‘S.T.E.A.M. in Early Childhood’ Summer Workshop Series 

These two hour trainings are geared for both parents and child care providers of children ages 0 – 8 years old. By utilizing a holistic approach to education we can foster deep engaged play for ALL children. The Vermont Early Learning Standards will be our framework, and practical low cost fun activities will be our focus.

Pre-registration required. 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.;

Location = St. Johnsbury ;

Fee = $20 per class or register for the series for $100

 “What If Everyone Understood Child Development?” – Wednesday, May 22nd

Gardening ALL YEAR with Children – Wednesday, May 29th

Mathematical Learning through Messy Play – Wednesday, June 5

Engineering with Eco Art  – Wednesday, June 12

Process Art for All Ages– Wednesday, June 19

Natural Materials Make & Take Workshop – Wednesday, July 17

Constructivists Approach to Learning Environments – Wednesday, July 24

 

College level courses: (Register for courses directly through the CCV website – https://ccv.edu/)

Child Development – Summer 2019 – CCV in Saint Johnsbury

Introduction to Early Childhood – Fall 2019 – CCV in Saint Johnsbury

Leadership, Mentoring, & Supervision for Early Childhood & Afterschool Practitioners – Fall 2019 – CCV in Saint Johnsbury

 

Block Center Inspiration ~ Photo Blocks

Many years ago when I was helping to set up a new preschool program at my local museum we were on a very tight budget. Much thinking went into deciding which materials we should buy first, which could we attempt to make ourselves, and which could be purchased later.

There’s no one answer to those questions but for me I felt strongly that wooden blocks were an excellent investment. Now almost ten years later, I was visiting that program, and was please to see the same shelf and set of blocks are still there. Well loved and cared for I wonder how many different creations and configurations those blocks have been made into. How many hours of engaged play have been spent with those materials?

Today it was quite heartwarming to see this current group of preschoolers building and creating with those same wooden blocks for most of the free choice time. As they were building, I noticed that some of the blocks had laminated photographs taped onto the blocks. After asking one of the children they explained that a while back when they studied the town the teacher made the blocks so they could re-create the town and make maps. What a wonderful way to bring the town to life in the block center, and though I have seen this done in other classrooms, I would have to say that this particular set was especially beautiful.

It’s these kinds of personalized touches that make a learning environment feel like home. Though programs can buy all sort of materials from teacher catalogs, investing in simple well made toys is the best investment that any early childhood program can make. Personalizing the materials to the place that you live is even more rich and rewarding!

~Be sure to subscribe so you will be notified when our first e-course is ready to launch this summer~ 

 “S.T.E.A.M. Learning Environment Blueprint”

Beating Postpartum Depression with Fitness

img_9148I think it was about 1996 when I was at a wellness conference and offered a workshop on using meditation, breathing and yoga to help women deal with stress and worry. From there I began to lead monthly women’s retreats since many of the attendees said more than anything they just needed to feel the support of other women.

At that wellness conference the keynote was about postpartum depression and after the talk, women were invited to fill out a survey. One of my co-workers was with me since we had a booth set up to promote our holistic health center, but after she filled out the survey something was wrong.

She looked equally horrified and relieved. The tally of her score on the screening survey showed that she should seek immediate assistance for postpartum depression, and luckily right there at the wellness conference were community supports. The rest of that story is her’s to tell, but I remember thinking that if “Superwoman Vic” can get the baby blues nearly anyone could.

Fast forward a decade and I finally was ready to have a child of my own. By that time I had earned a couple of degrees, had attended the birth of ten babies, and had supported quite number of friends through new mommy-hood. As an elementary school teacher, I also understood how a mother’s postpartum depression could affect the older children. I certainly don’t claim to be an expert on the topic, but felt like I knew enough to avoid it or at least thought I knew enough to be able to recognize it in myself.

My son was born in 2005 and I had a great support system with my family and co-workers. Since we had planned ahead I was able to switch to part-time work, and my mom watched our son that first year. Other moms gave us a crib, baby gear, and clothes and offered lots of gentle advice and kindness. The sense of community and connection was go great to have, and it made that first year of mommyhood-hood great.

