Category Archives: community

Making Connections Through Letters

Posted November 23, 2021

Making Connections Through Letters
By Calley Roering

This year is different compared to last year in a few ways. There have been more fun and exciting opportunities happening at school: having more children in my class, co-teaching with another teacher, and being able to go upstairs to visit the seniors.

Last year, the children and teachers were not allowed upstairs due to COVID. Luckily, this year we have the opportunity to visit the seniors’ common spaces and visit with them outside of their apartment doors.

One day, a child was working on a drawing. When we asked who the drawing was for, the child responded, “This is for the grandmas and grandpas. Can you write on the back that I love them?” My co-teacher and I knew that we needed to get this picture and words to the seniors. We thought that since we are finally allowed to go upstairs and visit with the seniors, we should take advantage of it.

We found a simple mailbox in the storage room and brought it into our classroom to be decorated. After the teachers explained the idea of writing letters and delivering pictures to the seniors, the children were excited to bring the mailbox upstairs. A group of children and I went upstairs and set the mailbox, paper, and pens on a table in the mailroom with a note asking, “Will you please write to us? We are the preschoolers who go to school downstairs. We have a bird feeder and love watching the birds land and eat the bird seeds. Do you like birds?” As we placed the mailbox, materials, and letter on the table, we crossed our fingers and hoped that we would hear back from the seniors.

A few days later, we rode the elevator upstairs to check the mailbox and it was exploding with mail! The children grabbed the mail from the mailbox and proudly walked down the hall, eagerly waiting to hear what the seniors had written to them. When we entered the classroom, the children shouted to their peers with excitement, “LOOK AT ALL OF THESE LETTERS!” We sat down as a group and read them together. The seniors shared things like their love of birds, how they missed their childhoods, and how hearing the children laughing outside brought back good memories and joy.

The children wasted no time writing back to the seniors. While they spoke, I wrote down their words. Then they added their own touches, little drawings or some stickers. Once we had a stack of letters and pictures, we decided it was time to go upstairs and deliver them to the seniors. We took the elevator to the third floor to drop off a letter to Grandma Pat. The children looked for her apartment number, knocked on her door and eagerly waited for her to answer. We usually are in luck; the seniors typically are home when we are delivering mail and pictures. When the grandmas or grandpas answer the door, they are greeted with happy children, a letter, and picture.

It seems to happen naturally now: during playtime, a handful of children draw pictures and write letters for the seniors upstairs. We have hung up in our classroom all of the letters that the seniors have written to us. This helps the children remember that they are part of a bigger community. The teachers and children alike have found so much joy receiving mail from the seniors. It’s always a highlight of our week when we can write back and deliver mail and pictures to them. It’s been a long-awaited interaction and is proving to be powerful and wonderful for all of us.

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 Push and Pull of Growing Up

Posted November 10, 2020

The Push and Pull of Growing Up

By Amanda Janquart

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Joys and Struggles of Teaching Preschool On Your Own

Posted September 30, 2020

making play dough together


The Joys and Struggles of Teaching Preschool On Your Own

By Roxie Zeller

One of the things that drew me to preschool was the idea of teaching with another teacher: someone with whom to solve problems, to discuss challenges and to rejoice in victories. During my student teaching, I found being alone with a group of kindergarteners all day, although rewarding, was lonely. I often find myself this year wanting to talk to another teacher as the children play, to discuss what I’m seeing, what I’ve noticed, and to make plans together for the upcoming weeks.

Over the past few weeks I have discovered that teaching preschool by myself has unique challenges. Throughout the day I am constantly making plans and backup plans, in case children need to use the restroom or change clothes while the inside person is already busy with other children. A few times the children have even caught me thinking out loud to myself when I’m trying to figure out the best flow of the day. Along with constantly thinking about the plan of the day, I’m also thinking about the materials we will need and where to put them so they are accessible. This may be more due to the shift to teaching most of the day outside in response to the pandemic. You have to prepare more thoroughly than you do when you are inside in the classroom, with everything at your fingertips. At times I have had an idea to do a project based on what the children show interest in that day, but can’t gather materials while I watch the children play. I have also found that sometimes the children or I would like to add a few different things to the project to deepen the learning, but would need to venture inside to grab them, such as paper to make boats for the pond or riverbed, beads to add to the yarn and stick creations in the woods, and various materials to use to build dams. Through this I am learning to be more intentional about what materials I make available for an activity outside, and I’m figuring out how to make activities stretch from one day to the next by adding some novel, desirable materials.

