Blog: Nurturing Children Together

Arts at Noon - Playing with Pitch

At Allen Creek, we have an extension program called Arts at Noon. The children who are enrolled for Arts at Noon stay after their regular school day for enrichment classes, such as music and art. I am the teacher for the music class, and I will be writing a series of blog posts that offer a summary of the emergent music curriculum so far, and share some of the fun learning moments we have experienced together.

This fall, one concept we have been exploring is pitch.  According to a post by the American Psychological Association, an early understanding of pitch can help later on with singing in tune, composing music, and learning tone languages, such as Mandarin. So far, in our class, we have started learning concepts of relative pitch (the relationship between the sound of notes). This is something we will extend by learning about absolute pitch (identifying the sound of notes by name). Both absolute and relative pitch can be learned at a young age.


Generally, I find that young children already know what pitch is, even if they don’t have a name for it. They understand that sounds from our voice or other sources can go up or down (relative pitch). This learning begins when they are babies, and they hear the voice of their caregivers going up and down. Often, “motherspeak” can be as much as an octave and a half higher than the normal speaking range. Taking what they already know, we have explored how pitch changes, and how we see the difference in measurable ways, such as size or length, depth or shape. The children in our class have learned that the longer the object, the lower the pitch will be. We have studied this a few ways.

First, we looked at the xylophone, positioned sideways, with the shortest bars at the top. We talked about how it looks like a mountain, and the higher you climb on the mountain, the higher the pitch goes.


This concept could also be seen on the harp. The longer strings have a lower pitch, and are lower on the mountain.



Another time, we explored it by thinking about their whole bodies. They lined up from tallest to shortest, and I pointed out the tallest person is also the longest, and asked them where on the staff the longest body would go. They knew: on the bottom. From there, they lined themselves up on the staff: lowest to highest in pitch or longest to shortest body length. This is not only a lesson in pitch, but in math and physics. I didn’t get into the rate of vibration of different strings, which causes the pitch, but that is something they could learn next.


So, after exploring pitch based on length of string, length of bar, length of body, we started a lesson on seeing the difference in pitch by changing the depth of water in jars. We got out some glass jars, and filled them each with a different amount of water. Each of the kids chose a color for the water in their jar, so that we could also distinguish by color.



I asked them to guess which one had the highest and lowest pitch, and their predictions were varied. When we tried it out, we discovered that the one with the most water (the longest depth) had the lowest pitch. In order to understand why, we measured the depth of each, cut out their depth in strips of paper, and laid them flat on the table. It looked like the xylophone, with the longest strip as the lowest pitch! To back up one step, you should also know that when I asked how we could measure the depth, one kid knew right away how to do it, and proceeded to show me: he held up a piece of paper vertically on the table, and marked where the top of the water was.


At this point, the kids were ready to use this instrument we had created together. So, we used three of the five jars/notes to learn Hot Cross Buns. It came pretty easily for all of them, because they understood the concept before trying it. In the video, please notice a couple of key parts. First, one child says after playing it, “See, it does the same as your singing.” What he means is the sound of the jars match the sound of our voices singing it in pitch. Second, one child grasped the concept so swiftly and decided to take it to another level: he experimented with switching the order, and did it exactly backwards. In the video, you can hear him adapting the pitch of his voice to go from low to high. I could tell that he understood what he was doing, because he did it as he was switching the order in which he played the jar/notes.



There are many ways to extend the exploration of pitch further, and we will do some of that in our class. Some examples include ordering various drums by size and pitch, using rubber bands to explore how their length relates to pitch, Playing a stringed instrument, and exploring how pitch changes as you “shorten” the string with your finger pressing down on the string, using bottles and water, and blowing across the top to see how their pitch changes with depth of water (will it be the same as tapping on jars of water?).

Pitch is a concept that provides foundation for a deep understanding of music. It primes the children’s learning to be meaningful in the future, rather than an exercise in memorization or imitation. Developing an understanding of pitch also broadens their learning of subjects that reach beyond music and dip into theories of physics, math and engineering.


The Pace of Play Development

On a recent morning in our outdoor classroom, I found myself balancing the act of being meaningfully engaged with a few of the preschoolers in my care, and periodically glancing around the yard, taking in a little field data on what all the other children were busy doing. This is a familiar state for all preschool teachers. The children with whom I was directly involved were busy experimenting with water. On a large water bin they had placed ramps of various lengths and widths, and they were pouring water down the ramps to the grass, experimenting with design and physics. In this seemingly simple act, by many of the children here, their brains were highly active.


