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Making Connections Through Letters

Posted November 23, 2021

Making Connections Through Letters
By Calley Roering

This year is different compared to last year in a few ways. There have been more fun and exciting opportunities happening at school: having more children in my class, co-teaching with another teacher, and being able to go upstairs to visit the seniors.

Last year, the children and teachers were not allowed upstairs due to COVID. Luckily, this year we have the opportunity to visit the seniors’ common spaces and visit with them outside of their apartment doors.

One day, a child was working on a drawing. When we asked who the drawing was for, the child responded, “This is for the grandmas and grandpas. Can you write on the back that I love them?” My co-teacher and I knew that we needed to get this picture and words to the seniors. We thought that since we are finally allowed to go upstairs and visit with the seniors, we should take advantage of it.

We found a simple mailbox in the storage room and brought it into our classroom to be decorated. After the teachers explained the idea of writing letters and delivering pictures to the seniors, the children were excited to bring the mailbox upstairs. A group of children and I went upstairs and set the mailbox, paper, and pens on a table in the mailroom with a note asking, “Will you please write to us? We are the preschoolers who go to school downstairs. We have a bird feeder and love watching the birds land and eat the bird seeds. Do you like birds?” As we placed the mailbox, materials, and letter on the table, we crossed our fingers and hoped that we would hear back from the seniors.

A few days later, we rode the elevator upstairs to check the mailbox and it was exploding with mail! The children grabbed the mail from the mailbox and proudly walked down the hall, eagerly waiting to hear what the seniors had written to them. When we entered the classroom, the children shouted to their peers with excitement, “LOOK AT ALL OF THESE LETTERS!” We sat down as a group and read them together. The seniors shared things like their love of birds, how they missed their childhoods, and how hearing the children laughing outside brought back good memories and joy.

The children wasted no time writing back to the seniors. While they spoke, I wrote down their words. Then they added their own touches, little drawings or some stickers. Once we had a stack of letters and pictures, we decided it was time to go upstairs and deliver them to the seniors. We took the elevator to the third floor to drop off a letter to Grandma Pat. The children looked for her apartment number, knocked on her door and eagerly waited for her to answer. We usually are in luck; the seniors typically are home when we are delivering mail and pictures. When the grandmas or grandpas answer the door, they are greeted with happy children, a letter, and picture.

It seems to happen naturally now: during playtime, a handful of children draw pictures and write letters for the seniors upstairs. We have hung up in our classroom all of the letters that the seniors have written to us. This helps the children remember that they are part of a bigger community. The teachers and children alike have found so much joy receiving mail from the seniors. It’s always a highlight of our week when we can write back and deliver mail and pictures to them. It’s been a long-awaited interaction and is proving to be powerful and wonderful for all of us.

A Happy Halloween Indeed

Posted November 9, 2021

A Happy Halloween Indeed


By Sarah Kern

It has been over a year and a half since our lives were turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been over a year and a half since we had a “normal” school year. It has been over a year and a half since the children have been a regular part of our seniors’ lives — a year and a half without the joy and connection of our time with the residents.

A couple of weeks ago, we got a glimpse of the past, of what it used to be like, every day, with our seniors. The children of All Seasons celebrated Halloween by putting on a parade. Unlike last year, when the children only got to wave to seniors through their windows, we were able to go upstairs for the parades. One of the parades even included a trip into Memory Care.

As the children excitedly dressed for the Halloween parade, the teachers prepared them for what would happen. Leaving the school and riding in the elevator was a new experience for almost all of the children. Walking through the halls, staying together, following a teacher — these were rules the children needed to know. But none of us could have been prepared for what happened when we entered the Memory Care units.

There were the seniors, waiting in their chairs and on couches for the children. The looks in the seniors’ eyes and the joy on their faces was indescribable. Amidst the “oohs” and “aahs,” seniors reached out their hands and held open their arms for the children. And without prompting, the children fell into their arms. They gave handshakes and high fives. They shared the physical touch so many of us have been missing over the last 20 months. The seniors perhaps have missed it the most; so much of the touch they’ve received has been perfunctory as they received care from aides.

The teachers’ eyes filled with tears as we remembered the way it used to be and all that we have missed. It was a glimpse of the past, yes, and also a glimpse of the future, of the coming times when we will all be together again.

