Category Archives: Preschool

“You’re Never Too Old to be Young” – Happy from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Posted September 17, 2019

by Amy Lemieux

Some messages are worth repeating, and the inherent value of intergenerational programming is one of them! Parents who choose an intergenerational setting for their child understand at some deep level the great potential of pairing the youngest and oldest among us.
Our teachers understand this potential, as well. One of the commonalities between the young and old that makes their pairing magical is their ability to be totally candid without being offensive. There are not many seniors or young children whose thoughts do not pop right out of their mouths, and we delight in these interactions! No one means to be offensive and it is rare that offense is taken.
Our students will ask: “Why don’t you have hair?”  “Are you sad your husband died?”
A senior will say: “Sit down before you tip over in that chair.” “Take your finger out of your nose.”
These matter-of-fact interactions, the small unstructured moments that take place within our structure, are what make our days richer. The aides in Willow Cove (memory care) have shared that the seniors enjoy their daily visit from the preschoolers even more than visits from their own family members! This surprised us and we wondered why. The explanation was simple; the children come with no agenda, no expectations, and do not pass judgement. Unlike family members, our students are not visiting the seniors to monitor their food intake, assess their activity level, or ask about their blood pressure. With young children, the mission is simple; to be together. With the children, the seniors can be social and enjoy the success of a simple activity without feeling like they’re under a microscope.


With some reflection, we realized that the very same thing could be said about our preschoolers. Pairing the youngest and the oldest in our society strips away the need to “perform” or meet any expectations our society inadvertently (and almost always) imposes on these two populations.
Quotes from a conversation in one of our classrooms illustrates this straightforward honesty that is possible when we strip away our expectations.

A teacher asked, “How can you tell that someone upstairs is a grandma or grandpa?”
-They are bald and have plain hair. We think plain is not a color.
-They’re wearing different clothes. Like a flower shirt or pink clothes.
-Grandmas always have short hair.
-When people walk, their legs hurt. I can see the grandmas when their legs hurt.
-Some grandmas wear glasses. They wear grandma glasses.
-They can sometimes hurt their hips and backs.
-They have owies.
-Sometimes they’re fat. Or just chubby.
-Their skin is soft and loose. Floppy, kind of.
-They have fancy chairs that can move and even go backwards!
Believe it or not, statements like these are one of the very reasons the seniors appreciate the presence of young children. Add to that physical touch, affection, and tenderness (a lack of touch is a very real problem for our elders), it is easy to understand the natural bond that can be formed.
The children add energy, spontaneity, and unpredictability in the midst of routine. While the routine is an essential quality for the young and old, the spontaneity is what’s enchanting. Even with seniors who are not always aware of the time, they have a sense of when the children come and the familiar routine is comforting. Said one grandma, “The kids come right before lunch, but who knows what they will do or say.”

 

 

 

 

Happy New Year!

Posted September 4, 2019

by Joanne Esser

 

September always feels to me as if it should be the time when we officially celebrate the New Year, rather than according to the calendar, in January.

For people who work with children, for parents and certainly for the children themselves, the start of a new school year is a time of excitement and promise, a time for celebration. Seeing beloved teachers and favorite friends, returning to special spots in the woods, discovering new people and places and materials can be so much fun!

But for many people, both adults and children, the start of a new school year can also trigger some fear or worry. Transitions – moving from the unstructured days of summer to the routine of preschool, from the familiarity of home to an unfamiliar classroom, from spending most of their time with family to being with strangers – can be both frightening and wonderfully stimulating at the same time. This is normal for all of us.

Educators are keenly aware of this complicated dynamic. Big emotions of all kinds come up when school begins. That’s why we spend so much time preparing the classroom environments ahead of time to make them feel welcoming. It’s why we move slowly at first, helping children adjust at their own pace to the new experiences they are having. It’s why we focus on very basic things like learning each other’s names, touring the various parts of the building and discovering the outdoor spaces, exploring materials in the classroom one by one to figure out how they can be used. It’s why we develop predictable routines and agreements (rules) and repeatedly share songs that help everyone know what to expect. It’s why teachers pay such close attention to the messages that the children give us, both in words and nonverbally, about how they are feeling. We stay close by to support them as they work through their own versions of getting to know this new place.