Our current national academic environment is very performance-based, and that can overwhelm kids, teachers, and parents. We read and talk a lot about the push for academic performance at progressively younger ages . For many, pushing too hard academically doesn’t feel healthy. As a result, there seems to be a trend towards more acceptance of play-based learning.

I support the focus on play-based learning, and I’d also like to offer a word of caution about how play can become a performance that may get pushed too hard. Psychologists and educators have outlined six stages of play, including: Unoccupied - Random movement without intention, which is the play of an infant; Solitary - Playing alone independently; Onlooker - Watching other children without participating; Parallel - Playing side-by-side without interacting; Associative - Playing with other children, but the play is not coordinated; Cooperative - Interactive play that is highly coordinated.

Typically what we see in the preschool years is a range from Solitary to Cooperative play. It is often a goal to see a child move through all these stages, and ultimately be comfortable with Cooperative play by the end of their preschool experience. My caution is that moving through the stages of play can be rushed, resulting in the child being pushed to perform at a more advanced level before the child is ready. I’d like to explain the benefits of letting a child be in their current stage of play as needed, without pushing them to move forward before they are ready.

Solitary Play: Children need to experience solitary play, as it gives them the freedom to think, to explore, and to create, without expectations placed upon them. In solitary play, they are free to use their imaginations, they can develop physical and mental skills, and they can be fully engaged in their exploration. Many of the skills developed in this stage contribute to later learning, such as language, spatial reasoning, creativity, and abstract thinking. Children also acquire self-knowledge during this stage, a very useful life skill.

Onlooker Play: In this stage of play, children watch and are mentally engaged, even though they are not physically engaged in play with others. During this stage, important social learning takes place. Children in this stage of play are mentally practicing what it would be like to interact, priming themselves for the next stage of play.  They are taking note of the physical, social, verbal, and behavioral interactions that they witness. When children are given time to experience this stage of play at their own pace, they will proceed with more confidence and self-assurance.

Parallel Play: During parallel play children operate in their own private worlds, but in the larger context of other people and ideas. They are simultaneously observing their peers and exploring on their own. During this stage of play, they often develop new understandings about language and expression, and about social and emotional boundaries. These are vital lessons for future social and emotional learning.

Associative Play: In associative play, children play together, but not in an organized group with rules or goals in mind. Important skills learned during associative play include sharing, cooperation, and problem-solving skills. Associative play allows children to try out developing beliefs about the world. This stage is important because it marks the child’s interest in peers, rather than simply the play itself. This interest is critical in leading to the development of friendship.

Cooperative Play: During this stage of play, children are motivated to play together in groups, with norms and goals in mind. They develop problem-solving skills as a group and create community. This stage of play allows children to develop a sense of purpose and leads to development of peer leadership and collaboration.

Rather than focusing on the end goal of cooperative play, it is beneficial to understand and truly value each stage of play development and to let children move through the stages at their own pace. There is no need to push a child into a more developed stage of play. A child who is still most comfortable playing alongside peers, but not yet interacting with peers, needs time and space to develop the skills of parallel play. It is important to keep in mind there may be times when children need to participate in more solitary play, even if they have reached a more advanced stage of play development. As a teacher, part of my job is to track what stage of play children are operating in and to keep the play opportunities open enough so when they are ready, they will naturally begin to move into another stage. In most cases, there is no need to push a child into social interactions that may be stressful. On occasion, a child may need encouragement to take the next step, but most of the time, it comes naturally. One of the great benefits of preschool experience is that children have ample opportunities to navigate social situations that foster all the play stages.


The children working at the water bin that day were deciphering how the speed of the water and the distance it traveled changed according to the length of the ramp, a lesson in engineering. They were using their fine and gross motor skills to lift, carry, and place the ramps delicately on the bin. They were using spatial reasoning to determine the most effective placement of the ramps. They were navigating the complex world of sharing space with others, which involves awareness of where their body ends in space (a skill of proprioception that develops for quite a while beyond preschool), reading their peers’ facial expressions to determine their emotional state, developing flexibility by waiting for a turn, fine-tuning verbal skills when asking for a turn, and using executive functioning to create win-win situations.

As a preschool teacher who encourages learning through play, I am accustomed to seeing through this lens. We offer these opportunities, and when we do, children find and develop their own skills. What I want readers to know is that these skills are noticed and valued, and that the beauty of it all is that the child knows how to learn these things when given the opportunity to explore. When they do, we will see and point out, which will help to make connections between experience and learning. This is a cornerstone of becoming life-long learners.

