Category Archives: social skills

A Perfect Match

Posted February 18, 2016

by Amy Lemieux
The Little Boy and the Old Man   by Shel Silverstein
Said the little boy, “Sometimes I drop my spoon.”
Said the old man, “I do that too.”
The little boy whispered, “I wet my pants.”
“I do that too,” laughed the little old man.
Said the little boy, “I often cry.”
The old man nodded, “So do I.”
“But worst of all,” said the boy, “it seems
Grown-ups don’t pay attention to me.”
And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.
“I know what you mean,” said the little old man.


I often use this poem to help people understand the ideal pairing between two age groups that, while far apart chronologically, have much in common. Retrogenesis is the theory that with dementia, the brain deteriorates in the reverse order of which it developed. Once seniors reach the middle stage of retrogenesis they need more supervision and become cognitively and functionally similar to preschoolers. Characteristics of both groups include; concrete, not abstract thinking, taking in information through the senses, short attention spans and being easily distracted, enjoying repetition and familiarity, are ego-centric and concerned with their own wants and needs.

When people learn we are a preschool inside of a senior building, they have one of two reactions; What a great idea! Or Why would you have little children with old people? While Silverstein’s poem tugs at the heartstrings and illustrates a deep psychological connection, it is equally important to articulate the research that supports this wonderful match. The research to support the benefits of intergenerational programming is strong and consistent. Long-term studies show lasting benefits to young and old who spend time together.
What does an intergenerational program DO for seniors?
It decreases boredom, loneliness, and helplessness, all things positively correlated with depression, heart problems, and a weakened immune system. In some facilities with intergenerational programming medication levels decrease.
What does an intergenerational program DO for children? It increases empathy, vocabulary and reading scores, and improves the quality of social interactions. It decreases misbehavior. These effects are long-term.
Under what conditions do children, families and communities flourish?
Renowned psychologist and author, Mary Pipher, writes, “Many communities are realizing the value of projects that connect the young and old. Older people are often wiser and less stressed than the rest of us and they have more time and patience.” Seniors are not checking their watches, laptops or phones constantly. Young children need the wisdom and patience of the older generation and older people need the innocence and vitality that only a young child can offer.
“You can have a nursing home that strives for the absence of pain, but that isn’t enough. There needs to be the presence of joy.” – John Greiner from Grace Living Center.

The Second Year

Posted November 5, 2015

by Sarah Sivright

A regular question asked by parents concerns the second year of preschool. Children typically spend one year in each grade level—so why an extra year, sometimes two, in preschool? What happens in that second year that’s different, when the basic curriculum and probably the teachers stay the same?

Our answer would include two important truths:
• The experiences, though falling into familiar categories: story dictation, hiking in the woods, name-writing, pretend play, being read to, painting in the studio—are not the same the second or third year.
• The children are not the same.

We know that three year-olds are different in many ways from fours and fives. They experience the very same room, classmates, and teachers in completely different ways.
In a nutshell:
Threes are more interested in the environment and the teachers than fours and fives. Threes need to make a trusting connection with the teacher in order to separate from home. Toys and materials are more intriguing than other children, who often are seen simply as competition for these desirable objects.
For fours and fives, peers are all. By the second year, most children are very comfortably connected with the teacher, and enjoy checking in and receiving comfort only when needed. But interaction with their friends, either in dramatic play or use of materials, tops the list.

Since learning is not linear and most closely resembles a spiral, children need similar experiences, repeated at different times, in different conditions, with different people.


Tapping trees for sap can be done multiple times with different concepts internalized each time; increased motor skills allow drilling into the tree, new observations are made and a deeper understanding is now possible. Maybe the child had anxiety the first year about tasting sap dripping from the spile, but is ready to do it the second year. Last year, he lost interest in checking the pails daily to see if the sap was finally flowing, and the second year, because of his more mature understanding of the process, is the first one down the hill every day, to peer excitedly into the pail. And when that sap is poured into the big bucket and then into pans on the stove to cook, the final delicious product poured over pancakes can be connected to that water-like drip from our very own trees.
Hiking for second years can bring new discoveries because less energy is used up trying not to trip on roots, pushing brush out of the way, being cold, not liking getting wet or muddy, or being freaked out by bugs or burs on socks. With second-year courage and confidence, worms and box elder bugs are held and closely investigated. Once unable to climb up to the high fallen branches, veterans now shinny along to the very end, climbing over bumps on the log, loving the view from up high and being admired by the younger students below. They’re leading the play rather than following, being the first to find the perfect pirate hideout or nest for the baby birds, and laying out the scenario for others.