For me, as the new director of All Seasons Preschool, this is also a big transition point in my life. I am the “outsider,” coming to join a solid and connected community of educators. Though I have been a teacher and a school administrator for well over thirty years, this particular place and these specific people are new to me. I spent the past thirteen-plus years teaching Pre-K classes of four- and five-year-olds at Blake School in Hopkins; I know exactly how to do that job well. Now I am leaving my familiar role as a full-time classroom teacher and taking on a new teacher/leader position.

Like the children entering their new preschool or classroom, I naturally wonder, “Will they like me?” “Will I fit in?” “Will I figure out what this place is all about without feeling too lost?” It takes courage for any of us to try something unfamiliar. It takes time to adjust.

Transitions are not often adequately acknowledged in our fast-paced world at large, but they are significant moments in our lives. During the first weeks of school at All Seasons Preschool, our most important job is to help everyone develop a sense of belonging – for children, for families, for teachers and staff. When we feel we belong, our transitions happen more smoothly and we relax into the joy of being part of something really amazing. I am looking forward to that joy!

My Tribute to You

Posted June 3, 2019

by Kylen Glassmann

As the school year comes to a close, and life is at at its busiest, I would like to pause to express my gratitude. Sometimes I find it difficult to live in the moment, especially when life is busy and stressful. It is easy to focus on the small things and feel too busy to take time to be present and thankful. I have much to be grateful for and have been reminded of that a lot this spring. I am exceptionally thankful for becoming a part of the All Seasons and Inver Glen community. The last two years have been inspiring, challenging, exciting, and insightful. I have learned so much from all aspects of our community, so here is my message of gratitude to you all.

 

To the seniors and staff of Inver Glen – thank you for making our preschool a part of your home and for seeing the value and beauty in intergenerational programming. Through this experience, I have been humbled in my opinions about life and death, and have become incredibly fond of being a part of this community. The children and their families are lucky to have you in their lives!

To our families – thank you for going on this journey with us and supporting the work that we do as early childhood educators. It would be impossible to make a significant impact on the lives of your children without your support and trust. You go above and beyond for your children and we see this everyday!

To my students – thank you for just being you. You have taught me so much and I love preschool life with you! Thank you for helping me feel young and free and for helping me slow down and see joy in the small things!

  

To my dear, dear colleagues – thank you for welcoming me into the All Seasons family and for providing me with immense support, trust, and plenty of laughter. It did not take long for me to feel at home, and this has become so much more than a job. I respect all of you as educators, but also as mothers and unique individuals. I never imagined wanting to stay late at a staff meeting, but then I met you – I love you all!

We missed you Amy and Rita!

Over the last two years, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on what I want out of my future, what kind of person and educator I would like to be, and how I want to spend the later years of my life – thank you for helping to shape my life in such a positive way – you have set a high bar! In graduate school, I often thought about where I would like to work someday and I did not think it was possible to find such a special, unique place. Little did I know that All Seasons was just around the corner! I am honored to be a part of this wonderful community and am eternally grateful. The next years will bring their own joys and challenges, but it’s important to sometimes stop and appreciate all that’s good and wonderful around us right now. To all of the children and families that will be off to new adventures next year – you will be greatly missed, but we look forward to hearing from you in the future! Have a wonderful summer!

Nurturing a Creative Spirit

Posted May 15, 2019

by Sarah Sivright

Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up. – Pablo Picasso

By now you all have seen the big news of our new school.  Our staff changes are exciting, too. I have known Joanne Esser, our incoming director, for many years, as a colleague and a friend, and I’m happy for us and for her in this new position.  Though I will continue on at All Seasons, I will be ending my role as studio director after summer camp.  That change will be hard for me.

