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Let Them Jump and Let Them Fall so They Can Soar

Posted November 12, 2019

by Kylen Glassmann

Do you remember the last time you took a risk and succeeded? Or maybe you even took a risk and failed, but learned something from the experience? Risk-taking is something you hear a lot about in early childhood; teachers and parents are encouraged to foster a safe environment in which children feel comfortable trying new things, making mistakes, and taking risks. It may seem counterintuitive – we want children to make good choices and be safe, so why encourage risk-taking? It’s simple, really: children need to learn how to make safe and appropriate choices. How else will they learn these skills without testing boundaries and pushing their limits? Even as adults we are faced with difficult situations and it is important to learn to push ourselves outside of our comfort zone. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have the ability to learn from each other, gain insight from new experiences, and evolve. 

So, what does this look like for children and how do you we encourage risk-taking safely? Think back to your childhood. When do you remember taking risks and being brave? I remember countless summer days that were spent at my local rec center with a huge pool and an infamous high-dive. It took me nearly an entire summer to feel brave enough to jump off the high-dive! However, my friends were encouraging me, and I knew I was safe. My parents were nearby and there was a life guard to help, just in case. And boy do I remember that feeling of jumping off for the first time; I felt like I could take on the world! Little did I know I was teaching myself that I am brave and can do hard things.

For our toddlers and preschoolers, risk-taking looks a bit different. Take one afternoon playing out in the Boulders, for example. While climbing a favorite fallen tree, one preschooler took a giant leap off the highest part of the tree. Others looked on with admiration and interest. “I want to jump off,” said another child. “Try!” said the first child. This blossomed into 20 minutes of safe and appropriate risk-taking. Several children took turns climbing and jumping off. Some children jumped from smaller heights that were more comfortable to them. Another child was motivated to make the leap off the top, but first he sat there for about 10 to 15 minutes, contemplating the jump. He stood up eyeing the distance and moved around to different spots, but always returned to the highest point. You could see the moments where he nearly went for it, but stopped himself. Finally, he jumped and succeeded! “I did it and now my body wants to jump 100 times!” The smile on his face was infectious! As their teacher, of course I was worried someone might fall and scrape their knee or land too hard, but how I could intervene and take away this learning experience? I didn’t need to say a thing because the other children were there with encouragement, “You can do it!” Instead, I chose to sit back and let them do their thing; they knew I was there if they needed help.  

 

Long story short, encourage your children to try new things! Take them outside, let them climb trees, jump off of playground walls, and let them struggle! We want to foster pathways in the brain that build confidence, and it can be as simple as creating a safe space for children to try hard things. Nothing is as powerful as a child accomplishing something on their own. It is challenging to sit back and let this magic happen without intervening, but remember the phrase, “Would you rather your child have a broken bone, or a broken spirit?”  We don’t want broken bones, but wouldn’t you rather your child try something difficult so that when they succeed, they can own their accomplishment and know deep down, “I am brave, I am strong, I am confident!”

 

Nature Play in the Twin Cities

Posted October 29, 2019

  By Tracy Riekenberg 

Since you are reading this blog, I can guess that nature play is important to you and your children. Afterall, you either currently attend All Seasons Preschool, or your children have graduated from All Seasons, or you know someone who goes to All Seasons, or you are considering All Seasons for your children. And since nature play is an important part of our day at All Seasons, I can conclude that it must be important to you. 

But what about when you are not at All Seasons? After your children have graduated or on those long summer breaks or even during a weekend, you and your family can engage in nature play. And don’t worry! There’s nature play available right here in the Twin Cities that matches your comfort level, whether it’s hiking-on-paved-paths comfort or drop-me-in-the-woods-with-a-compass comfort. 

I know this because my own children did not attend All Seasons Preschool. I sent them to a very lovely, very peaceful, very play-based preschool in St Paul that we loved dearly, but where they never went outside. When I came to work at All Seasons, I found a huge gap in my children’s comfort with nature. They were 7- or 8-years old and had never really climbed trees or hiked in the snow. We had been playing outside all those years, of course, but it was more prescribed, playground play. We hadn’t spent a lot of time in a nature setting with no agenda other than to explore. 

