Fire Drill

 

About twenty years ago I got woken up in the night to sirens in the distance. I was staying at my brother’s house and realized he had stayed late that night to work at the flower shop. So I grabbed my keys and rushed toward the sirens. As I approached my worst fears were realized, the fire was in the strip mall of my families flower shop and I could not believe my eyes. It was engulfed, there were fire trucks everywhere, smoke filled the sky, and my mind raced. I parked and ran toward the first fireman I saw and through my sobbing and hyperventilating I told him I thought my brother was in there. He assured me he wasn’t because they had a done a thorough sweep. When I finally connected with brother I was so relieved that he was alive. It was one of the scariest days of my life, and to this day I still feel panic when there is a fire siren or fire alarm.

The arsonist, who had targeted the biker bar next door to our shop, committed the crime to retaliate against his cheating girlfriend. He was arrested and served time, but it continues to baffle me how others do not realize the impact that their actions have on others.

My family never reopened that flower shop in Rising Sun, Delaware and almost my entire family moved to Virginia to start over. It was heart breaking to see years and years of work be destroyed by the senseless act of a stranger. Though our portion of the building was still standing every item had smoke or water damage. Knowing that none of us were injured in the fire and feeling support of our friends and community was our saving grace getting through that time.

Now, even twenty years later, I am still impacted by that night. I always ask my employers for a five minute warning before a fire drill, and almost always they understand and agree. I also teach about fire safety to my students and try to give them the opportunity to see a fire truck up close, and to see a fire man go from his normal clothes to full gear. Children are often very frightened by firemen with their ventilator masks on, and so it’s essential for them to know not to hide from a firefighter coming into their home to save them. (more fire saftey teaching tips in a future post)

I share this story because I know many other educators also have similar stories of how a fire has impacted their lives, and though everyone got out safe there can still be traumatic aftershocks. What seems like a routine monthly drill can send a person into a panic. It is important to talk to your coworkers and employer so that they know that this is an issue, and hopefully they would agree that you deserve a five minute warning. Each of us has our own challenges, and it is okay to ask for support.

 

 

Power of Puppetry

One of my ‘secret sauce’ ingredients in being an engaged and effective early childhood educator is puppetry. Puppetry allows me to talk through tough topics with the my students, gives me the opportunity to demonstrate how different characters express emotions, offers me the chance to model how two characters can handle a dispute, allows me to ‘think out loud’ which shows children why someone might think differently then themselves, explicitly teach kindness & empathy, gives me the chance to perfect accents, safe space to act silly, and ultimately create a community of learners that honors inclusion and celebrates diversity. That’s a whole lot of reasons to bring puppets into an early childhood setting!

Now I am no performer. I routinely sing off key and certainly would clam up if ever put onto an “America’s Got Talent’ stage. But in front of my little crew at circle time, I take on the role of performer and take it quite seriously. I read books with prosody, sing songs with enthusiasm, groove and dance with delight, and put on some simple yet powerful puppet shows. My captive audience enjoys the show, and they learn that they too can and should let their creative side out to play. Creating a learning environment that honors children and gives them avenues to express themselves in a wide variety of ways gives all children the opportunity to learn and grow.

 

Give new life to an old puppet stand with a fresh coat of paint! Thanks Bill Tulp for this original painting!

Children love to imitate the adults in their lives, so as soon as circle time is done, a few children often gravitate to the classroom puppets and put on their own shows. I love to have a puppet stand so children feel invited to put on a show. Children learn how to negotiate with peers so a couple of children are the performers as the other are the audience, and with some support, they learn how to take turns in these roles.

Observing their puppetry play allows me to take notes on their use of language to express their thoughts and their conversational skills with peers. For children who come into my classroom with limited language skills, creating opportunities for parallel play with peers or adults with puppets is a great way to nurture their language skills. Other children who are going through some tough issues or ‘big feelings’ can benefit from puppetry play as well and can give the child a chance to connect with an adult in safe and non-intimidating way.

Because I am a nature-loving teacher I tend to purchase woodland animal puppets for my classroom, but really any kind of puppets will work. I have been surprised to see that sometimes the most popular puppet becomes almost a mascot for the class! Giving children the chance to make their own puppet to take home would also be a great idea (and topic for a future blog post).

