Sound Advice for Healthy Families

Last night I got to briefly chat with many moms that I know in my community. I was standing at my table promoting our new Music Booster’s Club and had our first bake sale. After about the third interaction, I thought about the Peanut’s character Lucy who would set up a booth and charge her friends for her sage advice.  I didn’t actually use Lucy most famous reply, “Snap out of it! Five cents, please.” Rather, I listened and nodded my head in understanding. Life is busy and so many things are all happening simultaneously that we often feel like we just need to take a moment to check in with a friend.

Image result for peanuts comic advice five cents

So if you are looking for some “sound advice” about parenting and raising healthy kids I narrowed it down to three main thoughts.

  1. Families are busy, but more than anything our children need to know that we are there to listen day or night. Our relationship with our children is built on trust and open communication.
  2. Children need daily unstructured outdoor time in order to thrive. Childhood is short and we should protect their time to be kids. We should turn off our own devices and head outdoors with them to boost our own health! Wellness is achieved by daily healthy habits which can be a simple as a walk in the neighborhood or playing in the backyard!
  3. Eat dinner together as often as possible…I think shared meals is the best way to reconnect with one another. Both positive communication and healthy foods feed our children and ourselves. Take the time to make sit down at the table together!

I don’t think I will build my own booth like Lucy…but I do intend to write my weekly blog posts as a way to help parents and teachers find simple ways to ‘grow a holistic view of childhood’.

Be well,

April

“A growing body of scientific evidence identifies strong correlations between experience in the natural world and children’s ability to learn, along with their physical and emotional health. Stress levels, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, cognitive functioning—and more—are positively affected by time spent in nature.” ~Richard Louv

Grieving While Teaching

 

Reflecting on our values and our teaching practices is one of the most powerful ways to deepen our roots and to grow. Sharing those reflections with others is one way that we can mentor or support other teachers experiencing the same thing that we’ve gone through. So I offer my reflection of figuring out my core values while grieving, and how to navigate grieving while teaching….and I hope that it helps in your own journey.

As a lifelong learner, I continue to learn and grow. I believe that my teaching evolves each year, but at the foundation is one core value that I hold as my ‘true north’ ~ “LOVE”. Throughout my career my administrators, co-teachers, assistants, families, and children all remark how my classroom feels warm, nurturing, and safe. It’s a place that oozes with love and positivity. Parents especially appreciate how I create a sense of belonging and the trust that they feel by my approach with their children.

The fact of the matter though as teachers some years are tough because of our personal lives and so I want to share about one of my most difficult years of my life. One week prior to the start of school, my father passed away suddenly from testicular cancer and all I wanted to do was to climb into bed and keep the covers over my head. How on Earth could I manage to pull myself together to be an upbeat, organized, and fully present preschool teacher?

By some sweet miracle the school contacted me and said that preschool would have to be delayed opening by one week because of the odor of the gym floor being replaced. I was so grateful because I needed that week to pull my emotions together after the grief of losing my father. I felt like I needed to spend more time outside in nature alone, and to explore my own roots – who I was, what my values were, where I was going in my life, and figuring out who I was.

Before I knew about the delay in our start for preschool, I was so torn about taking care of my own health and being a fabulous teacher. I rarely take sick days, strive for perfection, and am in over-drive creating the best possible classroom that I can. At that time though I knew I couldn’t “pour from an empty vessel’ and knew I needed to take time for myself, time to grieve, and to process my emotions. So a huge gratitude to the universe for the delay in the gym floor so I could miss a week and still be there to start the school year with my preschoolers.

Creating community is one of my top priorities in teaching, and so I knew that I need to get the school year going on positive note despite my deep sadness. Chester Raccoon from the book “Kissing Hand” became my mascot in my classroom. I bought a raccoon puppet and used the puppet to teach about emotions. I thought a lot about how that kiss left in a palm could travel to the heart at anytime so the love of a parent could be felt, whether or not they were present. Though the book is about separation when a child goes to school, the parallel for grief work was very healing to me.