Rita Thoemke, one of our teachers, brought her school-age daughters recently to spend the day. She was interested to hear their comments as they joined the preschoolers’ color mixing activity. “Hey, we’re doing this at our school, too. We’re mixing primary colors; red, yellow and blue, to get the secondary colors; orange, purple and green.” The teachers then remembered that the first attempts at this activity produced only muddy brown, as the youngest children dumped all the colors together. This time, the children who had had previous experience with the droppers and water paint, had moved on to intentional placement of the colors, one by one, for (mostly) predictable results.

Maybe the most dramatic development we see in the second year involves pretend play. Four and five year-old play looks strikingly different from that of threes, and is lead by children who have developed the skills of self-regulation, articulation and vocabulary, inclusion, and accommodation to others’ needs.  The second year gives them the maturity to listen to their friends’ ideas and the ability to incorporate them into the play with a deep understanding of particular roles and stories.


Lev Vygotsky, a Russian developmental psychologist in the early 1900’s, who has greatly influenced our understanding of early childhood development, believed that children function at their highest level of development during pretend play. No other activity has the potential to ask so much of their social-emotional, cognitive and physical abilities. Vygotsky wrote “…the internalization of new understandings, or ‘cognitive restructuring,’ occurs when concepts are actually transformed and not merely replicated.” This process takes time and the optimal environment. Internalization takes place when children interact within the “zone of proximal development,”—that place between what a child can do on her own and what she can do with the help of adults or more competent peers. Providing an environment where a child can function in this optimal space—being appropriately challenged, reaching mastery, challenge, mastery, over and over—promotes growth and satisfaction. “Instruction aimed at a wide range of abilities allows the novice to learn at his own rate and to manage various cognitive challenges in the presence of ‘experts.’”  This “zone” exists quite naturally in mixed age classrooms like ours, and the benefits of this kind of setting are more evident in the second year, when children are intensely focused on their classmates, and learning through play is at such a complex, mature level.

These opportunities take on even more value when placed in the context of many of today’s kindergarten classrooms, which offer neither the time nor the environment for this important growth to happen. The “zone of proximal development” is alive and well at All Seasons.
*ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education, Urbana, IL. By Demetra Evangelou. 1989. “Mixed-Age Groups in Early Childhood Education. ERIC Digest.”

Setting Limits

Posted September 21, 2015

June and July 2010 214 (2013_03_14 14_28_22 UTC) mid Nov 078

by Amy Lemieux

Giving children choices and freedom is a hallmark of modern parenting. It empowers them and encourages independence and determination. I bought into this philosophy wholeheartedly.
What I did not initially understand was that giving children choice and freedom has its limits, as I learned from my husband’s grandma. “Big Grandma”, as she was called, adored our children and thought they could do no wrong. We were regular visitors at her house and our kids had free reign when we were there. Her cupboards and refrigerator were open. Her craft room, which looked like Joann Fabrics, was fair game; scissors, glue, buttons of all shapes and sizes, and fabrics were at their disposal. Since she raised six children, three children under the age of four was no match for Big Grandma.
One night after they blazed through popcorn, ice cream, and made placemats out of cut up greeting cards, my son came into her living room and walked across her couch. “Nick, get your feet off my couch. We don’t walk on furniture. We walk on the floor.” I’m not sure who was more surprised, my son or my husband and me. Big Grandma had never corrected our kids before. She looked at us and said, “In my mind Nick can do no wrong, but if he walks on other people’s furniture, they won’t like him.” Her words stayed with me because she was so right.

