Category Archives: Preschool

Last Blog

Posted June 9, 2020

by All Seasons Founder, Sarah Sivright

Sarah, always joining their world

I started writing a draft of this months ago, knowing it would take some time to decide just what to write. Now we are not at school; greeting each other in the morning, spending time with grandmas and grandpas, planting the gardens, listening to and writing stories, playing with friends, inside and out, telling the dreaded “knock-knock” jokes at lunch—hugging, so much hugging.

I thought I was going to be saying goodbye to all that in June, not in March.

Much of what I was going to write seems unimportant. But it’s not, it’s just not front and center.

I have to write about some of the things I’ll miss, so please indulge me for a few paragraphs.

I started in the early childhood field in 1985, as the “nursery school” secretary at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, watching and learning from great and awful teachers. But I’ve been lucky to be mentored by some of the best—teachers and parents—and landed back in Minnesota in 2001, with Amy’s children in my classroom at Dodge Nature Preschool. When she called to ask if I wanted to help her start All Seasons, I knew immediately I’d been offered something special.

Now I am ending my career with some of the best mentors I could ever have—Amanda, Amy, Jenny, Joanne, Kylen, Rita, Roxie, Sarah, and Tracy.

They love and care for your children in ways that inspire and humble me. They also make me laugh and cry, a tribute to the love and trust we have for each other.

And, of course, you parents. It can sound like a cliché, and the truth sometimes takes a while to sink in, but we are partners and need each other to be able to give these children the very best school experience.

Ah, the children. They are the teachers. And they are the ones I’ll miss most.

Helping that very last child get into snow pants on a cold day when they’d really rather stay inside, and learning what they need—physically and emotionally—to be ready to go out that door.

Watching that shy child peer at the grandma in a wheelchair–seemingly asleep–tentatively touch the wrinkled hand in greeting, and smile in surprise and pleasure, as the eyes open and the smile is returned.

Reading a story at group time, stopping for the questions and observations—always the best part of the experience.

Learning what each child needs to grow from reluctant, impatient, participant to eager, confident artist in the studio.

Laughing together at some silliness

Giving comfort to a child who has learned to accept help

Hugs–all the time—hugs.

I wouldn’t have all this to miss if Amy hadn’t held on to her vision for 20 years and asked me join her. I will never be able to thank her enough.

Sarah’s hard hat from All Seasons’ construction in 2009

It seems impossible to imagine not spending my days with all of you, yet it also feels right. All is well here, with All Seasons in good hands, and our new school about to open in the fall, carrying our powerful mission to a new community. We don’t know what the future will bring, but I’m confident that we will continue to be a resilient, loving community. And I will stay in touch.

I’m Bored!

Posted May 21, 2020

by, Joanne Esser

When my children were young and they said, “I’m bored,” I usually responded by telling them all the reasons they should not be bored. I reminded them of all the toys, books, art supplies, friends, etc. that they had, and said that they needed to use their brains to find something to do to get un-bored – basically telling them that if they were smart, they shouldn’t feel that way.

When I was a young teacher of elementary school children, no one was allowed to use the word “bored” in my classroom. I provided plenty of activities for children to do, I reasoned, if only they activated their initiative. I did recognize that some children say “I’m bored” as code for “This is too hard for me,” or “This is too easy for me,” so I felt my job was to simply offer more tasks that fit their academic level of readiness. I was still not very sympathetic when they complained of boredom. 

Now, years later, I feel differently about the word “bored.” I’ve learned more about how our brains work, about all the emotional states we experience and how those states affect our learning and behavior. As a play-based early childhood educator, I have seen how a bout of boredom can lead children to make new connections. And recently, I have been studying my own experience of boredom during the isolation of the stay-at-home order.

Boredom is a real thing. And it is an uncomfortable feeling. Even as an adult, knowing full well all the choices I have, when there is plenty I could be doing, I am finding myself these days at a loss, feeling restless or numb or passive, sometimes sad, sometimes angry, a roller coaster of emotions. As I study my own reactions, I can better empathize with children who complain (or whine, or cry, or even have tantrums) as a natural reaction to this uneasy state of being. 

Children today are not as used to the feeling of boredom as children of past generations might have been, back when people stayed close to home, were not constantly on the go and played mostly with their siblings. The lives children are experiencing right now is probably similar to what our seniors grew up experiencing, and it is unfamiliar to the children.