YouTube: Stuart Brown: Play is More Than Fun

The Power of Play: how spontaneous, imaginative activities lead to happier, healthier children. David Elkind, PhD.

The Power of Presence in Early Childhood

“This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.” -Mary Oliver

For awhile now, the idea of the power of presence has been visited and revisited in my thinking about work with young children. Last year, during our professional development course led by Karen Baker at Allen Creek, we studied play, and I learned about the concept of “watched play.” It was a familiar concept to me as a parent and a teacher of young children, because it is something that children clearly crave and need, but what I learned from the seminar is why it is valuable to children. There seems to be a common urge for adults to encourage independence in children, and unfortunately, this can get in the way of the need that children have for adults to simply be attentive. We adults can get distracted by so many things: our phones, our own needs, the needs of other children, making plans, the drive to train our children to become achievers. I hope to make a case for the power of just being there, and paying attention.

On a blog post about the gift of presence, Parker Palmer reminds us that “the human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed — to be seen, heard and companioned exactly as it is.” I believe this sums up a child’s most basic desire: to be seen just as s/he is. As their caregivers, we can do that. Yes, there are ways that we will need to guide them, and there are boundaries they will need help with. But, we can also just be there to attend to their being and notice what they are doing and how they are doing it. Noticing who they are is a gift we can give them. Presence in this sense is more about being than doing. It is about bearing witness to who they are, about helping to carry the burden and delight of emotions, about validating and affirming. It allows for a connection between the child and attending adult that has a sort of silent power. This power gives the child the message that someone is thinking about him or her, it helps them to develop self-regulation, helps with mentalization. From the child’s perspective, this experience is interactive, even if the adult feels s/he is not “doing anything.”

Watched play can be awkward for some adults. It can feel unproductive, especially to those who tend to be driven by achievement. Some parents or teachers want to have things they can do or say to feel like they are being an active participant in the child’s development. It may be helpful to have some phrases that encourage the connection of attentiveness. In my experience, I find it helpful to make observations about what the child is doing, saying, or feeling. Simply stating it assures him or her of the adult’s presence and attentiveness. Beginning with “I notice . . . “ can be a useful way to get started. I also find the practice of saying, “thank you” to the child to be helpful. “Thank you for showing me . . . “ “Thank you for telling me that.” “Thank you for waiting,” etc.

Dr. Susan Sherkow studied the concept of “watched play,” and describes it as “a state of mutual engagement from the child’s perspective, and therefore interactive.” She found that simply the presence of an attentive adult can validate a child’s identity, and eventually help to improve their capacity to be alone. The experience for the child allows him or her to regulate their emotions and their impulses confidently. It allows the child to begin to differentiate between self and other, and to learn how to interpret and respond to others’ behaviors. In the process, the child internalizes these learned skills, which makes their eventual independence more possible.

The power that presence has on a child’s development is not just related to their play experience. Children need this presence from the adults around them when they are experiencing big emotions, too. Hand in Hand parenting teaches a concept called Staylistening. This is a method of just being with a child while s/he experiences big emotions. Patty Wipfler of Hand in Hand parentings describes the need for Staylistening here:

We are so accustomed to seeing the world only from our own vantage point. If we don’t feel sad, no one else should, either. But children’s feelings are like their own personal weather system, which is affected by forces often unseen by you.
To tell your child he should feel happy when he is sad is roughly as effective as telling a rainstorm to go away. Phrases like “I’m sorry you feel so sad” or “I’ll stay right here with you while it’s hard” give your child permission to address and work through bad feelings. Phrases like “It’s only a torn paper. Quit acting like such a baby!” only shame a child. They work against your goal of helping your child rebuild his sense of well-being.
As you listen, you are not necessarily condoning your child’s feelings, nor are you spoiling him. You are helping him recover. Children cry only when they are too upset to think. Feelings of upset can overpower a child and drive him to do things that don’t make sense. As you listen, you drain the power these feelings have over your child. His own good judgment will return once you’ve listened thoroughly.

The chaotic life of a parent of young children and the atmosphere of a classroom with 10-15 young children can make it seem impossible to carve out time and space to create this kind of attentiveness. However, it can be as simple as a shift in perspective about what the child needs, and about the value of what we have to give them: our presence and our attention. It doesn’t have to take long. It just requires intention.

