Managing Disappointment

Posted March 29, 2022

Managing Disappointment
By Roxie Zeller

Disappointment is a big part of life. You may feel disappointed when a sports team loses, when seeds do not sprout, when the snow takes too long to melt, or when plans fall through. The higher your anticipation, the more it can hurt.
As adults, we have learned to manage our expectations and disappointment to protect us from the emotional impact, so we are not overwhelmed with sorrow, nor do we lash out in anger. Children, however, are still building the tools needed to handle disappointment, learning from their own experiences and from watching adults in their lives.

The preschoolers in the Autumn Room at Eagan have experienced a lot of disappointment this spring as we tapped our box elder trees, trying to collect sap to boil into syrup. Those who were here last year approached tapping this year with caution, after their efforts to get sap were fruitless in the past. Children who were new to our school were filled with excitement. They were eager to help drill into the trees, hammer in the spiles, and remind us to check on the buckets every school day. Day after day, their excitement dwindled as they carefully lifted the lids and found empty buckets.

That is, until the big rainstorm came through at the beginning of March. About a cup of rainwater found its way into the sap buckets, fueling their excitement again. It wasn’t until we were indoors filtering the liquid that we discovered that it was rainwater instead of sap. (A teacher tasted the liquid to test it.) The preschoolers were disappointed, as many were excited to taste the sap, expecting it would taste like syrup.

After that, many children lost hope that we would end up with sap. We talked about getting some from the Inver Glen preschool’s trees so we could still taste it, but most of the excitement around tree tapping was gone.

The week before spring break, on our daily hike to check the buckets, we were surprised to find some liquid sitting in one of the buckets. “Do you think it’s really sap?” “Maybe it’s just water, and we should dump it out. Can I dump it out?” “You found water in the buckets again?” Even the teachers were skeptical, assuming it was just melted snow from the Monday prior. The whole class had learned to manage their expectations about the sap buckets. From the rainwater debacle, they discovered that the lids over the buckets don’t keep out everything, and instead of getting their hopes up again, they cautiously approached the newfound liquid we collected.

Finally, the day came to give the sap a taste. Upon arrival at school, the preschoolers signed in by answering the question: “Today, we will taste sap! What do you think it will taste like?” They could choose to put their name cards under “water,” “syrup,” or “not sure;” the majority answered “syrup.” We combined what little sap we had collected over two days, filtered it through a coffee filter, then poured a small sample for all who wanted to try it, including our senior reader, Grandma Shirley. Many preschoolers were disappointed to discover that sap tastes nothing like the syrup they are familiar with. I would describe tree sap as earthy, or like mineral water, with a very subtle, sweet aftertaste. We now have a pot boiling away on the stove well on its way to becoming maple syrup but getting to this point took a long time and was full of disappointments and learning moments. Hopefully, managing all the ups and downs of the experience will make our upcoming pancake pajama party even sweeter.

Preschoolers are constantly working through disappointment, whether it comes from not being able to finish a puzzle or project before clean-up time, having a game go in an unexpected direction, dropping a treat from home on the floor, having your blocks knocked over, or having an experiment fail. As uncomfortable as disappointment can be, it is a big part of life. The more practice that preschoolers get acknowledging and moving through disappointment, the better they will be able to manage it as adults who, in turn, can be great models for future generations.

What the Research Tells Us

Posted March 8, 2022

By Joanne Esser

Picture this: A group of 4-year-olds is clustered together outdoors, busily stirring a mixture of sand, pebbles, water, and wood chips they have poured into old pots. Their conversation is animated as they debate about what ingredients should be added to their “potions.” They make up stories about how they will use their potions to shrink an imaginary giant, each child adding some details to the growing story.

Down the street at a different childcare center, another group of 4-year-olds is sitting at a table. The teacher is telling them to repeat after her a rhyme about the sounds of an alphabet letter. Their task is to color in a series of worksheets about the letter and copy the letter on the lines with a pencil.