The interesting thing about being bored, though, is that it is often leads to creativity. There is a surprising amount of research about the links between boredom and divergent thinking, imagination and creative energy. According to Sandi Mann, a senior psychology lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire in the UK, boredom is, at its core, “a search for neural stimulation that isn’t satisfied. If we can’t find that, our mind will create it.” She conducted a well-known study in which participants were asked to do a boring task, copying numbers from a phone book, or just reading the phone book.  A control group skipped those tasks. Then each group was asked to solve a problem requiring divergent thinking: generate as many uses as you can for a pair of plastic cups. The participants whose minds were the most bored consistently generated the most creative ideas. Their boredom enabled creativity and problem solving by allowing the mind to wander and daydream. “There’s no other way of getting that stimulation, so you have to go into your head,” she explains. 

The idea that boredom can help generate new ideas has support from some famously creative thinkers: Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, said that “boredom allows one to indulge in curiosity.” Author J.R.R. Tolkien created The Hobbit when he was a professor bored of grading papers!

However, in our current culture, we don’t tolerate the discomfort of feeling bored very well. Boredom is a “seeking state,” says Texas A&M University psychologist Heather Lench. “What you’re doing now is not satisfying, so you’re seeking, you’re engaged.” The problem is that we don’t want to wrestle with those slow moments of seeking. We try to extinguish every moment of boredom in our lives – often by reaching for our smart phones, video games, social media, and mobile devices. This gives us feelings of relief temporarily, but it shuts down the deeper thinking that can come from facing boredom head-on. These habits also change our tolerance for boredom; we need more and more of those hits of dopamine – the pleasurable chemical that is released in our brain by the new and novel content that our phones provide – to stop the discomfort of being bored. 

Parents are often fearful of boredom, not only for themselves, but also for their children. They hurry to “rescue” their children from the uncomfortable feeling of boredom by immediately offering relief in the form of filling their empty moments for them, suggesting activities, handing them an iPad or phone to play with or putting on a video for them to watch. Even in “normal times” we seek to alleviate our children’s boredom, but these times are far from “normal.” It must add an extra level of stress to an already stressful time if parents feel they must drop what they are doing every time their child says, “I’m bored.”

But as we have seen, children with “nothing to do” will eventually invent some weird, fun game to play – with a cardboard box, a light switch, a pile of sticks, whatever they find. I remember how my daughter invented an entire hilarious story at a restaurant while waiting for our food to arrive, using the ketchup bottle, silverware, sugar packets and salt-and-pepper shakers on the table as the story’s characters. 

It is hard for us to allow children to be bored. We know how difficult it feels, and we want to be helpful. We want to give unsolicited advice, “solve” it for them, relieve them of that state. But I have learned that it is most helpful to acknowledge their boredom, empathize so they know we understand, and then stay out of their way. With time and practice, children will figure out what to do. The pleasure of discovering their own creative solution is their natural reward.

 

Sarah

Posted May 7, 2020

By, Amy Lemieux

She can recite child development theorists in her sleep and Vygotsky is her hero, she accepts children for who they are, she knows good children’s literature, she isn’t afraid to get dirty and loves hard physical work, she is always learning and teaching us something new, she says “yes” too freely, she is generous to a fault, she makes everyone feel like they’re the most important person in the room, and she raised four boys and totally understands why little boys make exploding noises all day long.

Sarah was one of my children’s preschool teachers.  She knew my child as well as I did!  That was the first thing that caught my attention!  That she liked my child anyway gained my affection.  When I worried about my daughter’s compulsive lying, she said, “She’s a preschooler – they all lie,” and then recommended a book, which earned my gratitude.   That she experienced as much joy being with the children as they did was heartening.  She fed a giant snake right in front of the whole class!  (this freaked me out) When I told her I wanted to build an intergenerational preschool, she recommended a book about the loneliness of aging, which left me awestruck before I ran out and bought it.

When I asked if she would help me build an intergenerational preschool with no location, building, teachers, curriculum, or money, she said, “Yes!” without a second’s hesitation.  That is not an exaggeration.  Sarah’s willingness to jump in with both feet has been one of my favorite character traits of hers since day one.  To say I admire her is an understatement.  To say our entire staff borders on revering her is accurate…  Except we tease her too much to say revere.  If she were meaner, we would revere her.  We treasure her. 

