Category Archives: community

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.”

Mondays on East

Posted May 1, 2015

20150309_111918          20150406_110900

by Amanda Janquart

 Grandma Bette is all ours on Wednesdays. She began the year as our Spring Room weekly reader and has become so much more than that. We wheel her down the halls and into our class where she has joined us for snacks, listened with patience to preschoolers’ stories, and become a champion of their play with children scrambling to show her their latest creations. Fridays have consistently included passing around cups of popcorn and watching old cartoons or movies like Mary Poppins with the grandmas and grandpas on Willow Cove East. We have a routine and it works. Mondays however, have gone through multiple transformations – always with the residents on Willow Cove East, but with changes in the activities the generations share.

In the fall, Sue Hastings, the Activities Director (and talented musician and joyful person and loving caretaker) played the piano and led us all in songs. The songs were carefully chosen and bring out tenderness and reflection in the seniors; connection in the children. The slow songs, Home on the Range and Edelweiss, can bring me to tears the way they evoke longing. But I darn near sobbed the first time Take Me Out to the Ballgame was sung. It was as if fireworks were going off, the way everyone took notice and joined in. Music is a mighty strong bridge. I couldn’t help but see my own Grandma Grace whenever Sue chose How Much is that Doggy in the Window?

As winter approached, Rhythm Band started up. Shakers were passed out to the grandmas and grandpas and children took turns on the triangles, bells, rhythm sticks, wood blocks, cymbals, and drums (limited to two at a time!). We again took cues from Sue as she directed which instruments to come in and when. Sometimes residents covered their ears, but really though, the group worked hard and we sure sounded great most of the time.

20150413_110656       2015-04-27 13.02.27

Spring has come and so have cooking projects and table games. Residents of Willow Cove East sit at the tables and children stand between them; a generational daisy chain. We have made edible necklaces by stringing cereal on yarn, dyed eggs, and peeled eggs, adding carrot ears and whiskers to make bunny eggs. On our latest visit, baskets of various blocks were interspersed at the tables and everyone kept busy, either creating with the blocks or simply sitting back and taking it all in. When I stepped back myself, under the guise of wanting to take a picture, my eyes started to fill up yet again. Good things are happening here.



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.

Cooking With Young Children

Posted February 18, 2015

By Jenny Kleppe

At All Seasons Preschool, cooking is a regular activity. Children help read recipes, prepare and mix ingredients, and we enjoy the fruits of our labors at snack time. We focus on healthy recipes that all students can enjoy. This can be tricky when taking multiple allergies and food sensitivities into account. Why do our teachers make sure to incorporate food experiences into our day? First and foremost, cooking and baking are fun for all! Regardless of age or ability, everyone can participate in some part of the process. The sensory experience of preparing and eating food elicits positive associations and memories. It fosters community and is a simple way to create a sense of togetherness.
Much of my personal philosophy regarding food and young children comes from the book Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman. In her book, Druckerman describes how cooking and baking with very young children teaches self-control. “With its orderly measuring and sequencing of ingredients, baking is a perfect lesson in patience” (pg. 64). She goes on to describe how typical French families bake together every weekend, and that by age three or four most children can make an entire cake independently. Below is a typical yogurt cake prepared in French households that I have made with preschoolers using minimal to no adult assistance!
There are additional reasons we incorporate cooking activities into our school day. Cooking and baking at home or in the classroom can teach important life skills, including:
Fine motor skills: Cooking tools from melon ballers to graters help kids strengthen their hand and fine motor muscles, as well as strengthen hand-eye coordination.
Delay of gratification: Cooking requires patience. Several steps are required before enjoying the results.
Scientific change: Water freezes and boils, jello hardens, solids are ground to a fine powder, cakes go from batter to baked. Mixing ingredients and watching their creations change states teaches kids basic principles of science.
Literacy: Your average recipe involves sequencing, identifying letters, and recognizing common ingredient words (butter, milk, flour).
Math: Cooking involves counting (one teaspoon, three tablespoons, stir twenty times), measuring by volume, identifying numbers, doing steps in an order, and other math concepts (half and whole).
Food history and making connections: Adults can use family recipes to talk about Grandma’s experience during the Depression, why we make things with apples in the fall, or to pass along family traditions. This aspect of cooking is especially near and dear to us at All Seasons, where we make as many intergenerational connections as possible with our seniors.
Sensory Experiences: Adults can encourage children to use expressive words to describe how something tastes, feels, smells, sounds, and looks.
Experimentation and creativity: Cooking allows kids to make decisions about their food, from adding an extra sprinkle to the top of a cupcake to stop stirring the muffin batter. It’s all about experimenting—learning what works and what doesn’t—a skill that will carry over into other areas of their lives.
Don’t be intimidated by cooking with preschoolers. They will love the attention and time spent together, regardless of the outcome. Even if a cooking or baking activity fails, or the kids just don’t like it, you did it together! It usually creates wonderful learning opportunities and memories none-the-less!

French Yogurt Cake
2- 6 oz containers plain or whole milk yogurt (use the empty containers to measure all the other ingredients) **
2 eggs or egg substitute
1 container sugar (or 2 if you’d like a sweeter cake)
1 tsp vanilla
Just under 1 container vegetable oil
4 containers flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
Preheat oven to 375. Use vegetable oil to grease a loaf pan or 9in round pan. Gently combine yogurt, eggs, sugar, vanilla and oil. Have children crack eggs into a separate bowl first in case egg shell remnants need to be removed. Add eggs to main bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the flour and baking powder. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mix gently until ingredients are just combined. Add 2 containers of frozen berries, or 1 container of chocolate chips, or any flavoring you like (1 tsp. almond extract and extra sliced almonds on top is a favorite of mine!) Bake for 35 minutes or until it passes the toothpick test. Let it cool.
**note, if you use vanilla yogurt, omit vanilla from recipe. Recipe works with coconut yogurt, but not soy yogurt