Managing the Holidays with Young Children

As we head into the break, we know many Allen Creek families will be celebrating winter holidays.  This can often involve trips, visits with extended family, and parties.  These times can hold feelings of warmth and connection, but can also be a time of frenzied busyness.  How can we best help our children and ourselves to manage the expectations of this season, while still preserving the joy in gathering with those we love?

The winter holidays can often be a time of “too much.”  Too much food, too many presents, too many new places and people, too much sugar, too many late nights, and too many disrupted routines.  What can seem fun to adults can quickly become overwhelming to children.  Overexcitement itself can be frightening to them, as it so quickly leads to feelings of being out of control.

So what can parents do to help?  When visiting family or friends--whether for an extended time or a party--it’s usually best to help children know what to expect while they are there.  Keeping an open dialogue with your children can better help them manage their emotions in situations outside of their normal routines.  Some things you can consider and discuss include: who will be there?  Will there be a lot of people your child does not know?  Are there different rules or expectations than at your own house?  How long will you be there?  What do you plan to do?  Will there be a space available where your child will be able to do his or her own sort of things?  It can be helpful to talk with your partner ahead of time about which elements of your child’s normal routine feel most essential to preserve during your visit. For example, does it matter to you that your child keeps a consistent bedtime?  Where do you want to stand firm and where can you be flexible? It’s valuable to have an idea of these shared priorities ahead of time, before encountering the expectations of your parents, in-laws, or siblings.  

While you are away, it is best to keep a close eye on your child, and to be aware of when he or she begins to become stressed or overwhelmed.  When you first notice these signs, take a little time together--can you take a walk? Read a book?  Color or draw?  Lie down for a bit?  During this downtime you can help put words to your child’s experience or to your own.  For example, ”I like these parties but I can get tired of talking to so many people.  It sometimes helps me to take a little break where it’s not so loud.” Or, “I noticed you were starting to have a hard time negotiating with your cousins about what to play next.  It can be difficult when there are so many kids with so many different ideas.”  It sometimes even helps to explicitly remind your children that they can seek you out for assistance as needed--”let me know if you need help or a break” or “you can find me in the kitchen if you need to check in.”   

Just as it’s helpful to keep a close eye on your children, it’s advantageous for parents to pay attention to their own emotional barometers as well. Looking ahead, what do you think will help you feel most “yourself” during the season?  Does it matter to you to keep up your exercise routine?  To try to stick as closely to your normal pattern of eating as possible?  Are you a person who needs alone time or do you thrive on being with other people? Are there ways to ensure you’re getting enough sunlight and enough sleep? When parents are able to take good care of themselves, it makes the overall season more enjoyable for everyone.

We wish you and your families all of the warmth and good feelings that go along with being connected to your larger community and to each other.  We look forward to seeing you again in 2017.

2016 Summer at Allen Creek - outside play!






For this year's summer camps at Allen Creek, we decided to do things a little differently!  In the past we have had theme-based camps that became a bit too complicated.  This year we decided to concentrate on our outdoor spaces, water play, nature, art, and on our usual preschool activities. We spent part of the school year thinking carefully about how to do this before we made the changes.  Now that the camps are over, we can say that it was successful and the changes were well worth it! The extra focus on outdoor activities and exploration were the best part.

Many water features were offered.  In addition to our usual basins and taps from the school year with bamboo channels, we offered troughs, wading pools, a sprinkler, hoses, and pipes with funnels.

Many water features were offered.  In addition to our usual basins and taps from the school year with bamboo channels, we offered troughs, wading pools, a sprinkler, hoses, and pipes with funnels.

The teachers constructed a "mud kitchen" using materials we already had: fence boards, stumps, shelving and crates, a sensory table tub for a sink, and pots, pans, utensils and dishes.  The children used it every day of camp to make meals and play house and restaurant.

The teachers constructed a "mud kitchen" using materials we already had: fence boards, stumps, shelving and crates, a sensory table tub for a sink, and pots, pans, utensils and dishes.  The children used it every day of camp to make meals and play house and restaurant.

The children were especially receptive to the expanded focus on outside play, including lots of water features and natural materials.  We made sure to spend at least half of the three hour day outdoors, but usually more.  In the play ground, the children enjoyed playing in the sand box with mud and water.  They climbed the structures and practiced their upside-down hanging skills on the dome climber.  They played ball games and drew with chalk on the sidewalk.  They painted on an outdoor easel that the teachers constructed, too.  The children never expressed boredom - they were always engaged in something interesting or challenging.