But once I started working at All Seasons and seeing the amazing things kids learn in nature and how much they grow their confidence and play skills, I began searching out places where we could be with nature right here in the Twin Cities. We live in St Paul, so we don’t have the luxury of acres of woods and pines out our back door, but we have a van and a plan to find where to go. We are also grateful that so many nature areas are right near us in the city! They offer the perfect amount of nature for us “beginners” — paved paths, bathrooms, shelters, and just enough explorations to last an hour or a whole day.

Here are some of our favorite places so far. This is just a beginning list, so let me know if you have more ideas for places for us to explore! Where have you found near by to be with nature? 

Hidden Falls Regional Park
We are very grateful that our favorite nature space is less than a mile from our house! Hidden Falls has actually been a favorite of ours for years and years. It is where my children can throw rocks in the river for hours, climb weird trees with their roots exposed (when the water is low) and “hike” along a paved trail. We watch boats go by and wave to dogs and their owners at the Minnehaha Off Leash Dog Park across the river. This is a definite favorite of my own dad, who loves to come to the park with my children. 

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Crosby Farm Park
Just a bit farther down the Mississippi River from Hidden Falls is Crosby Farm Park. This park has many paved trails for hiking and biking as well as water access. The sand banks are a lovely place to sit and watch water traffic, and fallen trees are great for climbing! A picnic shelter and modern bathrooms make it a great spot to spend a day. You can hike or bike from Hidden Falls to Crosby Farm (and even keep going to get to downtown St Paul!). 

Fort Snelling State Park
I am a bit biased, but aI am grateful that the parks I have mentioned so far are all within a mile of my house. But Fort Snelling State Park shouldn’t be missed! With a swimming beach, visitor center, hiking paths, park rangers, picnic areas, and scheduled programs and equipment to rent, this is a really good “I am new to nature” nature place. My family participated in an “I Can Fish” program here where rangers provided poles, bait, and instruction for fishing. We have also gone on a candlelight hike on New Year’s Eve. I have done training runs on Pike Island, and we swam at Snelling Lake and watched planes land. There is fee to get in to the park (or an annual state park pass), and it was closed all summer because of flooding. But it is open now, thank goodness! 

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Patrick Eagan Park
This park is a dream come true for anyone not comfortable with extreme nature play. It has a zipline, trees to climb, built structures to climb, and a sandbox. There are also woods, hiking trails, and acres to explore so you can really do what you are comfortable with at this site. My kids love to meet up with their best friend and climb up a structure and chat for an hour. 

Nokomis NatureScape Garden, Park, and Lake
Another really good area for families just beginning to venture out in nature is Lake Nokomis. The NatureScape Garden offers walking paths and foliage to explore. Swimming at the lake was a new experience for my kids, who had only ever swam in a pool. (We aren’t fortunate enough to have a family cabin up north). There are also trees to climb, a walking path around the lake, boats to watch, and a restaurant on site! It is the perfect nature escape in the city. 

Minnehaha Falls
We can’t talk about nature exploration in the Twin Cities without talking about Minnehaha Falls. Of course, there’s the falls to look at — from above or below! Have you ever been there in the winter? It is a sight to behold! There are also walking paths along the creek and fun bridges to cross. Picnic areas, gardens, playgrounds, a restaurant, modern bathrooms, and more make this a great place to spend the day. Our favorite thing to do at Minnehaha Falls is to go to a wading area by Bridge 2 and explore. I have found crawdads there, and my children find rocks, “body surf,” and climb trees. 

 

 

The nature centers & regional parks in the area are also a fun way to safely explore nature. We love Tamarack Nature Center, but others include Lebanon Hills Regional Park, Wood Lake Nature Center, Hyland Lake Park Reserve, Lake Elmo Park Reserve, and Como Regional Park, just to name a few. Many state parks are a short drive away, too, and we especially love Nerstrand Big Woods State Park with its short, paved hike to a beautiful waterfall. 