In many ways as we work through grief we wear a mask. Especially for our students and our own children at home, we want to be able to be present and upbeat so we put on the mask of ‘happiness’. Though I realized that I also needed to take time to grieve and to heal so I had to prioritize my ‘alone time’ when I didn’t have to have the ‘everything is okay mask’. This part of the grief journey means connecting to others who have experienced the same loss and who support your vulnerability.

At this same time my mother was also undergoing ovarian cancer treatment which meant that I was making frequent visits to be with her. My parents had been separated since I was three years old, and so the chances of them both having cancer at the same time was more than symbolic to me. As I visited with my mom we chatted about many things and I felt more comfortable to ask her heartfelt questions than I ever had as a child.

It became clear in January that her diagnosis was terminal and I tried my best to come to terms with losing both parents in less than a year. It was simply unfair and unjust. I went through a phase of anger, but I knew that I needed to find “BALANCE” in my life to not be swallowed up by grief. This journey helped me become much more intentional about how I spend my time and how I prioritize my own personal health and the time that I have for my own family. At first it felt selfish but I realized that I taking care of ourselves, including taking sick days and bereavement days, is how we can continue to be our best selves.
On Easter Sunday, I sat by my mother’s bedside and held her hand as she took her last breaths. The words to the song, “Turn, Turn, Turn” were playing in my mind as I sat there taking in the fact that this was the last time I would be with her. My lifelong champion, confidant, and closest friend would no longer be a phone call away. How could I live in a world without my mother? My ‘true north’ felt completely pushed off course and I knew that reorienting the sails would take work and effort. That night as I laid in the guest room bed, my mind was spinning, and I cried myself to sleep. When I woke up, I felt something renewed in me a deep sense of purpose.

With the loss of my mother, I decided to take two full weeks off before going back into my classroom. I knew that my assistant teacher would do a great job, and that the children would be just fine without me. Letting go of perfection or thinking that I needed to put on a superhero cape was a HUGE shift in me. During those two weeks, I let myself truly grieve.  I reflected on what I needed to do to be able to survive the last couple of weeks of school. Some days it felt like a survival situation and ‘just keep swimming’ was my mantra. The end of year tasks weren’t completed with perfection but it good enough really was enough. This was the first time in my career that I understood the vital importance of life / work balance, and when we reorient our priorities to care for ourselves we feel like we matter.

Five years have now passed since my father’s death and through reflection and inner work I can offer these thoughts:

– By striving to be a nurturing mother to my own children I honor the memory of both of my parents.

-By letting go of perfection and being a ‘flawesome’ teacher, parent, or spouse, I am happier and more content with my life. Owning our flaws is the best way to stop perfection from gnawing at us. My new mantra is “Purpose over perfection”

– By living with intention, I re-prioritize my life so that the precious time that I have here is lived fully, in alignment with my values, and with JOY. Before I commit to something, I check in to see if it fits with may values and life goals.

-By connecting with others I can create a new sense of “BELONGING” and though I felt like I had lost my ‘true north’ my memories always connect me to my parents, and other family and friends who have passed away. Connecting in real life to a small circle of friends who support and cheer each other on is vital to our health and happiness.

-Gentle self awareness and daily self-care makes the grief journey easier. Taking time to pause, breathe, and to remember that kiss in Chester’s palm is way that I can reset.

-I believe that when we are clear on our core values our decisions and path is easier to see. For me, my core values of love, balance, and belonging help me keep my life steered in the right direction.

 

Grieving while teaching can be very challenging and if you find yourself in that journey…my advice is to be gentle with yourself. Take time when you need it and communicate with your school team & home team when you need support. I believe that when we let go of ‘perfection’, we give ourselves some breathing room.  As I think of the two people who had a profound impact on who I am, my parents, I know that their best qualities are deeply rooted in me and that keeps me grounded. Taking the time to grieve, to rediscover our roots, and to connect to others is essential.

