Category Archives: Preschool

The Bittersweet Time of Endings and Beginnings

Posted April 14, 2021

The Bittersweet Time of Endings and Beginnings

By Tracy Riekenberg

I was the child who cried at the end of every school year because I didn’t want to say goodbye to my beloved teachers. I was the parent who cried at the end of every year of my own children’s schooling because I didn’t want to say goodbye to their beloved teachers. Now I find myself as the teacher who is going to cry at the end of this school year saying goodbye to my beloved students.

It’s just who I am. I love school and care deeply about people. And I cry at the drop of a hat.

But it’s more than that this year.

This crazy pandemic school year found me, at age 40, as the lead teacher in my own classroom for the first time in my career. I came to teaching as a second career, stumbled along substituting for several years, had my own children and stayed home for six years, and by luck of the universe ended up at All Seasons Preschool two years ago. I feel so grateful that Amy, Joanne, and Sarah saw in me the teaching skills and capacity for loving children that are needed in this job and trusted me to be the lead teacher in the Autumn Room at Inver Glen this year.

The eight children in my classroom have brought me joy every single day. They have shown me the capacity for love, fun, happiness, imagination, determination, problem solving, curiosity, friendship, silliness, adventure, and more. At a time when my personal life was hurtful and heavy, these children lifted me up every day. I hope I have many more years of teaching ahead of me, but this class will always be so very special to me. Thank you, families, for trusting me with your very precious people and sharing them with me this year.

Almost all the children in my class are moving on to other schools next year, and I will miss them deeply. I said to one of my students the other day, “You know what, buddy? I’m going to miss you when you go to kindergarten next year.” His reply was, “I won’t even remember you when I don’t come here every day.”

It’s a sad but true fact that early educators are SO DEEPLY LOVED by children at the time they are with us, and often forgotten as the children grow up. This is how it is supposed to be; so many new experiences happen as they grow that the earliest memories get pushed to the back corners of their minds. I can only hope part of my heart sticks with these kids, be it a funny thing that happened at school, the smell of my coffee, a book we read aloud that they remember, a game we played, or when they hear “Obla-di-obla-da” and have the urge to clean up their rooms.

The Magic of Music

Posted March 30, 2021

The Magic of Music

By Joanne Esser

Some of my favorite memories involve singing, playing, or listening to music together with other people. Around a campfire, as part of a choir, with my kids on a long car trip, with children in my classrooms over the years – music is a special pleasure, a kind of connective tissue that weaves between people and makes us feel happy.

Music affects our bodies and our emotions. This will undoubtedly date me, but I admit that I put on lively songs by Earth, Wind and Fire, Stevie Wonder or Queen when I am going to clean my house. I play them loud because it energizes me and makes the task more pleasant. On the other hand, when I am going to paint, I stream some mellow indie ballads or instrumental music to set the mood. It feels as if the music enhances my creativity. Think of how hearing a song from another time in your life transports you instantaneously back to a tender moment from your past, and you feel again the emotions of that moment.

In the classroom, music is a tool that teachers use for many purposes. Singing together builds a repertoire of songs that gradually belongs to the group, creating a body of shared content and ownership. Silly songs introduce a light mood and give everyone, children and adults, permission to let loose a bit. There is nothing better than a dance party with your friends on a rainy day! Teachers use songs as cues to signal transitions, such as singing a clean-up song that is the same every day, to ease into the routine task. Or they will sing a good-bye song that mentions every member of the class by name, acknowledging and reinforcing the children’s sense of belonging.

Music can also be useful in stressful situations. Once when I was camping with a group of elementary school children, the weather turned wet and windy. The children and adults were uncomfortable, and morale was sagging. To avoid the whining that seemed inevitable in the situation, my co-teacher and I made a rule: anyone who wanted to complain had to sing their complaint. The children were only too eager to invent complaint songs – and none of us could resist laughing at the resulting ridiculous, exaggerated and even operatic songs they belted out. It shifted the atmosphere completely. I recall many times when I was awakened in the middle of the night by a fretful child and the only thing that calmed both of us was rocking and singing a gentle, repetitive song. Vibrations shared between one body and another – a sweet way to settle back down.

