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.

Art Series: Gifts from the Heart

Art Workshop Series: “Gifts from the Heart”  ~ for children ages 5-8

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This children’s art series is designed for ages 5-8. The classes will give children the space to explore a variety of art materials and the opportunity to create four unique homemade gifts. Projects will include: jiggle-scribble bots, keepsake painted canvas, eco-sculptures, and paper collage. Children can choose to wrap their projects so they can be given as gifts from the heart to their loved ones.

Where: Catamount Arts Center Classroom in Saint Johnsbury 
When: Wednesday, December 5, 9:30 am – 11:00 am

Fridays, December 7 – December 21, 9:30-11:00 am

Instructor: April Zajko, M.Ed.

Class fee: $60. Catamount Arts is committed to offering quality arts activities for children, regardless of ability to pay. Please call 802-748-2600 ext 108 and speak to Anne to inquire about scholarship availability or working out a payment
plan.

Registration Deadline: November 30

To register, head over to the Catamount Arts website:

http://www.catamountarts.org/shows/details/gifts-from-the-heart-ages-5-8

 

Early Childhood Courses in St. J ~ Register Now!

April will be teaching two early childhood courses beginning in January for the Community College of Vermont at the Saint Johnsbury location. The two courses are Introduction to Early Childhood and Curriculum Development. Both courses are “hybrid model” so half of the content is in person and half is online. Each course meets every other Tuesday, which means a student can enroll in both and only be out of the house one night per week.

The Saint Johnsbury CCV site has a team of instructors who want to help you map out a plan for your career in early childhood education! The new year is a perfect time to start!

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For more information about the CCV Early Childhood Associates degree check out the website at: https://catalog.ccv.edu/preview_program.php?catoid=9&poid=335&returnto=855

To talk to the local CCV Coordinator of Academic Services contact : Leanne Porter, phone – (802) 748-6673  email – leanne.porter@ccv.edu

To get a pep talk from April about taking your first college courses, going back to school, or deciding to go for a degree…email her at-  april.zajko@ccv.edu

 

 

EDU 1030 – Introduction to Early Childhood Education  (Credits: 3)


This course is an overview of early childhood education and the ways in which early childhood experiences can enhance the development of the whole child. Students will examine the provision of early education and services for children from conception to age eight. Topics include child development, national and state standards, curriculum development, early intervention, regulation, and career exploration.

Prerequisites: Students must meet basic skills policy requirements. No other course prerequisites required.

 

EDU 2045 – Curriculum Development for Early Childhood Education (Credits: 3)


This course explores philosophical principles and practical demands of building curricula for early childhood education. Based on integrated state and national standards, emphasis is on developing a child-centered and developmentally appropriate curricula for the early years from infancy to age eight. Recommended Prior Learning: a course in child development.

Prerequisites: Students must meet basic skills policy requirements. No other course prerequisites required.

Creative Schools Initiative Teacher Institute

April’s Teaching Tree is excited to announce that we will be partnering up with the Vermont Creative Schools Initiative (CSI). April Zajko will be the Early Childhood Educational Consultant for the CSI Teacher Institute for the 2019-2020 school year. The institute will have a tailored strand for teams of teachers in grades preschool – 3rd grade, and we are actively recruiting Vermont schools who would like to be involved.

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Teams of teachers attend a week-long professional development institute the last week of June and then meet again for a fall retreat. Teachers are able to earn three graduate credits for their participation. Teams also get to work closely with national leaders in the field of curriculum integration to learn how art and creativity can be woven throughout the school day for children. Schools then get to partner with teaching artists and receive either a 7 or 10 day teaching artist residency.

During the 2016-2017 school year I was able to attend the Creative Schools Initiative Institute with a team of teachers from the school that I was working for at the time. The CSI experience helped me reorient the focus of my classroom to be a hub of creative play, curiosity, engagement and open ended exploration….and helped re-awaken my creativity and passion for teaching.

For more information about the Vermont Creative Schools Initiative check out this link: https://www.communityengagementlab.org/teacher-institute

 

 

Teacher Burn Out

For me, one of the hardest parts of being a school teacher was that I gave nearly all of my energy to my job, saved a little bit for my family, and was left with only a few drops for myself. Most evenings after tucking my own children into bed I would sit on the couch, often with an unhealthy snack, and either finished up something for school, answered all the emails that accumulated or continued designing a workshop that I was creating. This pace of work was becoming unsustainable, but I felt like my ‘ticket out of the classroom’ meant creating a new career before I called it quits.