“The Snowflake Bentley Mom”

You have heard of the helicopter mom, the tiger mom, and after this blog post, “The Snowflake Bentley Mom”…

To be clear, I am no relation to the Bentley family but while re-reading the children’s book ‘Snowflake Bentley’ by Jacqueline Briggs Martin I thought about how it was an excellent way to reinforce one of my parenting truths… “Follow your child’s interest”

Background info…summarized from the children’s book mentioned above.

At the age of fifteen, Snowflake Bentley’s mom gave him a microscope and he began to observe all sorts of nature. His favorite was to look closely at precipitation and that first winter Snowflake Bentley observed snowflakes under that microscope and hand-drew hundreds of snow crystals.

When he was 17, his parents spent their savings and bought him a special camera with its’ own microscope that could magnify from 64 – 3,600 times it actual size. All of his pictures the first winter were failures but he preserved and by the second winter had figured out how to photograph snowflakes.

As he worked with this micro-photography art form he found a way to improve the quality by cutting away dark parts of the negative around the crystal. This meant he spent hours and hours on a single photograph. Snowflake Bentley believed that the snow crystal photographs would be his gift to the world.

From an economic standpoint this project of required an investment of $15,000 in order to perfect his craft, and though he was able to photograph thousands of snow crystals his work and only received $4,000 from selling slides and photographs. You could say that the Return on Investment wasn’t great, yet his technique has continued to be improved upon and he is still remembered to this day.

His book, Snow Crystals, was published shortly before his death but this Vermont farmer-scientist-artist is revered as a pioneer in the field. I encourage you to read the story, ‘Snowflake Bentley’ by Jacqueline Briggs Martin – first read it to yourself and then read it to the children in your life.

~~~~

Reflect on the conviction that Snowflake Bentley had to pursue his interest in snow crystals despite the neighbors thinking his project was a joke.

Consider the impact that receiving a microscope from his mother  had on his life.

Think of the conversation between his parents when they were deciding to investment thousands of dollars on a camera for a project that no one else had done at the time.

Consider the belief that his parents had in their son and the impact of ‘following the child’s interest’.

~~~~

I believe that this is a fascinating story of how a farmer blended both science and art together to create a fulfilling (though not lucrative) career in following his childhood interest and passion.

I want to be a “Snowflake Bentley Mom” and invest in my children’s interests and to give them the tools that they need to in order to chase their dreams. It is that belief and support that helps our children reach for the stars!

How about you…does “Follow your child’s interest” resonate with your parenting truths?!

Leading with Empathy

“Leading with Empathy” is a new two hour training that April’s Teaching Tree is excited to offer. Dates are still being confirmed for Fall 2019, but it will be offered on Oct. 24th, 2019 as part of the VtAEYC Fall Conference.  See the full conference brochure here – http://vaeyc.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/FINAL-VAEYC-ONLINE-BROCHURE-1.pdf

This training is for you if you’ve been asking yourself these questions:

“How do can I find the courage to stand up for what I believe? Can a teacher also be a leader? How can I be both caring and an effective leader? How can I lead with compassion and kindness without burning out?”

“Leadership is about empathy. It is about having the ability to relate to and connect with people for the purpose of inspiring and empowering their lives. ” ~Oprah Winfrey 

 

Course description:

Growing into leadership roles requires us to go outside of our comfort zones, and to examine both our strengths and our weaknesses.

Learn how to use active listening, observation, and empathetic response as a way to understand and build trusting relationships with both children, families, and coworkers.

Leading with empathy helps us to explore the concepts of courage, compassion, and connection as we explore how to create the most supportive learning environment for all children.

Participants will looks at specific ways to create an environment that is built on trust, inclusion, and conveys a sense of belonging to all.

Participants will explore ways to share resources with their teams on how to teach emotional vocabulary, self-regulation, and techniques to model social and emotional skills for their staff and families.

Participants will create a “Self Care Action Plan” as a way to prioritize self-care since
leaders must learn how to care for themselves so theycan effectively lead their teams.

Learning Objectives:

1) Participants will learn about Active Listening & Observation & Empathetic Response as a way to understand and build trusting relationships with both children and families.