Sarah Sivright of All Seasons Preschool is Albus Dumbledore of Hogwarts (we are huge Harry Potter fans).  Not only is she wise, well-read, and experienced, but our achievements and challenges feel safe in her hands.  Each of us has struggles, but Sarah creates safety in voicing them.  She is a mentor, a partner, and a cheerleader to all of us.  

When we designed All Seasons, Sarah’s vision for the interior was clear.  The designer finally quit asking us questions because Sarah’s answer never strayed from, “a lovely green with lots of windows.”  Our biggest fumble was when the construction project was close to complete and Sarah asked, “Where will the fence go?”  That was an expensive oversight – we forgot to tell them we needed a fence.  That question still makes us tense up.

When I start panicking about Sarah’s retirement, I remind myself that the essence of All Seasons Preschool is Sarah’s creation.  I remind myself that she and I still talk most days.  She will remain present.    

It is fair to say that we can finish each other’s thoughts and often do, especially when we are in problem-solving mode.  One of us can start writing a piece that is initially disjointed and the other can rearrange it to become concise.  We have always solidly agreed on who to hire.  In eleven years, there have only been a handful of times we have disagreed, but we have always stuck with the discussion, circling back as many times as it takes to come to an agreement.  (For transparency, we do not agree on books by Mo Willems – they’re hilarious, and Legos – they never fail to elicit a primitive hoarding mentality in small children.)  When it comes down to the core of what is important, Sarah and I might occasionally land on different paragraphs, but we are ALWAYS on the same page.  I know I speak for staff, parents, and alumni families when I say I am eternally grateful for the imprint Sarah has made on our hearts and our school community.

 

Ready, Set, Bake!

Posted April 21, 2020

By, Tracy Riekenberg

At the time of this publication, we have all been home for at least four weeks, some of us five weeks or more! This Stay-Home order has no doubt left you stir-crazy (it has me!) with time to spare. This extra time at home is the perfect opportunity to dust off your Kitchenaid mixer and get cooking with your kids!

Children as young as 18 months can help you cook. The very young are great stirrers and taste-testers. With guidance they can help wash vegetables and measure ingredients. They can mash soft ingredients like bananas. When you’re done cooking, they can wash the plastic/non-breakable and non-harmful dishes such as measuring cups and spoons. 

All Seasons students are experts at the basics of cooking. At school, we make everything from scrambled eggs to granola bars, muffins to smoothies. At preschool age, children are ready for more advanced tasks in cooking: measuring, stirring, scraping, cutting soft ingredients (using a safe knife), cracking eggs, kneading dough, rolling cookies or biscuits, spreading butter or jam, and more. When my own children were preschool age, we loved to bake cookies and muffins. Their favorite job (aside from licking the bowl!) was the scooping. Something about the cookie scoop was intriguing and fun to try. 

Cooking together is, of course, a learning time for children. The youngest will learn language skills (what does “measure” mean, for example) and older children are working on math skills – more/less, fractions, time, and so on. But aside from “school readiness” learning, when children cook they are also developing motor skills. That cookie scoop? That helped my kids with their fine motor development in their hands, which in turn helped them be able to write when they started school. Measuring and pouring supports the development of children’s hand-eye coordination. Stirring a thick batter can help children with practicing something that is hard and not giving up.

In addition, research suggests that children who engage in the preparing of meals are more likely to try new foods and be adventurous eaters. A new recipe served to a 4-year old may be turned down, but the same recipe that child helped prepare may be devoured and asked for again! 

What if you haven’t been cooking much with your kids? Where do you start? 

I found baked goods the easiest thing to do with my kids when they were young. The ingredients are easy to measure (if messy) and there aren’t many sharp tools needed. The mixer was interesting to watch as it went ‘round and ‘round. And the results were delicious to try! Muffins, cookies, cakes – we made it all! The important thing is to find a recipe that you have all the ingredients for, is at a level at which you are comfortable helping your children, and that you are excited about. I’d also suggest keeping your expectations low. If the only thing your child does this time is measure one cup of flour, then that is a success! Small and gradual steps will build up their stamina and interest in cooking. 

I’m no fool, though. I am not going to pretend that cooking with children is always an easy, mess-free, and lovely bonding experience. More times than not, when I cooked with my kids, we made a HUGE mess. I often felt like snatching the spoon out 

of their hands because it would be faster if I just did it myself. And do not get me started about their whining about whose turn it was to do which task. UFF DA. But like most really meaningful parenting tasks, the long term results have been worth it. 