Studies have shown that children do need to know they are not in charge. Not having rules and expectations creates anxiety in children and causes them to test their boundaries precisely because they are trying to figure out what the boundary is. Metaphorically speaking, a lack of boundaries makes the world too big and unpredictable. Children need a solid leader who is clear and confident about what the rules are and is committed to ensuring those rules are followed.
Studies show that children’s self-esteem is directly correlated with limit-setting. Children who are demanding, constantly testing, and defiant annoy others, including their own parents. The child can sense people’s feelings toward him/her. The bottom line is that children without limits feel lonely and unhappy because they don’t understand the reason for others’ feelings about them nor do they know what to do about it. These same studies have shown that parents’ guilt, ambivalence and inconsistency will be picked up by most children.
When you find yourself getting annoyed by testing behavior, it is often a sign you need to be clear and direct with limits. A few years back, a parent asked us to help problem-solve a situation regarding carpooling with another family. The mother had agreed to carpool and was worried that her child “wouldn’t let” another little girl ride in his family’s car; as soon as he heard of the carpool plan, he began arguing about it, saying he didn’t want the little girl in his car. It was easy to help the parent see that this was an adult decision. The child does not get to decide who rides in the family car; the parents do. Some decisions and limits are for children to make; should I wear my red shirt or my blue shirt? Should I have one apple slice or two? Bedtimes and the type and amount of screen time are adult decisions. Wavering on adult decisions will create the perfect storm and kids will go in for the kill!  A child who repeatedly asks for “five more minutes” has figured out ambiguous limits.
Communicating clear and consistent boundaries remains true for teenagers! When I find my teens repeatedly asking the same question in a variety of different ways, I get irritated and it is a great reminder that I need to be clear and direct.
Son: “Can my prom group sleep over at our house after prom?”
Me: “I’m assuming there are girls in your prom group, so no.”
Son: “But everyone sleeps over for prom.”
Me: “The girls can do their own sleepover. You can have the boys sleep here.  The girls leave at midnight.”

Son: “What if all the girls get notes from their parents giving them permission to sleep over and they sleep in a different room?”

Me: “Girls are not sleeping at our house after prom. Not even if their house burns down. Not if their dads all come and sleep here with them. No girls who aren’t your sisters are sleeping here.”

That’s the limit and I’m sticking to it.

Grandma Pat’s Here!

Posted March 13, 2015

By Sarah Kern                                                      IMG_4802

We recently added someone new to our rotation of senior readers in the Autumn Room. We call her Grandma Pat, and her role is a little different than those of our other senior readers. Rather than reading to the whole class, Grandma Pat reads to one or two children at a time on our couch. When I suggested that we add a small group reader, I was thinking all about literacy. The children would have closer proximity to the print and they could ask questions and discuss story details more easily than in a large group setting. But what’s happened has been so much more than that.

I noticed that the children’s interactions with Grandma Pat were as much conversation as they were book reading. Children showed Grandma Pat their braids, told her about their favorite video games, and asked her about her glasses. And Grandma Pat? She listened. She listened with attention and intensity. She smiled, she asked them questions, and she responded to every word they said.

Spring Room Teacher and mom to Isla, Amanda watched this happen through the classroom window. Isla was sitting with Grandma Pat, deep in conversation. I noted to Amanda something along the lines of how this was intended to be a reading experience, and Amanda astutely pointed out that Grandma Pat, though not reading for much of the time she’s here, was meeting a need for the children. It’s the need that so often I as a teacher struggle to meet because it’s time to have snack, or it’s time to go outside, or it’s time to clean up. It’s the need for an adult to hear them and know them and love them wholeheartedly.

When I first met Amy and she told me of her inspiration for this intergenerational program, she told me that the seniors have something to offer to the children that we as teachers and as parents can struggle to give, and that’s time. It is time and undivided attention. We can’t help that we have full time jobs and families and houses to care for, but we can help how we treat the space in between all of those things. Grandma Pat is teaching me how to make little moments bigger just by moving a little slower, being a little quieter, and listening a little more.

On the Topic of a Furry Friend

Posted December 15, 2014

By Sarah Kern


The Toddlers meet Piggy


I must preface this blog by saying I am an animal lover. If my husband had a nickel for every time I asked him for a new dog or called him from a pet adoption event, he’d be a rich man. You may have noticed that I’m not alone in this at All Seasons. We are all animal lovers. After our beloved Miss Chick passed in November of last year, many tears were shed. You also may have noticed her absence was filled with not one, but two chickens.

We lost our beloved Rex the day after the last day of school in June. Rex had been ill for months, but he seemingly held on so our students wouldn’t have to grieve the loss of another pet before the year’s end. And, perhaps you’ve heard, his absence was filled with not one, but two guinea pigs.  Now the Winter Room has almost as many pets as it does toddlers. But there is a method to our madness!

