Looking for a new high quality professional development opportunity to help improve your capacity to create curriculum for your nature-based early childhood program?!
I am excited to announce a new 3 credit course that I have been busy designing and will teach this summer called Curriculum Development for Nature-Based Early Childhood Educators.
This course will be offered at the Vermont Early Childhood Educators Institute 2021 and will be a great course for anyone who wants to incorporate more nature-based strategies into their teaching.
FULLY ONLINE & a very affordable price ~ click the link below for the full information!
Early childhood educators who support a nature-based approach in their classroom often discover that they need to embrace a unique design to curriculum development. This curriculum work often differs from conventional approaches included in college or previous internship experiences. In the context of examining indoor and outdoor environments, preschool and kindergarten teachers will discuss how to utilize nature to foster skill development in young children and how to meaningfully embed early learning standards in a nature-based program. We will discuss how we can incorporate authentic observations to assess and monitor our student’s growth and to continually enrich our programs. Participants will feel empowered to incorporate developmentally appropriate teaching practices including: interactions, learning environment (indoors and outdoors), daily schedules, routines, and implement a dynamic nature-based approach in their classrooms. Participants will design a nature-based integrated curriculum unit that includes language and literacy, mathematical thinking, nature and sciences, social studies and creative expression for early education. Due to the small class size and course format, participants will have the opportunity to reflect on their current practices as they begin to consider and solidify new concepts presented.
Registration opens May 1st! This summer course is for Vermont based ECE folks since it is grant funded!
“P.O.W.E.R. – Path of Wellness, Environment, and Relationships” Hybrid E-Course – Are you ready to reclaim your inner power and clear a path toward the life you envision? Join me this summer for a six-week online course that will help you reconnect to your most powerful self. With all that is happening in the world it is easy to feel like we are giving away our power, burning our candle at both ends while we are on a hamster wheel not getting to where we want to go. This course will help you identify how to refuel so that you prevent burning out.
We will will practice recognizing and addressing issues related to vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue.
We will explore the eight domains of wellness and determine which areas 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 one another.
Throughout the six week course, participants will hear inspiring stories of growth and transformation that others have found on their own path back to their P.O.W.E.R.
“P.O.W.E.R. – Path of Wellness, Environment, and Relationships” – the summer course begins the week of July 11th and runs for six weeks. There will be six meetings “in real time” on Zoom for one hour ~ day of the week & time to be determined. There will also be at your own pace assignments to help integrate the strategies into your life.
Registration is not yet open ~ but to get on the list to be notified, email – April Zajko, M.Ed. ~ firstname.lastname@example.org
April Zajko, M.Ed. is the founder and owner of April’s Teaching Tree, a consulting business that aims to deepen our roots in connecting to nature and stepping into our full powerful selves. April has led professional development programs for hundreds of teachers and child care providers throughout the state of Vermont, and is now exploring ways to share her knowledge with people around the globe. April provides online and in-person professional development and consulting with a focus on integrating nature, art, and self care. Her flagship e-course, “P.O.W.E.R. – Path of Wellness, Environment, and Relationships” helps individuals reclaim their inner power and clear a path toward the life that they envision.
I am excited to announce my “Outdoor Classroom Community Conversations” that are open to anyone who is interested! Throughout the Spring of 2021, April’s Teaching Tree will lead two monthly *FREE* community conversations about outdoor classrooms & nature-based education.
Format for these conversations:
10-15 minute slideshow and discussion led by April Zajko
15 minute guided small group activity using ‘break out rooms”
April 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.
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)
Course Dates: April 25 – May 20, 2021
There will be synchronous meetings via Zoom on two Saturdays, May 1 & May 15 for six hours each day. The remainder of the course will be at your own pace.
Credits: 3 Undergraduate or Graduate Credits
Deadline to register: April 1, 2021
Fill out the registration form to hold your spot. (Registration is limited to 20 students per semester.)
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
Confirmation of registration will be emailed to you once payment is received.