My children are nine years old now. We have made cookies, muffins, scrambled eggs, macaroni and cheese, hamburgers, tacos and pancakes together during this time away from school. In fact, today my daughter made the pancakes for lunch all by herself. She read the recipe, gathered the ingredients, made the batter, and cooked the pancakes with very little help from me. They were tasty – and I didn’t have to cook a meal! 

Isn’t that the ultimate goal? Children of all ages who cook are learning life skills: reading a recipe, gathering ingredients, following directions, preparing a meal, cleaning up and taste-testing. They are learning to become self-sufficient humans who will thrive as they grow up. Who knows? Maybe someday when they are grown, they’ll invite you over for a delicious meal they prepared. 

The Beauty of Box Play

Posted April 14, 2020

By, Roxie Zeller

Almost every family has a story about children playing in boxes. For my husband’s family the story is about the refrigerator box that the neighborhood families turned into a rocket ship. This story usually ends with my husband telling about the “horrific” sight of watching the box, with his stomp rockets taped to the side, being crushed by the recycling truck. I remember turning boxes into boats, race cars, and a puppet theater as a child. The puppet theater ended up staying in my room for almost a year after we made it. 

As an adult, I now look at boxes and tend to think, “How am I going to get this in the recycling?”, “That is a lot of cardboard,” or “Should I save this for a moving box?” Rarely do I look at a box now and think things like, “Wow! That looks like a good place to read,” or “This is the perfect rocket ship,” or “If I cut a hole here, I could make this into a fort.” 

Recently I found myself with two big boxes sitting in my apartment taking up space. With no desire to wrestle the boxes down to the recycling, I decided to take them to All Seasons to see what the preschoolers would do with the boxes. As the preschoolers started to look at the boxes and make plans, I began to see the endless possibilities of boxes again. These boxes were houses, rockets, monsters, and haunted houses. The children decided what the boxes would be and worked together to plan out where doors or windows would be cut out, and eventually they worked together to paint the boxes. They tried to make scary colors, mixing the primary colors with black to make them spookier. Then with the addition of Halloween decorations, the boxes transformed from plain cardboard boxes into haunted houses. The preschoolers would climb inside and sit all squished together giggling.


I kept thinking there is so much beauty in box play. It’s not the same kind of play that comes from the dramatic play area or blocks, but is something truly unique. On the outside, it just looks like children sitting in boxes, but for the preschoolers, sitting in the small, dark box transports them into a different creative space that is truly open to endless possibilities. In other areas of play, children have boundaries in place, or there are specific scenarios that adults decide. But boxes provide children a different kind of self-directed play that is full of pure creativity. This kind of play can also occupy a child for quite a long while and tends to carry over from day to day. The beauty of box play is not exclusive to boxes, however; blanket and pillow forts can invoke this same pure creative play. It must be something about small dark places that let children’s imaginations run wild. 

 

 Now that we are all under the stay-home order and families have their children home all day, it can be overwhelming for parents to keep them occupied and get work done. Toys can occupy a child for a while, but over time they will grow bored of them, and start finding themselves in sticky situations. A simple solution may be to find some boxes and let children freely explore the beauty of box play.

Out Past Bedtime

Posted March 20, 2020

By, Amanda Janquart

I remember listening to a song by folk musician Greg Brown and being struck by the way he described “adult dark.” Kids were called in from playing outside in the evening, but it wasn’t really that dark yet. According to the kids, it only looked dark if you were inside yakking about gall bladders and such and glanced out the window. Why should they have to come in when it was just adult dark?

Being outside as the sky darkens can be thrilling to young children. Now add headlamps and a bunch of pals and take away those pesky grownups taking about boring stuff! Kid’s Night In, which upon reflection is more akin to Kid’s Night Out(side), is All Seasons Preschool’s annual fundraiser. It is a chance to explore favorite places that children have played in many times during the day without the daylight. 

This year’s event was held in late February. Carting in a basket of outdoor gear and perhaps already in pajamas, children gathered in the Community Room. They could choose to play on blankets set up with Magnatiles, dry erase boards, train tracks, or books. Some chose to help prepare the long row of tables for dinner. Pizza was delivered and served up alongside bananas. After eating and taking a bathroom break (here is where planning ahead is key!), all the outdoor gear was donned.  