Tiny Worlds Getting a Little Bigger

Posted October 26, 2021

Tiny Worlds Getting a Little Bigger

By Rita Thoemke

A parent asked me at our fall party how I felt the year had started. I responded that we got off to a great start, smoother than in recent years. This parent is also an educator and he shared with me that he had not heard any other teacher describe the beginning of this school year as “smooth” or “great,” as I had. We talked a bit about this, and I came to a realization: the toddlers in the Winter Room are in a unique position. They are experiencing school for the first time, without any past experiences with which to compare it. They don’t know anything different than what we have given them so far at All Seasons in the Winter Room.


For the most part, this is the first time these children have separated from parents and family. We introduce things slowly and let them get used to their new surroundings. We build an intentional community where we all care about one another. Little by little, these toddlers have come to understand the routine and workings of our small class. Every day we hear these children give gentle reminders to one another or help each other with tasks: “Remember, only teachers open doors,” or “Try not to get your blue (paint) in my red.” It is also a joy to watch a child turn on the faucet for another child and assist them in getting soap.


In a “normal” school year, our community would also include the residents and staff upstairs. We would see Steve, our building and grounds manager, frequently, and even get to know our neighbors at the church next door. We have still had beautiful interactions with the people in our community who are outside our Winter Room. A child recently lined toys up on the windowsill to show the preschoolers in the Spring Room. We have gotten acquainted with Grandma Jean, who often visits with family on the patio, and Grandpa Dan, who walks by our room daily and stops at our window to say hi. Last year’s toddlers made a friend through a window on the playground. Grandma Darlene saw us one day and the kids ran over to her. They blew kisses to each other and the joy on both sides of the window was clear to see.


This week, our toddlers will get to participate in another fall tradition that looks different from what it has in the past. Our Halloween parade will be a scaled-down version of what we used to do. Teachers will notice the changes, but to these toddlers, it is simply another new and exciting experience. The world around these toddlers has expanded on a smaller scale than it would have in a “normal” year, but it has indeed gotten a bit bigger. They know they are part of a wonderful community that is just big enough for them.

Studio Talk

Posted October 12, 2021

Studio Talk

By Amanda Janquart

“A tent is burning. A tree crashed on it. I’m drawing the human right now.”

Coming to the Art Studio is entering a world of possibilities. Working in small groups of three or four, children express themselves freely and form connections rather quickly.

Some narrate their thinking as they work, not caring who is listening. “I’m going to draw a puppy dog. There’s its tail; there’s its eye. The tail is connected to it.”

Others clamor to be recognized, inviting comments. “I’m going to make a fish. Look, I’m doing it! Oh, it’s a bird. I cannot do a fish, but do you think I can do some teeth? Look!”

Some share opinions bluntly. “That doesn’t look like a heart to me.”

But they all observe, listen, initiate, and imitate. It is learning at its finest.

Toddlers and preschoolers pause often, taking the time to see what their friends are doing. This often leads to alterations in their own work. They turn to their classmates for inspiration and validation. “It’s a cliff with a fox that’s hunting for another fox,” explained a child. A few minutes later, another child in the group responded, “I drawed a fox in the box! A frog in a box. It’s really funny.”

Through conversations and commentary, shared interests often blossom and themes take hold. It is magic when community and a sense of belonging develop through art. This fall, the children in one class have been attracted to all things spooky, and the chatter as they drew was nonstop. “I’m drawing a haunted house. It’s scary. The people are crying.” “I ‘goed’ into a haunted house before. I was crying.” “I’m going to make something scary, too.” “I’m making a pitch black window.” “Is this spooky looking yet?”

It feels amazing to be seen and heard by one’s peers, an instant confidence boost that keeps the excitement going. While part of what the children learn in the art studio includes concepts like color theory and skills like how to hold a pencil correctly, the experiences extend well beyond that. They make countless connections as they work side by side, sharing their ideas.

Taking A Risk

Posted September 28, 2021

TAKING A RISK

By Joanne Esser

Part of our mission as a nature-based preschool is allowing children the freedom to engage in “risky play.” Why risky play?

Children are naturally drawn to physical challenges: climbing trees or tall structures, going fast on a tricycle, jumping off high places, lifting heavy objects, using real tools, balancing on narrow beams. All these challenges contain a little element of danger, and the children know that. The right combination of fear and excitement leads to thrill and accomplishment as they try something new.