For additional course or registration information, please contact Karina Weiss
Required Readings/Texts: (not included in cost of course)
Cultivating Outdoor Classrooms: Designing and Implementing Child-Centered Learning Environments by Eric Nelson, Redleaf Press
To explain the developmental benefits of learning in an outdoor classroom and create buy-in with stakeholders within your school or early childhood program.
To develop a vision map and action plan for developing an outdoor classroom that meets the need all children.
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.
Establish or expand the outdoor classroom that meets the developmental needs of young children
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.
A couple new loose parts for my preschool classroom ~ firm polystyrene inserts from new kitchen appliances & these wooded scraps meant for kindling that were only five dollars for about 20 planks! There was a huge interest in construction and building before break so I am eager to see if these materials spark their curiosity!
Another simple idea that we’ve been playing with is making “Snow Faces”. Since we didn’t have snowman making snow, we figured out that if scooped snow into bowls we could still ‘build snow faces’ with natural loose parts!
My new professional development offering “Math & Loose Parts” that I offered in November & December was a success and I promised I would add ideas to my blog. I invite you to also come check out my business page “April’s Teaching Tree” on either Facebook or Instagram since I am much more active there than here on the blog!
Counting Practice Counting how many steps to get outside, counting how many sleds, counting the number snow trucks, …counting just about anything that we see!
Counting Tracks Notice tracks in the snow and see if you can count how many steps the animal took to get from one place to the other. Compare the steps for children and the adult.
Magic Number = Counting Sets “Today our ‘magic number is ___. Help me count everyone in line before we go outside to make sure we have our magic number!”(The magic number is the number of children who are here today and is an embedded counting routine we do several times a day. Try writing the numeral down to work on number recognition as well.
Sled Count “1-2-3 blast off”- count up to three before the sled riders get their push down the hill. Practice counting higher up to 10 if they are patient enough! Or try counting backwards 3-2-1!
Snowman Features – Practice counting groups by counting the number of buttons, eyes, mouth pieces, etc.
Snowball Fractions- Create several large snowballs and practice cutting them into ‘fair shares’ – talk about halves, quarters, and fourths! Make a ‘snow cake’ by using a large plastic tote as a mold and cut it into enough pieces to serve to every child! Count how many kids there are and then count to make sure there is enough for each child!
Snowball Groups – Create two different groups of snowballs – compare which looks like there is more. Count and discuss
Painting Numerals in the Snow
Tracking & Position Words – Even if the only ‘tracks’ on your playground are the neighbor’s cat or squirrels children will love to follow them and describe what the animal was doing. Ask leading questions that get the children to use spatial words.
Sledding Conversation Make sure the rope is inside the sled or it will slow your ride down. Both friends need their hands on top of the sled so our fingers don’t get pinched. Put your legs around the person in front. When you get down the hill move to the side of where we sled so no one bumps into you. Pull the sled up to the top of the hill.
Stick Shapes – explore building 2D shapes by offering a collection of sticks of various sizes. Squares, rectangles, triangles…as well as coming up with creative designs. Read the book, “Not a Stick”!
Shape Stamps – explore making 2D shapes by bringing out different shapes that you cut out of cardboard. Children can push the cut out into the snow to make designs or pictures.
3D Snow Shapes & Sculptures- explore making 3D shapes by making snowballs (spheres) and using plastic molds in different shapes. Orange juice container cut into smaller square (cubes); snow brick makers (rectangular prism), and 5 gallon food buckets (cylinder).
Measuring Snow – Set up a “Snow Measurement Board” by getting a 24×24 inch of exterior grade plywood. Have the children help you paint the plywood on both sides and edges with exterior white paint. Purchase a Measuring Stick that has easy to read numbers. Take a reading each day for total snow, and if you clear one half of the board each day you can measure ‘new snow’. Read more at this link for specific directions or just have fun exploring measurement when you think about it.
Measuring Snowmen – Create a snow family of different heights then compare and contrast the different sizes. Try measuring them using a tape measure or non-standard unit such as Yarn. Read the book, Snowballs by Lois Ehlert.