Music is a language that can be understood by even the youngest infant. Singing a lullaby or humming gently while rocking a baby relaxes both the child and the adult. Even if the adult “can’t carry a tune,” the vibrations and soothing pattern of the melody offer a sense of closeness. According to Deanne W. Kells, an author and music teacher, “Researchers have proven via numerous studies that music has a positive impact on the ability of people to connect with one another. Music positively affects brain pathways that influence empathy, trust, and cooperation. Furthermore, scientists believe listening to and creating music increases the release of oxytocin, a neuropeptide that plays a key role in increasing bonding and trust between people.”

Music has been at the heart of the bonds I share with my grandchildren. Jazzing up a dull day by singing and dancing to Broadway tunes or simmering down before bedtime with soft favorite children’s songs is part of our routine when they come to visit.

Maria Von Trapp, the real-life heroine from one of my favorite musicals, “The Sound of Music,” once said, “Music acts like a magic key, to which the most tightly closed heart opens.” I have seen how true that can be.

The Struggle

Posted March 9, 2021
“Need a hand down there?”

The Struggle

By Rita Thoemke

This year’s toddler class has ventured where no other toddler class has roamed. It began in the fall when teachers showed the children our mud kitchen. The kids were more interested in what they would find if they followed the path beyond the mud kitchen into the woods, so we let them explore. We later brought them to the Pines, the Boulders, and on longer hikes. In past years, our toddlers stayed on the playground, free to explore anything within the fenced-in area. This class clearly was up for the additional challenges.

With new challenge comes new struggle. In the woods there are many trees that have fallen. Children love to climb up on these trees. One tree has a slide attached. While some of the toddlers climb with ease, others struggle and call out for help. As children try to conquer these challenges, teachers stand by to assure the kids are safe, but we never lift a child up into a tree or give them a boost. We do coach them, with suggestions about where they might place their feet or hands. “I wonder if it would help to place your foot over here?” Sometimes children get very frustrated and find it hard to understand why their teacher is not offering help. But that same teacher is there to celebrate the victory when they finally succeed in their climb.

Even better than a teacher offering suggestions is another child offering to help. On a recent day of sliding down the playground hill on our kick sleds, many children struggled getting the sleds back up the hill. One child discovered it was easier to push the kick sled up the hill if you turned it around and pushed it up from behind. While other kids cried out in frustration and some even abandoned their sleds at the bottom, this child went up and down the hill several times with ease. A teacher suggested that he could show the other children how he did it. Not only did the other children listen and try his suggestions, but the helping boy beamed with pride that he could offer help to others.

Sometimes this act of helping shows up in the children’s play even when it is not needed. On a mild day we discovered “Snow Mountain.” A snowbank in a safe corner of the parking lot, Snow Mountain offers a great climbing experience that is followed by a fun slide down on their bottoms. While one child was climbing up the hill, another child on top called down, “Need a hand down there?” Then, in dramatic fashion, the climbing child reached up to grab the helper’s hand. On the next go-around, these two switched roles. Soon ropes were introduced, and children quickly used them to “rescue” each other and assist in climbing up the hill.

Struggles can be found in other parts of our day as well – snack time, for example. Early in the year, some children struggled to unzip their lunch boxes or tear open their snack packages. Teachers use the same coaching strategies to encourage independence. Getting dressed to go outside is another skill that takes practice and persistence. While allowing a little bit of struggle, we have reached an exciting time of year where some kids have mastered boots and zippers and can offer assistance to their friends. It would be easy to jump in and do many of these things for the kids, but it is a joy to see a child succeed at something that took hard work to achieve. “I did it!” is music to our ears. Responding with “Look at you!” or “I had a feeling you could do it,” builds the children’s confidence and a sense of pride in their accomplishments. While it is difficult to watch a child struggle, the reward in the end is well worth it.

Connecting Through Board Games

Posted February 24, 2021

CONNECTING THROUGH BOARD GAMES

By Roxie Zeller

Over the course of the pandemic, I have rediscovered a love of board games. They have been a great way to escape the reality of the world around us and lose myself in the world of the game. With the use of today’s technology, I can play board games in person with my husband and others in my COVID bubble, as well as play online with loved ones outside my bubble, even those who live far away.