One of the biggest struggles that I have experienced is taking photos. During child-led activities, it’s natural to take photos to document what is happening, but taking photos is one of the last things on my mind during teacher-led activities. I have found myself wishing I had photos of an activity that happened in the classroom only to realize that I don’t have another adult in the room who can take pictures of activities I’m leading. With a co-teacher, there is always someone else present to take photos of the moments your hands are full. In addition, a co-teacher tends to take photos of things I might otherwise miss, leading to a wider selection and variety in the photos taken. Although it can be hard to step back during teacher-led activities, I’m starting to learn when I can step back to take photos while still being present.

Although I’m looking forward to the day that we can all teach with co-teachers again, I am also enjoying teaching my small group on my own. It is so rewarding to see how close the group has grown over the past few weeks due to the fact that we do EVERYTHING together. We don’t have the option this year of splitting into groups outside based on interests or taking a few children off to work on a project. Because of the group being together all the time, I’ve noticed that the children look out for each other in a different way than I saw last year. When there is a problem, such as a stuck bike, they look to each other for help rather than to teachers. I have also really enjoyed the fact that because my group is all roughly the same age, we have been able to focus on some shared interest areas of the group in a deeper way than I have before. I also get lots of opportunities to simply show them what I love about nature and play on a personal level.

I’m excited to see how my little group continues to grow into a community this year. As the year passes we will be able to get to know each other very well, since in a small group, everyone’s strengths, struggles, and quirks come out and are accepted.

Once Upon a Time…

Posted December 21, 2016


by Sarah Sivright

Years ago, while living in Chicago, I had the good fortune to teach with Vivian Paley at the University of Chicago Laboratory School. Vivian is a giant in the world of early childhood education, known as a master teacher and author (check our library shelves in the living room). While her close observations and theories about young children’s development are still read and studied, maybe her most important legacy is Story Telling and Acting. (ST/SA for short) I have planted the seed for this activity in every school where I have taught, and All Seasons parents know it well. Briefly, each child has a story journal in which the teacher writes a story told, and usually illustrated, by the child. At group time these stories are acted out by the whole class. We act the stories out in the order in which they are dictated, since they tend to build on each other as children listen to and are inspired by each other.

Part of the magic of this activity is the way life in the classroom and at home is reflected in the stories. Currently, a small dog named Tiny is featured in many of the children’s stories. Tiny is a dog owned by one of the Inver Glen residents and well known to the children, though, by now, he has been transformed well beyond the original.

Story telling and acting have multiple literacy opportunities and benefits, as well as being powerful in creating and nurturing community. Ask Amy or me for more information if you’re interested.

Our fairy mailbox

Our fairy mailbox

You may have been following the Fairy Saga, involving both preschool classrooms. Mysterious evidence of fairy life in the woods began to appear several weeks ago, much to the delight of everyone. The teachers took photos and recorded the childrens’ ideas about the who/what/when/why of it all. A display board took shape and the teachers brought writing and drawing tools outside, thinking the children would like to draw the fairy encampment. But instead, they chose to write stories about them. I loved that turn of events and it brought me back to every time I have introduced ST/SA to children. They understand the idea with little explanation, and the story table is crowded with eager tellers. The acting requires a few simple directions, and they’re off.

In Vivian Paley’s own words:
Amazingly, children are born knowing how to put every thought and feeling into story form. If they worry about being lost, they become the parents who search…Even happiness has its plot and characters: “Pretend I’m the baby and you only love me and you don’t talk on the telephone.”

I sent a description and photos of this latest development of ST/SA to Vivian, knowing the delight she takes in news of the All Seasons children. Long retired, she misses the classroom, and corresponds with many teachers all over the world who use her books and ideas. She is especially cheered by our use of ST/SA in light of the changes to the preschool curriculum over the past years that make it mostly unrecognizable to us old-timers. Now she is dreaming of writing a book for young children “as good as Runaway Bunny [by Margaret Wise Brown].”  I will keep you posted!

We got a nice surprise last week; more mail and wisdom about our storytellers from Vivian Paley…

“How wonderful your chidlren’s fairy stories are! As you and your staff deepen your awareness of the gifts given to you by the little ones, the storytellers become more inclined to listen to themselves telling and acting in stories. They know that their words are being admired, enjoyed and studied, and they begin to value themselves more. They value their classmates more and listen more closely to their stories.”