And even with all these wonderful nature spaces nearby – remember that to a child, an empty lot can be a wide open field, a couple of trees can be a forest, and a stream can be a rushing river. Don’t forget to engage in the small nature spaces at your home and in your neighborhood. We live across the street from a city park that is a large grassy area with pine trees and maple trees. My kids love to look for pinecones there, climb the trees, and run through the grass. And the St Kate’s Duck Pond isn’t too far away, and nothing is more fun than feeding the ducks! Large snow piles and ice skating rinks and sledding in your backyard are easy nature play areas, too! Maybe you have a space near your home that is inviting for your child to engage in nature in an easy, stress-free way. After all, the whole point is to love being in nature where you are!

 

 

 

After compiling this list and thinking about how my family plays in nature, I can say my children have more nature experience than I thought they did! It is easy to get in the mindset that the only genuine nature play is camping, roughing it, backpacking, and wide open spaces. But all variations of nature play is available in the Cities, probably closer to you than you thought. 

 

Legos: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

Posted October 15, 2019

by Jenny Kleppe

Ah, Legos. A favorite toy of any building-loving, construction-engrossed, creative, inspired child. They are also a favorite gift given by well-meaning relatives. But as with all things, Legos come with the good, the bad, and the ugly.

We shall start with the ugly. Without fail, when playing with Legos, the floor looks like this:

Now, I am a professional educator, an educated individual, and an experienced mother. I know that the little ones need their time and space to exude their creative whims over their Lego hoard. I know how wonderful loose parts are for developing creative minds. HOWEVER, just looking at the above picture makes me shudder. Makes me cry out at the painful memory of stepping on a rogue Lego in the middle of the night with bare feet. Legos take up a lot of space. Cats bat them under furniture. Dogs eat them (and eliminate them). They are difficult to clean up, and the young construction workers always want to save something for a completely irrational (from the adult’s perspective) amount of time. 

Recommendation: Is there a dining room table in your home that gets used only a few times a year? It can be the Lego table. Or in a play room you could set up a card table or blockade a “Lego area” on the floor, preferably a space away from pets. Laundry baskets turned upside down to cover Lego creations have worked in my small house, where we have no magical separate play room. Not having to pick up the Legos each time saves much time and negotiating.

Next, the bad (really, the not-as-good). Legos come in two forms; the giant box of mixed up parts (more on that below) and the prescribed, instruction-specific set. Building anything does use energy, but the kits where someone follows a step-by-step plan to build something that looks exactly like the picture on the box does not require imagination, decision-making, or planning skills. These are direction-following activities. Also, these finished products usually remain simply that, something to look at or set statically on a shelf. As children age, they are much more likely to want to build the Star Wars ship, the Harry Potter Castle, etc. from Legos.

Recommendation: Instead of the theme sets, procure a large bucket of mixed Lego pieces. Remember the joy from your own childhood of the giant bucket (that was also shaped like a Lego!). It felt like you could make a thousand creations and there would still be Legos to spare. And speaking from experience, obtain as many wheels, steering wheels, and windshields as you can. These are always the most coveted items.

And now, finally, the good! With a healthy dose of patience and the right storage options, Legos can be a wonderful toy that engrosses the young and young-at-heart for hours at a time. They are a timeless toy that does not need explanation or adult involvement.  Many children have an innate desire to build, create, and make things from their own imagination. When there is no prescribed pattern to follow, children will make what they see in their mind’s eye, and then use these creations as part of their play. The best part is you can use them over and over again for a million different combinations and inventions. 

Recommendation: Play Legos with your child! I promise they will have fun, and you might even have a little fun too!

