Ice Lanterns ~ Arctic Temperature Fun!

One of the realities of life in northern Vermont that winter brings us extreme low temperatures. Rather than deny it or bemoan it, I suggest that we embrace it!

When I know that we are going to have a Arctic like temperatures I like to seize the opportunity to make: ice lanterns, ice balls, and other icy explorations for my preschoolers. This post is a round up of pictures to inspire you to try your own hand at making the most of the frigid temperatures!

ICE LANTERNS – gather up large plastic containers and fill with water to freeze, add some natural materials like pine boughs. When frozen solid, put on eye protections chip a little indent with a screwdriver and insert tea lights or small candles. Some sources suggest using two different containers one inside the other, but my method makes a really solid lantern that will last a LONG time! I use mine outdoors and love the glow amongst the dark night!

Create a whole display with multiple ice lanterns and adorn them with icicles. After dark the icicles glow as the shadows of the candles dance!
Ice Balls ~ these are great fun to make with children. If you want more perfect spheres, fill the balloon with water and then set inside a similar sized plastic bowl. If you lie them flat like here they don’t roll as well…and you definitely want to try rolling these for a bowling game or with ramps!

As the lanterns are used the crevice becomes deeper. You can try adding more water on another frigid night so that it will last longer. The ice lanterns I made in 2021 lasted for almost 2 months!

Ice Sun Catchers – using small shallow pans try creating sun catchers with natural materials. Children love to create these and then once frozen…deconstruct them. Just remember eye protection when chipping or smashing ice.
Ice Sculpture – go big or go home! Grab all the buckets and containers you can find and make a entire palace out of ice. I saw took this photo years ago as I was driving home from southern Vermont. The family had created an ice rink and also had this inspiring colorful ice sculpture display!
Ice Hunting – I have an ongoing project to find the largest icicle that I can. While hiking the Rail Trail in December we found some beauties but these are tiny compared to last years 5 footers!
Bundle up ~ invest in a Balaclava!

No exposed skin is the way to survive (and even thrive) in the frigid temperatures. It turns out that with layering and getting out of the wind, you can still get outside even when an Arctic blast rolls through! I shared this rather unflattering photo on Instagram recently with the caption: “Question: What would you do to spend some quality time with your teenage son? Answer: Travel to the planet Hoth for some ice fishing while hoping that a Tauntaun might come offer a warm spot to defrost! “

Unlike Elsa who said, “Let the storm rage on. The cold never bothered me anyway.”…many of us just are NOT comfortable being outdoors in the cold. In one of my recent trainings, “Nurtured by Nature: Winter Wellness” I shared some of my tips for staying warm outdoors.

Staying Warm Strategies:

  • Get the right gear & wear layers. Not sure what to buy ~ borrow gear from friends to test out & talk to others. Outdoor stores are happy to talk about options to keep you warm. You don’t have to break the bank when you learn how to layer. (which is a post for another day)
  • Try going outdoors for shorter lengths of time
  • Be active while outdoors – keep moving and PLAY!
  • Go out at the warmest part of the day
  • Avoid windy areas 
  • No exposed skin — get yourself a Balaclava type mask which is made of stretchy, breathable fabric that protects your face while wicking away moisture. Function before fashion!
  • HYDRATED before going out
  • Consider using toe or hand warmers 
  • If the cold really bothers you…invest in heated gloves, socks, vest, or jacket! It’s not a sign of weakness but rather a strategy that might motivate you to go outdoors more often this winter!  

Additional blog posts for winter ideas:

Winter Science for Preschool – https://aprilsteachingtree.com/2020/12/18/winter-science-for-preschool/

Winter Inspired Math Activities – https://aprilsteachingtree.com/2020/12/21/winter-inspired-math-activities/

Children’s Books for a Winter Study Unit – https://aprilsteachingtree.com/2017/11/15/childrens-books-for-winter-studies/

Snowflake Catching Necklaces – https://aprilsteachingtree.com/2017/01/19/snowflake-catching-necklaces/

Upcoming Training ~ “Nurtured by Nature: Winter Self Care”

Sponsor: Northern Lights at CCV

Instructor: April Zajko

With shorter daylight hours and frigid weather you might find yourself ready to hibernate. This two-hour training will give you a toolkit of simple wellness and gentle self-care strategies to integrate into your daily routines. You will learn ways that nature can gently nurture you and help you feel invigorated throughout the winter months!

Growing Outdoor Classrooms ~ Spring 2022

Growing Outdoor Classrooms

3-credit course through Castleton University

Taught virtually by April Zajko, M.Ed.