Introducing a new puppet that goes along with a beloved book also encourages story retelling and improves comprehension. Offering a few props that go along with a story such as three pig puppets and some of the materials they used to build their homes begins to add layers to the puppetry play and expands the children’s performances.

So if the puppets are collecting dust in your program, pull them out and give them center stage at circle time. Breathe life into the puppets and build both verbal skills and opportunities for social & emotional learning!

Positive Role of Police Officers & Young Children

As a preschool teacher I always include community helpers in my dramatic play area, but I also realized that it was important to intentionally teach what the community helpers roles were in our lives. Talking about police and firemen are two topics that are especially important because young children might be frightened by their uniform or by misinformation they have heard. Teaching that police officer’s role is to serve and protect might bring up conversations or questions that the children have. Children who have (or had) an incarcerated parent or family member might have lots of questions, and it is important to create a dialogue with both the child and with the family.

Sometimes I over hear a frustrated parent at the grocery store tell their child, ‘if you are naughty the police officer will come arrest you.’ It’s cringe worthy to me because I want children to have a positive view of police officers. I want children to know that police officers are in our communities to help, not to punish or threaten us. These negative images of police can impact children even when they are very young.

As an adult, I also know that there are many accounts of police brutality but those few incidents do not detract from the vital role officers serve in our communities. The upsetting stories of tragedy or violence that children might be hear about from their families or crime shows they might see on television leave many children with mixed messages.

As an early childhood educator my number one goal in my classroom is to communicate to children that they are safe and that there are adults who they can always turn to for help. Below is a list of activities that focus on how create a positive view of police officers in our classrooms, and I would appreciate your feedback on additional ideas. (Also stay tuned for a separate post about firemen)

Ways to create positive relationships between young children & police:

  • Read age appropriate books about police and ways officers care for our community. “Office Buckle and Gloria” is a humorous book about a police officer and his dog who present safety talks to children. This books helps frame the conversation how police officers follow rules that help keep us safe, and the dog, Gloria, will keep the kids engaged and laughing!
  • Add a police uniform or badges to the dramatic play center.
  • Post photos of community helpers in your classroom. If possible, post photographs of local police so the uniform is familiar to them.
  • Lego Police set or Police props in the block center give children the opportunity to pretend to be police officers, and through observation and reflection give you a chance to talk about their feelings about helpers in the community.
  • Become pen pals with a local officer and develop an on-going friendship.
  • Ask the local police to bring a cruiser over for the children to sit in. Learn how the CB works, and make a pretend CB for the classroom to use to call for help.
  • Take a field trip to the police department to get a behind the scenes tour.
  • Create a special card thanking the police department, or invite a police officer in for a party. National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day is January 9th, though any day could be a celebration.
  • Host community events (such as a Bike Rally or Walk to School) and ask local police officers to participate. On-going events that build rapport between children and officers is the best way to develop a sense of trust!

 

Additional Resources:

Coping with Incarceration https://sesamestreetincommunities.org/topics/incarceration/

Evaluating Children’s Books about Police 

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1rytbtFbHtH6UYRLzUQDf3h4gJ6noSPIAxhHJsfo-QTw/edit#

 

If you have additional ways that work well in your program, please email me and I will update this list periodically. aprilzajko@gmail.com

 

Analysis of the Vermont Northern Lights Career Development Center

 

In Vermont, early childhood and after school professionals have a tremendous resource in the Vermont Northern Lights Career Development Center. Northern Lights, as it is commonly referred to, is an organization that continues to evolve and change in order to provide current and relevant information for professional development and career planning. The organization strives to be “consistent, accessible, and comprehensive in meeting the needs of early childhood and afterschool professionals from entry to advanced levels” (VNLCDC p.1). There are a wide variety of tools and resources available through the Northern Lights’ website so at first it may seem confusing and cumbersome to new users. I think the best way to understand the wealth of materials on this site is to spend time searching around and reading the content. Luckily, Northern Lights is also staffed by a great team of individuals, so you can reach out and discuss your questions with a person if you cannot find what you are looking for on the website. As of January 2018, there is a new “Northern Lights at CCV Team” which is comprised of the director, managers, and local resource advisors who are all working towards creating a strong workforce for Vermont’s young children. This team is located around the state, so individuals can also make in person appointments to meet their local resource advisors which is a wonderful tool for individuals who are weary of technology.

