Category Archives: cohesive group

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.

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

Holidays in the Schools?

Posted January 26, 2015

xmas 2


by Amy Lemieux, Director

I have always been opposed to celebrating holidays in schools for many reasons. I attended an elementary school where about 20% of the students were Jewish, yet we did Secret Santas every year, Santa came to our classroom, and we sang Christmas songs. Despite throwing in one dreidel song, it always felt wrong, though I was too young to articulate why.
Once I became an elementary teacher, my aversion to holidays in the schools intensified. I saw the students who felt left out because it wasn’t “their” holiday, the ones who couldn’t afford to buy an elaborate Halloween costume or give everyone in the class a goody bag full of candy to go with a mass-produced valentine. I resented the chaos and poor behavior each holiday created and felt powerless to prevent it, as holidays were celebrated school-wide. As an educator who regularly noted how far behind U.S. students were and how large the racial achievement gap was, taking many hours or even full days away from learning to celebrate holidays felt unproductive and trivial. Happily, my school’s new principal felt like I did and as quickly as she could, she changed our school’s approach to the holidays.
Why, then, do we celebrate holidays at All Seasons?
Celebrating the holidays at Inver Glen and All Seasons has changed my attitude entirely because we do it so differently! Here, celebrating feels natural and authentic because it is; it happens within the context of a community. With each celebration, we are able to tell the children, “These are things the grandmas and grandpas did when they were little.” The children dye eggs with the grandmas and grandpas and then the seniors hide the eggs for the children to find. We sing old songs the seniors grew up singing – holiday songs and many others. Our Halloween parade has a real audience. Our Mardi Gras parade, complete with floats designed on tricycles and real zydeco instruments, is only complete because we are doing it for someone else and spread such joy up and down the hallways as we pass out beads. Next month we will spend several days hand-making old fashioned valentines for the grandmas and grandpas who live in the memory care units. The children will carefully and painstakingly write the names of the seniors on the valentines and deliver them in person. Celebrating the holidays here has been a source of genuine pride and joy for everyone.

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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.