Dates: March 1 – May 15, 2022. There will be two synchronous meetings via Zoom, scheduled on two Saturdays for six hours each day. Dates to be announced. The remainder of the course will be at your own pace.

Times:​ Two synchronous Zoom meetings on two Saturday, 9:00 am – 3:30 pm with a lunch break

Format: Online

  1. Zoom for two synchronous meetings
  2. Self paced modules of content and submission of work

Location: Online

​Cost: $975

Course Description:

Every outdoor classroom is as unique as the school or program that designs and builds it. Whether you are starting from scratch, transforming a traditional playground into a nature-inspired play area, or expanding an existing outdoor classroom, this course will help you define and prioritize design elements for your space. Research confirms that learning outdoors promotes child development and learning in all domains – physical, cognitive, and social/emotional. By understanding the benefits of outdoor learning, participants will discover ways to share information with stakeholders as a powerful way to communicate the value of creating nature inspired learning spaces

Audience: Early Childhood Educators (PreK – 3rd grade) 

Instruction Information:

April Zajko, M.Ed. is a Licensed Early Childhood Educator and Reading Specialist. Her bachelor’s degree was earned at Delaware State University, and her master’s degree was earned at University of Virginia. Her passion for lifelong learning led her to study in-depth about place-based learning, mindfulness, holistic development, nature-inspired approach to early childhood, and creating supportive learning environments for all children.

Deadline to register: February 14, 2022

Registration steps:

  1. Fill out the registration form on the Fairbanks Museum website to hold your spot. (Registration is limited to 20 students per semester.) https://www.fairbanksmuseum.org/educate/professional-development
  2. Mail payment – Course payment of $975 is payable by check to the Fairbanks Museum. This is due 2 weeks from the time of registration. Please mail your check to: Fairbanks Museum, Attn: Karina Weiss, 1302 Main Street, St. Johnsbury, VT 05819 
  3. Confirmation of registration will be emailed to you once payment is received. ​

For additional course or registration information, please contact April Zajko for more information ~ aprilzajko@gmail.com

Required Readings/Texts (not included in cost of course): Cultivating Outdoor Classrooms: Designing and Implementing Child-Centered Learning Environments by Eric Nelson, Redleaf Press 

Course Goals

  1. To explain the developmental benefits of learning in an outdoor classroom and create buy-in with stakeholders within your school or early childhood program.
  2. To develop a vision map and action plan for developing an outdoor classroom that meets the need all children.
  3. To define obstacles, develop solutions, and create a funding plan in order for the outdoor classroom to be established and thrive for years to come.
  4. Establish or expand the outdoor classroom that meets the developmental needs of young children

Course Objectives

Through participation in this class, the student will be able to:

  • Recognize the differences between an outdoor classroom and traditional playground
  • Describe the significance of nature-based education in early childhood (preschool through 3rd grade) and name the developmental benefits from learning in an outdoor classroom.
  • Demonstrate ways to share information with stakeholders about outdoor classrooms as a way to communicate the value of creating nature inspired learning spaces
  • Explore ways to get buy-in from stakeholders and discuss ways to assemble in inner circle of supporters 
  • Design a vision map of your outdoor classroom with multiple phases of implementation
  • Research ways to secure funding to build or expand outdoor classrooms 
  • Develop an action plan for creating an outdoor classroom based on your vision and research. 

Lantern of Self Care

By April Zajko, M.Ed. 

We know that work we do in education is essential and has a tremendous impact on our communities and the families that we serve. We also know that being a caring, responsive, nurturing care provider can take a toll on our own wellness and health. The long hours and attentive care leaves us vulnerable to burnout during a normal year, but we can all agree that the last two years have been anything but normal. 

Self care is of critical importance now more than ever in order to maintain our own personal health, to minimize illness, to continue to find joy in our work, and to keep our passion for working with children and families alive.

A powerful image and analogy that I use when teaching fellow educators about self care is an old camping lantern. We can only burn as bright as the fuel that we put into our own lantern and we each need different types and quantities of fuel. The foods that we eat, the water we drink, the time set aside to be with friends, the uninterrupted hours of sleep, the positive words we read, the mid-day pause to notice the joy of the children in our care ~ all of these serve as fuel for our inner lanterns. 

The mobile nature of a camping lantern is that you get to shine wherever you go. Your impact on the world is greater when you shine your light on the issues that matter most to you. Wherever life takes me, and your lantern, you have the opportunity to spark hope, joy, and passion in the lives of those around you. Being in community with other like-minded individuals magnifies the impact of our lanterns. We can shine our light to help illuminate the path of others. When we figuratively or literally gather together our own lights are magnified and illuminate even more. 