Games offer an intrigue that draws people in. Many games focus on adventure or fantasy. Others are all about the art of the game. In my personal collection, I love games where players take the role of an adventurer, such as in Lost Cities, where you set off on quests to find lost cities and score points. I also love Carcassonne, a game in which you compete to build cities and fields with tiles that show images of southern France, and Sagrada, a beautiful game in which you build stained glass windows with colorful transparent dice.


But what makes board games really special is the people who play with you. It’s the other players who push you to plan ahead, pay attention to what everyone else is doing, and improve your strategies. That friendly interaction is engaging; you can immerse yourself in it.

Board games have a similar appeal to children. They provide children with opportunities to learn while having fun with friends. I have brought my love for board games into the classroom and have really enjoyed playing with the preschoolers. So far, we have played Old Maid, Go Fish, Bingo, Memory Match, Max, and Hi Ho Cherry-O. Of these games, Memory Match and Hi Ho Cherry-O have become our favorites. Memory Match and Bingo draw in a large group of children, some of whom are willing to remain attentive for the whole duration, while others flow in and out of the game. Hi Ho Cherry-O tends to pull in three or four preschoolers who, for the most part, stay engaged through the whole game. The wonderful thing about playing with preschoolers is that everyone has a great attitude: we laugh and joke about bad luck in Hi Ho Cherry-O; they help each other out in Memory Match. The children don’t seem to place a huge emphasis on winning but rather enjoying the twists and turns of the game.


What the preschoolers don’t know is these board games are a great way to help them practice counting, fine motor skills, turn-taking, following rules and instructions, communication and teamwork. There are countless research articles about the benefits of board games for children of all ages.


My hope is that by playing games in the classroom with my preschoolers, I not only help them develop important skills, but also instill a love for games in them. Many children and adults today connect with their peers through video games, movies, and TV shows. Playing physical board games with friends is another great way to connect. In a world of screens, it is refreshing to unplug and lose myself in the world of a game.

Across The Blue Divide

Posted February 10, 2021

Across the Blue Divide

by Amanda Janquart

We are continuing to keep classes in pods at All Seasons, with up to eight children and a teacher. There is no denying that it can sometimes feel as though we are isolated, ships passing in the night as we see another group from across the woods or pines. But we have thankfully found ways to stay connected that don’t interfere with social distancing practices.

The school-agers have worked on forts to share with the preschoolers. They’ve planted golf balls to surprise them, carved out snow forts, and cleared trails and packed down the sledding hill to make it easier for the younger students. In return, the preschoolers have been respectful and thankful, calling out their appreciation and enthusiastically waving through windows. But the magic really took off with the discovery of blue spots in the snow.

It was during a scavenger hunt that the blue patches on the snow were found. The school-agers certainly thought that they had earned a top prize! We were all stumped, though. What were they? It took some research (thanks, Google) and some brainstorming on what exactly to search. “Blue snow” brought up glaciers and explained why ice appears blue. Hmmm. Deer and rabbit scat was nearby, and a child wondered if the blue patches could be pee from an animal. A search for “blue rabbit urine” resulted in images that matched! The internet explained that this happens when rabbits are stressed for food and turn to European buckthorn, an invasive species with toxic berries with which these children are well acquainted. It would seem logical that the dark blue berries led to the blue pee. (Personal stories of eating “superman”-flavored/dyed ice cream were shared at this point!) But it is actually the buckthorn bark and branches that the rabbits can reach and consume.

A 2019 article in the Mille Lacs Messenger by Stan Tekiela explained more. “The buckthorn produces phytochemicals through primary and secondary metabolism. Usually the phytochemicals have biological activity in the host plant and help in the plant’s growth or defense when fighting competing trees, pathogens such as plant killing fungus or predators such as insects. The compounds pass through the rabbit’s system and come out in the urine. Normal rabbit urine color is yellow. When they are eating buckthorn, the rabbit’s urine comes out yellow, but it is widely reported (not tested) that once the urine, tainted with the phytochemicals, is exposed to sunlight, it turns blue in about ten minutes.” He also posits that it is exposure to oxygen, rather than to sunlight, that may cause the color change.

The knowledge was gobbled up by the school-agers and shared with the preschoolers. While they wanted to see the blue spots too, the biggest takeaway for the younger students was that the rabbits were very hungry, and therefore, they had to do something to help! The next day the preschoolers set to work, delivering a parent’s donation of carrots and cabbage to the rabbits. They worked compassionately, building a “bunny fort” (modeled after the big kids’ fort) throughout the coming days for the rabbits to rest in.

While we weren’t physically near, the two groups strengthened their connection over a shared experience – gaining knowledge and stretching socially and emotionally along the way. I know it wasn’t really magic, but that is certainly how I’d describe it.

From the Clinic to the Classroom

Posted January 26, 2021

From the Clinic to the Classroom

By Mariel Goettsch

I can’t say I ever thought I would be teaching in a preschool classroom, but I am beyond grateful for the path that led me here.

My discovery of All Seasons was quite serendipitous. While I had left the occupational therapy clinic setting to pursue private practice with OT, I knew it would be smart to have a constant as I rode the waves and uncertainty of starting a new business. It just so happened that my mom was talking one day about her employer (Southview Communities, which operates the senior residences) and sharing with me the unique and thoughtful details of their service delivery, which includes All Seasons’ intergenerational preschools. What I initially thought was going to be a chat out of curiosity with Amy about the development of All Seasons turned into an interview for teaching in the Winter Room! We found each other when neither of us was explicitly searching. It took all of a few minutes before I knew this school had my heart!

The transition from the clinic setting to the classroom has been fairly smooth, although quite dynamic. While I have ten years of experience working with a variety of children, it is a completely different ball game to be present with up to eight children at once. It has provided me with an entirely new perspective on the demands and responsibilities of observing and guiding group dynamics while also considering each individual child’s needs and learning style. These children are at such a pivotal age for developing social skills; teaching has given me a front row seat to watch as they problem-solve through these experiences. There are many trials and what would possibly be considered “failed attempts” at interaction that ultimately lead to learning and growth. It has been a great lesson for me as a new teacher to better understand my role within these interactions, which is most often to simply observe and take note. I sometimes like to consider a silly bowling analogy, in which I am the bumpers in the gutters of a bowling alley. The child is responsible for choosing the ball, deciding how to hold it and where to stand, sending it down the lane, assessing the outcome, and potentially adjusting accordingly for the next try. My job is to be grounded and present, observe, and give just enough guidance to keep the child from repeated or unnecessary failure.

I have always held teachers in high regard, but now I have a newfound appreciation for them! And I am honored to be a part of the greater community at All Seasons that truly values and honors the natural process of learning through play.

Escaping the Trap of Time Confetti at Preschool

Posted January 12, 2021

by Amy Lemieux

The winter solstice has passed, but ironically, on one of the shortest days in possibly our darkest year, I made an unexpected and welcome mental shift that has made my days brighter. I can nail down the change almost to the moment. Rushing into one of the classrooms in December, I glimpsed a little girl wearing fluffy slippers. Her slippers stopped me in my tracks. Looking around the school, I noticed several students wearing slippers, pajamas, a Batman costume, and a cozy robe. It was not pajama day, but a regular winter day. Notably, each child was deeply engaged in her own chosen activity. This particular girl sat with her friends, intently arranging colored tiles in a wooden frame, occasionally stopping to make an observation. It was the picture of contentment.

 

 

My frantic and fragmented day decelerated and then stopped altogether. Doing one thing while thinking about the next was a trap I had fallen into without any awareness. The phrase “Live in the moment” sounds clichéd, but that day I found it extraordinary that these children’s parents and teachers had made the decision to let the children be so visibly in the present. My suspicion is that the associated adults live like I do; in frantic, splintered moments. But everyone had intentionally made an exception for the children, and it occurred to me that even in the depths of a pandemic when society had necessarily slowed down, I had not. I was still a prisoner to time confetti and our preschoolers, thankfully, were not.

According to Ashley Whillans, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, “We have more time for leisure than we did fifty years ago, but leisure has never felt less relaxing.” Never have we had more interruptions; this has become our unhealthy normal. Whillans says that while disruptions might take up to ten percent of our time, they fragment our time into five to six- minute chunks of “confetti.” These splintered moments have made our lives less rich and less satisfying.

Reading that article and a little girl’s slippers that caught my eye have, at least for now, inspired me to set my phone down. Since that day, I have cut my phone time in half. The “do not disturb” setting is on much of the time. Like the children, I am finding contentment in focusing on my immediate environment rather than other people’s demands or what I need to do at a later time. While I have not worn my pajamas to school, I freely settled into an exploration of water colors at the light table with little consideration of what I had to do next.

 

Sensory Play

Posted December 22, 2020

Sensory Play
By Calley Roering

This is my first year teaching preschool, and I want to make sure that I give my kids ample opportunities to explore through sensory play. Sensory play is naturally exciting for children because they are able to use all their senses to begin understanding the world around them. Starting as early as four months of age, a child is able to engage with sensory activities. Depending on their age, there is a wide variety of sensory materials and experiences they can explore. Sensory play includes any activity that stimulates a child’s five senses: touch, smell, taste, hearing, seeing – plus balance and movement. Sensory play encourages children to make observations, ask questions, and experiment. (Yes, genuine experimentation can start even at preschool age!)

What I enjoy most about observing children engaged in sensory activities is watching how they notice characteristics of the materials they are exploring. I typically prompt them with questions while they are exploring, asking, “What does it feel like? Does it smell like anything? Does it remind you of anything? What does it look like?” I ask open-ended questions to prompt their use of descriptive language and support their language development. In addition, sensory activities advance children’s willingness to discover and try new things, like food. Furthermore, sensory play encourages the development of gross motor and fine motor skills by allowing children to practice big body movements and handle small objects (like picking gems out of slime or melting ice cubes with a pipette filled with water). Lastly, sensory play fosters positive social interactions between children and adults in the classroom. Children are learning how to share, accommodate others, and work together while they check out a sensory activity side by side.

In my class, some of the kids’ favorite sensory activities include exploring “glurch,” painting, playing in the water table with funnels and buckets, experimenting with musical instruments, and using play-dough. Here are some sensory recipes that you can try at home with your child:

Glurch:
1. Equal parts liquid starch and white glue. (For my class I used two cups of each.)
2. Add these two ingredients together and mix. The texture will first feel like string cheese; leave
it alone for 30 minutes and then come back and mix again.
3. If the texture is still not slime-like, leave it alone for a while longer.
4. Continue to mix until it looks smooth and shiny
You can add liquid watercolors or food dye to give it a pop of color.
Adding essential oils is another way you can stimulate your child’s sensory experience with scents.

Play Dough:
Combine in a saucepan: 1 cup flour, ¼ cup salt, 1 tsp. cream of tartar.
Add and whisk until smooth: 1 cup water, 1 tbsp. oil, 1 tbsp. food coloring.
Cook over medium heat until playdough is nearly set. Add 1 tbsp. vanilla extract or essential oil, if desired. Stir until vanilla or essential oil is blended, then remove and knead when cool. Store in Ziplock-type bag or airtight container.

Sensory play is not limited to the indoors. There are many sensory activities that children can dive into outside. Some of those include: digging for worms, making “bakery items” with loose parts found outdoors (water, sand, leaves, gravel, mud, etc.), feeling and tasting the snow, viewing the colors of the trees, listening to the sounds of various animals outside, running, and walking. Whether indoors or out in the natural world, sensory play sparks children’s natural drive to discover.

A Chance To Try

Posted December 8, 2020

 

A Chance To Try
By Sarah Kern

It was a mild December morning on the playground. Our toddler class of two- and young three-year-olds was busily exploring. A child had found a tennis ball and was rolling it down the hill. It reminded another child of when we had created a ramp on the hillside several months ago.

“Want to do that again?”

“Yes!”

As the teacher, I immediately looked to see where the ramps were, wondering how I could support the children’s idea. There they were, on the very top of the shed: several lengths of plastic guttering, each about ten feet long. My first instinct was to grab them for the children; they wanted to make a ramp and I wanted to make it happen! But I stopped myself, and I’m so glad I did.

A child carefully climbed up the ladder to the top of the shed, with others cheering him on.

“He made it!”

Another child raced around to the other side of the shed and climbed up the steps. Another followed. The children began to maneuver the ramps towards the steps and send them sliding down. The ramps stopped when they hit the ground at the bottom of the steps. Now what? Another child had approached and was near the bottom of the steps.

“Can you help me?”

She picked up the low end of the ramp and carefully moved it away from the steps. They repeated the process with another ramp. Once all the ramps were down the steps, a child tried to pick one up on his own. It was tough to move it alone.

