Where the Clues Lead

Posted April 27, 2022

Where the Clues Lead

By Amanda Janquart

“I’m thinking of an animal that has no feet.”

This was the beginning of an exciting, weeks-long look at snakes. During lunch, children love to be challenged with Guess the Animal clues. There have been requests for extra tricky clues, and while I didn’t anticipate “no feet” to be on the difficult end, it certainly left the class wondering. They made guesses ranging from “a marshmallow” to “a monkey,” while classmates called out the contradictions. “Monkeys have four feet…or maybe just two?” A worm was the closest guess before it was time to rest. The children were left wondering while lying on their cots. More clues were shared after everyone was awake, getting excruciatingly specific.

“They can live in water and on land…even in trees…even in Minnesota,” which was followed by choruses of, “I live in Minnesota, too.”
“They have all sorts of patterns on their skin.”
“Maybe a cheetah?”
“Nooo; remember, no legs.”
The guesses kept coming until the final clue, “They can smell with their tongues.”

Knowing the answer wasn’t the end of their interest, though. Children wanted to learn more about snakes and share past experiences. “I held one at the zoo once!” This is what emergent curriculum can look like: something catches the children’s attention; teachers grab hold of their inquiry and take it deeper. These sparks of interest can be easy to miss, and teachers must be ready and willing to hop aboard. Where they go will inevitably vary; the rides could be short or cross country, but the travel is always thrilling.

The children excitedly made quick visits to the art studio, and they sketched out versions of snakes from their memories. Books were brought in, and the class talked through the details over and over. They wanted facts and were astounded by many: squishy eggs and forked tongues and eating prey headfirst?!? Wowsers. They pretended to be snakes, forming families, going hunting, and curling up together to keep warm.

With new information gleaned, children returned to the studio. They chose images of multiple species from the internet to print and use as models. As they drew or traced or sculpted with clay, the focus was on the details. Just having learned that snakes can swim, some chose sea snakes. Others liked the challenge of drawing a snake skeleton. It is a good day indeed when curiosity leads to confidence, pride and understanding – and it’s all visible in their faces.

The Joy of Spring for the Winter Room

Posted April 12, 2022

The Joy of Spring for the Winter Room

By Rita Thoemke

(Rita is one of the teachers of the toddlers, children who are two years old at the beginning of the year.)

A neighbor friend once told me that spring was created for mothers. She said this after observing me outside with my three little girls on one of the first nice days of spring. Today, I would add that spring was also made for teachers.

While All Seasons teachers enjoy the outdoors all year round, there are things about spring that we look forward to: longer outside times, less time needed to put on outdoor gear, enjoying snack outside on a blanket. Watching kids rediscover new magic in their familiar play areas is a joy. Mud puddles prove irresistible, and taking gear home to wash becomes routine.

There are other gifts that spring presents. Reflecting back on just how far these kids have come since fall is amazing. Drop-off time, once full of worry and concern, is now full of anticipation and curiosity about what awaits them in our classroom. Snack time used to be full of little challenges, from opening a lunch box or small container, to cleaning up and putting items away. Even conversations are different. Instead of asking teachers when their moms will be back, they now ask, “What will we do outside today?”

There is amazing confidence that comes to each child by the end of our school year. As their confidence has grown, teachers have made adjustments to how we support the children. Early in the year we would give step-by-step directions to get ready for going outside. “First, take off your shoes. Then find your snowpants.” Now we give them more space to do what they know how to do independently. Once outside, they no longer feel the need to stay close to a teacher. We watch from a greater distance as they explore the things of their choosing.

Throughout the year, we have also seen friendships develop. When a classmate is absent, it does not go unnoticed. The children ask about each other and want to know when their friend will be back. Children remember who enjoyed various activities with them and seek each other out to continue unfinished play. This is just the beginning of making connections outside of their family.

For toddler teachers, one of the biggest joys is that we don’t have to say goodbye at the end of the year. We are not sending any of our children off to kindergarten. We have just begun the early childhood education years, and we are eager to watch the journey continue as many of the children return for preschool in our Spring and Autumn preschool rooms.