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Photo by Tina Nord on Pexels.com
It should have been easy for me to see, but I was developing a serious case of ‘teacher burn out’. I was burning the candle at both ends and it was becoming hard to manage. Last spring,  I began feeling swallowed up by my teaching job and felt like I wasn’t able to do enough. In fact, the more that I gave to my job the more I felt was expected of me. The more I questioned things that were happening in my school, the more I felt that my school did not care about it.
As I have shared my personal ‘teacher burn out’ story with close friends nearly all nod in agreement. Regardless of their profession almost all can relate to my struggle and many applaud me for having the courage to leave.
Telling my story though feels vulnerable because I feel like if I had been a stronger person I could have weathered the storm better. Somehow I still feel selfish in deciding to walk away from a profession that I love, but deep inside I know that I could no longer stay. I feel like I gave up on the kids or my colleagues, but I also know that I wasn’t able to continue to give without completely depleting my personal well.
It’s easy to say that we know that we need to prioritize ourselves or take care of our colleagues but in my experience teachers are notorious for being such good care givers that we fail at being care receivers.
I realize that I need to find the courage to pursue a new a career path and to get comfortable even when there isn’t a paycheck being direct deposited into my account. I feel called to help others prevent teacher burn out, to offer wellness and meaningful stress management tools that all of us can use. I hope to create both online-communities for teachers who are reaching out for resources for personal wellness & creativity. I also feel called to going back to my first career, in creating in-person opportunities for  holistic health, such as offering retreats, workshops, and community based wellness services. I feel the need to advocate for balance and wellness in our schools and community. I am also exploring how to offer teaching artist residencies that focus on creativity & wellness for both students and staff. All of these divergent ideas will converge into a rewarding career path…I am sure of it!
One of the books that I am currently reading is Brene Brown’s, “Dare to Lead”. Her approach to full-hearted leadership and being brave is just the message I need right now. Brene’s take on how vulnerability can be used as an asset seems to be the opposite of what we are taught makes a good business person. I am trudging through that vulnerable space and trying to figure out how being a full-hearted person can become one of my super powers instead of a liability.
Though my business plan is not all sorted out, and I don’t quite know where this adventure is leading me, I have a renewed confidence in myself. I know that this is not just a ‘hobby’ and that I will need to figure out how to make an livable income. However, I know I am moving in the right direction, have gratitude for all those who support me, and I am committed to keep showing up to figure it out!

 “Vulnerability is not winning or losing. It’s having the courage to show up when you can’t control the outcome.” ~ Brene Brown 

Willow Tree Wisdom

 

My fondest early childhood memory was time I spent in our willow tree. It was a grand weeping willow with branches that nearly touched the ground and had perfect climbing branches. I remember needing a milk crate to pull myself up onto the first limb, but once I was up there I could escape to my own little world.

The rustle of the leaves, the light greenish yellow leaves, the aromas of nature all around, the texture of the bark…I can vividly remember that tree and often escaped there, even now when I feel worried I bring it back into my memory. Perched atop an old weeping willow is my ‘happy place’.

As a child, I often played school while perched in the tree and my imagination soared. I could hear my older brothers playing in other parts of the yard or across the street with friends. I could hear my mother working in our greenhouse or in the yard, but more than anything I wanted the solitude that my willow tree offered. In my tree I could forget the dilapidated house that we lived in, forget how awkward I felt when I was around other children, and best of all, in my willow tree perch I didn’t need to talk to anyone.

As fate would have it the name of town that we lived in was Willow Grove, and I remember thinking that sitting high up in a willow tree in a town of the same name must have qualified it as some sort of magical place. 

Now as an educator I am often at professional trainings and the speaker asks us to reflect on our fondest memory and to consider why that particular memory sticks. I remember when we first moved to that house that it was in shambles. The basement was filled with trash from the previous owner, there was no running water, the floors were creaky, the walls unfinished, and no heating. I can remember my mom’s optimism and vision of what the house would become but I knew that she hated it as much as I did. Though we made slow improvements to the house it never felt like to me a home, so whenever possible I remember wanting to spend time outdoors. The willow tree was an escape.

The first year living in that house I was in first grade, and I remember riding the school bus and trying not to cry but by the time I got to school I would lock myself in the girls bathroom and sob and rock until someone forced me to come out. School was dreadful and hard. I remember being pulled out of class for intensive speech therapy and was certain that I was the stupidest child in the class. I also remember slowly making progress and slowly feeling a bit better. I remember my mom meeting with my primary grade teachers and talking with them about why I was so fearful.

We lived in that house for four years and though many of my memories of those years are blurry and painful I remember my willow tree as a place of solitude and escape. When it was time to move I remember thinking how glad I was to leave the hell-hole of a house behind, but my heart ached to say good-bye to my willow tree.

As a child I felt that when I was in my “teaching tree” I was wise, powerful, and joyous. I didn’t need words to communicate and I could just be who I was. It was then that I discovered Mother Nature could be my most trusted teacher and I began to listen to the wind to help my world make sense. As we left that house for the last time the willow branches waved goodbye, but I knew that another one of nature’s glorious ‘sit spots’ awaited me. And luckily every new home that I have moved to has had some “glorious-just-perfect-for-me” place to sit and listen.