Art has been a part of my life since I can remember.  I always loved to draw and create hand-made cards, and still do.  I took lessons after school at the “Art Institute” (MIA) as we called it back then.  I graduated with a BFA from Carleton College and did free-lance art work in the years I stayed home with young children.

Then, a bit of a drought followed.  When children were grown, I went back to graduate school, debating between choosing a program in fine art or early childhood. I knew if I chose an art degree, I would likely teach a large group of children once a week, but if I chose early childhood, I could incorporate plenty of art in my classroom, five days a week.  There was some truth in that view, but art can take a back seat even in the best of programs, because there is just so much else going on in any given day!

Creativity takes courage.  – Henri Matisse

Fast forward to 2008, when Amy invited me to help bring her amazing vision to life and start All Seasons.  Imagine my astonishment when we looked at the early blueprints and she said, “Well, this space can be the art studio.”

And so it began—years of teaching small groups of preschoolers, toddlers and seniors, meeting them all where they are, and watching them learn and grow.  And now I even work on my own art during the bi-monthly senior art classes.

Though I love the time spent with the seniors, it’s disheartening to continually hear, “I can’t draw,” “I could never do art.”  (And these are the people who come to the studio!) Sometimes I copy their work into note cards, and when they are brave enough to actually send one to someone, they receive comments of praise and gratitude. This feedback is always a surprise, and it saddens me to see creative impulses—which we all have—discouraged forever because of experiences in the early years.

Your children may not be hearing negative comments from others, but sometimes they carry them in their own heads.  The saving grace at this age is that when a child says, “I can’t do this,” and they hear, “Sure you can,” they’re likely to believe it.  And they find they can, not necessarily because they are artistically gifted, but because they tried–maybe many times–and were encouraged along the way.

I encourage you parents to keep your own creative spirits alive, and respect and support your children’s—wherever it takes you.

If you hear a voice within you say, ‘You cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced. – Vincent Van Gogh

Another Year; Redundancy or Growth and Discovery?

Posted May 2, 2019

by, Amy Lemieux

Parents sometimes wonder if more than one year of preschool is beneficial or redundant. While every program and curriculum is different, it is not possible for a young child to “repeat” a year because that child is not the same from year to year, nor is the curriculum. The oldest children in a classroom become the models and inspiration for their younger peers. One of our heroes of child development, Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934) was a pioneer in child development because of his emphasis on the fundamental importance of social interaction and the community in a child’s cognitive development.  He believed that a child’s mental growth was largely a product of what he called “scaffolding,” or learning from a slightly more advanced peer.

 

In our case, the very nature of our school necessitates change and novelty; a focus on nature means significant changes from season to season and year to year, multi-age grouping means the leadership and play styles change from year to year, and the children’s interests change from year to year.    At All Seasons, the larger environment of the materials and opportunities for discovery remain relatively constant. But consider the child’s experience within that basic framework and how it varies significantly from one year to the next:

Children who avoided the art area are now eager to paint, draw and construct.

The child who insisted on repeatedly drawing the same black, swirly lines develops the fine motor control and cognitive development to follow complex directions for specific studio assignments.

Children who used the blocks for lining up or filling a purse now create complex block structures.

The child who was content to observe or take a minor role in the play scenario now leads the play, creating complicated dramas and finding roles for all who want to join.

Children who struggled to keep up on hikes are now motivated to hike to favorite spots, making discoveries and theorizing about changes in the season.

The child who regularly needed comfort is now offering that support to others.

Children who struggled to sit still and attend to a short story are now the ones contributing to the group discussion with insightful comments and an expanded vocabulary.

The child who only used pretend writing is now printing both first and last names correctly.

Children whose journal stories were basically lists:  “There was a mommy, then there was a baby, then there was a kitty…” now tell complex narratives with a beginning, middle, and end, and plenty of verbs.

The child who avoided shaking hands or making eye contact with the seniors now knows the names of the grandmas and grandpas.

Children who dissolved into tears over a small frustration now have the self-regulation and problem-solving skills to navigate and articulate strong emotions.