The primary purpose of Northern Lights is to serve as a hub to provide resources for the variety of individuals in the field of early childhood and after school within the state of Vermont. As seen on the home page of the website, there are navigation tools for three main areas: career pathways, training and coursework, and roles. By clicking into any of these three broad categories web users will be directed to another page that further explains the topic and provides a wealth of links and printable resources. For individuals exploring their role as a director it would be imperative to read the Vermont Competencies for Program Directors (VNLCDC p.2) and use it as a self-assessment for all five knowledge areas the document outlines.

It is important to understand that Northern Lights works with many different partners and aims to unify and enhance the professional development system, but Northern Lights does NOT provide every resource so professionals will need to know where to go for that information as well. Northern Lights does not list current professional development opportunities, but there is a link on site that will take you to the Bright Futures Information System (BFIS) Course Calendar. Northern Lights also offers links to BFIS so individuals can see their quality credentialing and program accounts, where their professional development is documented and credentials are stored. Northern Lights is not ‘licensing’ so individuals need to go to Vermont Child Development Division to read the child care licensing regulations that pertain to their program. Lastly, for early childhood teachers who are licensed through the Agency of Education, such as myself, there is another set of parameters for maintain a teaching license that is outside of the scope of Northern Lights. Efforts are underway to ensure that less duplication is happening so that licensed teachers are not having to submit course work and their IPDP to both BFIS and the AOE, which saves professionals time.

            Northern Lights is an online tool that serves a critical component in the career success of individuals who work in both early childhood and after school programs. My suggestion is that individuals should begin by looking at the Vermont Career Ladder img_0619(https://northernlightscdc.org/career-pathways/early-childhood-pathways/). Individuals can begin at any level on the career ladder depending on their prior coursework, credentials, degrees, and years of experience. A career pathway provides professionals with defined routes to improve their qualifications, recognize professional possibilities that exist in the workforce, and assist individuals in being compensated appropriately (Sciarra 45). This ladder serves as a tool for an individual to use to navigate how to progress in their career, which I feel can be empowering to someone just beginning in the field. At first glance it seems like a lot of work to climb the levels of the ladders, but the Child Development Division offers bonuses ranging from $100 to $1200 dollars as recognition of the hard work it takes to attain a level within the ladder. Program administrators need to be familiar with this process since they will have many staff members who have questions and concerns. It is important to note that climbing this career ladder increase the salary potential for individuals and therefore is worth investing the time and energy into attaining higher levels. For programs who participate in STARS the career ladder is tied into the arena of Staff Qualifications so the higher level that staff members attain, the higher the score for the program.

Over the course of the last eight years working in the early childhood field in Vermont, I have used the Northern Lights website in a variety of ways. Over this time the content and clarity of the information has changed and evolved. I have occasionally emailed or called to ask clarifying questions for myself, my staff, or my college students and have found the Northern Lights staff to be very responsive and helpful. Most often I go to the website to refer to the career ladders and to access the core competencies. I find that the core competency documents to be well written and great resources to answering questions. Northern Lights has also served me as an Approved Instructor, with password protected portions of the website pages that allow me to access course materials and resources when teaching the Fundamentals course.

In summary, I feel that Northern Lights is a great resource and will continue to refer to it for professional growth and learning. It is worth investing the time and energy to be familiar with the layout and content for both myself as professional and as a resource to share with my staff.

 

Works Cited

Sciarra, D. J., Lynch, E. M., Adams, S. M., & Dorsey, A. G. Developing and Administering a Child Care and Education Program. Boston: Cengage Learning, 2016

Vermont North Lights Career Development Center. Competencies for Program Directors of Early Childhood and AfterSchool Programs. 2009 Retrieved on January 21, 2018 – https://northernlightscdc.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/competencies_program_directors.pdf

Math PLAY – Bean Sticks!

Bean Sticks are simple to make, frugal, and oh so much fun!

