An Unexpected Winged Visitor

Posted November 30, 2017

by Amanda Janquart

A rogue Blue Jay has landed smack dab in the happenings at All Seasons Preschool and Inver Glen Senior Living. At first, even as we ooohed and aaahed at seeing up close details of such a fast moving bird, there was a bit of fear. What was this daring bird doing, swooping down and skimming our heads? Teachers would duck and cover…then giggle, feeling goofy for being afraid. After all, we were the adults with preschoolers’ eyes watching every move. Two weeks later there were still visits from what we now called Our Friend Blue Jay. The Jay had become something to look forward to seeing, something to go in search of while carrying bags of seed. It would playfully flit from branch to branch and even land on the ground just feet away from toddler-sized boots. Parents texted pictures of Blue Jay, hanging out on their roof racks in the parking lot. Kath, who lives by our swamp, told us that the Jay visits her every morning and that maybe it was hand raised. This theory has been seconded in a response from a writer at the MN Conservation Magazine. On Teacher Sarah’s birthday the bird took a stand on her cake box! This Jay was uniting the classroom in adventures and laughter. The preschoolers began to wonder, “Had any of the Grandmas and Grandpas seen it too?!”

A small group headed upstairs to find out, and the very first person they asked had quite a story to tell. Yes, Grandpa Norm had not only seen the Blue Jay, but it had landed on the handle of his walker and kept him company for many minutes! The children couldn’t believe that the Jay had pecked on Norm’s cell phone and even moved his playing cards around. Grandpa Norm jokingly wondered if the bird wanted to play poker! The children clearly weren’t sure what that meant, but laughed along.

The class thought that of all the residents, Grandma Marion must’ve met the Blue Jay on one of her many walks around the building. And she had! But instead of sharing her tale, she patiently listened to the children go on and on about the many places they had seen it – in the Pines, in the Woods, on the Playground, and even once it was perched on the front door to the building, having followed the rowdy class all the way from the Swamp. Marion promised to report any further sightings.

Grandpa Don

While visiting memory care, children used found feathers to tickle the Grandmas’ and Grandpas’ arms and cheeks as they told the seniors stories from the ever growing list of Blue Jay antics. Together, the generations sang a made-up version of the Itsy Bitsy Spider, changing the lyrics to reflect the Blue Jay sightings. Teacher Diane made a sock puppet, which delighted everyone as it moved its crest up and down and called out “jay” sounds.

An environmental educator was asked to visit and answer the children’s growing questions, and Pete happily came from Dodge Nature Center, bringing along a stuffed specimen of a real Blue Jay. We could see the variations in feathers, the strong bill, and the tiny sharp claws, while Pete answered endless questions. The most intriguing mystery had to do with what it ate, specifically what was our Blue Jay’s most favorite food of all. The guesses came flying out – yogurt, hot chocolate, peanuts, or maybe cake!

As children drew pictures of birds, using the mount as a model, they continued to chat about bird food. A plan was devised to set out all manner of food choices and watch to see what the Blue Jay picked first, then they’d know the very favorite. Two egg cartons were filled with food samples brought from children’s homes as well as some found in the school kitchen. The problem of not being able to see if the Jay came while they were at home was solved with a bit of teacher initiative. A trail camera would catch pictures while we were away!

The camera didn’t disappoint, and children and teachers alike could hardly contain their excitement. “Let’s do it again!” was chanted. (The favorite food?  Cake!!)  Finding and building upon a shared experience is what keeps emergent curriculum alive and ever changing. Where we go next is anyone’s guess. When the topic is shared across generations and brings communities together, it becomes a thing of magic, not easily forgotten.

Redefining Toddlers

Posted November 16, 2017

by Sarah Kern

When you think of toddlers, what comes to mind? Often we hear toddlers described as difficult, impulsive, and destructive. The “terrible twos” are a phase many a parent has entered with trepidation. Even educators struggle with toddlers; my sister recently told me of a daycare director she met with who flat out admitted she didn’t like toddlers. Certainly I’ve received my fair share of looks of horror when I’ve shared that I’m a toddler teacher. It seems toddlers have a strong reputation, and it’s not to say some of it isn’t deserved. Indeed, toddlers ARE impulsive. They can be difficult, and show me a toddler who’s never dumped out a toy basket or colored on a wall. It’s true that toddlers have a special way of button-pushing that grinds on the nerves of even the most even-keeled parents and teachers.