Children benefit tremendously from taking risks. Given time, choice, multiple opportunities, and, when needed, a bit of modeling and encouragement, children find success at their own levels. They develop competence, confidence and resilience that can’t be “taught” from the outside.

At All Seasons, we love to watch children spy an opportunity to take a risk. I’ve observed this at our Eagan preschool when children first see the retaining wall near the pond. A wall made of large square bricks set in rows, each row recessed just enough from the row below to provide small toeholds, it is perfect for climbing. When children see the wall, they get a particular gleam in their eyes; they approach it with awe. It won’t be easy, but we can see their motivation to conquer it!

The teacher’s role is to scan the area for hazards (obstacles the children might miss), set some upper limits for safety, (“You can climb this high…”) and stay nearby. It’s up to each child to figure out what they want to try, assessing the risk as well as figuring out how long they’ll persist. Children who have had many climbing experiences immediately decide where they’ll start, grabbing hold and hoisting themselves up, digging in with confidence. Some children will begin at the shortest end of the wall, testing themselves by climbing up just one or two rows high. That’s good practice. Others might simply watch, preferring to study the challenge before they begin. Teachers stay close but do not lift or boost children up beyond where they can go on their own.

It’s hard for adults to say no when children ask for “help” with a physical challenge. We want them to have an immediate experience of happiness. But the child’s own accomplishment is what builds their sense of competence. They must practice persistence, not giving up when they don’t get it right away. They decide for themselves what they are ready to try today and what they might try tomorrow. Their sense of joy and pride is huge when they experience success, knowing they did it on their own. That can’t happen if someone does it for them.

Teachers also observe many instances when an experienced child “coaches” another child, giving them advice about where to place their hands or feet, offering encouragement. Classmates notice and show authentic excitement when someone in the group reaches a new personal level of accomplishment. Teachers model this delight: “Look! Jack made it up higher than he ever has before!” “Nora is going to try climbing for the first time. Can anyone show her how you get started?” The support (not pressure) of the group is surprisingly powerful in helping a child overcome hesitation.

What’s beautiful about watching children choose to engage in risky physical play is knowing that the effects of success at one task carry over to other kinds of risk-taking. Children’s growing confidence supports them to risk asking a new friend to play, making eye contact with an adult and saying “Good morning,” or being willing to try a new art activity in the studio. This is the kind of growth that will support them when facing challenges throughout their lives.

Reasonable Expectations

Posted September 14, 2021

by Amy Lemieux

A sunflower.  It’s been on my wish list for years. 

Each spring my goal is to have a spectacular garden, one that grows denser and more colorful as the weather warms.  At the top of my list, what I have desired most, is a giant sunflower.  To cover my bases, I have planted seeds at home and at school.  Surely one location will be hospitable.  For many years, I have been disappointed.  Until this year. It sounds cliché, but in the midst of this year of repeated disappointments, my sunflowers have been a bright spot in 2021. 

What was different this year?  It is tempting to attribute my success symbolized by colossal sunflowers to something I did; I planted far fewer seeds this year, they were consistently watered, I chose the perfect location, and I asked for help tending my garden, all things I hadn’t done in the past.  While I believe these factors contributed to my thriving flowers, I also know that some of it was luck.  I did everything within my power this year to make them grow but must acknowledge I don’t have as much control as I’d like to believe.  That is 2021 in a nutshell.

Last spring and early summer things were looking up.  After a full year apart, we welcomed seniors back into the preschools, which was a thrill for adults and children alike.  The seniors we encountered out and about were abuzz with talk of resuming our regular intergenerational activities, and what fun it would be!  We imagined returning to senior sing-alongs, rhythm band, and monthly plays with an audience full of grandmas and grandpas.  Our summer camps felt wonderful; mornings spent outdoors followed by a picnic lunch, welcoming alumni back into our space, returning to team teaching with class sizes of sixteen, and our famous Water Wars with the grandmas and grandpas.  As August arrived, the COVID numbers crept up, along with the residual anxieties of 2020 on top of an already pandemic-fatigued population.

Like you, we are tired.  Like you, we are anxious.  Like you, we are tired of asking and answering questions that don’t have a perfect answer.  But like you, we are hopeful, which is why we are all here.  We know that by doing all WE can do and with a little bit of luck, the children in our community will thrive.