We do not want to be burning our candle at both ends. We can not completely deplete our fuel reserves and still do the important work that we do. Instead we need to set our boundaries, continue to refuel, and prioritize that our flame is never too depleted. 

Right now in the education world (and many other professions) we are at a tipping point. We have a staffing crisis, we have a workforce that needs support for the work that we do, and we need to develop a stronger system that  helps each of us shine in our own way as we support children. It isn’t that we are ‘burned out’ and if only we did yoga more frequently all our problems would be solved. Rather we need to take time to care deeply for ourselves AND to do the advocacy work to build the systems that truly will support us as professionals and will support families. 

Other analogies of self care such as putting on your oxygen mask makes it seem like refueling is limited. Instead, the image of a lantern and knowing that we each need different kinds of fuel is more robust in view. We can learn how to refuel ourselves and at the same time help empower others to learn how they too can refuel. When we do this important work in community then we can illuminate the path forward. 

Reflection questions ~ take time this week to think about your own lantern and the reserves of fuel that you have. 

  • Are you running on empty? 
  • Is your light burning low and you need to refuel? 
  • What actions will help your refuel?
  • What parts of your day feel draining?
  • Who do you spend time with that lights you up?
  • Who depletes your energy? And can you shift how much time you spend with that person?
  • Are your volunteer opportunities fueling or depleting you? Can you shift how much time you spend volunteering?
  • What part of your home helps you recharge? Could you make changes to improve that space (declutter, rearrange furniture, add coziness..)
  • Journal about specific ways that you can carve out time in order to care for yourself so you can shine bright.

Story Maps

I was reminded of this project when this photo of my daughter popped up in FB Memories. Somehow six years have passed since this photo was taken but it reminded me of how much enjoyment she got out of having giant “Story Map” to play with. During my daughters preschool years we made several different versions of these and she loved decorating the box, making map features, adding characters and details from a favorite story. She spent so much time creating and playing with these “Story Maps” that I began to use them in my preschool classroom as well.

During this time of year when we see ads and feel pressure to buy more and more things for our kids, lets remember how much fun the box itself can be. It’s an important reminder this time of year when the over-commericialized Christmas Machine begins to rev that we can offer simple props for truly engaging play and creativity.

📦 Directions: Take a giant cardboard box laid flat to inspire children to make simple sketches, models, or pictorial maps to locate objects (which is also perfect for observations for TSG21a).

Connect it to a book that you are reading but have the *children* be the ones in charge of the design. As they want to add elements from a story explore colors and textures. If you keep it 2D at first with just drawing with markers and crayons (or paint) it’s really easy to fold up and store, but children will have all sorts of great ideas and likely want to create 3D objects.

As they want to add characters or buildings or cars or bridges or whatever, bring out loose parts and collage materials to let them create…and resist the urge to control the process to make it look awesome. Children who make their own story map without any pressure of making it Pinterest worthy will engage in such a deeper level than an adult controlled story map. 📦

{Possible learning objectives: TSG 32. Demonstrates simple geographic knowledge / 33. Explores the visual arts / 21A. Understands spatial relationships / 18C. Retells stories & comprehends and responds to booksand other texts}

Materials:

Giant cardboard box, markers, art supplies

Group Management:

Years that I have done this with a full classroom of children, I have offered each child to create their own building with a shoe box. We discussed how the story map was for all of us and hat we didn’t want to draw over other children’s ideas which led to a great conversation about respecting each others artwork. Through group conversations we decided how to create our Story Map which with this group of children was all about “Frozen” and creating Elsa Castles!

P.O.W.E.R. ~ Path of Wellness, Environment, and Relationships

Looking for a wellness & self-care training to offer with your child care network or organization? Need something to help boost morale and help renewed in the work that you do with young children? I would be delighted to find a few hosts for my P.O.W.E.R. training series!

Training Title:  P.O.W.E.R. ~ Path of Wellness, Environment, and Relationships

Ten hours of professional development training hours. (Counts in BFIS as Advanced Specialized Care, see note at the end)

Format: Delivered by Zoom – several different options available. One hour per week for six weeks -OR- as 3 two hour sessions -OR- one full day SIX hour training; we can also do additional application homework for a total of 4 hours of outside of class work to include reading articles, self reflection, and written self care action plan.

Training fee: $125 per hour x 6 hours = $750 (for up to 15 participants)

Capacity: 15 maximum participants. A smaller group allows for a more supportive experience.

