Category Archives: life skills

Nurturing a Sense of Place

Posted November 23, 2016

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by Amanda Janquart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Community

Posted October 27, 2016

 

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By Sarah Kern

You may have heard it when you first visited All Seasons or read it in a daily list or newsletter. If there is one word that could possibly sum up our preschool, it’s community. Every day we work to build communities, large and small, all of which are connected to one another by shared people and shared experiences.

The smallest communities are our classrooms, united early by shared space and experience, and later by friendship and love. We extend these communities by adding the families, who share fellowship in brief moments at pick up and drop off, and deeper experiences at conferences, family parties, and playdates. Slowly but surely, we invite one another into our lives.

Similarly, the senior community exists first as its own entity, then expands to include the seniors’ families. Then, like magic, our upstairs and downstairs communities connect, and our circles grow ever wider. Beyond a shared space, it’s shared people that bring us together.

Consider Sue, Inver Glen’s Activities Director; early in the year, she is one of the most direct links between the preschoolers and the seniors. She is a familiar face in our school and upstairs, and her voice and songs connect both groups as they sing together in memory care and the community room.

Steve, Inver Glen’s maintenance man, is another link. He’s our community’s real-life superhero who rescues the seniors when a light is burnt out and the preschoolers when there is a pipe leak.

While much of our community is created without effort, there are elements of community we work diligently and intentionally to build and preserve. Much of this effort comes through rituals – shaking hands to greet and say goodbye, repeating activities on a weekly basis, having the same group of kids visit Memory Care East and Memory Care West every day. There are also the spontaneous moments that build community – visiting a grandma who is sick, delivering thank you cards to seniors who make donations to our school, and saying hello to seniors we pass in the hallways, often with a giant bear hug.

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Over and over again, the worlds of the preschoolers and the seniors collide – intentionally and unintentionally. We see Grandma Marion out for a walk every day. We gather for an art project in the community room. We wave to the grandmas getting their hair done in the salon. It’s all part of the process; it’s all part of community.

The Second Year

Posted November 5, 2015

by Sarah Sivright

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting Limits

Posted September 21, 2015

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by Amy Lemieux

Giving children choices and freedom is a hallmark of modern parenting. It empowers them and encourages independence and determination. I bought into this philosophy wholeheartedly.
What I did not initially understand was that giving children choice and freedom has its limits, as I learned from my husband’s grandma. “Big Grandma”, as she was called, adored our children and thought they could do no wrong. We were regular visitors at her house and our kids had free reign when we were there. Her cupboards and refrigerator were open. Her craft room, which looked like Joann Fabrics, was fair game; scissors, glue, buttons of all shapes and sizes, and fabrics were at their disposal. Since she raised six children, three children under the age of four was no match for Big Grandma.
One night after they blazed through popcorn, ice cream, and made placemats out of cut up greeting cards, my son came into her living room and walked across her couch. “Nick, get your feet off my couch. We don’t walk on furniture. We walk on the floor.” I’m not sure who was more surprised, my son or my husband and me. Big Grandma had never corrected our kids before. She looked at us and said, “In my mind Nick can do no wrong, but if he walks on other people’s furniture, they won’t like him.” Her words stayed with me because she was so right.

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Studies have shown that children do need to know they are not in charge. Not having rules and expectations creates anxiety in children and causes them to test their boundaries precisely because they are trying to figure out what the boundary is. Metaphorically speaking, a lack of boundaries makes the world too big and unpredictable. Children need a solid leader who is clear and confident about what the rules are and is committed to ensuring those rules are followed.
Studies show that children’s self-esteem is directly correlated with limit-setting. Children who are demanding, constantly testing, and defiant annoy others, including their own parents. The child can sense people’s feelings toward him/her. The bottom line is that children without limits feel lonely and unhappy because they don’t understand the reason for others’ feelings about them nor do they know what to do about it. These same studies have shown that parents’ guilt, ambivalence and inconsistency will be picked up by most children.
When you find yourself getting annoyed by testing behavior, it is often a sign you need to be clear and direct with limits. A few years back, a parent asked us to help problem-solve a situation regarding carpooling with another family. The mother had agreed to carpool and was worried that her child “wouldn’t let” another little girl ride in his family’s car; as soon as he heard of the carpool plan, he began arguing about it, saying he didn’t want the little girl in his car. It was easy to help the parent see that this was an adult decision. The child does not get to decide who rides in the family car; the parents do. Some decisions and limits are for children to make; should I wear my red shirt or my blue shirt? Should I have one apple slice or two? Bedtimes and the type and amount of screen time are adult decisions. Wavering on adult decisions will create the perfect storm and kids will go in for the kill!  A child who repeatedly asks for “five more minutes” has figured out ambiguous limits.
Communicating clear and consistent boundaries remains true for teenagers! When I find my teens repeatedly asking the same question in a variety of different ways, I get irritated and it is a great reminder that I need to be clear and direct.
Son: “Can my prom group sleep over at our house after prom?”
Me: “I’m assuming there are girls in your prom group, so no.”
Son: “But everyone sleeps over for prom.”
Me: “The girls can do their own sleepover. You can have the boys sleep here.  The girls leave at midnight.”