 

Excitement was palpable as children in their small groups switched on headlamps and hit the trails. It wasn’t long before stars were visible. Groups scattered throughout the snowscapes, some climbing trees and some going sledding in the dark. In the pines, simply laying on backs and looking up was thrilling. On the golf course, hills were conquered, and children could look back towards the school to see all the little bobbing lights of those in the woods. Meeting back on the playground, pitchers of hot chocolate with marshmallows were waiting. 


Exhausted bodies, closing in on bedtimes, snuggled up in sleeping bags back in the Community Room. Mr. Rogers’ voice soothed us all as we listened to him chat with Eric Carle, the author and illustrator of some very familiar books. We watched as he learned how Eric pieced together collages and even heard the author himself read one of his books. Then parents arrived, and the excitement level ramped back up. Children couldn’t wait to share the events of their night in, or rather, out! 

Each month, approximately $3000 is distributed through the preschool’s scholarship fund.  Thanks to the families who joined us and the teachers who volunteered, $850 was added to the program. We are happy the event is so well received with one child saying, “It was the best night of my life!”

Parenting in Worrisome Times

Posted March 16, 2020

by, Sarah Kern

I woke up this morning with a racing heart, feeling like I couldn’t catch my breath. It took me a moment to get my bearings, figure out what the threat was that my body was responding to. I’ve dealt with my own serious health issues in the last year, and now a threat looms again. The news about coronavirus is rampant and inescapable. Events are being cancelled, travel restricted, and schools are closing. It’s hard to know how to process it all, how scared we should really be. The anxiety, too, is rampant. I see it on people’s faces — the twinge of panic in voices, the look of worry before they flip to a friendly smile.  As parents, many of us are suffering, and it’s a painful (and anxiety-inducing) fact that anxiety trickles down to our kids. Even the youngest children are sensitive to the tones of our conversations, our body language, the way we may check out or detach to protect ourselves. While they may not understand exactly what is happening, they can understand that SOMETHING is happening. 

What is our responsibility to ourselves and to our children in times like these? Depending on age, children will have questions. Honesty is important, as well as calmness and rationality. Preschool-aged children can understand that some people are getting sick from a new illness and that things might be a little bit different for awhile so more people don’t get sick. Language such as, “You’re safe” can be reassuring, as well as a focus on the fact that there are things we can do to help. This can alleviate some of the anxiety about the many things we can’t do. Following the experts’ advice is the place to start. Washing hands, sanitizing surfaces, and staying home whenever possible is essential. Even something as simple as wiping down my phone makes me feel a bit more in control. These things can help kids feel better too — it empowers them to know there are things they can do to be safe. We also have a responsibility to be vigilant about looking for signs of true anxiety disorders, both in ourselves and our children. If anxiety is disrupting functioning or affecting quality of life, it’s time to see a doctor or therapist. 

This is also a time to take a closer look at the things unrelated to the virus that make us feel better. Maybe for you that means getting some exercise or calling a friend to chat. Maybe for your child it’s an uninterrupted LEGO playtime or a long walk outside. We all need breaks from social media and the news. There can be comfort in simple, routine things that are untouched by this situation — giving your child a bath, reading a favorite book together. 

In times of mass upset, I’m reminded of advice from Mr. Rogers: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” This advice comforts me as an adult, and it’s comforting to children, too. When you start to look for the helpers, they quickly appear. This morning I saw a post on a neighborhood facebook page offering to buy groceries for anyone who is in a high risk group. I see people making choices not for the good of themselves, but for the good of their communities — friends working from home, cancelling parties and play dates, staying home. We don’t know what’s going to happen, and that can feel scary, but the only way we’re going to get through this is together — even if we’re all six feet apart. 

 

Social Distancing at Sarah Kern’s house.

Why Children Act Out Most For Their Parents

Posted March 3, 2020

By, Tracy Riekenberg

It happened one recent weekend day. My son looked right at me and yelled, “I hate you!” then stormed off to his room.

This came as a shock from my boy. In his nine years on earth, he has gotten upset with me, but not to this degree. For the most part, he has been cuddly, loving, affectionate, and attached to me. This is the same boy who I didn’t get to hold until he was three days old. (He and his twin sister were born prematurely and he was whisked off to an isolette, hooked up to IVs and CPAP, and fragile for those first days). After the first moment I finally got to hold him, he never has wanted to let me go. He was the one to need extra rocking at night, the one who gave me big sloppy open mouth baby kisses, the one who never wanted to feed himself – he wanted me to do it for him. He is the one who climbs into bed with me on weekends to cuddle, the one who still holds my hand in public, the one who has a special good-night poem we HAVE to say every night. He is the one who is reluctant to spend the night at a friend’s house because he needs to be close to me. He is the one who cuddles next to me while we watch a movie. He is the one who really, really loves me. 