2) Participants will explore ways to share resources with their teams on how to teach emotional vocabulary, self-regulation, and techniques to model social and emotional skills for their staff and families.

3) Participants will create a Self Care Action Plan as a way to prevent overwhelm and burn out.

S.T.E.A.M. Materials & Tool List

This week I led a STEAM workshop for the regional Head Start teachers. S.T.E.A.M. activities can be offered throughout the classroom. Often we think of just the block, math, or science center but the focus of this training was STEAM at the Writing Center or Art Center. Our objective was explore how to stock the classroom writing center & art center for deep engaged play. I thought I would share here on the blog the list of materials and tools that we felt could foster STEAM learning for preschoolers!

STEAM ~ why add the A to STEM?

  • Art – putting creativity back into the curriculum for ALL children
  • Art = process oriented, not product focused (limit craft projects)
  • Open ended, child-led, no specific goal in mind
  • Self-expression and Communication are both fostered when children get to tinker and explore with materials
  • Tools build fine motor skills, children gain confidence, and become more independent when they learn how to use tools

Consider printing these lists out and keeping them on a clipboard in your storage area. Write notes about the materials that work best in your classroom, and consider which materials to add to rotation to get more buy in…especially for the students who might not often go to the Writing Center or Art Center.

 

Materials – Recycled:

Remember to ask for donation from parents / staff / community

  • Bottle caps (might be sharp?)
  • Boxes
  • Brown paper
  • Bubble wrap
  • Cardboard cereal and cracker boxes (cut out alphabet letters and use at writing center)
  • Cards, envelopes, mail, letterhead
  • CDs and cases
  • CLEAR STORAGE BINS – shoe box sized or sweater box (important you can see into storage bins, and the bin limits the amount you will store)
  • corrugated cardboard cut into shapes – add slits so you can build with them
  • Dryer lint
  • Egg cartons
  • Envelopes – find a card store willing to donate?
  • Fabric swatches
  • Floor scraps
  • Food containers with lids – well cleaned
  • Milk cartons – well washed
  • Milk jug lids
  • Newspaper
  • Packing materials
  • Packing materials – biodegradable packing peanuts
  • Paint sticks
  • Paint swatches
  • Paper towel tubes
  • Picture frames
  • Plastic Easter eggs
  • Scrap paper
  • Shoe boxes
  • Smaller pieces of fabric
  • Spools from thread
  • Toilet paper tubes
  • Wool (the colored kind used for felting)
  • Yarn – small balls are often given away by those who knit
  • Yarn in a Box – shoe box, put small yarn balls inside, string the yarn through hole
  • Yogurt containers, lids

  

Materials – Nature Art:

  • Acorns
  • Tree bark
  • Rocks
  • Leaves
  • Sticks and twigs
  • Pine cones
  • Tree cookies
  • Bark

 Materials – Purchased:

Traditional Writing Center Materials – general materials to start the year with:

Wooden tape dispenser with colorful tape = Top Pick!

Colored masking tape or painters tape

Clear Scotch tape on a dispenser

Paper of various sizes and colors – keep it organized and tidy

Pre-folded blank cards (made from card stock or construction paper)

Mini books – made by folding paper and stapling like a book

Envelopes that fit the size of cards available

Hole Punch

Kid scissors

Markers or crayons

Glue stick

White glue

Name cards (on index cards write the names of family and friends for the children to copy)

Stickers – themed or alphabet or high interest topics

Googly eyes

Eye ball stickers – Discount School Supply – Top Pick! J

Word wall (write down holiday words that children might like to copy: Merry Christmas/ To:  From:  / Love)

 

Writing tools – keep rotating your offerings to keep it interesting!