Every preschool teacher has certain standards that she holds highest in her classroom. For me, what’s most important is that my students are nurturing and kind. Beyond modeling the kind of behavior I expect from my students and encouraging caring interactions between children, having pets provides another way to grow these skills.

Research shows that having classroom pets encourages children to be nurturing. With an animal, there tends to be a swift natural consequence for behavior that is too rough, startling or unkind. A pet might run away, hide, or even nip when threatened. Children quickly learn that if they want to spend time with a pet, they must be careful and they must be kind. Isn’t that the message we want them to learn about people, too?

One of my favorite things I read about the benefits of pets in a classroom is that while having a pet benefits all children, it is especially important to young boys, who often don’t have the chance to practice the nurturing skills girls do in our society.


Quietly observing Piggy and Oink

In addition, having a pet teaches responsibility. We have already talked about how important it is that we feed and water the guinea pigs and keep their home safe and clean. Judging by how well the toddlers remember to feed our Betta and Danio fish, I don’t think our piggies will be neglected.

There’s one more awesome benefit to having pets in the classroom. Research show that pets and humans can actually become friends. Guinea pigs love human contact, and these interactions can lead to deep bonds. Human-animal friendships strengthen social skills and increase self-esteem in young children.

So stop by and visit our new friends in the Winter Room! I think you’ll like them.


Out on a Limb…With a Wheel Chair

Posted November 24, 2014

by Amanda Janquart, Spring Room Teacher


Forming intergenerational connections is a strong tenet of our curriculum at All Seasons. It can be exciting and scary at the same time. I do believe that overcoming fear leads to a deeper sense of accomplishment, and takes us to a point where multifaceted learning happens. The fleeting nature of our lives becomes more apparent as we age. Forming a relationship with Grandma Bette, our classroom grandma, evoked fears in me, and perhaps spoke to a larger cultural issue. It meant opening up to the possibilities of heartache. But it is now harder to imagine what would have been lost if I’d let worry stop me. Along with being the Spring Room’s weekly story reader, Grandma Bette has become a part of our class’ story. She is who the children want to build ships for, make cards for, parade in costumes for. Children push us to take emotional leaps just as we encourage them to do the same. They can plow through countless obstacles without a backward glance. I have been thoroughly humbled by their example.

I’ll share a recap of a recent morning in the Spring Room, one with a focus on our relationships:

There were numerous examples of how comfortable this class has become – with the environment and each other. Outside, they requested the “roll the ball down the hill” game, then moved seamlessly to basketball, which was near the trikes, so riding them was next. They helped each other back onto the sidewalk when tires slipped off (those darn “flat tires” became quite comical), and reinforced what the street signs meant – One Way and Stop. They did all of this with such camaraderie and compassion, calling out support as well as lending a hand. They rocked at clean up too, “Hey, I’ll put that ball back for you” and “Yep, the shed is all shut.” But by far, their strength of relationships was showcased that morning when we went to get Grandma Bette to spend time with us in our classroom. They urged each other to hurry with snack (cheese and apples) so we wouldn’t be late to get her. They cleared chairs out of the way so I could push her wheel chair through the dining area. They very excitedly pointed out new photos of themselves in the hall – “That’s me, Grandma Bette!!!” They warned her repeatedly about how to keep her fingers safe in the elevator. In the room they got to work immediately on what they had earlier planned out to show her – the magnatile rocket, the pumpkins in the kitchen, and the triumphant (if temporary) return of the marble run tower. It was unclear who was most excited; the boys or Bette.  She met one of our stick bug pets and was “served” a few wooden cookies before Amy helped her back upstairs. Before she left, she was already asking about her next visit.

Yes, starting a relationship can feel awkward as an adult. The hugs and handshakes can feel rote, but keep going and get past that stage. I can say that compassion is contagious and if you feel any hesitancy, follow a child’s lead (new beginnings are a constant in young lives and they don’t waste time getting to the point where it feels good). Or, follow the senior’s lead; (they are done wasting time on what doesn’t matter). Oh, how I’ve failed to find out Bette’s perspective in all this relationship forming! Perhaps because it will be a little scary to ask and then listen, not knowing where it will lead? I’m sure to be humbled yet again.