Measuring Snow Angels
Have several children lie down near each other to make Snow Angels. Afterwards talk about the different sizes and compare sizes of each child’s snow angel.
Walking Stick – Measuring – A walking stick can be a great non-standard unit of measurement. Create several different length walking sticks and use them to measure things in the outdoor classroom.
Measuring Icicles – children love to examine and investigate icicles. Talk about whether the icicles are short or long; narrow or wide; heavy or light. Make predictions about which one will take the shortest amount of time to melt and which one will take the longest time to melt. Photograph the icicles next to a ruler and compare every hour with a new photo. How does it change over time outside vs. inside?
Recipes in Snow Kitchen – children can explore measurement by adding plastic measuring cups and measuring spoons to the ‘snow kitchen’. Add various sized bowls or containers for scooping and pouring and packing…all great ways to explore volume with snow!
Snow Volume – have children fill up a variety of containers with snow. Pack the snow in tightly and look how full it is. When you go indoors take the filled containers with you and watch the snow melt. Compare how much water is left once fully melted.
Patterns in the Snow – Use two different types of natural materials and create an AB pattern (such as pinecone, stick, pinecone, stick…). Have children help figure out what comes next and practice extending the pattern.
Pattern Making with Snowballs & Snow Molds – Use two or more different containers that can be used as a molds – create a pattern such as Snowball, Yogurt container, Snowball, Yogurt container…
Backyard Science – When we think about science and young children we want to focus on topics that are relevant to their own life. Noticing the changes that happen during the four seasons is one of the most powerful topics. The idea behind ‘place based education’ is that children should be learning and interacting with this place that they live. When in the outdoor classroom it is often the unplanned teachable moments that are the most powerful learning time. We do NOT need to set up formal or long lessons but rather engage in dialogue, ask open ended questions, not rush to give answers but rather to encourage young children’s wonderings and self discoverings. If a question comes up don’t pull out your phone to figure out the right answer but instead acknowledge it as a great question and start “wondering” together with the children!
Bird feeders & Observing Local Birds – Want to attract more wildlife to your outdoor classroom this winter? Try adding a bird feeder and notice which local birds visit throughout the winter. Be strategic in where you place the feeder so children can also observe birds from a classroom window as well. Consider making a “bird observation station” in the classroom by giving them a variety of bird identification books and pamphlets and child binoculars to explore. On warmer days you can take these tools outside in a basket to use as well…though children who are playing often scare off the birds. With bird feeders be mindful of when to put them out so you aren’t attracting bears. Learn more backyard bird watching and bird feeders at this link: https://vtfishandwildlife.com/watch-wildlife/bird-watching/backyard-birdfeeders
Frost Line – Look around your play area on days there is frost and notice if you can find a ‘frost line’. Ask children “I wonder” questions about the frost and then model making your own observations: “I noticed that here is crystal looking frost but here there is wet grass. Hmm…I wonder why? As the sun shines the frost will melt but if other areas are still in the shade the frost will remain. Bring children’s awareness to this phenomenon and mark with sticks to show where the line is when you first get outside and then an hour later.
Frozen Bubbles – Bring out bubble solution and try making bubbles on very cold days. With COVID we do NOT want children spreading germs by blowing on one another but perhaps this is one that the teachers might save for another year or do just with their immediate family at home?
Maple Sap & Syrup – Explore how we get maple sap from trees and boil it into sap. Take a field trip to a maple sugar house and eat sugar on snow!
Mitten Test ~ Insulation (indoor activity) This is a great ideas to prove the point to children that the type of mittens matter when playing in the snow. Years ago at a parent open house I had the water table set up with snow that was melting and various kinds of mittens and gloves. Parents and children were asked to play together at the snow bins and we had conversations about insulation, cold, and wet ~ which mittens felt best. It drove home the point that we need kids with waterproof gloves…though we still did see some kids show up with only knit ones!
