Category Archives: Outdoor Play

The Push and Pull of Growing Up

Posted November 10, 2020

The Push and Pull of Growing Up

By Amanda Janquart

The thrill of growing up and the desire to stay a child: the push and pull we all experience is on full display among the group of school-aged children that meets twice a week at All Seasons. They are all alumni of nature preschools; some were entering kindergarten and the oldest was about to start 4th grade before families chose the virtual school option during this pandemic. Now this varied group of eight are back in the woods and fields they know so well.

When we walked to the Boulders, an old beloved play space, a child deadpanned, “I think I’ll just call them rocks.” When we ran amok on the playground, they needed reminders to stay off the playhouse roof, and the trikes were suddenly ‘cute.’ “My bum is sliding off!” But when we got to the Pines, they quickly fell in love. Here were wide spaces to run and play recess games like ‘freeze tag,’ sticks to turn into swords and bows, trees to climb, and pine needles to sweep into soft piles. Here the group bonded and collaborated, working through rules for their invented game of Pickle Lion and reading books out loud that kept us on similar pages. We shared interests in leaves, fungi, amphibians, and trees.

Then it became abundantly clear that they were ready for more: wider ranges and chances to be independent from the teacher – the pull of growing up. What better place to ‘escape’ than to a fort, a place to be little and big all at the same time. A place where you are in charge and a place to play.

Thank goodness for the freedom to build forts in the woods. By this point, the children knew well the invasive buckthorn tree and knew that it could be sawed down without remorse to use as building material. “We just started with a foot of room. Then you said, ‘I could buy you a tarp,’ and we said, ‘Yahoo!’” With a little instruction, the children could be trusted with tools, and with the addition of bungee cords, tarps, rope, old bedsheets and scrap wood, there has been no stopping the progression of their homes away from home. If we don’t head to the forts straight away, the chants of “Can we go now?” never cease.

These forts are important places in which the children are invested. The forts are reworked daily as the children incorporate new design ideas or fix sagging roofs. “Making a deck is the hardest part.” “The best part is seeing how we improve every time.” More games, such as Catch the (Human) Fish, have been invented. There have been fossil digs, measurements made for doggy doors and fire pit rocks arranged just so. There have been fights over hoarding of materials and pretend garage sales to free up those materials for others to use. There is a ladder built from scratch, making it easier to get up to an actual slide. There is joy, curiosity and integrity. There is space to work as a group as they shout out design ideas for a logo, and quiet corners to work on hammering by yourself.

And here is my favorite part. It has to do with a book I can’t get through without sobbing, Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran. Like the characters in the book, our school-agers have added decorations to their constructed world – golf balls, very important bones, hand painted rocks, blocks of wood masquerading as electronic gadgets, sticks covered entirely with duct tape – the pieces of their childhood that take on untold value. Pieces that represent this special time between growing and grown. I hope so sincerely that they will look back years and years from now and remember the time with fondness.

Nature Connection

Posted November 2, 2017

By Sarah Sivright

Last Saturday I went to a workshop led by a new organization, the Minnesota Early Childhood Outdoor Learning Network–a bit of an unwieldy title and they’re open to editing suggestions.  But this was one exciting day for all gathered!  We nature educators have been talking about the need for just this kind of network for years, and finally we have this organization for support and change!  All Seasons staff and families know first-hand the benefits of outdoor play and learning.  Play and learning go hand in hand for young children, and never so powerfully than when this happens in the natural world.  So here I was, in a room filled with like-minded educators, from both preschool and elementary classrooms, eager to learn and share ideas and experiences.

The workshop was held in Savage at an early learning center, created through a partnership with the private non-profit Jeffers Foundation and the Savage-Prior Lake school district.  This has been a remarkable partnership that has resulted in school-wide nature curricula that keeps widening to include other grade levels and schools. It made me think of the transformational success of our nearby Garlough Elementary School in West St. Paul.