Spring With The Seniors

Posted June 8, 2021

Spring With The Seniors

By Sarah Kern

In a school year like no other, we did a lot of wondering. We wondered how it all would work — teachers alone with small pods of children, parents dropping off outdoors, how we would handle conferences, health exclusions, family parties. As with many things, most of our worst fears never came to fruition. Instead we saw deep, joyful connections between children, rich relationships between teachers and children and teachers and parents. The classes became little families, and the school days passed happily. But those of us who remembered years past still missed one big thing: our grandmas and grandpas.

We did our best to connect with them throughout the year. We went on an outdoor Halloween parade in hopes the seniors would see us out their windows. We made a Thanksgiving display to share what we were thankful for. (Grandmas and grandpas made the list!) We exchanged holiday cards and valentines. Little gift bags appeared from upstairs as each holiday passed. Sometimes we’d spot a senior in their window, waving frantically, and we’d do our best to show the children, to help them see that this building was not just ours, that many wonderful people were always meant to share this school with us. It was still special, but it wasn’t the same.

It was late spring when we got the good news: the nursing management cleared us to welcome vaccinated seniors into the school as readers! Knowing our time together would be all too brief, we quickly made phone calls, hoping the seniors would be ready to join us. Were they ever! At Inver Glen, we welcomed back three beloved readers from years past. At Eagan, we welcomed five new seniors into the school. There were so many grandmas who wanted to be readers in the classrooms that they had to take turns coming downstairs! On their first days, there was a buzz of excitement in the air. As the visits continued, the children and the seniors settled into a comfortable, happy rhythm.

While there were still things we missed, — hugs, for one! — all of the goodness, love, and joy remained. Children eagerly chatted, sharing their names, ages, information about their families, and discoveries they made outdoors, and like always, the seniors happily listened. The classes shared favorite stories with the seniors and eagerly looked forward to each visit. In the end, our time was much too short, but we were filled with gratitude for the time we did have. When we said goodbye to Grandma Marion on her last day, her eyes filled with tears as the children walked her to the door. As she left, she stopped to tell me, “Wednesday mornings are my favorite time of the week.” Ours, too.

Looking Ahead: Post-COVID Resilience

Posted May 26, 2021

Looking Ahead: Post-COVID Resilience

By Mariel Goettsch

It has truly been a year like no other.

While the specific impacts this year has had on each family have been unique, we have all endured a deeply shared experience. I wanted to share a post this month that reflects hope following this heavy-hearted year.

Resilience is not a trait that we are born with, but rather is created out of necessity. It is more of a process – often a messy one – that is primarily developed through experiencing responsiveness. When our children are coping with stress or feeling overwhelmed, having a reliable, supportive caregiver lightens the negative impact of the stressor, and thus children learn how to cope and adapt.

This year has driven us to find or cultivate resilience under the most challenging of circumstances. Luckily, the science of child development points to three do-able ways we can affect experiences and help build resilience.

The first strategy is to lighten the negative load. This is a process of removing barriers to living day to day life with ease. For example, this would include securing safe housing, having a refrigerator full of food, or performing self-care: going for a walk, resting for a minute, or calling a loved one, to support your personal mental well-being.

The second strategy is to increase the positivity factor. One of the most impactful methods for doing this is through development and maintenance of committed, stable relationships. We have been extremely fortunate at All Seasons that we have been able to continue providing in-person learning and social opportunities that have helped to expand the number of responsive relationships in our children’s and parents’ lives. It has been incredible to see the depth of the relationships and bonds these children have formed this past year, and I have no doubt that part of this could be attributed to the year we’ve been through together.

The third and final strategy is to strengthen our core skills. This concept is mostly applicable to the adults or caregivers in our children’s lives. We can practice using our core skills of executive functioning and self-regulation in the face of adversity. We can help ourselves by using technology reminders to lighten our mental load, or creating a schedule and routine for days that are all out-of-whack following a school closing or lockdown order. We can gather the family to regroup and remind everyone of family and house rules, and talk about ways that we can be supportive of each other.

It is powerful to consider that even amidst the unknowns of a global pandemic, many people have come together with an extraordinary outpouring of love and support for each other. One hopeful outcome of this experience may be a massive step in the right direction towards a more connected, compassionate, and equitable society.

It has been a beautiful gift to be a place of refuge and continued growth, development, and pure joy for your children this past year. Thank you for giving us the opportunity!