Posted October 27, 2016



By Sarah Kern

You may have heard it when you first visited All Seasons or read it in a daily list or newsletter. If there is one word that could possibly sum up our preschool, it’s community. Every day we work to build communities, large and small, all of which are connected to one another by shared people and shared experiences.

The smallest communities are our classrooms, united early by shared space and experience, and later by friendship and love. We extend these communities by adding the families, who share fellowship in brief moments at pick up and drop off, and deeper experiences at conferences, family parties, and playdates. Slowly but surely, we invite one another into our lives.

Similarly, the senior community exists first as its own entity, then expands to include the seniors’ families. Then, like magic, our upstairs and downstairs communities connect, and our circles grow ever wider. Beyond a shared space, it’s shared people that bring us together.

Consider Sue, Inver Glen’s Activities Director; early in the year, she is one of the most direct links between the preschoolers and the seniors. She is a familiar face in our school and upstairs, and her voice and songs connect both groups as they sing together in memory care and the community room.

Steve, Inver Glen’s maintenance man, is another link. He’s our community’s real-life superhero who rescues the seniors when a light is burnt out and the preschoolers when there is a pipe leak.

While much of our community is created without effort, there are elements of community we work diligently and intentionally to build and preserve. Much of this effort comes through rituals – shaking hands to greet and say goodbye, repeating activities on a weekly basis, having the same group of kids visit Memory Care East and Memory Care West every day. There are also the spontaneous moments that build community – visiting a grandma who is sick, delivering thank you cards to seniors who make donations to our school, and saying hello to seniors we pass in the hallways, often with a giant bear hug.

grandma marion
Over and over again, the worlds of the preschoolers and the seniors collide – intentionally and unintentionally. We see Grandma Marion out for a walk every day. We gather for an art project in the community room. We wave to the grandmas getting their hair done in the salon. It’s all part of the process; it’s all part of community.

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.

A (not so) Brief History of All Season’s Chickens With an Unexpected Twist

Posted October 8, 2015

by Amanda Janquart

The Original Miss Chick

The Original Miss Chick


This story begins long before I arrived at All Seasons, yet it intertwined with my life.  Our school’s original Miss Chick was hatched in an incubator in my colleague’s classroom in 2001. Natalie’s class was run with an infectious energy and she was the perfect person to introduce young children to the joys of having a pet.  Many children fell hard for Miss Chick as she didn’t disappoint with her funny antics.  When Natalie left her teaching position, Miss Chick went into retirement.  When All Seasons opened in 2009, Natalie knew it would be an ideal place for her beloved chicken to live out her golden years.  And years it was, for Miss Chick lived through 2013 – she was 12 1/2!

There are spaces in the heart that only animals can fill, and her death left a hole at All Seasons. The school was ready to welcome new chicks but didn’t know where to begin. Amy went on a fact-finding mission to determine which breed would be best. Speaking with resident Kenny Fritz, a former farmer, she gleaned insightful information from someone who had raised chickens. Two kinds stood out as docile breeds and egg layers; Buff Orpingtons and Cochins. That’s how the new Miss Chick (the second) and Fritzie (named after Grandpa Kenny) came to join us.

Fritzie and Miss Chick II

Fritzie and Miss Chick II


They were raised in the classroom from chicks with children participating in their care. Steve, the building maintenance man, built them an tall indoor kennel, and Amy’s dad, Dave, built nesting boxes. Everyone yelped with joy when they laid their first eggs. The pair joined us on the playground, and the residents watched them through their windows. Robyn, a cook at Inver Glen, treated the chicks to choice pieces of watermelon. When a hawk took Miss Chick, the devastation spread beyond the preschool walls; the entire Inver Glen community came together to support each other.

After the hawk took Miss Chick we were fearful to let Fritzie roam the playground, but we knew she needed that freedom. Teachers and children kept a close eye on her when they brought her outside. When the school year ended, Fritzie was invited to join my flock of chickens at home for ‘chicken summer camp.’ She could forage in ways one can only do with the protection of a flock. Best of all, she would bring a friend from camp back to All Seasons in the fall! After a rocky introduction to my flock, Fritzie found her place on the outskirts of the group.

Spa Day!

Spa Day!


My own kids favored Fritzie, and often toted her around on their adventures in the woods or singled her out as needing a bath. She grew fat and fluffy. A few times she disappeared for more than a day and we’d go searching. She was so tricky, sneaking into the massive dark barn and staying quiet so we couldn’t find her.  She was quick to make nesting spots and was loathe to leave her eggs, but I needed to find her eggs before they got rotten.