A bean stick is simply a Popsicle stick with 10 beans glued to it! Easy right? I love frugal teaching tools!
When making this set I decided to use tongue depressors with lima beans that I had spray painted green. I like to spray paint the beans outdoors at least a week or so ahead of making them, this way the smell dissipates.
To attach the beans I used white Elmer’s glue. Hot glue would likely make a stronger hold but I wanted to do this project WITH the children, not FOR them. When children are engaged in making their own learning materials they have a greater sense of ownership and pride in them.
We will be using the bean sticks for counting, place value, adding & subtracting groups of ten, and skip counting by ten.
Extra beans that are spray painted on just one side will also be used as individual counters. We’ve been using these this past year to play a fun game called “bean toss addition”.
Food education ~ many educators choose NOT to use food as play materials and I respect that choice. For me, I use a small amount of food for play and use it as a time to talk about where this crop comes from. Many children dislike beans but after having a Bean Taste test or making a crock pot of homemade Maple Baked Beans they often change their minds!
Looking for more resources:
If you are looking for more ideas on using your bean sticks check out “Count Your Beans” mat that Fran over at Kindergarten Crayons has posted.
If you are looking for math activity ideas check out the website, Math at Home, which focuses on teaching early math skids for children birth -five! I love how they focus on no or low cost materials!

Play Resolution 2019

Happy New Year!

Today is the day that many of us set intentions or create resolutions for ourselves for the coming year. We examine the past year and take a retrospective look at ourselves and our work with children and families. We bring into focus what is most important and try to reorient our work and personal lives in that direction.

Each year I select an individual word that captures my intention, and put a lot of thought and focus in deciding the word. (Drum roll please…)For 2019 my word is:

PLAY

As an early childhood educator I feel that I have taken on a new role as a “Protector of Play”. I haven’t yet made a cape or designed an action hero costume, but I feel a sewing project coming on soon!

We know that ample research shows that play is an essential part of the healthy development of children. We know that child-directed play is a primary contributor to the mental, physical, and social-emotional wellbeing of our children. Yet as teachers or care providers of young children we feel like we need to continue to defend the rights of children to have time to play. WHY?

Sadly, time for play has been eroded away for most children and it’s time to take a stand for PLAY!

Outdoor play, unstructured play, open ended art, and play for all ages…

I won’t get on my soapbox today, but I am eager to share specific strategies for how to put PLAY at the center of the curriculum. And will also be reminding you that grown ups need PLAY and self-care to make 2019 the best year yet!

 

 

 

Pop Up Art Studio ~ December 18

Local Teaching Artist, April Zajko, will be offering a series of “Pop Up Art Studio” sessions in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. These open studio sessions are for everyone! Pop Up Art Studio is a welcoming space, that creates opportunities for dialogue, skill sharing, and art making between people of differing backgrounds, ages, cultures and abilities. If you would like to host a Pop Up Art session at your business, organization, or circle of friends please contact April at aprilzajko@gmail.com

April’s unique perspective as an early childhood educator makes participants of ALL ages and artistic abilities feel welcomed and at ease. With a focus on enjoying the process of art making, participants can feel the gentle transformative power of creating art in a cozy and encouraging space where ALL are welcome.

The December 18th session will focus on card making with mixed media & paper collage. Participants are invited to drop in for an hour (or several hours) to sip tea, chat, and create unique paper collages. Bring a friend or family member or come meet new friends in your community.

POP UP ART STUDIO ~ Card Making

December 18th

12:00-8:00PM

Location: 142 Eastern ~ St. Johnsbury, Vermont

$10 suggested donation per person

No one turned away for lack of funds

All ages (Children 8 and under must attend with a responsible adult)

 

Live Music from 5-8 p.m. with “BOBBY FARLICE SOUND SYSTEM”

With a long history of music in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area, Bobby Farlice was a member of Nobuko Miyamoto’s band Warriors of the Rainbow and the Change Band with Flip Nunez and Michael Howell. He was also a contributor to music for the progressive social scene at San Francisco’s Glide Memorial Church. His set is jazz, blues and Latin, all with a touch of soul, and all for your listening pleasure. Having played the nightclub scene for many years, he prefers playing community gigs like First Night, which he generously supports. The sound system in the Bobby Farlice Sound System is his Roland FP2  keyboard with Session Partner, which turns Bobby into a one-man band.