Following the Children’s Lead: The Puppet Theater

Posted May 12, 2021

Following the Children’s Lead: The Puppet Theater

By Calley Roering

While exchanging old toys for fresh ones in my classroom a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a collection of puppets. I was a fan of puppets when I was a preschooler, so I thought I would bring them into the classroom for the children to play with.

During group time, I presented them to the class by having one of the puppets interact with the children. The puppet, Miss Pink, introduced herself and conversed with the children about their weekends. The children giggled as they introduced themselves to Miss Pink and giggled again while explaining to her what they did over their weekend. I could tell that after everyone waved goodbye to Miss Pink, they were intrigued and inspired. I sensed that the children loved the idea of trying out the puppets themselves.

After group time, some of the children decided to put on a puppet show for others. We didn’t have a traditional puppet theater in our classroom, so one child would hide behind the easel and put on a show while the others sat in front and watched. This wasn’t the perfect puppet theater set-up because the easel would fall down and interrupt the show. As they continued to put on puppet shows for each other, I knew that we needed a proper puppet theater. Ideally, the theater would have room for two or more children to work together behind the scenes and a space in front for the audience.

The next day, I found a large cardboard box and a box cutter – the perfect materials to create our puppet theater. When the children arrived, I let them know that I noticed their interest in putting on puppet shows. I said, “I found a big cardboard box. What do you think we could do with it?” Instantly, the children exclaimed, “Let’s make a puppet theater!”

We got to work right away. First, a child cut the opening. While that was happening, others helped decorate the front with fun drawings. Finally, the children set up chairs for the audience. They were ready to put on their first puppet show with the new theater.
Two children eagerly ran behind it and waited until their peers were seated in the audience. The two children chose their puppets, and the show began.

Making puppet shows led to belly laughs, creativity, learning how to take turns, and practicing how to develop an original story. This kind of natural learning and joy is what happens when I follow the children’s lead, allowing their interests and passions to inspire our daily activities.

Twisted Gifts

Posted April 27, 2021

Twisted Gifts
By Amy Lemieux


“I’m home!” sang a child, returning to the Autumn Room after a half hour in the art studio. “I’m home.” Moments like these are what have kept us putting one foot in front of the other all year long. To steal a term from a younger but wise colleague, I will do my best to remember this school year as the year of “twisted gifts.”


I do not think it is pessimistic to say that this has been the most agonizing year for adults; we cannot tackle and overcome challenges if we don’t name and accept them. Ignoring the reality of the pandemic, the violence in our world, and our own personal challenges may be easier, but it is far unhealthier than facing them. At the same time, enjoying moments when we can temporarily set the harshness aside has been a lifesaver. Creating a healthy present and a hopeful future is easier to do in the presence of young children, as we have been reminded again and again since June.


“What will they remember?” has been our mantra and driving force each day. Tiny classes with one teacher have created tight-knit communities that have a familial feel. The children know each other at a deeper level, taking comfort in familiarity and easily falling into a rhythm of play. Never have acts of kindness been so prevalent: preschool tokens of affection given to each other and to teachers, helping each other with tricky outdoor gear or opening lunch containers, lending a hand to climb a tree or pull a sled, encouraging a younger child on a long hike. Acts of kindness are abundant.


Celebrating birthdays has been one of the most touching twisted gifts of this year: simple treats of fresh fruit with coconut whipped cream to share, the thrill of chewing gum for the first time, ceremoniously eating a WHOLE grape that hasn’t been pre-cut in front of the class, and bringing a favorite story from home to be shared with the class. News of classroom meet-ups to go sledding or to a park on weekends has warmed our hearts! Listening to children wistfully reminisce about memories “before the virus” or excitedly make plans for elaborate parties “after the virus” is the best kind of gut punch a teacher can ask for this year, those little glimpses into their deepest desires. These twisted gifts calm our adult minds, allowing them to land squarely with the children in the present.


Last March, we mourned the loss of our daily visits into memory care where grandmas and grandpas were plentiful. In September, the absence of our seniors still left a gaping void. But after thirteen months apart, last week each pod was gifted with a grandma reader. While the children could not snuggle in like they had in the past, to us it felt like a tremendous treat and the feeling was mutual. Said one grandma exiting the classroom, “I wish I could visit you every day.”


Our teachers will remember the twisted gifts from this year. What will the children remember? The closeness, the outdoors, knowing that they were seen and valued, and that they contributed to their community.

“The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched. They are felt with the heart.”

-The Little Prince