And yet, he is the one to first say he hated me. 

Talk about mama heartbreak!

After my emotions cooled off a bit, I recalled something my Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) teacher told us years ago: children most often act out for their parents because they feel safe with them. 

I’m sure it’s happened to all of us. Your child runs around, refuses to put on her coat, or flat-out tells you NO when it’s time to go home from school. Your heart breaks because you’ve been waiting all day to see her, yet she appears to be angry to go home. Or your child spends the afternoon/weekend with Grandma. You hear how he was a perfect angel, even helping Grandma with chores and eating every meal with no complaint. Then you get home and he starts screaming, crying, kicking, and having an absolute meltdown. Or you had a rare moment out and come home to your children playing happily with a babysitter. When she goes to put her coat on to leave, you’re left with a tantrum about getting ready for bed. 

It’s hard not to take these acting out moments personally. “What is it about me that is so much worse than the babysitter?” you think. And it’s even harder not to be completely embarrassed. “Oh my gosh!” you might think, “what if she acts like this for her teachers!?”

Chances are, she doesn’t. 

First of all, it takes a lot of child brainpower to be “on” all day at school, at Grandma’s, or with a babysitter. Deep down, children know the behavior expectations and their brains are working hard to keep the whining down, wiggles controlled, learning going, and rules followed. The second they can turn that section of their brain to “off,” they let loose all the emotions of the day. Maybe they’re hungry, tired, mad, sad or even happy, exhausted, and processing something new. The flood of emotions coming over them can create the outbursts you see the moment you come home. 

Secondly, your child may love their Grandma, trust and respect their teachers, and engage with their babysitter…. But your child LOVES you. Your child knows that you love him and that love is unconditional. He bursts into a tailspin of acting out because deep down he knows that no matter how bad he acts, he knows that you will still love him no matter what. 

At the moment, of course, remembering that these outbursts come from safety and love is so very hard. Because we love our children so deeply, when the behaviors seem to be directed right at us, it hurts! Our brains go into a panic mode and we can’t function in a calm manner. 

Even if you can’t do it in the heat of the outburst, later try to remember that you are a loved person in your child’s world. Because now, several days after the painful event with my son, I have had time to remind myself that “I hate you” really means “I love you.” (And sometimes looking back at pictures of just how much your child loves you helps!)

 

The Importance of Motor Development in the Early Years

Posted February 18, 2020

by, Kylen Glassmann

This Spring has presented me a new set of personal challenges. I have stretched myself professionally and taken on a new role as an adjunct instructor at the University of Minnesota, teaching a course entitled, “Creative and Motor Learning in Early Childhood” through the Institute of Child Development. So far this experience has been exciting and insightful. It has reminded me of the importance and interdependence of all developmental domains. Motor development is often thought of as something that children learn innately; eventually, everyone learns to walk, run, jump, hold a pencil, and color a picture; we don’t “teach” infants to take their first steps in the same way we teach a child to add, subtract, or read. However, a child’s environment and the support they receive while developing any skill is key to learning – as is repetition, new experiences, and practice.

As I began preparing for my course at the University, two things immediately grabbed my attention: the fact that movement frequently takes a back seat in elementary education, often to the detriment of our children, and more and more children are entering school with under-developed fine-motor skills. Fine-motor has to do with small muscles (e.g. fingers and toes), whereas gross/large motor involves the larger muscle groups (e.g. legs and arms). Think of walking and jumping versus gripping and pinching. Although these are separate sets of skills using different parts of the body, everything is interrelated and when one area suffers, the other can too. When a child has a hard time holding a pencil with a pincer grip, they likely lack strength in their hand, which makes controlled movement very challenging. More evidence is also pointing to the bigger picture; what about gross motor development? If a child lacks core strength, has weak hand-eye-coordination or balance, they will likely have a hard time sitting and controlling a pencil or manipulating scissors, even if their hand strength is fully developed. 

