Swimming Upstream

Posted May 31, 2018

by Sarah Sivright

All Seasons Preschool is a small fish, swimming upstream. We have some good friends swimming with us, but the current is big and powerful, and hardly knows we are there. You all know how we spend our days here with your children; much of the day outside in wild spaces, and a classroom full of good books, writing and drawing tools, dramatic play supplies, manipulatives, blocks, art materials—and all available for the children’s choosing for most of indoor time. Outside of free play, we visit the seniors and go to the studio. We believe—and evidently you do, too–that the world we offer here is a pretty great version of what’s best for young children.

Years ago, as an assistant teacher, I had this very vision in my head and heart, and was ready to put it into action in my own classroom. My principal put the brakes on, telling me I needed to go to graduate school first, to understand child development, and have the pedagogical foundation and language to support what my instincts were telling me. Graduate school was crucial to my development as a teacher, and I was grateful to have the theories and research to explain good practice to parents, colleagues and student teachers.

But the “real world” kept getting in the way. My kindergarten teaching experiences were frustrating, with the obstacles of bureaucracy, state and federal standards and assessments, and parental pressure for early reading skills, feeling insurmountable to me. I moved to preschool, where I thought I would have more freedom to create the classroom I imagined.

I taught at Dodge Nature Preschool for several years, where the curriculum is similar to ours. The Lower School principal at St. Paul Academy was on our preschool board, and I asked him how our graduates fared in his kindergarten. He said they tend to be “behind” in knowing numerals and letters, but catch up in a month or two. He also said our students were outstanding in their love of books, creativity with materials, comfort outdoors, and social relationships. That was enough for me.

However, when I came to All Seasons and Amy, with her elementary school background, suggested doing fall and spring assessments with the children to demonstrate growth, I was a little nervous. I didn’t need to be. With our literacy and numeracy-rich environment, the results were gratifying. Children can and do learn through play very well, thank you.

Now on to kindergarten, and many of you are anticipating being shell-shocked by the transition. But truly, your children will do just fine, even if the first weeks are bumpy. What you and they will carry into the next years is the knowledge of what children need to thrive—you’ve seen it. So maybe you feel like being a bit of a rabble-rouser next year, and decide to advocate for longer recess, turning that little bit of woods off the playground into a play space, or contributing materials to a small dramatic play corner. You were willing to swim upstream with us—thank you! As Dory would say, let’s all “just keep swimming!”

Puff…Off They Go

Posted May 17, 2018

by Amy Lemieux

As the school year draws to a close and we say goodbye to some of our students heading to kindergarten, I get sentimental. Puff the Magic Dragon, a poem written in 1959 and later turned into a song, was a childhood favorite of mine, sung with great gusto. As a child, I knew it to be a happy song about a friendly dragon who empowered and played with a little boy. It wasn’t until adulthood that I realized it was about the enchantment and subsequent fading of childhood. (Author’s note; this blog will be meaningless if you don’t read the words to the song).

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honahlee
Little Jackie Paper loved that rascal Puff
And brought him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff
Together they would travel on a boat with billowed sail
Jackie kept a lookout perched on Puff’s gigantic tail
Noble kings and princes would bow whene’er they came
Pirate ships would lower their flag when Puff roared out his name
A dragon lives forever but not so girls and boys
Painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys
One gray night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more
And Puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar
His head was bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain
Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane
Without his life-long friend, Puff could not be brave
So Puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped into his cave 

The few times our student have gleefully sung this song upstairs with the seniors, I admit I couldn’t get through it without crying. It is not all tears of sadness for the passing of time, however. Mine are largely tears of gratitude that our teachers have created a space where children are free to play with dragons every day.  I am so thankful these teachers understand that joining the children in their wonder is a central factor that generates this magic.  It is walking into a classroom and to see Kylen strum her air guitar, getting as into the “Firetruck” song as the kids, or Jenny acting out a believable interpretation of the big bad wolf at our community room plays. It is Amanda being as wide-eyed as the kids because there are pirates living upstairs and poop trees growing outside, Rita composedly going along with having “witch hair” for Halloween, or Sal being as happy about a child getting his jacket on as the child. My gratitude comes from listening to Sarah Sivright read from Jenny and the Cat Club and being on the edge of her seat at the end of every chapter even though she’s read the book forty times, for Diane Dombrock whose passion has created a genuine reverence for rocks and for Diane Belfiori who is so generous and trusting with her own instruments that she allows preschoolers to play them. And it is Sarah Kern who excitedly created a cozy bear cave this year that not one child played in – ever.  Embracing the true nature of early childhood only happens with those who are totally devoted to and have an affection for children this age.
The original words of “Puff” were a poem written by Leonard Lipton, a 19-year-old college student at Cornell University. Lipton added another verse that never made it into the song, where Puff meets another child to play with. I know I would have found great comfort in this verse. As some of our children head off to kindergarten, new students will arrive to play with Puff and our teachers.

The World Feels Much Bigger When You Have Kids In It

Posted May 3, 2018

by Amy Lemieux

photo from “hybridparenting.org”

Cliché as it is to say, having a child changes the world for a parent.  Raising children is not for sissies.  The leap from “competent adult” to “hovering freak show who follows a tiny person around” is not that giant when you consider you’re responsible for the very survival of another human being.  The gravity of this responsibility can be misinterpreted.  In hindsight, I inflated my job of “keep him alive” to “make every aspect of his life perfect and don’t ever let him suffer a moment of discomfort.”  This distortion made letting go more difficult than it should have been and did a disservice to my son.

Maybe it started at ten weeks gestation when my husband suddenly started cooking vegetables for me every night.  Maybe it was when I began running through the neighborhood seven months pregnant thinking it might make me strong enough to deliver a baby with a perfectly round head.  It could have been me riding in the backseat with our infant son while my husband chauffeured us around, not just on the ride home from the hospital but for a solid six months.  When my sister-in-law asked, “Has Nick ever even cried for anything?” we should have heard her intended message, but we proudly said, “No.  Never.”

I remember the visceral reaction I had the first time my oldest was invited to play at a friend’s house.  I think the mother’s actual words were something like, “Eddie really likes Nick and talks about him all the time.  We would love to have him over for a play date.”  The words I heard were, “I’m going to rip your heart from your chest and take it to my house.  You might never see it again.”  My reaction was so strong and unexpected that seventeen years later I haven’t forgotten it.  Nick never did play with Eddie, even though I liked and trusted the family.  What I could not articulate at that time was how frightened I was to send my son into an unfamiliar setting even though I liked and trusted the family.    Eddie’s parents’ job was to keep Nick safe for two hours while he played, not to make his afternoon perfect.  But I felt like the universe was going to swallow my son if he wasn’t with me.

Obviously, his range grew as he got older, but I wish I understood in his early years that my job was never to make his life seamless, but to let him grow and venture away from me with the confidence of knowing I’d be his home base even if everything wasn’t perfect.  I wish I had let him tell me his needs (a necessary part of growing up) rather than anticipate them.  I wish I hadn’t taken my role as protector to such an extreme.  I wish I had let him play with Eddie.

The world really does feel bigger once you have kids in it, but it would not have felt so overwhelming if I hadn’t misunderstood my responsibilities when he was young.