The Process of Becoming a Cohesive Group

Posted October 7, 2014

photo 2 (2)                                                                                                

Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing…

We have one month of school under our belts.  What does this mean in the life of a classroom?  As any parent or teacher can tell you, every day is different, but there are certain predictable stages that a class (or any group) goes through before they can functional optimally.

Typically in this stage of becoming a group, team members are polite, anxious and excited.  They don’t know other members of their group, they don’t know what to expect of others, nor do they know what is expected of them.  Children returning to the school for a second or third year may have less anxiety simply because they know the rules and routines, however, they truly need to establish an entirely new identity as one of the older children.  No longer is it productive for an older child to be a follower, as most of the leaders have all moved onto kindergarten.  Younger and new students’ brains are on overdrive as they learn “the rules” of the school and the routines of the day.

This is the phase when the wheels can fall off the cart without tenacity and determination on the part of the teachers.  The formal polite behavior diminishes as children become more comfortable with each other and boundaries are pushed, both against the rules and against each other.  In any group, there is bound to be conflict, as it is not possible for groups of any size to agree on everything.  “I wanted that toy!”  “Why do you get to be the mom?”  “Why do we HAVE to have group time/snack time right now?”  “I don’t want to put away the toys.”  Frustration can build and tempers flare when things don’t go the way someone wants them to for too long.  This is the phase where the consistency and support of a great teacher are essential to maintain the peace and to continue to grow.

Gradually, the group moves into the norming stage. This is when people start to resolve their differences, appreciate others’ strengths, and respect the authority of the teacher.  Everyone is now committed.  Consciously or subconsciously, it is a given that we are stuck with each other and we will be next week, too.  There is always an overlap between storming and norming, as new issues always arise.  The group needs to revert back to storming before returning to norming.

This is the stage when all the hard work has paid off, there is minimal friction, and things are functioning smoothly.  It doesn’t mean there won’t be conflict or “storming” any more, but typically it is short and things can revert back to normal.




Raising Kids Who Are Kind

Posted September 26, 2014

Raising Kids Who Are Kind IMG_2214

Harvard’s Graduate School of Education’s Making Caring Common Project “aims to strengthen the abilities of parents and caretakers, schools, and community members to develop caring, ethical children. (They’re) working to make these values live and breathe in the day-to-day interactions of every school and home.”  At All Seasons, we focus on cultivating a community of kindness and caring. We live in a culture that values achievement over caring, and sometimes it feels like we are swimming upstream when we choose to be kind over being powerful. Amongst all the research, one thing is clear: Kindness and empathy must be taught. Making Caring Common presents five strategies to raise moral, caring children: 1. Make caring for others a priority. It’s important for parents and teachers to model this behavior. We also must hold children to high ethical standards, including staying true to their word and honoring commitments, even when it’s hard. Children should also be expected to be respectful towards adults, even when tired, angry, or distracted. Phrases like, “The most important thing is that you are kind” can really hammer this home. 2. Provide opportunities for children to practice caring and gratitude. Research shows that people who regularly practice gratitude are more likely to be compassionate, forgiving and helpful. To implement this, provide regular opportunities to express gratitude, such as at dinnertime or at bedtime. Don’t reward children for every act of helpfulness, such as helping around the house or helping a friend – these things should be expected. Reward uncommon acts of kindness.  3. Expand your child’s circle of concern. Children care about their own small circle of friends and family; the goal is to help them care about someone outside of their own circle as well. To help children achieve this, expect them to be polite and friendly with all people, even waiters or the mail carrier. At All Seasons, we expand children’s circles of concern through our relationships with the seniors. Ask your children about their favorite senior, and encourage acts of kindness. 4. Model kindness and moral behavior. Children learn their values by watching adults who are important to them. Think through dilemmas out loud with your children so they can hear how you problem solve with kindness. You can also model caring by volunteering with your child. 5. Guide children in managing hard feelings. We need children to know that it is okay to feel angry, sad, or frustrated. We also need to teach them how to cope with these feelings. Practice helping your child calm down and express his or her feelings when upset, and model your own coping skills for tough feelings when appropriate. It is important to remember that “Children are not born simply good or bad and we should never give up on them. They need adults who will help them become caring, respectful, and responsible for their communities at every stage of their childhood.” Source: