end of each grandma/grandpa visit in memory care)

Posted September 21, 2017

 

by Amanda Janquart

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Saying good-bye is not a personal strength and not something one “gets used to.” But I can say that I wish I had what my preschoolers at All Seasons Preschool have; the chance to be with those in their final chapters of life, the opportunity to simply share experiences with older generations, and the gift to fiercely bond with a classroom grandma or grandpa. For the Spring Room students, our gift was Grandma Bette. We couldn’t have asked for a better grandma to be our reader. She showed us all her patience, gratitude, generosity and humility. Having had a stroke in her spine, she had very limited use of her arms and legs. Without needing any explanation, the preschoolers in the very first Spring Class knew just what to do. They hugged her fiercely, understanding only their arms embraced. They brought their treasures to the tray attached to her wheelchair, turning them around as they shared details. Without hesitation, they fed her treats we had made. Children fed her. This act of deliverance and acceptance stopped me in my tracks every time. Because I would’ve hesitated. The children saw Grandma Bette through unclouded eyes and simply acted in kindness, without pity. Thank you, Grandma Bette. Thank you for teaching this teacher and for loving all of us Springies. We loved you.

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The following message was sent to Spring Room families in late July.

It is with the utmost heartache I am sharing the news of Grandma Bette’s passing.
Her connection to the Spring Room will long be remembered in the hearts of all the lives she touched. She came on board as our weekly “Reader” but soon became a part of the daily workings within the class. Yes, she read to and with us on Wednesdays, along with her friend Grandma Jeri. But she was also someone the children made art for, saved portions of their favorite foods for, and shared songs with. The Springies often wanted their block buildings and completed puzzles left out in anticipation of her visit. When the ribbons in the giant wreath were changed with the seasons, the class watched for Bette’s delighted reactions. She let the children push her wheelchair, not minding the multiple crashes into doorways – or the speed. Even though she couldn’t go shopping, Bette found ways to share holiday gifts with the children. She told the kids to make themselves at home in her apartment and they didn’t hesitate. Her couch was soft, with piles of blankets and a stuffed cat (which Jeri naturally knew to take charge of to avoid squabbles). Rides up and down in her remote controlled lazyboy were the most fun ever! Her humble spirit is irreplaceable.

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With the preschoolers gone for summer break, they weren’t able to make final visits. Part of me believes this was Bette’s choice. To not make a fuss….to perhaps give another grandma a chance to be our reader. Hearing about her death, the children’s questions were touching – wondering where her friend Jeri was, asking if she was old, contemplating if her room was now empty, commenting on how much they will miss her. Showing the striking value of intergenerational communities through honest experiences and reflections. What a gift.

Tiny Camp

Posted August 8, 2017

by Sarah Sivright

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This year’s Bird Art Camp was unusual due to our condensed time frame and smaller group. Because of time limitations, the “deliverables,” as they say in the business world, were more modest.  The children did an initial drawing of their birds, then a final, life-size study, and wrote a play about their birds. This summer’s focus was raptors, and we all learned just what a raptor was, along with the specific features of each others’ birds—their physical features and call, diet, habitat, range and migration patterns.

The children were All Seasons alums, either graduates this spring or a year ago.  And, as rich as the week was, I was struck by one major theme—what constitutes a school-ready child and how does one nurture such a child?  I’m certainly not a neutral observer, but for a week I watched these children show the qualities we all want to see in successful students and healthy human beings, generally.  Parents are the main players in this process, of course, but I do think All Seasons has shared a part in the great pleasure I had in being with these children.

Although I was the sole teacher with four students, there were actually five teachers in the classroom that week.  Every child asked thoughtful questions, offered information and ideas, and supported each other—all the things a good teacher does.  The children even showed evidence of “metacognition,” the ability to be aware of one’s own thinking process.  Comments like, “We’re figuring it out!” “Isaac and I have the same idea!” “We solved the problem!” were heard all week.

