Nurturing a Sense of Place

Posted November 23, 2016

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by Amanda Janquart

We set off with a true sense of adventure, the task to explore a completely new locale. A plan was hatched as the class stood and looked into the wooded area – some would go that way, others the other way and we’d meet on the top of the hill. One of the first finds was a small gap between two large tree trunks – a secret entrance! Everyone squeezed through to enter the new land. We were now in the newly child-named land of Cowallet. The feeling of excitement grew to giddiness – what would we find in this land?? Itty bitty mushrooms, a garden tag, and a tree that grew bark right over parts of an old fence – as if the wire was poked in on purpose. A child volunteered to climb the tree to help us get our bearings. Could she see the golf course? What was over the hill? Too many other trees were in the way to tell. Everyone gathered to rest in the fallen leaves and we sang Going on a Bear Hunt. This had been a great adventure.

*Excerpted from the Spring Room daily email to families of the preschool class.

How we interact with a place influences what it means to us. Think back to the places which helped define childhood. Were we told how to behave in the space, or given free range? Could we choose the paint color, or was it forbidden to leave fingerprints on the wall? Did we build forts and redirect streams or were we too nervous to leave the trail? For young children, emotion is the primary attachment factor, determining which places stay with us as we grow. At All Seasons, a positive emotional attachment to our outdoor space is the goal. And stewardship is a hopeful result of sense of place.

The quality of our interactions with places matter. With preschoolers, time to explore independently and as a community is balanced with an adult’s sense of wonder and appreciation. What does that look like at All Seasons?

~ We keep it playful. Every space offers a chance for pretend play.

~ We repeat visits throughout the seasons. The Swamp is transformed after a period of rain.

~Problems and challenges can be solved bit by bit. Pulling Buckthorn can be done in stages. Children can learn how to use sticks safely with practice.

~There is comfort knowing we can always come back. Forts can be worked on when interest swells.

~ Children have a say, helping decide where to go. A fire to roast apples in The Boulders can be planned and anticipated. A request to see if the Fairy House has changed can be easily accommodated.

~ Risks are allowed, and even encouraged. Balancing on fallen tree limbs or flipping over logs to see insects in The Woods takes courage.

~ Resilience is built when accomplishments accrue. Climbing into The Dinosaur Tree can take months of trying. Climbing up the sledding hill on The Golf Course takes patience.

~Families are kept informed of the spaces we explore through daily emails.

~ Teachers are always looking for ways to extend and expand experiences. In Cowallet, a newly named area of the woods, we planted seeds to return to. Yarn was brought to The Pines to expand the booby trap play. Journals, snacks, and books become more interesting in unexpected places.

In the end, we are building memories. Some bind the classroom community through shared experiences, and some connect individuals to specific places. We are doing our best, nurturing a sense of place and growing stewards.

Why Do We Do What We Do at All Seasons? A Brain Development Answer

Posted November 10, 2016


by Jenny Kleppe

Why do we do what we do at All Seasons? A Brain Development Answer

Recently, the staff of All Seasons Preschool attended a teacher training conference on the topic of brain development in the early years. The presenter, Deborah McNelis, stressed how the human brain is dependent on having rich and repeated experiences in order to develop healthy neural connections. Ninety percent of the brain develops in the pre-school years, before age five.

McNelis described how the “pathways,” or neural connections between brain cells become more permanent in children’s brains as they learn how the world works through repetition. These pathways that are created are based on a child’s experiences. This holds true whether it is “academic” learning, physical learning, or social/emotional learning.  For example, a child who has multiple experiences of raking a pile of leaves and joyfully jumping into them begins to create pathways communicating that autumn is fun, leaves are crunchy, and hard work can be rewarding. A child who is strongly reprimanded for bringing leaves into the house might create pathways indicating leaves are messy, nature is dirty, or autumn is not fun. Pathways in the brain become more permanent the more the experience is repeated.

What does this brain development research mean at All Seasons? We must create the richest experiences possible and repeat them! Repetition is what allows the brain to develop permanent neural connections. One reading of a story with rich vocabulary is not enough.  One short outside play time is not enough to create pathways in the brain to absorb nature and environmental concepts. One positive interaction with a senior is not enough to build a relationship. One art project is not enough to learn how line, shape, texture, or color interact to create something beautiful.


We strive for the repetition needed to create the permanent pathways in children’s brains that will support all future learning, thinking, reasoning, and creativity. We go to the same outdoor play areas over and over to see the seasonal changes, retry and re-experiment with tactile materials, reread the same books, and play the same imaginative scenarios again and again.

For the child, each experience, though familiar, is a variation on a theme – new in its own way, because the child and the experience are not the same at any given time.  The child brings all her prior experiential knowledge to each repeated experience, laying down a rich tapestry of neural connections.

Our brains are constantly making connections and learning new things. But the most brain development and learning about how the world works that will ever occur is happening right now for preschoolers. How wonderful, how exciting to be a part of that!