Children thoroughly enjoy making rivers and channels with the water and mud in the sand box!

Children thoroughly enjoy making rivers and channels with the water and mud in the sand box!

We made sure that our playground had extra shade for the hot summer days.

We made sure that our playground had extra shade for the hot summer days.

In the Nature Area, the children made the most of everything available and had a great time!  In this large space, there is room to run, transport things with a wheelbarrow, or transport people with a wagon.  There is a music wall to play instruments and do performances.  The children played ball games and ran through the sprinkler.  There was a huge interest in running the hose and sprinkler and observing how they work.  The children also played games that they made up, like 'run and jump in the wading pools one right after the other' and 'cover up the sprinkler with the bucket and see where the water goes'.  They used pipes and funnels on the fence to move water.  They made beautiful meals with flowers, leaves, and wood chips in the mud kitchen.  They picked and sampled vegetables and herbs from the raised beds.  They played animal family in the climbing tree.  They chased bubbles.  They built structures with logs.  The Nature Area was full of summertime joy!

There was even more time outdoors to try different ways of building with the logs.

There was even more time outdoors to try different ways of building with the logs.

All of the water play promoted even more learning and cooperative play.

All of the water play promoted even more learning and cooperative play.

2016 Summer at Allen Creek - indoor play!

For our camps this year, much more of the focus was on our wonderful outdoor spaces.  We still spent part of the day indoors making choices in the classroom, creating art, and having group story and music time.  We had developmentally appropriate camps in age groupings from toddlers up to 5 year olds.  The children enjoyed many of our typical preschool activities together: painting, sculpting, creating with a wealth of materials, making play dough, building, dramatic play, reading, dancing, singing, and more!

Machines Project: Part III

 For the culminating stage of our machines project,  the children planned, then built, a model of a machine with scrap materials such as boxes, buttons, and tubes.  Some children stayed with the candy factory idea.  Others are moved on to ideas from their own imagination, or twists on appliances or known machines.  First, the teachers sat down with each small group and showed them the materials we could use to build our model machines.  Then, the children brainstormed ideas with the group.  They talked about parts of the candy factory, machines they enjoyed using or seeing used at home, and machines that they imagined.  The ideas that came out of this were amazing!  The children then moved to the tables and drew what they thought their machine would look like.  The teachers were there for guidance if they got stuck.  Each child then dictated the parts of their plan to the teacher, including what materials they thought they would use.  In their next project time session, the teachers had all of the materials laid out, along with adhesives like masking tape and tacky glue.  The children followed their plans for two project time sessions (about 30 minutes) and built their machines with help from the teachers and each other!  The children were very proud of what they came up with and constructed.  Many of them took their final machine home and played with it with their family, or put it on display.  Below you will see each plan and the machine that was constructed from the plan.  This was a wonderful project for the class.  We are excited to see what projects our class will move on to in the new year!  - Senior Preschool teachers Ms. Trisha MIller and Mrs. Lorna Rankin


The Machines Project: Part II

(This is second of a two part article. For Part I, follow this link)

The third simple machine we introduced to the children were levers and fulcrums.  We had already seen examples of children using them on the playground when they used logs and branches to create their own see saws.


    At project time we chose to introduce two lever and fulcrum activities, first using a game called jumping pixies.  Small balls are launched with a lever and fulcrum toward a target in the center of the table. Children had to use just the right amount of force to get the pixie in the target.


    The other lever fulcrum activity involved making a lever and fulcrum from wooden sticks and blocks, and using them to launch felt balls in the classroom.  Again children enjoyed experimenting with the effects of different amounts of force.


The next machine we introduced to children was a conveyor belt.  Given their continued interest in playing factory, we wanted to give children an example of a more organized process they could incorporate into their play.  We found an unused roll of contact paper and taped a dowel to each end.  At project time we stretched it out across a table and showed the children how to turn one of the dowels while someone else held the other end, making the conveyor belt advance across the table.  We then organized other children to place plastic caps on one end of the conveyor belt while two more children collected the caps from the end of the belt and sorted them into boxes. Periodically we would all switch jobs so that everyone would have a turn.


    Children were given the opportunity to use the machine project materials in the following days at choice time.  We began seeing more process and organization to their play that earlier in the year often centered on dumping classroom materials inside their “factory” or “house”.


    Here children at a “recycling center” are sorting materials into separate containers as other children drop them off.