Resilience and focus were big.  Small disappointments were inevitable with our time constraints and their endless ideas and plans.  “We don’t have time,” they heard from me many times, when they wanted to play longer, devise complicated props for our play, even add more characters to the play the morning of!  We made play dough the first day, voting to make it blue, only to find just green food coloring in the cupboard.  Despite groans, a discussion quickly began about how to “make” blue, why we couldn’t, why we could make orange, purple and green, and why some colors are called “primary” and some “secondary.”  Quick recovery, and curiosity kicked in.  We even laughed at how having one choice wasn’t really a choice at all!

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Field trip to observe Dodge’s raptors

One morning, while we looked through reference books on raptors and worked on our drawings, a full hour had passed, when one of the children put down her marker and said, “I need to stretch.”  Then, one after another, “We need a break,” and “It’s time to play.” I was as surprised as they were to find how much time had passed, and how intently focused they all had been on their work.

Group discussions were frequent and we tried to make group decisions as often as possible, listening, taking turns, building on each other’s ideas.  Creativity thrived in this environment, even if the day of the show, imaginative props were still being devised and the dreaded “We don’t have time” had to call a halt.

Senior time was limited, but even then, serendipitous meetings upstairs as we all trooped up to check the mail, put up signs for our play, were wonderful to witness.  Beloved grandmas and grandpas were spotted and hugged, even if they happened to walk by the classroom windows, and we all had to run out to greet them.

Watching these children show the very qualities they need in school and life gave me joy, and it was clear from their behavior and parents’ reports, that they were having as much fun as I was.  I do think we encourage these very behaviors at our school, as you parents do at home.  But the crucial piece here for young children, and one that they don’t let us forget, is the importance of play. They develop all these critical qualities—curiosity, resilience, kindness, love of stories, ability to focus, self-regulation, creativity, ability to collaborate—through play.  Hopefully, they got enough play at All Seasons, and will keep a place for it in their lives for good.

A Long Goodbye

Posted June 7, 2017

by Jenny Kleppe

 

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Ah Spring…the flowers are finally blooming, gardens we’ve worked so hard to plant are finally growing, and summer is on its way. The school year is wrapping up and special events abound for every family and everyone is BUSY! Busy making summer plans, organizing schedules for end of the year celebrations, and teachers are already planning for next fall.
In the midst of this busy time of year I was recently reminded of how lucky we are at All Seasons. Our community only seems to grow. It is made up of our current students and families as well as our alumni students and families. Parents and family members of past students are a vital part of our All Seasons family, even if we only interact occasionally. These are the people who advertise our school; they are our eyes and ears out in the neighborhoods and around the South Metro touting our program and recruiting new students. Word of mouth is our great ally and the reason for our nearly full fall enrollment. Families return, some year after year, for our Fall Campout, Inver Glen’s holiday party, and our Spring Earth Day, to visit teachers and beloved seniors. Many alumni come back just to spend time in the classroom, play outside, or to volunteer with tasks around the school.
A few weeks ago, some of our cherished alumni students returned for our annual Kindergarten Panel, where children currently in kindergarten answer questions about what kindergarten is like. Their audience? Children who will be attending kindergarten in the fall. The preschoolers listened attentively as the “big kids” described the differences and similarities between All Seasons and the BIG K:
“You don’t have lunch in the same room like here [All Seasons]. You go to the cafeteria.”
“You only have one teacher in your room. But you get to go to music, art, gym, and other specialists.”
“They don’t have a woods or a pines. But the playground is really cool and there are slides.”
Preschoolers had some of their own questions:
“Do you have rest?” “Do you have friends?” “What kinds of things do you learn in kindergarten?” “Is your teacher nice?”
While the question and answer session is the point of the panel, the true magic lies in watching our confident alums describe their new schools and seeing old friends connect. Parents who went through their preschool experience together get a chance to chat about how elementary school is going. When an alumni student walks into the room and is instantly greeted with hugs, smiles, and “I missed you’s!” teachers know that we have a true community.
There are now children I taught at All Seasons Preschool who will be in the 4th grade this fall. Some students who attended All Seasons are going into 7th grade, and are still coming back to visit. We never truly say goodbye…only “See you later!,” for which this teacher is extremely grateful. Thank you to everyone in our community for a wonderful school year! Come back to visit!