Son: “What if all the girls get notes from their parents giving them permission to sleep over and they sleep in a different room?”

Me: “Girls are not sleeping at our house after prom. Not even if their house burns down. Not if their dads all come and sleep here with them. No girls who aren’t your sisters are sleeping here.”

That’s the limit and I’m sticking to it.

Mondays on East

Posted May 1, 2015

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by Amanda Janquart

 Grandma Bette is all ours on Wednesdays. She began the year as our Spring Room weekly reader and has become so much more than that. We wheel her down the halls and into our class where she has joined us for snacks, listened with patience to preschoolers’ stories, and become a champion of their play with children scrambling to show her their latest creations. Fridays have consistently included passing around cups of popcorn and watching old cartoons or movies like Mary Poppins with the grandmas and grandpas on Willow Cove East. We have a routine and it works. Mondays however, have gone through multiple transformations – always with the residents on Willow Cove East, but with changes in the activities the generations share.

In the fall, Sue Hastings, the Activities Director (and talented musician and joyful person and loving caretaker) played the piano and led us all in songs. The songs were carefully chosen and bring out tenderness and reflection in the seniors; connection in the children. The slow songs, Home on the Range and Edelweiss, can bring me to tears the way they evoke longing. But I darn near sobbed the first time Take Me Out to the Ballgame was sung. It was as if fireworks were going off, the way everyone took notice and joined in. Music is a mighty strong bridge. I couldn’t help but see my own Grandma Grace whenever Sue chose How Much is that Doggy in the Window?

As winter approached, Rhythm Band started up. Shakers were passed out to the grandmas and grandpas and children took turns on the triangles, bells, rhythm sticks, wood blocks, cymbals, and drums (limited to two at a time!). We again took cues from Sue as she directed which instruments to come in and when. Sometimes residents covered their ears, but really though, the group worked hard and we sure sounded great most of the time.

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Spring has come and so have cooking projects and table games. Residents of Willow Cove East sit at the tables and children stand between them; a generational daisy chain. We have made edible necklaces by stringing cereal on yarn, dyed eggs, and peeled eggs, adding carrot ears and whiskers to make bunny eggs. On our latest visit, baskets of various blocks were interspersed at the tables and everyone kept busy, either creating with the blocks or simply sitting back and taking it all in. When I stepped back myself, under the guise of wanting to take a picture, my eyes started to fill up yet again. Good things are happening here.

 

 

Grandma Pat’s Here!

Posted March 13, 2015

By Sarah Kern                                                      IMG_4802

We recently added someone new to our rotation of senior readers in the Autumn Room. We call her Grandma Pat, and her role is a little different than those of our other senior readers. Rather than reading to the whole class, Grandma Pat reads to one or two children at a time on our couch. When I suggested that we add a small group reader, I was thinking all about literacy. The children would have closer proximity to the print and they could ask questions and discuss story details more easily than in a large group setting. But what’s happened has been so much more than that.

I noticed that the children’s interactions with Grandma Pat were as much conversation as they were book reading. Children showed Grandma Pat their braids, told her about their favorite video games, and asked her about her glasses. And Grandma Pat? She listened. She listened with attention and intensity. She smiled, she asked them questions, and she responded to every word they said.

Spring Room Teacher and mom to Isla, Amanda watched this happen through the classroom window. Isla was sitting with Grandma Pat, deep in conversation. I noted to Amanda something along the lines of how this was intended to be a reading experience, and Amanda astutely pointed out that Grandma Pat, though not reading for much of the time she’s here, was meeting a need for the children. It’s the need that so often I as a teacher struggle to meet because it’s time to have snack, or it’s time to go outside, or it’s time to clean up. It’s the need for an adult to hear them and know them and love them wholeheartedly.