Spring Into Now

Posted April 18, 2019

by, Kylen Glassman

It’s that time of year again – winter has come and gone and another Minnesota spring is upon us. This inevitably means that spring fever is setting in and thoughts of the future are clouding my brain! The itch to think ahead and immediately jump into the next thing is ever present. I almost find myself wishing away time – I’m anxious and excited for summer sunshine and new projects. It also means the end of the school year, which is jam-packed with activities, conferences, and limited time to spend with our students, many of whom will be off to new adventures next year.

 

To say the least, I am finding it tricky to stay in the moment, and I’m not the only one. The children are feeling the spring itch, and it translates into the classroom. Things that used to be engaging for most kids, making popcorn or playdough for example, don’t have the same appeal they once did. Some children are also nearing the end of their second or third year of preschool, and as much as I may not want to admit it, they’re ready for a change! Dare I even say it – they’re bored! This has got me thinking, what does it mean to be bored, and is boredom a bad thing?  

 

To piggy-back off of Jenny’s most recent blog, we live in a an age where screens and immediate gratification dominate our lives. We’ve become so accustomed to having everything at our fingertips. I am as guilty of this as the next person; we don’t know how to handle moments of boredom. If our brain isn’t experiencing continuous stimulation, we feel uncomfortable. But, feeling bored has led to my most creative moments! The same can be said for children, and nature-based play is the perfect example of this. When children are put into a less-structured environment with open-ended materials, they have the opportunity to use their creativity and imagination. Imagination is vital to play, and play is “the work of childhood,” as beautifully stated by Fred Rogers.  

 

While we strive to keep children engaged, interested, and learning, it is also just as important, to help them problem solve and make discoveries on their own. We should not be afraid of our kids feeling bored at times – this is good for developing brains. We all need to struggle, make mistakes, and grapple with feelings of discomfort in order to be comfortable trying new things, taking risks, and getting creative!

 

As our school year comes to a close and you’re feeling overwhelmed with end of the year to-do list, summer plans, and whatever else might by clouding your brain, remember to slow down and value the present. During a time of transition, struggling with the uncertainty of what comes next is normal. We don’t need to rescue children every moment. Challenge your child to look for new ways to play and tackle problems. All the while, know that we are there with you, continuing to scaffold popcorn-making into a deeper lesson about counting to help your child get ready for the next thing. Big changes are around the corner; we will get there and it will be glorious! For now, let’s enjoy our time together and embrace the process!

No, I Really Don’t Own a Tablet

Posted April 2, 2019

By Jenny Kleppe

It all happened one day at my daughter’s gymnastics class,  another event where my then three-year-old son was taken along for an activity that did not involve him. As usual, I brought along his backpack full of books, toy cars, and a Magna Doodle. I noticed early in the class another dad watching us, as I alternately read a novel and watched my daughter’s not-quite coordinated attempts at somersaults and cartwheels. My son was engrossed in his take-along bag.

Eventually it must have become too much for the father, as he moved to sit next to me and asked, “How do you manage that? My youngest would be begging for the iPad or my phone way before now!” I responded, “Well, it probably helps that we don’t own a tablet.” Immediately, two other moms sitting near us whipped around to join the conversation. “What?” asked one. “We have two!” exclaimed the other. “One for each kid. It’s the only way I get any peace. Then you must give them your phone!?”

I am not sure that anyone believed me when I reassured them that, no, I really don’t own a tablet and only under the direst circumstance do my children get to touch my phone. I do not have any apps for children on my phone. I do not have Netflix on my phone.

A caveat to this blog: I am not the “all-screens-are-evil” hippie that these parents may have assumed me to be. My children watch cartoons on weekend mornings, when they are sick, or when they just need a short break but don’t nap anymore. Almost all are shows that can be found on PBS. We frequently take five hour road trips where my children must agree on a movie to watch  during the second half of the drive. We love a great family movie night complete with pizza or popcorn. However, my husband and I expect our children to entertain themselves, observe their surroundings, or engage in conversation with us while waiting for something. This is something we have expected from day one. This is something we try and model to them whenever possible. That, I believe, is the real kicker.