Spring Fever

Posted May 25, 2017

by Sarah Kern

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Merriam Webster defines Spring Fever as “a lazy or restless feeling often associated with the onset of spring.” It’s in the dictionary, but is it real? Based on my online research, any evidence of Spring Fever is purely anecdotal, yet it’s been written about by poets and great minds for centuries.

Mark Twain said, “It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want—oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!”

To add to the wealth of anecdotal evidence, Spring Fever at All Seasons Preschool is very, very real, and it happens every year. In the last few weeks, parents have told me about their children’s recent sleep disturbances – “He was up at 4 am;” “She could not settle down and go to sleep;” “He refuses to nap!” Others report changes in appetites or attitudes. Spring Fever at All Seasons is multi-faceted; our soon-to-be graduates are, frankly, wired. Many struggle to sit still, no longer effortlessly engage in productive play, and dissolve into fits of silliness with friends. Is it the looming change of kindergarten that affects them? The changing weather? The need for a new challenge? We think it’s all of the above, and every spring, we discuss how to keep this group engaged for the last few weeks of school. Some seem to need outdoor time in spades; they are insatiably energized. Others prefer the challenge of a board game or a long-term project, like writing a multi-chapter story, or visiting a new grandma or grandpa upstairs.

We teachers, too, have our own version of Spring Fever. We’re scrambling to organize our year of notes and write year-end reports, our calendars are packed with special events, and we are all too aware of the ticking clock. Surely our Spring Fever affects our students, too. It really is as Mark Twain said, we don’t quite know what it is we want, but it makes our hearts ache, we want it so!

Yet this time of year is also rife with wonder. Our grounds are completely transformed, we can go without jackets, and we revel in the children’s confidence and comfort levels. They can push limits outdoors in ways they couldn’t in the fall, and their friendships are true. They problem-solve often without teacher intervention. The connections we’ve made run deep.

For some of our graduates, it seems their work at All Seasons is done; that is something we as teachers and parents can feel good about. We do our best to embrace these dwindling and precious days. They will go too quickly, as spring days always do.

True Grit

Posted May 11, 2017

By Sarah Sivright

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Last month, All Seasons held one of our Parent Forums. The topic was parenting—what factors affect the way we raise our children. Some relevant influences were outlined; how we ourselves were parented, the prevailing philosophies or trends, the effects of stress, the gender and temperament of our children, etc. The session was informative and lively. But the best part of the morning was the remarkable group of women present. They would probably be surprised to be called remarkable.
When we finished discussing the many factors that influenced our parenting, the conversation turned to more personal issues with children, family, schools, culture—the factors that support parenting and those that make it more difficult.
Listening to these women express their hopes and concerns, their triumphs and defeats, wisdom and eagerness to know more, made me see the courage and vulnerability mothers show to each other when they feel safe. It’s both a tribute to the women present and to the community we’ve all built, that this kind of frank and compassionate conversation could happen.
I heard a lecture recently by a child psychiatrist who was talking about the latest brain research related to early childhood development. He mentioned the current buzzword “grit,” and emphasized how important it is to encourage children to celebrate mistakes, try again, and learn from each attempt. I thought of these All Seasons mothers—and fathers—and how, in our less-than-family-friendly culture, we often judge rather than support parents. We should be encouraging grit in adults, too. We make plenty of mistakes raising children, and it is not often that we hear, “Well, that didn’t work, but you gave it a great effort, and let’s see what else you can try?” In parenting, we have maybe the most difficult challenge we will ever take on, and where are our cheerleaders? Right here! For that morning, those mothers were willing to be open and supportive, laugh with each other, share their hard-won wisdom, and cheer each other on.20170509_080905