Pine Tree Exploration – walk around your area and look for all the different kinds of evergreen trees. Take note of the shape of the tree, what kinds of needles the tree, and find pine cones that have fallen from your trees.
Can you notice different smells from the various types of pine boughs?
Do the boughs feel different — spikey, soft, bendy, firm?
What differences do you see in the needles? Length, color, size, number of needles in a group
Can we find pine cones on the branches?
Can we find pine cones on the ground?
Shadows – Look around your play area on sunny days and take note of the shadows.
Ask children “I wonder” questions about the shadows that you are noticing such as: “Over here there are shadows but in this area there are no shadows but lots of shade. I wonder why?” Taking photos of shadows helps children understand how the movement of the sun makes shadows change shape. Explore this same concept indoors with toys and flashlights! Read the book Guess Whose Shadow? by Stephen Swinburne to build on this concept. Also read the classic picture book Moonbear’s Shadow by Frank Asch.
Snow Drifts – Does snow drift in certain areas of your play area? If so, help the children notice what is happening and why. Can you place items in the path of the blowing snow and make designs?
Snowflake Bently The story of Snowflake Bentley really captures the attention of children and I think we should be inspired by his parents enthusiasm for him to follow his interests. Read more at my blog:
Snowman Snow – I can’t tell you how disappointed I was when I figured out that there were different kinds of snow and not all snow will allow you to make snowmen. Growing up in Delaware we really only had a few snowfalls a year and I remember always being able to make snowmen. Snow however can be either too wet or too dry to make snow. When children are eager to build snowmen and they can try reading the book, Snowballs by Lois Ehlert, and begin to put together your own ‘sack of special snowman items’ so when you do have the right kind of snow you can get right to work decorating them! “Scientists actually classify snow based on its moisture content—the amount of free water relative to ice crystals—not to be confused with the amount of water the snow would produce if melted. Snow comes in five categories:
Snow Melt with tin pie plates – Super simple but oh so fun. Have children fill up tin pie pans with snow and then bring indoors. The shallow amount of snow will melt quickly.
Solid & Liquid Exploration – At the water table indoors explore this concept with snow, ice, and icicles. When outdoors look for more signs of solid and liquid water on your playground and take photographs!
Solid & Liquid Exploration with Ice Balls – Put water in a balloon and let it freeze solid (outside or in the freezer). Put water into another balloon and let the children compare and contrast. Ask open ended questions and elicit rich vocabulary as you explore this concept. Remove the balloons and compare – then take the ice balls outdoors to play with. *Balloons are a choking hazard so be sure to keep them out of reach of children.
S.T.E.M. Building Challenge – Think of all of the possible building challenges that you could have children create to foster their problem solving skills! These might be fun for your school age children to do in your after school program and will benefit the younger children during the day! Some ideas include:
“Stick Fort / Lean To Building”
“Snow Wall Construction”
“Snow Ball Catapult” – using just a board and a rock
“Build a Snow Bridge”
“Snow Bank Stair Steps” – carve in steps up a steep snow bank
Temperature – Exploring how temperature impacts our outdoor play is a great topic to learn about. Discuss – how does temperature affect the snow? How does temperature affect how we dress? Explore that even though it’s winter here in other parts of our country it is not as cold and in other parts of the world it is summer!
Tools of Scientists – On warmer days, bring magnifying glasses and binoculars outdoors for children to make observations. Explore how one tool lets us see far away and the other lets us explore close up. Check out the idea of making a snowflake catching necklace with a magnifying glass- https://aprilsteachingtree.com/2017/01/19/snowflake-catching-necklaces/
“Tool Shop” Exploring Tools for Winter – In winter there are tools that children may not have explored before – ice scraper, snow brush, snow shovels of different sizes, snowball maker, ice molds, and snow brick makers. Set up an outdoor “Tool Shop” and encourage the kids to explore how to use the tools. Extend the learning indoors and explore the many tools children use in our classroom: hole punch, scissors, paper punch, magnifying glass, funnel, measuring cup, markers & pencils, rulers — the list is endless. Read an informational book such as “Tool” by Ann Morris to explore the concept of tools, how many different tools exist, and how tools are used around the world. I also love to read the book, “Tool Box” by Anne and Harlow Rockwell to talk about the tools of a carpenter.
