Swimming Upstream

Posted May 31, 2018

by Sarah Sivright

All Seasons Preschool is a small fish, swimming upstream. We have some good friends swimming with us, but the current is big and powerful, and hardly knows we are there. You all know how we spend our days here with your children; much of the day outside in wild spaces, and a classroom full of good books, writing and drawing tools, dramatic play supplies, manipulatives, blocks, art materials—and all available for the children’s choosing for most of indoor time. Outside of free play, we visit the seniors and go to the studio. We believe—and evidently you do, too–that the world we offer here is a pretty great version of what’s best for young children.

Years ago, as an assistant teacher, I had this very vision in my head and heart, and was ready to put it into action in my own classroom. My principal put the brakes on, telling me I needed to go to graduate school first, to understand child development, and have the pedagogical foundation and language to support what my instincts were telling me. Graduate school was crucial to my development as a teacher, and I was grateful to have the theories and research to explain good practice to parents, colleagues and student teachers.

But the “real world” kept getting in the way. My kindergarten teaching experiences were frustrating, with the obstacles of bureaucracy, state and federal standards and assessments, and parental pressure for early reading skills, feeling insurmountable to me. I moved to preschool, where I thought I would have more freedom to create the classroom I imagined.

I taught at Dodge Nature Preschool for several years, where the curriculum is similar to ours. The Lower School principal at St. Paul Academy was on our preschool board, and I asked him how our graduates fared in his kindergarten. He said they tend to be “behind” in knowing numerals and letters, but catch up in a month or two. He also said our students were outstanding in their love of books, creativity with materials, comfort outdoors, and social relationships. That was enough for me.

However, when I came to All Seasons and Amy, with her elementary school background, suggested doing fall and spring assessments with the children to demonstrate growth, I was a little nervous. I didn’t need to be. With our literacy and numeracy-rich environment, the results were gratifying. Children can and do learn through play very well, thank you.

Now on to kindergarten, and many of you are anticipating being shell-shocked by the transition. But truly, your children will do just fine, even if the first weeks are bumpy. What you and they will carry into the next years is the knowledge of what children need to thrive—you’ve seen it. So maybe you feel like being a bit of a rabble-rouser next year, and decide to advocate for longer recess, turning that little bit of woods off the playground into a play space, or contributing materials to a small dramatic play corner. You were willing to swim upstream with us—thank you! As Dory would say, let’s all “just keep swimming!”