Workshop Description: As childcare providers it is easy to feel like we are giving away our power and begin to feel burned out. During this time of social distancing and facing the COVID 19 pandemic we are even more overwhelmed in how to care for ourselves. We will explore the eight domains of wellness and determine which areas in life to add focus and attention. We will discuss ways to improve the environments that we live, work, and socialize that align with our core values. We will brainstorm how to develop nurturing and supportive relationships as a way to build support for one another.  Throughout the sessions participants will have the support of an ongoing group that will give them the opportunity for growth and transformation as they find their own path back to reclaiming their inner power. 

 Learning Objectives:

Participants will practice recognizing and addressing issues related to vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue.

Participants will explore the eight domains of wellness and determine which areas in their life they need to add focus and attention as a powerful way to develop meaningful self-care routines.

Participants will discuss ways to improve the environments that we live, work, and socialize to align with our core values. Journal prompts and guidance on how to begin a Reflective Practice will help providers become intentional in how they create safe, nurturing learning and work environments.

Participants will create self-care actions plans with daily, monthly, and yearly goals to revitalize their own personal wellness.

Participants will brainstorm how to develop nurturing and supportive relationships with other child care providers as a powerful way to find support in the field.

Participants will explore how to establish “professional support teams” and “community care” models in order to foster joy and longevity in the field of Early Childhood Education

Bio for Presenter: April Zajko, M.Ed. began her career as a massage therapist and yoga instructor. While earning her bachelor’s degree in Psychology, April began to lead women’s retreats and stress management seminars at a holistic health center in Delaware. Once April earned her Master’s Degree in Education, she began to weave her holistic minded approach into her work with young children and with her adult learners. Currently, April teaches early childhood courses for the Community College of Vermont and leads professional development for child care providers around the state of Vermont. April graduated from the 200 hour Yoga Teacher Certification program at the Sivanada Yoga Center in Val Morin, Quebec in 1996 and earned a second 200 hour Yoga Teacher Certification from the Heart Space Yoga Studio in St. Johnsbury in March 2019. April is also an October 2019 graduate of the Snelling Center for Government’s Early Childhood Leadership Institute. April embraces the value of reclaiming our personal power, both as we advocate on behalf of children while simultaneously learning how to take good care of ourselves. April believes that through the models of self-care, professional support teams, and community care our joy and longevity in the field of Early Childhood Education will be persevered.

Professional Team Building and Self-Care – counts as ASC hours for BFIS

• Team development: roles and effective practices

• Reflective practice and supervision

• Learning about self-care strategies for professionals

• Recognizing and addressing vicarious trauma

“Winter STEAM Training”

Photo by Kristin Vogt on Pexels.com

(Vermont Based Early Childhood Educators) New training coming up ~~

“Winter S.T.E.A.M. ~ Ideas to Foster Science Play & Literacy”


Tuesdays, November 16 & 30, 2021 ~ 6-8pm on ZOOM!


Sponsored by the Randolph Early Education Network
Cost = FREE!
***To register email Belinda Snow- Gifford your BFIS Number and place of employment happytadpoles@hotmail.com

Workshop Description:

❄️ Want to be geared up with ideas for all WINTER that will foster play-based learning through Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM)? Eager to add winter themed hands-on STEAM projects while building literacy skills into your early childhood education program? This training is geared for children ages 2-6 years old but all the ideas can extend into school age care and after school programs.
⛄️ Winter brings so many opportunities for wonder, creativity, and exploration , and creating STEAM Kits will help you feel prepared to engage children throughout the winter months. STEAM Kits are teacher created bins so you can easily foster science play-based learning for your children. These kits will use materials that you likely already have in your program or can gather locally at an affordable price. These kits are meant as “grab and go” tools so you can take them outdoors (or even use indoors) that will inspire your scientists and engineers to try out a variety of play-based learning ideas.
✏️ During the workshop participants will separate into small groups to develop a list of materials for the project-based activity STEAM kits. All of the ideas will be recorded in a Google Doc and the notes for designing all the Winter STEAM Kits will be shared with the group via email.
💻 In this 2+2+2 model, participants will complete a two hour practice component where they assemble their own “Winter STEAM Kit” utilizing materials they already own and select ONE children’s book that can be used in conjunction with the kit. (Participants will earn SIX hours of professional development by completing all three parts of the training — Zoom session on 11/16, homework assignment done prior to the second Zoom session on 11/30).