My home is now well insulated, built with sturdy walls, and most days relatively tidy…but I still continue to prioritize heading outside to a favorite ‘sit spot’ to listen to nature’s guidance. 

 

The Sky Isn’t Falling: Being Present for Children

 

img_5404One of my favorite childhood stories was “Chicken Little” and as an early childhood teacher it’s in my top 10 read aloud books. I love this story because of the dramatics, the voices that I can use, and the how a simple misunderstanding puts everyone into a frenzy. Do you remember the story?

“The sky is falling, the sky is falling. I must run for my life.” And the heroine of the story, Chicken Little” is off to let the king know that something horrible has happened when, in fact, it was just an acorn that had hit her on the head.

In this classic tale, Chicken Little didn’t take time to “Stop and Think”.

Chicken Little didn’t think to reach up on top of her head to discover the source the thump. If she had she would have found an acorn and not the whole sky.

I love dissecting this story with children and talking about cause and effect. I want children to realize that sometimes things will happen to them, like a child accidentally bonking them on the head with a ball, and that it is our choice in how we react to the event. It is affirming for them to know yes, you got a bonk on your head, but why did that occur. Is it that your classmate meant to harm you or did their aim go astray when tossing the ball somewhere else? We get to teach children to reflect BEFORE they react, which really is a life lesson that we all could use.

My favorite version of this classic tale is by Rebecca and Ed Emberley because the illustrations are vivid and the dialogue is engaging. In this version ~ “Chicken Little was not the brightest chicken in the coop. He was very excitable and prone to foolishness.” This is a great phrase to explore with children, what does it mean to be “prone to foolishness”? In this version her friends are described “being witless”  and joining in without any further questions and without a plan. Lucky Ducky is described as “not wanting to be left out”, which opens the conversation about actions we take because others are doing something. In the Emberley version there is quite a plot twist at the end that is an age appropriate conversation to have with children about following someone without question.

Reading several versions of Chicken Little helps open up a discussion about how sometimes we think that ‘the sky is falling’ or some other really bad thing is happening. But if we take time to “Stop and think” and to “talk with a grown-up” that our worries might be really simple things to fix.

In most versions of this tale the main characters decide that they need to go on a journey to tell the King that there is an emergency that requires his urgent attention. This group of friends band together based on Chicken Little’s account of the incident. She had “seen it with her own eyes, heard it with her own ears, and felt it hit her head”. The sense of community that all her friends, who happen to have great names, (Henny Penny, Ducky Lucky, Cocky Locky, Goosey Loosey) help her step before the king and announce that she has discovered that the sky is falling.

After reading a couple of versions the children realize that in fact the world is not in a state of crisis. It is an acorn and not the atmosphere caving in upon itself. I try to drive home the point that if Chicken Little and her friends took the the time to “Stop and Think” they would have likely discovered the acorn themselves. (How empowering!) Or if they were that concerned that they could go to a grown up in their life and they would have helped them realize what was happening without needing to go on such a long journey.

So much valuable teaching from a classic tale!

With my grown-up students that I reach through leading professional development and community college there are also lessons for adults. In modern day, social media driven society, think of the many times that a perceived threat is magnified by a group of well being friends.  The hint of a scandalous story or revelation of a vague post by a friend leaves us wondering.  The quakes of social media with Twitter wars, viral videos, and Facebook feuds that suck us in and we spend way too much time on a screen journey. Isn’t this much like Chicken Little….are we running in a circle trying to help restore social order?

Society is defined as when two or more humans connect and interact. Those interactions are so much more important in real life, and our sense of belonging comes from working together.  As parents and care providers we need to focus on ‘social order’ of our homes or our classrooms which is where we have a meaningful impact. If we are constantly distracted with our screens and technologies are we really able to connect with our children, spouses, coworkers, and friends?

For people who work with children a daily basis it is so important to stay present in the NOW. Listening and interacting with the children in our care. Helping them to develop their own sense of belonging and to find their voice to communicate how they are feeling. Assisting children in expressing their own unique creativity through engaged PLAY. Honoring children’s stories and helping them to discover who they are. Offering learning environments built on mutual respect, safety, and the belief that every child matters. To do this work we must be in the present moment, and NOT on a screen.

As the adults in the learning environment we need to leave our grown up conversations about politics, current events and judgements at home. When doing the important work of caring for children we need to focus on building empathy and creating safe haven. We need to realize that TIME is the most important resource that we have, so we bring our best self into our programs and we focus on the children and families that we serve.

Though someone else might think the “sky is falling” and is alerting the world via social media, we do not need to like, retweet, or comment on it while we are working. Instead, we need to be fully present…exploring the acorns alongside the children!