The first day of school, just before Fritzie was to return to the preschool,  I wanted one more chance to find her eggs so planned to follow her. My husband hid in the barn. As we opened the coop, I called out to him, “Ready? Here she comes!” It turned out to be one of the few days she didn’t head straight to the barn. We all went off to our first day of school, leaving Fritzie pecking under the oaks with the others. That evening when she didn’t come back we didn’t worry, knowing she had pulled this trick before. But a week went by, then another. We assumed the worst. We answered children’s questions with honesty. “We don’t know where she is.”

Without Fritzie, her summer pal was still expected back at All Seasons. Mary fit the bill. Another outsider, Mary had overcome extreme sickness as a chick. From the beginning, it was apparent something was not right. She would often miss her food, pecking air instead. We assumed she was blind, which led to her name, Mary Ingalls. My children hand-fed her scrambled eggs and dipped her beak in water. Worrying that she would be picked on, she had her own sleeping quarters. As she got older, she stayed close to the coop, and welcomed human companionship. While there was some concern about Mary joining All Seasons (Did we want a chicken that might not have a good chance of survival? Could we handle another loss?) it made sense. She would become a part of a community that values all abilities.

Mary’s gentle demeanor has been a gift to our community;  she has converted some seniors with poultry fears and has allowed children to stroke her feathers, patiently standing still. She is easy to catch and is comfortable sun bathing as children dig in the sand near her. Robyn from the kitchen again brings chicken treats down and she bought her  a low perch to make it easier for Mary to roost. Mary is filling a need.

Wanting to know more about Mary’s vision, we invited vet techs from Inver Grove Animal Hospital to visit. We learned that Mary is indeed blind in at least one eye, and most likely blind in the other (she didn’t blink or flinch when a finger was flicked). The vet techs helped the children understand what it might be like to not see, having them close their eyes and listen They made it clear that it is OK to be blind. Mary can sense even small movements in the air around her and her hearing is particularly sharp.  Talking to Mary before stroking her will avoid startling her.  The techs showed us how to pet her from neck to tail, avoiding her vulnerable belly area.  Chickens make about thirty different sounds – she actually talks to us.  Her gentle coo means she is happy.

Our visitors also shared more about chickens:
– Their first eggs (laid between 4-8 months) are much smaller than eggs laid by adults.
– They eat rocks, store them in their crops and use them like we use teeth, to grind up food.
– Their favorite color appears to be red.
– Their combs turns from pink to bright red when they lay an egg.
– We should avoid giving Mary salty foods, and stick to healthy fruits and vegetables.

Are you still with me because HERE IS THE TWIST!
Right in the middle of writing this blog post, I kid you not, Fritzie came back!! My husband heard a commotion in the garage – it was a chicken mob! Under the pile was an orange chicken that looked like Fritzie! In a state of shock, he ran inside calling for me.  I ran out to see. We could see Pumpkin (our other orange chicken), but not Fritzie. “I swear she was just here.”  Searching the garage, we found her tucked into a cobwebbed corner, sitting stock-still. She had stayed away almost a month and had become a stranger, a threat to the flock, so they pecked her. She was stinky, skinny, and scared. We kept her isolated in the upper coop for the night. My daughter, Mimi, who has a gift with animals, gave Fritzie a spa treatment. It may take Fritzie a while to trust people. Again, All Seasons will be the perfect place for her to receive gentle care, in a community that understands how to meet each other’s needs. We have not finished our crazy chicken history yet.


