Category Archives: Preschool

Reasonable Expectations

Posted September 14, 2021

by Amy Lemieux

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

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

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

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

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

Spring With The Seniors

Posted June 8, 2021

Spring With The Seniors

By Sarah Kern

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

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

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

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

Looking Ahead: Post-COVID Resilience

Posted May 26, 2021

Looking Ahead: Post-COVID Resilience

By Mariel Goettsch

It has truly been a year like no other.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Following the Children’s Lead: The Puppet Theater

Posted May 12, 2021

Following the Children’s Lead: The Puppet Theater

By Calley Roering

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twisted Gifts

Posted April 27, 2021

Twisted Gifts
By Amy Lemieux

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-The Little Prince

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


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.