We often look at toddlers through the lens of what they can’t do. We’re fried by trying to meet their constantly changing needs and wants, frustrated by their testing, and exhausted by their big feelings. It’s a constant push-pull with toddlers; there’s so much they want to do for themselves yet so much they still need help with. But I think it’s time to reframe how we see our toddlers.

Lately I’ve been in awe of that all my toddler students CAN do. They are resilient, creative, capable, and empathetic. They know so very much about their little worlds, and they’re a vital part of them.

Seeing toddlers this way has changed me as a teacher.  I’ve gotten braver, and I believe my students have benefitted. My first year, I wouldn’t have dared take my little group of five toddlers upstairs to visit seniors. Now, it’s one of my favorite things to do with them. Do they run in the hall, push all the elevator buttons, and touch seniors’ fragile decorations? Sometimes they do. But do they greet seniors, spontaneously shake hands, and bring joy everywhere they go? Absolutely, they do. I’ve found that the more I trust them, the more I let them be and experience, the less they push my buttons (elevator buttons are another story).

I think what challenges adults most about toddlers is that they are unpredictable. We want to control them, keep them in a bubble, keep their clothes clean and manners perfect. That’s just not the way it is for them. They want to experience it all, hands on, and that’s how they learn. How can I expect my students to greet the seniors they meet out and about if I never give them a chance to try it? How can I expect them to try new things if I never let them take any risks? How can I expect them to be capable if I do everything for them? How can I expect them to care for their classmates if I never give them a chance to help?

Just in the last week, I watched toddlers jump off the retaining wall on the playground after carefully assessing the risk and choosing just the right height that felt safe. I watched a student help another who was crying because he couldn’t get his jacket off. I watched a child reach out and shake hands with a new grandpa, completely of his own volition. I listened as a student reminded others to wait for a child who had fallen behind.
It’s time to rethink our toddlers’ reputations.

Nature Connection

Posted November 2, 2017

By Sarah Sivright

Last Saturday I went to a workshop led by a new organization, the Minnesota Early Childhood Outdoor Learning Network–a bit of an unwieldy title and they’re open to editing suggestions.  But this was one exciting day for all gathered!  We nature educators have been talking about the need for just this kind of network for years, and finally we have this organization for support and change!  All Seasons staff and families know first-hand the benefits of outdoor play and learning.  Play and learning go hand in hand for young children, and never so powerfully than when this happens in the natural world.  So here I was, in a room filled with like-minded educators, from both preschool and elementary classrooms, eager to learn and share ideas and experiences.

The workshop was held in Savage at an early learning center, created through a partnership with the private non-profit Jeffers Foundation and the Savage-Prior Lake school district.  This has been a remarkable partnership that has resulted in school-wide nature curricula that keeps widening to include other grade levels and schools. It made me think of the transformational success of our nearby Garlough Elementary School in West St. Paul.

The breakout sessions and visit to a nature-based preschool classroom were all great chances to meet new people, get ideas and feel affirmed by what we are already doing.  This spring, All Seasons teachers will be traveling to Duluth to visit several sites that are part of their nature-based consortium.

The nature education movement has been slowly gathering steam, and this newly formed network will only help that move more quickly.  They will hold a workshop every quarter, and have asked us to host one in 2018-2019.  I asked the organizers to put one question on the gathering’s next program—how to encourage parents to advocate for nature-based education in kindergarten, first grade, and beyond.   Parents regularly ask us to open a kindergarten classroom, after bemoaning the brief or non-existent recess time and lack of natural spaces around the school—such culture shock after All Seasons and other schools like it.  We all need to be advocates for nature-based learning.  I’ll let you know after the winter meeting what ideas I get for empowering us all!


*Copies of a parent’s guide to outdoor activities by Ken Finch, a leading nature educator and former director of Green Hearts Institute for Nature in Childhood, will be out to take.  We’ll get more copies if need be.