“I need some help!”

“I can help!”

“WE’RE DOING IT!”

With two, it was easier. Children worked in pairs to carry the long ramps to the top of the hill. Once they were in position, the children sent their balls down with squeals of delight.

This experience didn’t last long. It took maybe five minutes, but it was rich in meaning, challenge, and success for the children – and learning for me as the teacher. Perhaps what amazed me most of all was that they never asked me for help, despite my eagerness to take over. I had to wonder how many times I’ve taken over when the children would have benefited from the chance to do it themselves.

It was the same week when we visited the Pines. There the children played in the giant bird’s nest that was built by the school-age Outdoor Club. A child was on the hunt for “eggs” (golf balls) and noticed a collection of them tucked deep within the branches of the bird’s nest. This time, they did ask for help.

“Hey, can you get these?”

I almost did! (As a teacher, sometimes my learning is slow.) But I stopped myself.

“I think you can figure it out.”

And sure enough, they did.

Gratitude – Even in 2020

Posted November 24, 2020

Gratitude…Even in 2020

By Rita Thoemke

 

Thanksgiving is upon us, coming at the tail end of a year that has challenged and changed us in ways we never thought possible. Without a doubt, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love the idea of a day set aside to do nothing but be with loved ones and be grateful. It is an easy day with no expectations. The challenge is taking this spirit of gratitude and weaving it into daily life. It takes conscious effort. Almost like exercise, the more I practice it, the better I feel.

When I was very young, my mom made up a bedtime prayer that I still say. It was a simple prayer of thanks for every family member. “Thank you for Mom and Dad, Tommy and Laura, Brian and Rita. Thank you for Grandma and Grandpa S. and Grandpa H.” As the years went by, the family dog was added. Then friends, neighbors, in-laws, coworkers. My mom had taught me to take a nightly inventory of everyone and everything I am thankful for.

I have learned that the magic really happens when you express your thankfulness. I stumbled upon this as a young child. My bike had a flat tire that my dad took time to patch. Before riding off on my bike, I thanked my dad for fixing the tire. I thought nothing of it. Later that night before bed, my dad told me nobody had ever thanked him for fixing their bike before. He very honestly told me how good that made him feel to know I appreciated him.

Hearing somebody express appreciation for us can be transforming. “Thank you for putting your toys away, Leah. That really helps me out.” “Thank you for helping your sister rake the leaves. I know you would rather have been doing something fun.” “Thank you for putting the dishes away. What a wonderful surprise!” It feels so good to be appreciated.

I don’t enjoy cooking on a nightly basis. When I cook dinner for the family, my husband always thanks me for a good meal. On the flip side, when he brings take-out home, I thank him and let him know how much I appreciate it. I believe that most of us hold many thoughts of thanks in our hearts all the time. Expressing them can bring unexpected results. One day I found myself thinking about my best friend. I picked my phone up and sent her a quick text telling her I was thankful for her friendship. My phone rang a few seconds later and it was her, tearfully saying how much my text message meant to her. Lesson learned – never hesitate to tell people how thankful you are for them.

Modeling gratitude for our kids can help them be resilient when they experience life’s challenges. The more they hear us say things like, “Getting a flat tire stinks, but I sure am happy it didn’t happen on the freeway,” or “It’s sad we can’t see our friends right now, but family movie nights make me so happy,” they will learn to look for and find the silver linings in unfortunate situations.

I was young when my Grandfather died. He was my first experience with loss. I remember wondering if I should still be including him in my nightly prayer, since he was no longer with us. I asked my sister one night about it. She replied by asking me if I was still thankful for him. Of course I was. That might have been my first lesson that we can still be grateful in the midst of pain and loss. I was sad that I lost my Grandpa, but my goodness, were we ever lucky to have him.

Gratitude might just be the antidote for all that causes suffering. Michael J. Fox said, “Part of gratitude is acceptance. Accept the situation, put it in its proper place, and then you can see how much of the rest of your life you have to thrive in.” If we can accept that 2020 brought us some unexpected challenges and anxiety, we can turn our attention to all the wonderful things that happened this year as well. I have a long list of things I was fortunate to experience in 2020. The friendships, love, and support I continue to find at All Seasons is most definitely on that list.