Animal Tracks in the Snow – Fresh snow makes it really easy to see who has been visiting our play area. Look for animal tracks, make predictions, try to follow the tracks, take photos and try to identify using a track book or track printable. Free printable at this link and some other resources that could be fun https://explorationamerica.com/free-printable-animal-tracks-explorer-id-cards/
Kid Tracks with Sticks – Create your own tracks and try dragging sticks to make a path for another group of children to follow. Read the book, “The Snowy Day” by Ezra Jack Keats and notice the tracks the boy makes with his feet and with the stick.
Water in Snow? – Give each kiddo a cup to fill with snow to bring inside afterwards. Ask them what they think will happen to the snow. Observe what happens to the snow after they bring it in. Involve the children in discussing the changes and have them dictate a sentence or story to you about your ‘experiment’. Take photos and create a class book!
Weather Observer – Build children’s understanding of various winter weather and build their vocabulary of weather terms. Collect and record daily weather on a monthly calendar that you bring outdoors. Create a simple symbol to represent each type of weather and perhaps record the temperature at a specific time of day. It would be great to compare the fall to winter and talk about the differences.
Wind Watchers – Help children become more aware of the wind by hanging windsocks that the children made as well as hanging wind chimes on the playground. These two tools help children both see and hear when the wind blows. Can we figure out which direction the wind is coming from today? Read the book “The Wind Blew” by Pat Hutchins.
Thanks for all those who attended “April’s Teaching Tree” trainings in May 2020! All of our trainings were held via Zoom which worked better than anticipated.
Nearly 200 Vermont based early childhood educators attended trainings this month led by April Zajko! The feedback has been amazing and I appreciate the sense of community and mutual respect that we have in our early childhood field here in Vermont.
Topics in May 2020 included:
Growing Outdoor Classrooms(6 hours) ~ introduction and practical training in how to naturalize your outdoor space
POWER: Path of Wellness, Environment, and Relationships (6 hours) ~ a personal empowerment, self-care, and community care model training offered 1 hour a week for six weeks
Natural Loose Parts (2 hours) ~ explore open ended materials that foster deep engaged play
Visioning Our Future with April & Dawn Irwin (6 hours) ~ a leadership and advocacy course offered 1 hour a week for six weeks
Finding Your Way: Ethical Decision Making (6 hours – offered as 2+2+2 model) ~ explore the NAEYC Code of Conduct and practice with real world and relevant scenarios
Sponsors in May 2020 included:
Building Bright Futures Caledonia, Essex, & Orleans
Let’s Grow Kids – “Make Way for Kids Grant” & Stephanie Carvey in Rutland, VT
Growing with Wonder in Essex, VT & Dawn Irwin
Northern Lights at Community College of Vermont
I hope to offer these same trainings again in June & July 2020! I am also designing “Nature Inspired Teacher” as a 6 hour ONLINE training. Another new training in June will be a 2 hour “Sensory Gardens”. If your network, organization, or center would like to sponsor a training send me an email! email@example.com
Please follow me at April’s Teaching Tree either on Facebook or Instagram for updates on upcoming trainings & for free ideas on nature-inspired early childhood topics!
June 2020 trainings: (I will update this as more sessions open)
My “Sensory Garden” training will be funded by Northern Lights at CCV. The first three sessions are full, so they will open another training on June 24 6-8pm. Registration is not yet open but check back next week on the Northern Lights calendar.
Visioning Our Future with April & Dawn Irwin (6 hours) ~ a leadership and advocacy course offered 1 hour a week for six weeks (FULL)
Thanks again for your ongoing support! Offering high quality professional development for early childhood educators is my teaching passion! I am honored that so many attended my trainings and I hope that they inspire your work with children!