 

Good Books

Posted September 30, 2019

By Sarah Sivright

We know that shared book reading builds and strengthens connections between children and adults.  But does it really matter what you read to children?  Yes!  A study funded by the National Science Foundation demonstrates that even babies respond differently to better books.  Quality books contain thought-provoking characters and plots.  In addition to providing a mirror to our children, quality literature expands children’s experiences beyond themselves.  After many years in early childhood, here are some of my take-aways.


What are “good books?”

There are classics, which by their longevity in the “beloved” category are clearly Good Books.  Folk/fairly tales and nursery rhymes were the classic staple in our grandparents’ era. Nowadays, there is a huge collection of books written specifically for young children.  But, like the little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead, some are very good, and some are very, very bad.*

What I’ve recommended are personal choices, as all books must be.  My choices are partially guided by the belief that young children are routinely under-estimated. “Big messages” are delivered in a heavy-handed, preachy manner, with little or no subtlety. (In that category, Thunder Cake comes the closest to that failing, but has other good qualities.) Also, humor is over-done, like a slapstick comedy.  Some books are fun in that way, but are not usually the ones requested over and over, one of the marks of a Good Book. And poorly illustrated books are just off my list.

*[See the nursery rhyme “There was a little girl who had a little curl…” I was going to include some examples of Bad Books, but that didn’t seem very nice.]

 

Promoting a child’s love of books involves several key pieces:

  • Being read to from an early age
  • Watching the people in their lives enjoy reading
  • Being exposed to books with text that speaks in some thoughtful, creative way to the child’s mind and illustrations that are beautiful, creative or charming

A note about the illustrations—the Newberry Award is given by the American Library Association to the author of the most distinguished American children’s book, and the Caldecott is given to the artist of the best picture book, so the “experts” put a high value on both.

 

Some of my favorites…

Big message

Fire Cat—Esther Averill (a very big exception to my illustration standard!)

Crow Boy—Yashima

Mr. Gumpy’s Outing—Burningham

Owl Babies—Waddell

Thunder Cake—Polacco

Extra Yarn—Barnett

Anything by Leo Lionni

 

Drama—just scary enough for preschoolers

Three Robbers–Ungerer

Edward and the Pirates—McPhail

Abiyoyo—Seeger and Hays

Tough Boris—Mem Fox

 

Humor

The Mitten–Tresselt

Boo and Baa series—Landstrom

Anything by Jon Klassen

 

Chapter Books

Frog and Toad series—Lobel

Little Bear—Sendak

Jenny and the Cat Club–Averill

 

Seasonal/Nature

Gilberto and the Wind—Ets

Any nature books by Jim Arnosky—nature info with enough of a story to engage young children.

And the Are you a Bee/Butterfly/Spider series by Allen and Humphries

Owl Moon—Yolen

Peter Rabbit—Potter

 

Lullaby books

Hush! Minfong Ho

Little Fur Family—Margaret Wise Brown

 

Grandmas and Grandpas

Nana Upstiars and Nana Downstairs—dePaola

Now One Foot, Now the Other — dePaola

My Little Grandmother Often Forgets—Lindbergh

Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge—Mem Fox

Miss Rumphius–Cooney

My Grandson Lew—Charlotte Zolotow

The Two of Them–Aliki

 

Nursery rhymes/Mother Goose

Lack of exposure these days, partly because of the increase in good children’s lit these days, but don’t neglect this important part of every child’s education!

 

Multicultural

The beauty of many of these books is that there is no Big Message.  They are books about children and families just being themselves—many colors, many styles.

Jamaica series—Havill. (African-American).

Louie, Peter’s Chair—Keats.  (African-American) 

Sam—Ann Herbert Scott ((African-American)

Fancy Nancy series—O’Connor/Glasser—individualism of family members, especially Nancy, is supported.

Mrs. Katz and Tush—Polacco—(Jewish)

A Different Pond—Phi/bui (Hmong)

Hush (Thai)

Crow Boy (Japanese)

 

Happy Reading!

And for some returning families, this blog will look familiar.  We have sent it out before, but I think it merits a second round.

 

 

 

“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!