When I first met Amy and she told me of her inspiration for this intergenerational program, she told me that the seniors have something to offer to the children that we as teachers and as parents can struggle to give, and that’s time. It is time and undivided attention. We can’t help that we have full time jobs and families and houses to care for, but we can help how we treat the space in between all of those things. Grandma Pat is teaching me how to make little moments bigger just by moving a little slower, being a little quieter, and listening a little more.

Cooking With Young Children

Posted February 18, 2015

By Jenny Kleppe

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At All Seasons Preschool, cooking is a regular activity. Children help read recipes, prepare and mix ingredients, and we enjoy the fruits of our labors at snack time. We focus on healthy recipes that all students can enjoy. This can be tricky when taking multiple allergies and food sensitivities into account. Why do our teachers make sure to incorporate food experiences into our day? First and foremost, cooking and baking are fun for all! Regardless of age or ability, everyone can participate in some part of the process. The sensory experience of preparing and eating food elicits positive associations and memories. It fosters community and is a simple way to create a sense of togetherness.
Much of my personal philosophy regarding food and young children comes from the book Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman. In her book, Druckerman describes how cooking and baking with very young children teaches self-control. “With its orderly measuring and sequencing of ingredients, baking is a perfect lesson in patience” (pg. 64). She goes on to describe how typical French families bake together every weekend, and that by age three or four most children can make an entire cake independently. Below is a typical yogurt cake prepared in French households that I have made with preschoolers using minimal to no adult assistance!
There are additional reasons we incorporate cooking activities into our school day. Cooking and baking at home or in the classroom can teach important life skills, including:
Fine motor skills: Cooking tools from melon ballers to graters help kids strengthen their hand and fine motor muscles, as well as strengthen hand-eye coordination.
Delay of gratification: Cooking requires patience. Several steps are required before enjoying the results.
Scientific change: Water freezes and boils, jello hardens, solids are ground to a fine powder, cakes go from batter to baked. Mixing ingredients and watching their creations change states teaches kids basic principles of science.
Literacy: Your average recipe involves sequencing, identifying letters, and recognizing common ingredient words (butter, milk, flour).
Math: Cooking involves counting (one teaspoon, three tablespoons, stir twenty times), measuring by volume, identifying numbers, doing steps in an order, and other math concepts (half and whole).
Food history and making connections: Adults can use family recipes to talk about Grandma’s experience during the Depression, why we make things with apples in the fall, or to pass along family traditions. This aspect of cooking is especially near and dear to us at All Seasons, where we make as many intergenerational connections as possible with our seniors.
Sensory Experiences: Adults can encourage children to use expressive words to describe how something tastes, feels, smells, sounds, and looks.
Experimentation and creativity: Cooking allows kids to make decisions about their food, from adding an extra sprinkle to the top of a cupcake to stop stirring the muffin batter. It’s all about experimenting—learning what works and what doesn’t—a skill that will carry over into other areas of their lives.
Don’t be intimidated by cooking with preschoolers. They will love the attention and time spent together, regardless of the outcome. Even if a cooking or baking activity fails, or the kids just don’t like it, you did it together! It usually creates wonderful learning opportunities and memories none-the-less!

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French Yogurt Cake
2- 6 oz containers plain or whole milk yogurt (use the empty containers to measure all the other ingredients) **
2 eggs or egg substitute
1 container sugar (or 2 if you’d like a sweeter cake)
1 tsp vanilla
Just under 1 container vegetable oil
4 containers flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
Preheat oven to 375. Use vegetable oil to grease a loaf pan or 9in round pan. Gently combine yogurt, eggs, sugar, vanilla and oil. Have children crack eggs into a separate bowl first in case egg shell remnants need to be removed. Add eggs to main bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the flour and baking powder. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mix gently until ingredients are just combined. Add 2 containers of frozen berries, or 1 container of chocolate chips, or any flavoring you like (1 tsp. almond extract and extra sliced almonds on top is a favorite of mine!) Bake for 35 minutes or until it passes the toothpick test. Let it cool.
**note, if you use vanilla yogurt, omit vanilla from recipe. Recipe works with coconut yogurt, but not soy yogurt