Learning Objectives:

❄️ Define play-based learning and the role of the adult in preparing the environment and supporting the children’s ongoing exploration during *winter*

❄️ Examine developmentally appropriate literacy opportunities inspired by Winter for children through play-based STEAM learning.

❄️ Practice developing project-based activity kits with low cost materials that can be used this winter.

S.T.E.A.M. Kits to Foster Play Based Learning

Join April Zajko, M.Ed. for a half-day training called “S.T.E.A.M. Kits to Foster Play Based Learning“!

Cost: $45 ~ this fee includes an afternoon session as well with Ellen Drolette or Tom Copeland

Date: October 23, 2021

Time: 8am – Noon (with breaks built in) ~ afternoon session 12:30-2:30

Sponsor: Early Childhood Professional Network – Hartford, Vermont 

Workshop Description: 

We will dive into learning about play-based learning through Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM) which are all important skills to foster in early childhood. STEAM education truly sparks wonder and creativity in children and taps into their desire to test out new ideas. The focus of this training is to develop project-based activity kits that early childhood educators can assemble ahead of time so they can ‘grab and go’. Participants will work in small groups and design a list of materials for their topic, list out potential play-based activities & investigations that children may engage in, create a list of loose parts to gather, and create a documentation sheet that is connected to the Vermont Early Learning Standards (VELS) and Teaching Strategies Gold (TSG). Our focus will be to create low cost yet highly engaging learning kits that take some of the stress out of preparing STEAM learning for your children. 

Learning Objectives: 

  • Define play-based learning and the role of the adult in preparing the environment and supporting the children’s ongoing exploration
  • Practice developing project-based activity kits with low cost materials including loose parts
  • Create a list of learning materials for a specific STEAM topic and list out potential play-based activities that children may engage in
  • Develop a documentation sheet that is connected to the Vermont Early Learning Standards (VELS) and Teaching Strategies Gold (TSG)

Presenter Bio:  April Zajko, M.Ed. is a licensed early childhood educator (ECE) and has taught ECE courses for the Community College of Vermont since 2016. April teaches preschool in a public school where she integrate S.T.E.A.M. and nature-based approach to curriculum. April has also lead professional development for ECE staff throughout the state of Vermont for more than ten years and has worked with a wide cross-section of educators to find ways to help make high quality learning accessible in their ECE programs. April’s primary goal is for ALL students to meet with success and to offer professional trainings that are engaging, relevant, and inspiring

To register – go to this link and click on the register button on the left hand side 

Grant Writing for Outdoor Classrooms

Join me for my two hour training, “Grant Writing for Outdoor Classrooms” which I offer FREE every other month as way to give back to my community of nature-based educators.

Not to brag but the largest grant I have have written & that was awarded was for one million dollars! But you know what….one thousand dollar garden grants also can have a HUGE impact when you are working on developing an outdoor classroom.

My next FREE “Grant Writing for Outdoor Classrooms” virtual webinar is scheduled for Thursday Sept 9th from 2-4pm EST!

Send me your email address through DM or email (aprilzajko@gmail.com) and I will email you the Zoom link! 

Throughout my teaching career, grants have given me the opportunity to create things that would otherwise have been impossible to create. The investment of time and energy to write grants pays off when I can offer my students the outdoor learning environment that I envision. My aim for our two hour training is that you leave feeling equipped and ready to write your first grant…and yes, you are ready to get started writing grants so stop stalling!

Here’s a few thoughts to consider while you await our training together!

Seven Ways to Fund Your Outdoor Classroom

  • Cash Donations 
  • In-Kind Donations
  • Fundraising
  • School Budget 
  • Yard Sale ~ Winter Gear Sale
  • Crowdfunding Sites Donors Choose 
  • Grants…are one great way to get larger amounts of money but I encourage programs to explore all seven options!

Writing grants take time ~ It would be easy to think that grants are just free money but in reality you are investing your time in:

  • researching possible grants
  • sifting through the application dates
  • making sure the grant is a good fit for your project
  • filling out applications & writing narrative answers
  • then if you are awarded…you also need to do reporting to account for how you spent the money. 

Grants are NOT guaranteed ~

  • There may be a LOT of competition for a grant that you apply for and the funder may not fully fund your proposal. 
  • Partial funding will get your project started but you still might need to tap into one of the other funding ideas
  • Turnaround times for grant funding varies. You might receive a check as soon as 1-2 months after you are notified of acceptance but I have also had to wait more than 6 months to see the check arrive.

Grant writing feels hard…until you jump in and try it! When you consider the impact that a grant can have on your learning environment then you will know that it’s time to get started! Hope to see you soon!