These children have created an “oven” in which “candies” are placed on the ramp and slid into the oven with a long stick, while another child pulls them out of the other side with his stick.

We then found a short video clip for the children to watch showing how chocolates are made.  The children were fascinated by a few steps of the process including the filling extruder/slicer, the chocolate curtain, and the cooling tunnel.  At project time we revisited the conveyor belt activity, this time adding a tunnel, mixer, and slicer stations.


Again, many children were eager to replay the activity at choice time over the following days, trying out a variety of materials to represent the candies in the factory.


As we progressed in our machines project we continued to see its influence in the children’s play. These children built a ball machine in which there was a defined process to follow in order to play.  A large red tube was filled with balls which were then released onto the floor.  All players would scramble to pick up the balls and set them rolling down a ramp, then the balls were all gathered up and the process was repeated.

The Mystery of Materials: A Reggio Workshop

By: Lorna Rankin

Several weeks ago I and four other Allen Creek teachers had the pleasure of attending a delightful workshop, “The Mystery of Materials/ The Magic of Loose Parts,” presented by Brianne Bongiovanni, Creator and Founder of Bambini Creativi, in Kansas City, Missouri, a Reggio inspired preschool.

Ms. Bongiovanni inspired us with a dazzling array of materials to use in our classrooms in the categories of food, paper, nature, metal, graphics, clay, and paint. The organizers of the workshop, members of the Michigan Inspirations community, created beautiful displays of materials for us to see and explore.

But the heart of Ms. Bongiovanni’s message was not simply a listing of materials for the classroom, but stories of how children have used different materials to make their thoughts tangible. This is what people in Reggio schools call 'The Hundred Languages of Children'.

One of Ms. Bongiovanni’s stories was about her time studying the Reggio Emilia approach in Italy.  She had created a beautiful display of materials (a provocation).  One of the teachers asked her why she had created the display, was it only because it was beautiful? The teacher went on to explain to her, every provocation should have a thread leading to the birth of the rainbow.  Besides the fact that Reggio educators like to display materials in rainbow order, I took this to mean the materials and the way we choose to display them in our classrooms should have the possibility to discover something wondrous,  important or meaningful about the world, themselves or each other.


Bring to Life Series - a Reflection

By: Knut Hill

Attending Marcia's and Dina's 'Bring to Life' Series is like being a fly on the wall in my four year old's class at Allen Creek Preschool. How lucky we are! Images of the children engaged in play are projected up on a classroom wall for parents to see bigger than life. I'm instantly transported into my preschooler's world while Marcia and Dina tell us what the children are doing. Their narrative is simple and descriptive, poignantly highlighting the complex and fundamental developments taking place.

Marcia expands on the benefits of this unique format: "seeing the children ‘again’ through natural photographs and listening to the children’s words transcribed in midstream as play or projects or discussions unfold allows us to look together at the children’s work.  We see the intensity with which the children play, the details of a child’s drawing or collage or painting; we hear the language a child choses to negotiate, convince, tell a story, or share some knowledge about the world; and we are surprised for example when a child reworks a pattern block design to create a pinwheel design that has several layers of radial symmetry.  This looking again provides a new perspective - without the sounds and the moment-to-moment action within the live classroom; we can pause, and look for the nuggets that give voice to your children’s development, to their rich capacities." 

As our children mature and spend more time at school, we miss out on the uncut storyline we had when they were infants and with us for every waking moment. For my wife and I, this separation brings natural and inevitable uncertainty. During a Bring to Life presentation I get a sought after glimpse into what really goes on at preschool. Who is he playing with? How is he using materials, or working through challenges? Answers to these types of questions are provided in pictures worth a thousand words; more detail than I can expect my four year old to remember let alone share with me. His teachers share a child's quote from the captured moment providing even more color to the scene. Seeing an expression on my boy's face of focus and enjoyment while hard at work reconfirms that our child has mastered separation from us and is free to fully enjoy school.

But what parent wouldn't eagerly sit through a presentation about their child? What makes this great is that, like all of the teachers that our two boys have had at Allen Creek, Marcia and Dina really know our child. They understand and appreciate him both personally and developmentally. The presentation reminds me of how experienced and knowledgeable they are. Pictures are selected that totally capture our boy. They explain how something seemingly simple or playful really signifies marked development toward important milestones. Sure we spend a lot of time with our children and experience milestone moments, but they have a different flavor at school. And too many of the moments we have are lost in the rushed, disjointed pace of everyday family life. Sitting together as adults learning about our children lets us focus and celebrate the wonderful journey.

