Fire, Mirrors, and Windows

Posted March 22, 2023

Fires, Mirrors, and Windows

By Jen Andrews

A crackling fire may remind you of fall and winter’s chill, but I will always associate it with spring.

My father was a first-generation immigrant from Iran. Some of my favorite holidays are the spring holidays I learned to celebrate from my father and his side of the family. These occasions are not Muslim; rather, their roots are in ancient Persia, the solar calendar, and Zoroastrianism, and they are celebrated by people across religions in parts of Asia and the Iranian diaspora.

One of my very favorite celebrations occurs on the eve of the last Wednesday of the year. It is called Chaharshanbeh Suri, Red Wednesday. Families and friends gather to share yummy treats and jump over bonfires. Yes, that’s right. The young, the old, and everybody in between jump over three fires to cast off all the negatives of the previous year and gain strength, vitality, and energy from the fire. As we jump the fires, we chant, “Sorkhieh to as man, zardieh man as to,” meaning “Take my yellow, give me your red.” The way my Dad explained it to me, you are saying to the fire, “Take my regrets, my worries, cowardice, and weakness and give me your bravery, your courage, your wisdom, and your vitality.” My family in Los Angeles jumps the three bonfires every year, and all ages participate. My 90-year-old auntie might leap next to the fire; my cousin’s baby (in someone’s loving arms) has made the trip as well. Here, where the weather is far from spring-like yet, my family at home jumps over votive candles in our living room or on the driveway, weather permitting. I love this idea of casting off any negativity from the previous year as it winds down and exchanging it for all kinds of powerful positivity.

Growing up in Minnesota, I was quite alone in my celebration of Persian New Year. And really, in the eighties, being from a different culture wasn’t that cool. I didn’t really appreciate our “weird food,” and I was embarrassed by my Dad’s accent. But what I want to do now, as a teacher, is make sure that the children I teach feel valued, loved, and worthy not in spite of, but because of their heritage.

One of the concepts that really stuck with me from a recent professional development training was the idea of providing “mirrors and windows” in the classroom. Students need to see themselves in their environment: boys, girls, and families that look and sound like them, offering them “mirrors” and affirming who they are. But perhaps just as importantly, they need to see through “windows” into worlds that are different from theirs: boys and girls and families that look different, do things differently, and celebrate different things. Having the opportunity to encounter a variety of people in this way, with adults who are open to observing and exploring differences together, allows children to develop positive rather than negative or isolating mindsets around those differences.

That’s why I decided to bring Chaharshanbeh Suri to my classroom. For me, it’s a mirror, but for this group of toddlers in the Winter Room, it is a window not just into my family, but a celebration from across the globe important to millions of people. To do this with the toddlers in a school-setting, I crafted three small “fires” out of paper and I chanted as they jumped. They were so excited to join in the jumping! I was glad they all wanted to try. Their unique styles of jumping were on display, each one different and each one celebrated.

Will they remember this occasion, that one day that we jumped over tiny construction paper “fires” in the square? Perhaps not. But judging from the smiles and excited cries of “Me! Me!,” this was a positive experience of a tradition that isn’t theirs. I hope providing this window and other windows for our class this year helps create a foundation of approaching differences with a lens of curiosity rather than negativity or suspicion. I love the joy this holiday brings. And what is more life-affirming than joy?

The Joys of Project-Based Learning

Posted March 8, 2023
Pulling a rabbit out of her hat!

The Joys of Project-Based Learning

By Roxie Zeller

There are many different philosophies about how to teach preschoolers, which is why every preschool is a little different. Many preschools use a thematic curriculum, meaning the theme or topic that the group learns about is chosen by the teachers in advance and changes week to week. Although this approach introduces many topics to preschoolers, it doesn’t allow time for children to dig deeper into the topics, even those that interest them the most.

At All Seasons we take a more project-based approach to learning. We focus on overarching concepts or big ideas in which the children show interest. A project can last for a whole month or extend only for a few weeks. Regardless of whether it is a long-term or short-term project, we embrace digging deeper into interesting topics, working towards learning the answer to a big question, watching things change, or compiling knowledge and experiences that can be applied in a real way. One aspect of project-based learning is finding a way to demonstrate the knowledge learned from the group’s explorations.

The Tiny Crew at Eagan, who meet every Friday morning, experienced the project approach in a wonderful way recently. Over the course of a month, they dove deep into “magic.”

The interest started when the small group started to make things in the room disappear by covering them with blankets. “Watch this!” they would yell out. “Abracadabra; make a puzzle appear!” They then quickly pulled the blanket back to reveal a completed puzzle underneath. This one simple trick became a focus of the morning, and led to conversations about magic tricks, magicians, and illusions.

Over the next week teachers added to the classroom many books depicting how to perform simple magic tricks. The children picked out the tricks that interested them the most, asking specifically how to make things disappear. Every Friday, time was set aside to learn and practice one or two new tricks. Eventually they were able to perform about eleven tricks with little to no help from an adult! Once they mastered a few tricks, it didn’t take long for the small Tiny Crew group to spread their excitement for magic tricks to the larger group. Many of the other preschoolers also expressed interest in the topic. The Tiny Crew group took it upon themselves to teach a few of their favorite tricks to the others who were interested, becoming the “experts” in the room, a much sought-after role among preschoolers.

As the interest in magic grew, the question of how to bring the project to a satisfying end loomed. How could we nicely wrap up the learning that the group had thrown itself into for the past month? Putting on a magic show was such a natural and fulfilling closure to the children’s study of magic tricks. And the seniors would be the perfect audience.

To prepare for the show, we created a poster with pictorial symbols of each trick we had learned. The preschoolers then used that poster to choose three tricks each that they wanted to perform at the show. Their choices were then drawn out on another paper so they could see who chose which tricks. They helped create a poster advertising their show and planned the order in which the tricks would be performed. Then the children practiced performing the tricks in order with another teacher as their audience. They had to make sure to clearly tell the audience what they were going to do as they performed the trick. (“Now I will make this coin disappear.”) It took some practice, but eventually they were ready to put on the show.

The morning of the performance the children were very excited to show off all their hard work. As we walked upstairs to the Community Room, they shared that they were excited and hoped a lot of seniors would come. After setting up the room with everything they needed, we went over the order of the show one last time. The preschoolers clearly explained to the audience what they were doing and each trick was met with a huge round of applause. It was such a loving and enthusiastic audience that they watched the same trick over and over, each time cheering as if it was the first time they had seen it. In the end the preschoolers took a bow and thanked the seniors for coming. On the walk back to the room, the children unanimously expressed how much they loved doing the show.

It’s learning experiences like these that highlight how wonderful project-based learning can be for everyone involved. The preschoolers learned new skills and gained confidence in themselves, all while learning about science, developing dexterity, and working on early literacy skills. The seniors supported our learning by being the best possible audience, and got the chance to break out of their typical Friday routine for a joy-filled show.