Which group of 4-year-olds will be more prepared to succeed in school?

You have probably heard All Seasons Preschool staff talk about the importance of play as the main way young children learn. This is not only our opinion; it is supported by solid research evidence.

Parents may or may not be aware of new research studies about young children and learning, though. This kind of research may or may not be featured in the popular media. But when a new well-controlled, long-term research study comes out, early childhood educators pay attention to it.

In February 2022, a groundbreaking study on Tennessee’s statewide Pre-K program released its findings: Children who attended academically-focused preschools actually did worse over the long term than peers who did not attend that kind of program. Researchers discovered the harm such programs do to children over time: poorer scores on academic tests, more children showing learning disorders and more behavioral problems at school.

Other earlier studies, such as the well-known Perry Preschool Project in the mid-1960’s, have consistently found that children from “academic” preschool programs do enter kindergarten with some short-term advantages over children who have spent their early years engaged in play. They are typically more advanced in skills like letter-recognition and print awareness because these skills were explicitly over-emphasized in their preschool. However, whenever researchers have studied the long-term impacts, these academic advantages disappear over the course of only a few years, and the children are worse off by other measures, compared to their peers who spent their early years engaged in social, self-directed play.

The recent Tennessee study, conducted by researchers at Vanderbilt University, looked at a group of high-poverty children randomly selected (by lottery) to attend a free, “high quality” preschool that focused on early academic training – up to five hours a day of instruction. The program’s intention was to give these low-income children a boost so they would be better equipped to succeed in school. Same-age children who did not attend that kind of preschool served as a control group. It was a well-designed study of nearly 3,000 children, following them through sixth grade.

What the data showed was that at the beginning of kindergarten, the academic Pre-K group performed better on all academic measures than the control group. But the control group soon caught up and generally surpassed their peers. By third grade, the control group performed significantly better on all academic measures than the children who attended the academic Pre-K. In addition, those in the academic Pre-K group were significantly more likely to have diagnosed learning disorders and had a higher rate of behavior issues (school rule violations) than the control group.

By sixth grade, the advantages to the group that did not have the academic preschool “training” were even greater: higher scores on all achievement tests, fewer special education placements and far fewer behavioral offenses committed at school. This study reinforces other research that shows children who have rich opportunities to play rather than being pushed into heavy academic instruction at young ages do better later in school.

These clear results surprised the researchers. What explains the harmful effects of early academic training in preschool?

Some analysts speculate that early academic instruction results in shallow learning of skills: enough to pass tests in kindergarten, but that interferes with deeper learning later. Early pressure and the grind of drilling inappropriate academics might also lead to a dislike of school, or a rebellious attitude that shows up in school later. One expert researcher commenting on possible reasons for the disturbing results described “too much whole-group instruction, rigid behavioral controls, not enough time spent outside,” and said, “Ideally Pre-K should involve more play.”

The main concern for us as early childhood educators is: what are young children missing when they are spending hours a day on academic training? Four- and five-year-olds need lots of time to practice taking initiative, socializing, negotiating with others, solving problems on their own and learning how to take care of themselves. These are all things that truly “prepare them for school.” The Tennessee study is confirmation that those of us who are focused on creating caring learning environments that are play-based, language- and social skills-heavy are on the right track.


Durkin, K., Lipsey, M.W., Farran, D.C., & Wiesen, S.E. (2022, January 10). “Effects of a Statewide Pre-Kindergarten Program on Children’s Achievement and Behavior Through Sixth Grade.” Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication.

Lipsey, M.W., Farran, D.C., & Durkin, K. (2018). “Effects of the Tennessee Prekindergarten Program on Children’s Achievement and Behavior Through the Third Grade.” Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 45, 155-176.

Gray, Peter. (2022, January 31). “Research Reveals Long-Term Harm of State Pre-K Program.” Psychology Today.

Kamenetz, Anya. (2022, February 10) “A Top Researcher Says It’s Time to Rethink Our Entire Approach to Preschool.” NPR News.