The Power of Stories

Posted July 16, 2015

by Sarah Sivright


Story Dictation

I had the good fortune to be mentored by two extraordinary women—Vivian Paley and Gillian McNamee. I taught with Vivian at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools and was introduced to story dictation and acting in her classroom. Gillian was my professor and advisor in graduate school, and later, a parent of one of my preschool students. Both women continue to be dear friends and mentors.
Gil has recently published a book titled, “The High-Performing Preschool; Story Acting in Head Start Classrooms.” In her book, she presents a powerful case for the use of story dictation and story acting (SD/SA) as the centerpiece in early childhood classrooms, particularly those serving low-income and ESL students. Paley’s presence accompanies Gil through the book’s pages, along with Lev Vygotsky, a Russian developmental psychologist, who, in his brief life (1896-1934) developed theories about early childhood development that have had a powerful impact on our understanding of how children think and learn. These two giants in the educational world help steer Gil’s course, offering theories, stories and wisdom.
At All Seasons Preschool, we teachers frequently bemoan the “missing the mark” quality of current early childhood education. We know that dramatic play and SD/SA “work” in these settings. Children are eager to engage in these two particular activities and they grow and learn from their experiences. We KNOW this. Happily, McNamee doesn’t just wring her hands and cry.  Along with extensive research, she documents her years working with teachers and children in Chicago’s Head Start classrooms, to build a realistic case for the use of story dictation and acting as a curriculum that can satisfy national and state standards and move all children along the path to becoming readers and writers.
She describes the power of this simple activity:
“When a teacher writes on a piece of paper, he or she models and the child experiences up close what it looks like to say a word and draw a configuration of symbols to represent what was spoken. As the teacher echoes each word being written, the child can see it constructed in print conventions: ‘When—parrot—gets—a—shot—he—doesn’t—cry. There. Your first sentence reads, ‘When parrot gets a shot he doesn’t cry.’ What happens next?’ Children see and hear concepts of print; every mark on the paper is put there for a purpose…to record and affirm their thinking.
As McNamee points out, readers’ and writers’ workshops, and guided reading groups are attempts by educators to “seize hold of emerging verbal skills to strengthen and expand them toward written language.” (p. 88) But children’s understanding and use of language is so much more than this. “Language learning is a community enterprise to communicate goals and expectations in satisfying needs, to inform, persuade, delight, and console each other.” (p. 35) The community piece is essential here. “…children build concepts about characters, events and phenomena in the world with each other before and while they are building these understandings as individuals….In scope and sequence, it [story dictation and acting] is the perfect all-inclusive comprehensive curriculum and method of teaching that encompasses all children in learning.” (p. 38)
As I I read Gil’s book, I marked up and flagged dozens of pages, some to share with teachers and some with parents. While I can’t include every wonderful, useful, enlightening idea I’d like, two powerful conclusions are important to emphasize. First, we as teachers knew we were onto something great when we started SD/SA, and now we can be even more sure of its value. (We’re doing story dictation now with the grandmas and grandpas, with the children acting out the senior’s stories!) Secondly, both teachers and parents can support our children’s language development in powerful ways. Reading aloud is one you already know to do, but taking story dictation is one you might not have tried yet. Dictation alone might be satisfying, but if you can find a way to act out stories, even better!


Story Acting

I couldn’t resist—one more powerful passage that expresses a truth we see and try to nurture at All Seasons:
“Vygotsky and Mrs. Paley teach us that assembling children in a group and presenting lessons does not make a community. …Community means recognizing the interdependence of participants; children want and depend on one another’s help in growing up. Dramatizing ideas provides the necessary structure for such a learning community, as it requires words to portray and examine ideas under a teacher’s direction. Dramatizing stories provides the unique opportunity for children to show one another and their teacher what their thinking looks like, and to serve as one another’s lifeline in their next steps growing up in school.” [Emphasis mine]

Sarah Sivright


Posted May 8, 2015

by Sarah Kern

On May 1st, we lost our dear Miss Chick to a hawk. To our students, families and teachers, our chickens are a kind of symbol, a trademark of our preschool. The pair – Miss Chick and Fritzie – delighted seniors, teachers, staff, and students alike as they ran about our playground. It’s hard to see Fritzie without her companion.

This has been a shock to our community. Logically, we understand that the hawk who killed her needed food for her babies; her death was not senseless. But our hearts are sad.

In talking to the children about this loss, we have been honest. The children had a range of responses. Some openly wept, others remained quiet, and some seemed to have little interest at all. All of these reactions are normal, and they don’t necessarily indicate how sad each child really is. Like adults, children process loss in their own way and on their own time.

Some worried about hawks, asking “What else can a hawk carry away?” For some, it was hard to understand why we couldn’t bury her like we did our original Miss Chick, who died in 2013. Several worried about Fritzie – how she would manage without her friend, how we would protect her from hawks.


Fritzie in our woods with the children

The teachers share these worries. For now, we are only taking Fritzie out when the children are out and we have kept her close to us.  This week she has enjoyed spending time in new spaces – the woods and the boulders.  The children are diligent about keeping an eye on her and scanning the skies for hawks. We don’t know yet about a new chicken; time will tell what’s best for our little school.

To honor Miss Chick, the preschoolers participated in a feather releasing ceremony. Each child held a feather, gathered from the playground after her death, and released it into the wind. The children talked about what they loved about her and sang songs to honor her. One noted, “Miss Chick laid beautiful eggs.” Another perhaps summed it up best – “Miss Chick – I really love her and she died.”