The breakout sessions and visit to a nature-based preschool classroom were all great chances to meet new people, get ideas and feel affirmed by what we are already doing.  This spring, All Seasons teachers will be traveling to Duluth to visit several sites that are part of their nature-based consortium.

The nature education movement has been slowly gathering steam, and this newly formed network will only help that move more quickly.  They will hold a workshop every quarter, and have asked us to host one in 2018-2019.  I asked the organizers to put one question on the gathering’s next program—how to encourage parents to advocate for nature-based education in kindergarten, first grade, and beyond.   Parents regularly ask us to open a kindergarten classroom, after bemoaning the brief or non-existent recess time and lack of natural spaces around the school—such culture shock after All Seasons and other schools like it.  We all need to be advocates for nature-based learning.  I’ll let you know after the winter meeting what ideas I get for empowering us all!


*Copies of a parent’s guide to outdoor activities by Ken Finch, a leading nature educator and former director of Green Hearts Institute for Nature in Childhood, will be out to take.  We’ll get more copies if need be.

It’s Okay Not To Help

Posted October 2, 2017

By Jenny Kleppe

“Teacher, can you help me get up there?” says a little girl, pointing up a tree she just watched another climb.

“I bet you can climb up there all by yourself,” replies the teacher.

“But I can’t!” wails the little one, “You have to help me. It’s too hard!”

And so it goes, every year at the beginning of a new school year, we teachers watch children struggle when their requests for help are denied. Help to climb a tree, help to balance across a log, help to cross a puddle, help to stand on a rock, or help to get down…Teachers patiently decline and instead encourage children to try it out for themselves. Over and over, we say no to helping our students with physical tasks, even when other children can easily accomplish the task, even when they are disappointed, and even when they cannot do it without help.

It is a basic instinct to help young children, and it can be truly challenging for adults to watch children fail to do something on their own. We want to rescue them, help them complete a task, assist them in doing something that other children can do. We want children to feel included, to feel proud, and to feel accomplished. But if we help that little girl climb that tree, are we really helping in the end?

If children never experience challenges that they must overcome themselves, how will they ever learn to do deal with daily life experiences that are hard for them? How will they learn to evaluate or take a risk? At All Seasons Preschool, we encourage children to take part in healthy risk-taking and learn to challenge themselves. We are dedicated to our students’ safety; however, we do all that we can to increase a child’s reliance on themselves and decrease their reliance on teacher involvement.

There are so many benefits to healthy risk-taking in young children. They learn to practice self-reflection — “Can I do this yet?” “Is it safe?” “Should I jump down from this boulder?” Once they decide to make that leap, they can evaluate if their choice was a good one, often in the form of “Wow, that was fun!” Children who practice taking risks develop strong large muscles and greater strength and coordination. They also learn the adage of Try, Try, Again! (also known as persistence and patience).

This is not to say that we walk away when an eager child asks for our assistance. Instead, we redirect our students to find something that they can do on their own. We guide them to watch their peers, to ask others how they climbed that tree, and to watch where the climbers put their feet.

As the school year goes on, we return to the same outdoor play areas over and over. Since they have so many chances to practice safe risk taking, we get to hear our students’ joyous exclamations of “Did you see me!?” “Now I can do it!” and every preschooler’s favorite, “I did it all by myself!Tiana

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.

Nature as a Teaching Partner

Posted March 18, 2015

by Sarah Sivright


Nature is an amazing teaching partner for many reasons. It provides opportunities for just about everything—math, science, art, beauty, literature, imagination, pretend play, large and fine motor movement, friendship, cooperation, problem-solving, building, observation, stewardship—the list seems to have no end. One of the best parts, and the first reason the outdoor world is such an effective partner, is that children don’t need convincing or cajoling to join up. They can’t wait to get out there and see what’s waiting.

And when the seasons start to change, a lot is waiting. There is literally excitement in the air. As the temperatures warm, snow and ice melt, sap runs, insects appear, smells seep out of the warming ground, puddles appear, and, of course, glorious mud. Today we went to “The Swamp,” a small wetland area across Allen Way, the road in front of Inver Glen. On Wednesdays, we have a longer stretch of outdoor playtime for this trek (it feels like the other end of the world to a three year-old). A narrow spit of land stretches between two small ponds. One pond is filled with young willows and grasses, and both will be filled with frogs in a few weeks. The peninsula holds intriguing burrows and tracks, and the first couple years it sheltered a nesting Canada Goose pair. At the other end of the land is a small woods with pine trees, where we find deer tracks and scat. From the tip of the spit of land to the opposite shore (five feet) are several bridges made of long branches and found planks. These transform into space ships, the Billy Goat Gruff bridge, pirate ships, horses, etc. A culvert pokes out from the bank along Allen way, with ice or running water adding to the excitement. The banks on either side are steep and a wonderful climbing and sliding challenge. The culvert spills into a pool in the spring, and then dries up for different play.

Watching the play that takes place in this magical world is revealing. With a sufficient and stimulating area to explore and no shortage of materials to use, behavioral issues and conflict we might otherwise see are absent. The pace of play is leisurely and uninterrupted, with teachers nearby to share discoveries or join in the play or just watch with pleasure. No environment needed to be set up, materials purchased, activities planned—a gift, pure and simple.

Every Child In the Woods

Posted October 24, 2014



Richard Louv prompted an important focus on the benefits of nature play with the publishing of his book in 2005, Last Child in the Woods; Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. In the last decade, there has been an increasing amount of research on the cognitive, emotional and physical benefits of unstructured play in natural spaces. The All Seasons staff came to this school convinced of the value of nature play, and probably enjoy this part of the day as much as your children do. We see the research data written plainly in the faces and bodies of the children—the feeling of freedom and discovery, joy and confidence.
In 2008, the National Toy Hall of Fame inducted “The Stick” into its lineup of all-time best toys. Increasing numbers of nature play areas are being constructed, (see the article on the wall by Amy’s desk) including the Minnesota Zoo’s 30,000 square foot play space due to open in 2015.
As the notion of what constitutes an optimal playground for children has shifted, the question of safety has been raised. Danish educators, who follow a more open schedule and unstructured approach with young children, adopt the attitude of being “as safe as necessary, not as safe as possible.” Somehow the great outdoors has come to be seen as more dangerous than riding in a car, climbing stairs, or playing sports. We acknowledge the dangers involved with those activities and, for the most part, while taking some precautions, we conclude they are worth the risks.

Most injuries from outdoor play involve minor scrapes and bruises, yet parents and caregivers can often be heard to call out to the child climbing a fallen long—“Be careful!”  But All Seasons parents have entrusted their children to us and to this nature-rich environment. Right outside the classroom door, you’ll see a “stick box,” where children’s sticks are deposited when returning from outside. Several forts, a teepee, and two tents are visible throughout the grounds. A couple years ago, Amy’s dad constructed a wooden frame for the children to build onto, and additions and accessories continue to be created by each new class of students. Countless fallen logs and trees fill the woods, ready for climbing and transforming into hideouts and homes. Boulders provide chances to balance and jump and hide. The Meadow and Pines are environments with their own flora and fauna, and pretend play backdrops. Rain gardens, ephemeral pools, and “The Swamp” provide chances for water fun.


What about safety? Goggles are worn when hammering new planks onto the boulders house. Children can climb trees and branches to the height a teacher can reach. No one eats anything unless the adult gives permission (blackberries are a favorite wild snack in the summer). “Stick training” includes: no touching sticks to another person, always ask first if your friend wants to sword fight, one stick per person, long sticks must be dragged or used as walking sticks. And—children come when they are called.
But we teachers have found that most children monitor their own safety, and err on the side of caution rather than risk. We probably spend more time saying, “I bet you can do that,” rather than, “Don’t do that, it’s dangerous.” Our role is that of a guide, a facilitator, an observer, a cheerleader, and sometimes a playmate. Most of all—and maybe most importantly–we share in the wonder, the curiosity, the pleasure, and the peace, that spending time in the natural world brings.


September – Back to school!

Posted August 25, 2014

For most children, the first day of school is often equal parts anxiety and excitement, while adults want total excitement without the anxiety.  But how can it be?

Without a doubt, there will be great excitement!  This is a day that has been talked about for weeks, even months.  The school is full of different toys, exciting outdoor spaces, and eager faces.  The possibilities to make new friends is endless.  But with new experiences also comes uncertainty.

Imagine being three or four (or five, as we witnessed our graduates contemplating the wide world of kindergarten) and being dropped off at a place we have only visited once or twice in the long-ago spring or summer.  The people who love us best wave goodbye as they head off to work, or worse – home with a younger sibling and not us!  At the same time, parents are feeling their own anxiety as goodbyes are being said.  Without a doubt, there will be some anxiety.

In truth, every parent and every child is different.  Some parents need reassurance for some time, from teachers and from their own child.  While some children might leap right in, even approaching a likely playmate with, “Hi, wanna play with me?” others prefer to paint at the corner easel for the first half hour while they get their bearings.

At All Seasons, as with any good early childhood setting, we greet each child at the door.  Each child has his/her own temperament, own family, own identity and own culture.  For the hours of school, we come together to form a cooperative community, but we try never to lose sight of each child’s particular gifts and needs.

Upstairs, we have the perfect helpers in this area – the grandmas and grandpas of Inver Glen.  Their delight and patience with the children help us all to remember the words of that wise and gentle teacher, Mr. Rogers– “I like you just the way you are.”

“Breathless, we flung us on a windy hill, laughed in the sun, and kissed the lovely grass.” – Rupert Brooke

Posted July 30, 2014

What have the children been up to this summer? Imagine the things YOU did as a child in the summer; that is precisely what we did at All Seasons Preschool. Climb trees. Dig in the garden. Have a picnic. Play hide-and-seek in the meadow. Build a fort in the woods. Get dirty. Roll down a grassy hill. Endless hours outside. These are the elements of which summertime memories are made.
Last week I walked our dog through our neighborhood park, the same park I’ve walked through almost every day for fourteen years. For possibly the first time, I saw young children (ages 7-10) at the playground without an adult present. This was so remarkable that I had to slow down to watch for a while. The neighborhood kids at the park in the absence of an adult was not the only thing that attracted my attention, the nature of their play was entirely different than what I see on my walks there.

Seven children huddled together, discussing the rules of their game of tag; who was IT, what bases were safe zones, and which parts of the park were off-limits. There were brief negotiations, but no arguments and certainly no fights. This was all accomplished without any parental input and everyone was happy enough to play the game. No parent stepped in to “rescue” the person who was unhappily selected to be IT, to negotiate the safe zones, or to remind everyone to take turns. Everyone was satisfied ENOUGH to play. Children, given the opportunity, understand that in order to be part of the play, they must sometimes concede to the wishes of others.

Not once did I hear, “Watch me do the monkey bars! “ or “Push me on the swing,” or the worst, “Come take a video of me going down the slide.” These children were not preoccupied with being the center of an adult’s attention. Rather, they were completely immersed in an elaborate game of tag with rules they came up with on their own. So engrossed were they in their game, they did not even notice me or my dog, who they always ask to pet when I walk past their homes. Absent was the erroneous belief that one must be the focal point at all times. How freeing for a child to know they can exist and have fun even when Mom or Dad isn’t there to watch or to document it for the scrapbook.

Breaking down this play, these young children were required to plan, organize, and make decisions on their own. Socially, they all needed to exhibit some flexibility and self-regulation in order for the game to succeed. Most obvious, each individual was immersed in vigorous exercise for an extended amount of time. This gift of free play in early childhood, is offered each day, under the careful supervision of teachers who trust in children’s ability to regulate their own play.