 

 

In a restaurant, we play “I Spy” games, or “I’m thinking of an animal,” or make up stories as a family. At the grocery store, the kids are responsible for holding the list, helping remember what is on it, and deciding which kinds of fruit to buy. We bring books to the doctor’s office or children’s lessons and let our children see us reading instead of letting them see us playing on our phones. As our young children become more literate, easy word searches have become my new favorite portable activity to keep them quiet and settled when necessary.

Screen time is not my favorite conversation these days. It seems that we all recognize the negative effects it can have on young developing minds, yet it is often treated as a necessary evil to “get through” something or to have peace and quiet. We are stressed adults, and do deserve a break and a bit of quiet. But we might have to wait to go on our screens until after bedtime. Then, by all means, break out whatever device strikes your fancy. And of course, there are many children with special needs and challenging behaviors who use devices on a daily basis for communication, for token reward systems, and for educational purposes. I don’t believe there is a one-size-fits-all model.

What I’m encouraging is mom and dad to put down their phones. Put away the tablet. You do not habitually need that crutch. Strike up a conversation. Sing if you have to! (Or in my case, because, why not?) Pick up a book or a coloring book. Let them see you doing the things you want them to be doing. I promise you will be rewarded for your efforts.

 

 

Feels Like Home

Posted March 19, 2019

by, Sarah Sivright

My son Ben was visiting earlier this month and he wanted to see All Seasons before heading home to L.A.  We were squeezing in a stop between the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the airport, so he just had a quick look. Ben had a chance to meet some of the late day children and their parents and see the classrooms.  He’s an artist, so of course he loved the studio and all the documentation

 

 panels. As we were leaving, he commented, “It’s so warm and inviting… it feels like a home.”

I loved hearing that, since creating a home-like space was very intentional as Amy and I planned the school ten years ago.  

A child’s first school experience should be as easy a transition between home and the big world as possible.  Our environments and our teachers contribute to that in many ways. The small size of our school is an asset, with each child known by every adult, just as in an extended family.

The teachers need a home away from home, too, with healthy relationships. I’ve always felt that a good teaching team resembles a good marriage; communication is easy–verbal and non-verbal–trust and forgiveness are there, as are good problem solving skills and creativity.

When things go well, teachers experience the fun and pleasure of preschooler’s company.  When we face struggles, we support each other, talk honestly about the challenges, and learn from each other–and the children.

I have experienced this “family” in other school settings, but never in the way I have here.  Part of what makes All Seasons unique is the presence of the seniors. The sadness of losing special grandmothers or grandfathers never completely goes away, but it’s always tied to the gratitude of having known these dear people.

I am a grandmother (Thomas, 9 and Owen, 12).  The preschoolers think it is very silly when I sit in the drum section with the other grandmothers for rhythm band in the Community Room, clearly trying to wrap their heads around my dual role of teacher/grandmother.  I have learned some important things from the children and the seniors about being a grandparent. Since my grandsons live far away in Utah, I don’t see them often. When we are together, I have felt pressure to be the very best “Grammy” I can be with the limited time we have.  But I have finally started to internalize the magic of what Inver Glen seniors bring to our children—their attention, their time, hugs, laughter, love. I know I get those very blessings from my grandsons, and I have to trust that is enough of a gift from me to them.

 