 Marcia and Dina "feel great satisfaction with the process of preparing and organizing the presentations and are pleased that so many of you are able to come and share this time together." Thank you for crafting such a beautiful and meaningful series that documents our children's development at Allen Creek.


A Time to Talk

By: Peter Toogood

We are used to thinking of school as a place where we send our kids to learn. The family consultant program is one way in which Allen Creek Preschool also provides an opportunity for parents to learn. Among other roles, the family consultants, experts in child development, lead fortnightly evening meetings with parents. While the family consultants act as catalyst and guide, parents do most of the talking. In this way, parents have an opportunity to learn from each other.

It is reassuring, particularly as a first-time parent, to realize that you are not the only family struggling with [add your particular concern here]. Often other parents are the best resource for information and advice. You may choose to seek input from the group before launching your next experiment in parenting upon your unsuspecting family. The informal, non-threatening environment of Parent Groups provides an opportunity for social bonding too. 

Parents share experiences, frustrations and concerns with other parents whose children are the same age and stage of development. Can these conversations occur outside of family consultant meetings? Of course. Do they? Less than one might expect in my experience. It is valuable to have quiet time set aside on the calendar for focusing solely on our child’s development and what and how we are doing as parents.

In truth, I rather miss those opportunities for guided reflection now that our son is older and in elementary school. We quickly get wrapped up in activities: sports, bands, all manner of clubs. Discussions become more about what our children are doing, rather than how they are developing. It is more work to seek out information and advice on how to address bigger kid topics, such as video games, social media, bullying, puberty. So my advice is to take advantage of the family consultant program while you can. You’ll be a more confident, better informed parent as a result. And you’ll miss it later!

Peter Toogood is an alumni parent and a current Allen Creek Preschool Board member.

Halloween Fun with Little Ones

By: Kerry Kelly Novick

Halloween is coming, bringing thoughts of pumpkins, candy, and costumes. It also evokes the excitement of being out in the dark and the scariness of ghosts, goblins, and witches. Schoolchildren enjoy testing the limits of their bravery, confirming their new found independence and knowledge by pretending to be monsters and so forth. For little children, however, Halloween can be very scary, unless we make sure that the celebration matches their level of understanding. 

Preschoolers are just learning all about the world around them, anchoring themselves in what they are used to. Very young children do not understand masks and find it hard to remember that it may be a familiar person behind the different face. To them it can be terrifying when the familiar child or adult disappears, to be replaced by a strange-looking, motionless mask. Older children know that monsters and ghosts are imaginary, but little children don’t yet know the difference between real and pretend. They may be confused by the images they see in stores and on neighborhood lawns and frightened when people dress up as witches or vampires.

Preschoolers turn to their parents, grandparents, and trusted adults for reassurance. It helps them make sense of their experiences when grownups are consistent. Adults dressed up in costumes can be disorienting and confusing. We will have more fun at Halloween if we are available to ensure our little one's enjoyment.

Other people may not understand how preschoolers think and feel – if you go trick-or-treating, grownups may answer the door in scary costumes or startle children with sound effects or saying “boo,” so it is important to accompany your little one. Walk up to the door with your child and have an adult available to each child to explain what is going on and make sure that each part of the experience is fun. A walk in the dark to a few familiar houses is adventure enough for most preschoolers!

Making costumes out of readily available clothes and props at home can be a shared creative activity that makes the run-up to Halloween part of the pleasure. Imitating familiar real-life characters (firefighters, nurses, construction workers) or animals like cats, bears, or tigers is a way of learning about the world. It is also easier to make such costumes visible, safe, and cozy for a cold, dark evening!

There is another aspect of Halloween that can be scary for young children – overexcitement is scary in itself, as the feelings threaten to get out of control. Holidays are exciting times, but little ones are just beginning to master their feelings. Measured Halloween excitement can be a shared pleasure that helps your child grow. Have a Happy Halloween!

Talking With Children About Tornado Drills

Tornados and Tornado Drills can evoke a  range of reactions in young children, and it is very possible that your child does not know what a tornado is, which makes talking about how to practice being safe in one additionally challenging. To begin the conversation about tornado drills, you may want initially to talk to your child about the weather: how sometimes it is windy and rainy, sometimes sunny or snowy, hot or cold. Children are naturally interested in what makes it rain and what causes wind, and they understand very early the ever changing nature of the weather. 