Although it’s not necessary to teach a toddler to write their name, and it is something that we structure appropriately in preschool depending on the child’s abilities, at home you don’t have to wait to support your child’s motor development! Just as we encourage infants to grasp an object or pull themselves up to standing by putting a toy just out of reach and offering encouragement, we can do the same for our toddlers and preschoolers. Children are tactile beings that learn through engaging with and manipulating the world around them, and I don’t mean screens! When our bodies move, our brains our firing, sending out healthy messages that help us learn and grow. Even as adults! We all know the worst part of working out is getting to the gym, because if we always felt the way we do after a good sweat, we’d never leave the gym! 

 

 

Supporting motor development can be as simple as putting children in the right environment and providing them with the right tools and materials. Make going outside once a day, or a few times a week, a priority and see how your child is encouraged to run, climb, and play with sticks. Set out some markers and paper while you’re preparing dinner. Have a dance party or do some yoga before getting ready to wind down for the evening. Go with their interests and encourage them to try new things! An important thing to keep in mind is to make things fun and don’t force something that your child isn’t ready for. 

Here are some other ways to support your child’s motor skills: 

  • Let them help with cooking or baking projects.
  • Let them serve themselves at the snack table, using tongs or their fingers. 
  • Encourage children to use utensils while eating (even if it’s messy). 
  • Put out coloring materials for them to use when they are interested.
  • Craft with them and encourage them to make things with their hands. 
  • Play a game of red-light, green-light when you’re outside or at the park (practicing different movements like hopping, galloping, crawling, etc.) 
  • Make an obstacle course in your backyard or basement and have them challenge themselves (I wonder if you can go faster this time, or slower and more controlled)
  • Turn a pretend play space into a gym or gymnastics tournament( This was my FAVORITE thing to do as a kid!)
  • Provide them with sensory materials like playdough, clay, slime, and even water or sand with funnels, pipettes, and scoops/shovels. 
  • Dance and stretch.

Using their whole bodies frequently – from fingertips to toes and everything in between – helps children develop their motor skills, and preparesthem for the work they will do as they continue to grow.

Friendship In the Early Years

Posted February 4, 2020

by, Sarah Kern

They are common questions at parent/teacher conferences: Who does she play with? Does she have friends? Who is his best friend? I surprised myself at my daughter’s own parent/teacher conference when the question tumbled out of my mouth: Is there anyone she likes to play with? She’s one year old! Clearly this is on the mind of parents — we want our child to be social, well-liked, and have friends. But how does friendship develop in the early years? There is a typical progression, but it should be said that the development of these skills varies from child to child and is affected by personality and temperament, the environment a child experiences, and any special needs a child may have.

Social awareness begins at birth. Babies prefer to look at faces above all else, and some studies suggest babies can recognize their parents’ faces within a few days of birth. We are programmed to be social, right out of the womb. For one and two year olds, the interest in others begins to grow. In the toddler classroom at All Seasons, we see lots of independent and parallel play. Children are beginning to prefer to be near their peers as they play, but they aren’t quite able to organize play with a peer. Playmate preference is dominated by shared interests. We also see growing empathy at this age — reading emotions and the beginnings of checking in with a classmate who is hurt.  Children are also learning how to enter play, and much about social development can be gleaned by watching this behavior. In fact, asking the question, “Can I play?” is often the beginning a friendship. 

At age three, we see social skills continue to grow. Independent and parallel play continue to play a predominant role. Children this age understand sharing and taking turns, but they may still struggle to consistently implement these skills. Symbolic pretend play becomes more common — a block can now be a cup of coffee, a stick can be a wand. Children this age feel most comfortable joining a group activity, such as playing at the play dough table. Observation and imitation are an important part of development, too. 

At age four, children develop the ability to collaborate and cooperate with peers. Playmate preference increases, and a child may mention a “best” friend at this age. Conversation and negotiation increase, along with increased self-regulation. This is also the age children may begin to exclude others. A child is more likely to proclaim, “You’re not invited to my birthday party!” than they are to hit, and the sting is often worse. Still, children are generally quick to bounce back from this kind of conflict.

At five, play becomes more elaborate, developed, and imaginative. Themes can last an entire playtime and even pick up again at a later time. The ability to take turns, share toys, and understand differing ability levels is generally solid. Helping a younger child is appealing, and the sense of humor grows. 

The adult has an important role to play in the development of these skills. Adults model important social skills, facilitate play, and help children read and respond to social cues. In our mixed age classrooms, peers help each other, too. Many of our students have the opportunity to grow through these stages in the same classroom at All Seasons. It’s a magical thing to watch, and few things are more satisfying to a teacher than a moment of kindness between two children, or the simple answer of “YES” to the question of “Can I play?”