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Pinchers & Perseverance

October 16, 2020 | Nathan Johnson

The children are having a lovely time at the park each day …

Running …

Climbing …

Hanging upside down …

Hiding …


Appreciating beauty…

And making discoveries…

So far, their most favorite discovery is that the bushes are full of …


The children learned day one that their feet were not to leave the grassy area; So, no stepping onto the sidewalk, and no climbing over the fence. They are, however, allowed to climb on the fence as long as their bodies stay on the grassy side. Upon discovering the berries, they also learned that they were not for people to eat, but rather for birds, squirrels, and other animals.

And so for much of our outside time almost every day, the majority of their efforts and energy has gone to two goals:

1.  Just how to acquire these out-of-bounds berries

2. Depositing them in a “treasure-place” hidden among the roots to provide a feast for the park’s squirrels

Ok. This sounds like a cute game. But why write a blog about this?

Two words:

Pinchers and perseverance.

What are pinchers? That is what we teach the children to call the team-up of their thumb and pointer finger, as developing fine motor control is one of the skills we are constantly developing in preschool. Holding a marker, buttoning, snapping and zipping, hanging things on hooks, painting, sculpting, turning pages … this is all pincher / fine motor work.

Gathering the berries is a particular challenge, as you must grasp them firmly enough to pluck them from the bush, but not so firmly that you squish them.


Now on to perseverance.



This is one of Mustard Seed’s  Twenty Habits that we have claimed to guide our learning culture.

As it is stated in the document, linked above:

  • persisting: learning and practicing with perseverance, tenacity, grit

Can you see the reaching, climbing, tools, teamwork, and trying over and over again in these pictures? This is a perfect and thorough illustration of perseverance…


Come to think of it, this Berry Project also checks a few more habit boxes…

  • responding with wonder and awe, recognizes and appreciates beauty
  • expressing kindness: serving, welcoming, encouraging 
  • connecting and synthesizing: applying prior knowledge, connecting thoughts into a whole, reasoning
  • thinking flexibly: adapting and changing with purpose, problem solving
  • self-regulating: using self control, managing impulsivity, 
  • exploring: taking risks with boldness, willing to fail and make mistakes
  • organizing thoughts: plans, strategies, ideas
  • attending with focus and stamina
  • engaging fully in tasks, participating with motivation and personal investment

…Elaborating on each of these bullet points would make for too long of a blog, but as you consider each, the connection to the Berry Project becomes clear.

This is all to remind us that play is the work of children.

The Berry Project is developing skills the children will use when learning to form letters and numbers, write their first words, solve equations, pursue scientific inquiry, push themselves athletically, start over when they fail, and work as a team.

As the year unfolds, we will continue to follow the children’s interests as they play, explore, and question. Some games will help us learn the difference between a question and a comment, some will help us discover the different ways to research, some will develop into projects, some will become an entire unit of study, others will simply remain games … but, no matter what, we will be tracking and celebrating the children’s learning.

Happy playing, everyone.

And as your family takes advantage of these last Autumn outside-adventure days before winter…

Happy Picking!


Nathan Johnson

Early Childhood & Lower School Visual Art Teacher

Nathan Johnson graduated in 2004 from Lenoir-Rhyne University with a Bachelor of Arts in Visual Arts (focusing on Illustration, Art History, and Puppetry), Theatre, and Elementary Education, followed by further time in Europe studying Art, and in Nova Scotia working with adults with developmental differences.

Happily back at his Alma mater (MSS class of 1995) Nathan has passionately committed his career to preserving the dignity and wonder of childhood. As children are more and more burdened with technology and privilege, he believes that in order for children to learn and grow, they must be given freedom within structure, choices with guidance, allowed to play, struggle, get dirty, and above all, to be taught that they are a beloved child of God.

When not in the classroom, Nathan can be found kayaking, camping, hosting a game night, wandering around New York City, making friends with strangers, and spending time with his 11 nieces and nephews.

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