Rather than focusing on facts about how scary and powerful tornadoes can be, it’s best to keep the description simple: “It gets windy when warm air and cold air mix around together. Sometimes this mixture of warm and cold air makes very strong winds that come close to the ground, and when this happens it's called a tornado. Tornadoes are shaped like funnels and spin, kind of like tops (perhaps demonstrate with a top or something else that spins), and they can be very strong.” You can differentiate regular wind from tornadoes by talking about how the sky looks different in a tornado, with dark clouds and a greenish sky.  It is best to avoid discussing the potential disaster that tornadoes can cause, destroying houses, uplifting cars and people and trees, etc., and it is important to say that tornadoes do not occur just because it is windy, and that they are rare. Avoid getting too technical with weather terms like up- and down-drafts, cyclones, supercells, etc. 

As with fire drills, tornado drills help us practice what to do and where to go if there is a tornado warning; it's good to have a plan in case the wind gets too strong.  At schools drills follow a typical pattern. Teachers generally will tell children about the tornado drill ahead of time, especially for the first one in a year, and will describe what will happen. On the day of the drill, there will be some kind of alert, which varies from school to school. It is typically different from the alert used for other drills, so everyone knows what to do. Each class will go into a protected, inner part of the building, sit against the walls with their teacher(s) and friends, and wait until they get the “all-clear” from someone outside.

The primary goal in talking with children about this or any other potential disaster is to be matter of fact, not give too much or unnecessary information, and convey confidence in the grownups who are taking care of them.

Talking With Children About Fire Drills

Anticipation of required fire drills and the actual experience of them can be confusing and frightening for preschoolers, and children are best prepared for the experience if they first hear about it from their parents.  What follows is a description of happens at many schools, followed by a few suggestions for how to talk with your children about the drill. 

On the day before the drill, the teachers will talk with the children in their classes about the drill and answer questions. On the day of the drill teachers will again tell children, at the morning meeting, that the school will be practicing how to leave the building if there is a fire so that we can be safe. Someone from the office will push the smoke alarm button in the main hall and the high pitched beep will alert teachers and children that the drill is happening.

Each class will line up at the room’s outside door, teachers will make sure all children are present, then each class will walk out, pass playgrounds, parking lots and other familiar landmarks to a particular spot.  Teachers will once again take attendance, and one of the school helpers will let everyone know when the children and teachers can return to the building.

Our experience at Allen Creek Preschool has been that children manage fire drills well, but that their thoughts, questions, and anxieties about the reason for the drill, whether or not there actually will be a fire, and whether they and their loved ones are safe, emerge afterwards, sometimes even several weeks later.  Because fires are unpredictable and scary to all of us, it can be hard to know how to reassure children that they will be safe.  As with all real life fears and uncertainties, it is important to talk with children in as matter-of-fact way as possible, at their developmental level, about what is happening and why.

A few days before the drill it is a good idea to tell your child/ren that there will be a fire drill at school the coming week and to describe the steps outlined above.  Ideally you can discuss this during the day at a calm moment when your child is rested and fed. 

When they ask why we need to do this, the message to convey is that the adults know how to keep them safe and that it’s always good to practice being safe.  We do a lot of things to stay safe: sit in car seats, use seat belts, wear shoes outside, stay away from the hot stove, wear helmets when we ride bikes, hold hands crossing the street, etc. We also know how to be safe around fires, such as around campfires, candles, or fireplaces.  If they express worry about something bad happening, again it’s best to reassure them that the adults in their lives do everything possible to help them be safe, and know what to do if things go wrong.  You will be there for them and their teachers will be there for them.

While children need to know that practicing is a good way to stay safe if there is a fire, details about fire disasters and what happens when a building burns down or when people get burned are not necessary or helpful, and can cause more anxiety.  Reading children’s books about fire fighters is fine; showing images of actual buildings on fire is not.  If you think it would be helpful for your child to act out a fire drill at home, you may consider doing some low key pretend drills, designating a door in your house to go out, making a beeping sound, going to a safe spot in the driveway or by the street.

Finally, children may show signs of distress or worry through behavior such as being irritable, reluctance to go to sleep, waking up at night, or not eating as usual. Because they are not fully able to understand the impact of scary events such as fires, children sometimes have private, bigger-than-reality notions of what might happen, and need us to reassure them that all is okay. Children do best when they know what to expect and when they know that the adults who take care of them are in control and know what to do.  

If you have any questions at all, please do not hesitate to talk to your children's teachers.