  • Crayons – large fat crayons peeled for doing rubbings
  • Crayola – worth the investment to get the best, try offering different kinds of crayons to keep it interested – various sizes, shapes, sparkly, neon, etc.
  • Used crayons – save up the scraps and melt to make crayon cakes
  • Markers – Crayola washable in both thin and thick, short
  • Permanent Sharpie Markers (adult supervision and clear directions)
  • Pencils – thick to begin, then traditional. Avoid cheap pencils with plastic wrap that jams pencil sharpener
  • Colored pencils
  • Twistable crayons

 

Materials or tools to add to keep the Writing Center interesting:

 Card Stock – heavy weight paper that is more durable for collage and book making, I don’t leave this out at the writing center but offer it for certain projects

Collage Materials

Colored copy paper or construction paper – in seasonal colors

Craft sticks – show how to make stick puppets, picture frames

Curling ribbon

Cutting tray – cut paper strips from easel paper for kids to snip, then save for inexpensive collage filler

Decorative paper punches

Decorative scissors (“Crazy Scissors” is what my students call them)

Do-a-Dot markers (careful since these can stain)

Foam shapes (to glue on)

Gel pens on black paper

Gem stickers – Discount School Supply – adds bling to ornaments, cards

Gift tag stickers or Paper gift tags and string

Glitter (if you’re brave)

Glitter glue

Holiday scrap booking paper or wrapping paper

Holiday stickers

Paper lunch bags – make puppets, make ‘gift bags’

Photographs

Recycled cards from last year – cut out interesting pictures and collage

Recycled cards with hole punches on the edges & yarn to lace

Ribbon

Rubber stamps and ink pads

Stamp markers

Tissue paper (pre-cut into squares for younger children)

White crayons on dark blue or black paper

Materials for Art Center, Maker Space, Creation Station, etc.

  • Aleene’s or similar thick glue
  • Beads
  • beads that are connected together in lengths
  • Buttons
  • clean socks (for sock puppets)
  • decorative chain
  • fabric
  • fake flowers
  • fake fur
  • feathers
  • felt
  • foamies
  • Fuzzy stickes, formally called pipe cleaners – great for 3D creations in ECERS
  • gimp
  • glitter glue (or loose glitter for those brave teachers)
  • googly eyes
  • multi pack foam colored sponges (not scrubber sponges)
  • Multi temp glue sticks (large or mini) and glue guns {Adult use}
  • permanent markers
  • pom poms
  • popsicle sticks in various sizes – mini, regular, tongue depressor sized
  • rhinestones
  • ribbon/trim
  • sequins
  • sticky notes
  • Upholstery foam
  • upholstery foam
  • water based markers
  • wooden craft dowels, chop sticks, round rods
  • wooden pieces

 

Tools to foster STEAM:

  • Trays
  • Drying rack
  • Storage bin – like chip and dip container with lid
  • Scissors – kid safety, loop scissors, decorative design scrapbook type
  • Stapler (with supervision)
  • Tweezers
  • Stencils- store bought, made from large yogurt lids, cookie cutters for tracing
  • Cookie cutters – play dough, tracing, dip into paint and stamp
  • Rulers – get with easy to read numbers, inches only
  • Paper punches – check scrapbook section of Joann’s or Michael’s for deals
  • Hole punches
  • Rubber stamps and stamp pads
  • Sponges
  • Yarn in a Box (see above description)
  • Mirrors
  • Magnifying glasses
  • Magnets
  • Pippettes, turkey baster
  • Spin Art – salad spinner
  • Paint brushes
  • Paint scrapers of various styles

 

Thanks for visiting April’s Teaching Tree blog! 

Here are some ways to keep in touch:

  • Like “April’s Teaching Tree” on Instagram
  • Like “April’s Teaching Tree” on Facebook 
  • Follow “April’s Teaching Tree” on Pinterest 
  • Add your email to get notified when I share my weekly blog post – see the right top of the website!
  • Weekly blog posts – subscribe at the link on the right top of the website~
  • Monthly newsletter is sent out to subscribers
  • Host a training at your site ~ contact me for more information! aprilzajko@gmail.com
  • Email me with any questions or comments – aprilzajko@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

photography of tree
Photo by gypsyugal on Pexels.com

 

I wanted to share a description of a program that I am creating this summer. I feel called to begin to host women’s groups that help us reclaim our power. Beginning in August 2019 I will be hosting this as an outdoor women’s group in the Saint Johnsbury, Vermont area. I am also developing this into an online e-course as well!