Speaking of Adoption

Posted March 5, 2019

by Amy Lemieux

This matter has been bubbling inside me for years. It is likely I haven’t written about adoption because I am hesitant to discourage people from expressing curiosity about my family. While it is private, adoption is not a secret or something to be ashamed of – there is a difference between private and secret. I’m proud of my family and how we created it. But there are ways to discuss adoption and words to use (and avoid) that allow opportunities for conversations that are sensitive to my children and me. Courteous discussion depends on knowledge and sensitivity. I write this, confident that “When we know better, we do better.” It is fair to say that most people are unfamiliar with the vocabulary that demonstrates sensitivity to my family. Because the people I know would never intentionally say anything they thought might be hurtful, it has been rare for me to be offended by people’s questions and comments. However, there are phrases that are outdated and insensitive, best intentions aside.
My family is unique because we have two children who are adopted from Colombia and two children who are biological. Additionally, our family grew in an unconventional order; birth, adoption, birth, adoption. Surprisingly, my daughter by birth is the one who was typically assumed to be adopted since she “didn’t match” physically with her blond hair and fair skin. I remember being surprised that people would ask me if she was “really” mine. “Is that your REAL daughter?” “Yes. All four are really mine.” When people say “real,” the word they’re looking for is “biological.” Treating adoption as a consolation prize is common and very upsetting. “Oh, were you not able to have your own?” Again, they are my own. They are not biological, but they are very much mine. And while unintended, questions like these imply that adoption is a second or third choice. Families are created in many ways.  Adoption is one of those ways.


Don’t ever tell a child or communicate that they are “lucky” or “blessed” to have a family. I am not their savior and while gratitude for many things is desirable, no child should ever receive the message that they should feel grateful to have a family or that they were “saved” by their own parents. Gratitude for a family is something that would never be expected of a biological child – that their parents did them a favor by allowing them to be part of a family?  Had it not  been me, there would have been dozens of others wanting to become parents to my girls.
Any language objectifying a person is offensive, even if that is not the intention. An common example is, “Where did you get her?” As with anyone who might not be from here, you would ask, “Where is she from?” “She looks like a china doll,” is one I have heard multiple times from parents who have adopted children from Asia.  While meant to be a compliment indicating physical attractiveness, it is not.  “She’s beautiful” would be more appropriate.
Casually tossed out questions or comments in front of my children can be hurtful. “I could never give up a child,” is insensitive. No, you couldn’t because you have never been in a situation where you had to make that decision. “Do you have any information about their real family?” (Again, don’t say “real.”) I do have information, but that is my child’s information, not mine to share. “Why were they given up?” If you think about this for a moment, any possible answer to this question is incredibly private and not information I have the right to share. What potential scenario would constitute carrying a child for nine months and then placing it for adoption?  Every possible answer would be confidential.
Discretion aside, please ask me about my family. I am a proud mom and will happily tell you about all four of them!

Let Them Struggle

Posted February 21, 2019

by Sarah Kern

Many parents ask me how we handle getting ten toddlers outside in the winter. It’s true that it isn’t easy. Many days it takes longer to get them dressed than we spend outside. We call in help from Amy, Tracy, or Sarah when we can. But like any skill a child must learn, dressing oneself for outside is a skill that slowly builds. Perhaps one day a child can take off their own shoes or put on their own boots. Perhaps they figure out how to get their hat on correctly, or take their snowsuit off the hook in their cubby. The ability to dress oneself for outside it not a simple box to check, but rather made up of many smaller tasks that build upon one another.

A visual aid is posted on the classroom wall for the children to refer to as they dress. This helps with sequencing — snow pants must go on first, mittens must go on last. We also do a lot of coaching, step by step. Sit down… put your feet through your snow pants… stand up… put your arms through the straps…zip up the zipper… is often what it takes. “Put on your snow pants” is too vague and doesn’t help with the HOW of it all.

 

Another key piece is time. We never rush out the door in our class. Those who get ready quickly go outside to play sooner, but those who take longer are allowed the time. Rushing the process doesn’t help the children learn any faster, and while we love to play outside, there is equal value in giving children time when they are so often rushed.

Perhaps the mantra that comes to me most often as we are working through this process is let them struggle. It’s okay for it to be hard and frustrating. It’s okay to have to try over and over again. It’s okay if today you can’t; maybe next time you can. When we swoop in and rescue kids from these moments of safe struggle, we deny them the opportunity to learn not just how to put on their snow pants, but how to cope with frustration and develop persistence. We want to send the message to the children that we believe they can do this, if we only give them the time.

It’s about much more than snow pants.