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

Workshop Description: As women it is easy to feel like we are giving away our power and begin to feel burned out. During this workshop we will explore the eight domains of wellness and determine which areas in our lives need added 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 workshop participants will hear inspiring stories of growth and transformation that others have found on their own path back to reclaiming their inner power.

If you’d like to join one of my groups or to create your own private group with your friends I will begin scheduling in August 2019! Email April for more details ~~~   aprilzajko@gmail.com 

 

“But what do you do?”

“But what do you do?” ~ when I hear the question I have to quickly decide if I give the full speech, a one minute version of the speech, or just a few words.

Most people within my professional circle know me as a “preschool teacher”. A kind, warm and fuzzy teacher who ties shoes, wipes off messy faces, sings songs and teaches about manners, nature, art, and social-emotional skills. My last eight years in the classroom were spent in preschool, and I came to realize the power and fundamental role that early childhood has on both the academic success in school and lifelong impact for children who have access to high quality early childhood programs.

When I took on a new role of entrepreneur and creating a business as an educational consultant, my friends didn’t quite know how the presumably soft skills of preschool teacher would translate into a business model. Surprisingly, learning how to take care of young children prepared me well for working with a wide range of groups because nearly all people find it refreshing to work with someone who is both kind and a go-getter!

Back to the question…”But what do you do?”

In a few words ~ I am an educational consultant.

One minute speech ~ I am an Early Childhood Educator and I work with schools, child care centers, businesses and organizations to develop programs that support a ‘holistic view of childhood”. With my almost twenty years of working with families and children I know the silos and obstacles that exist within our system and I can help facilitate ways to improve our programs to have a greater impact on children.

And for those who really want to dive into more of the details….I typed up an even longer description!

April Zajko, M.Ed. is the owner of April’s Teaching Tree, an educational consulting business with a mission of “growing a holistic view of childhood”. April has been leading professional development in education since 2003 and is licensed in Vermont as both as an Early Childhood Educator and Reading Specialist. April has built a solid reputation for providing relevant, engaging, and motivating programs that take theory and put it into actionable steps to improve outcomes for children.  Over the last school year, April has led professional development in Vermont for child care centers, regional Head Start teams, Starting Points networks, and private programs. April has partnered with several nonprofit organizations who are working toward improving educational programs for young children, including the Vermont Community Engagement Lab and the STEM Lab at the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium. Over the last eight years, April has led trainings at the Vermont Association for the Education of Young Children fall conference and developed master level trainings in science. Since 2016, April has taught early childhood courses for the Community College of Vermont in Saint Johnsbury, and has helped many new professionals get started on their career path in early childhood education.

April is committed to workforce development and knows that as we empower early care providers we strengthen our system and practices of care for ALL families.

April is passionate about advocating for nature-based learning and puts creativity and PLAY at the center of the curriculum.

April believes that ALL children thrive when we design inclusive programs that offer supportive and warm environments that cultivate nurturing  and responsive relationships.

April’s Teaching Tree gives voice to the vision and mission of “growing a holistic view of childhood”. To read my weekly blog post subscribe at http://www.aprilsteachingtree.com

*Help me spread the word by sharing this post *

If your program or organization wants to create custom professional development or partner on projects for the next school year, please email April directly at aprilzajko@gmail.com

If you are an individual and want to sign up for a course of program led by April Zajko, visit this link which will be updated as programs or classes are added ~ https://aprilsteachingtree.com/upcoming-trainings/

If you would like to be part of April’s ongoing women’s leadership group called P.O.W.E.R.~Path of Wellness, Environment, and Relationship ~ send an email to get more information ~ aprilzajko@gmail.com

“You may never know what results come of your actions, but if you do nothing, there will be no results.” ~Gandhi