Then my husband and I decided to move 800 miles away to Northern Vermont. To say that it was a shock to the system would be an understatement. We had arrived in August but by November I knew I needed to make an appointment to meet my new primary care provider. Before my appointment I made a long list of my symptoms: migraines, exhaustion, overwhelm, restless sleep and a nagging feeling that I should be feeling grateful that I get to be a stay at home mom because few others can do what I am doing.

At that first appointment my nurse practitioner told me something shocking. Essentially she said she doubted that I would thrive here, yes, maybe I could survive but likely not more than three years. She talked to me about Postpartum depression, Seasonal Affective Disorder, and social isolation. I was unnerved and eager to prove that woman wrong. I even reached out “Superwoman Vic” on Facebook and asked for a bit of advice.

From my research I determined that step one was to meet real life friends who had similar aged children for at least once a week meet ups. So I figured out where all the playgroups in my area were happening and I showed up determined to make friends. Starting with playgroups was an easy choice because it was free, close to home, and I was sure that all the other parents were experiencing similar things as I was. Playgroups really were my first life-line to avoiding social isolation. Read more about playgroups here.

My second step was to realized that I needed to prioritize my own physical health. I knew that working out at home to a recorded program or running solo on treadmill would never push me like another women saying, “You got this. Come on.”

It took me the courage to sign up because I feared that all the women would be perfectly fit and look like this stock photo! I had to get over that fear and when I did enroll I found women of all shapes, sizes, ages, and most also thinking that they might not fit in.

group of women doing work out
Photo by bruce mars on Pexels.com

I tried out a few different classes but found “Ben’s Bootcamp”. Part of me knew that even though my budget didn’t really allow for personal training, I needed the structure of personal training but with a group of other women so I could develop deeper friendships. The monthly fee that I paid felt like the best investment that I ever made. Joining bootcamp and learning about metabolic weight training helped me find that sense of control and was the boost to get me back to myself. I confided in my trainer Ben that I was being swallowed up by ‘baby blues’ (that’s a less scary code word for Postpartum Depression). I knew that coming to workout for me was less about losing inches and more about gaining confidence. Ben introduced me to the term ‘fortitude’ ~ strength of mind to help a person through adversity with courage.

Motherhood takes courage, and parenting, though filled with so many wonderful moments, makes you dig deep to be your best self.

Through those years at bootcamp, with a hiatus for baby number two, I found a peer network that had been missing. Even though those ladies were not necessarily women who were experiencing the same thing as me, working out together boosted my self confidence and self worth. My trainer Ben also gave weekly pep talks on setting goals (fitness and life) was just what I needed in order to move forward. For me, group fitness was a second life-line in figuring out how to navigate being a new mom.

I believe that we each find our own way in our parenting experience, but I encourage all new moms (and dads too) to reach out. For eons humans lived in more communal and supportive tribes. There is no reason to try to brave this parenting thing alone.

For me, finding social supports was through playgroups and group fitness. For you it might be something very different, but be sure you reach out. Don’t let fear of not fitting in keep you home…be courageous to go outside of your comfort zone.

Just know, that there is no shame in sharing our struggles, and though our lives might seem amazing from the outside looking in, only YOU know how it’s feeling on the inside. If on the inside it’s not feeling very good…reach out and tell someone. In my experience when I have shared this story with other new moms, virtually all of them start the head nod in agreement.

We are in this together. Now set a goal, and get after it!

 

 

Pay Inequity for Child Care Providers

One of the topics that comes up in my community college classes is about pay inequity for child care providers.

This photo is from a presentation I heard at the Vermont Association for the Education of Young Children​ Fall Conference in October 2018. It shows a glaringly low wage for a woman child care worker with at least a Bachelor’s degree. We know that $12.02 is not a livable wage. The sad truth of the matter is that many child care providers must depend on state assistance in order to stay in the early childhood field.

My community college students often enroll in my courses in order to advance on the career ladder and move from being an “Assistant” into a “Lead Teacher” position. Moving into a Lead Teacher role pays more but the 21 credit hours required for this designation requires them to invest their own money. A few of my students are employed by a public school which often covers the cost of two courses a year. However, the majority of my students are either self employed with an in-home child care or work for a child care center. The margins for these business is narrow and very few have funds to pay tuition for their staff.

Most of my students have goals to first complete the 21 hour credits, and then continue their education to earn an associates. After we examine different career roles and pay rates nearly all agree that earning a Bachelor’s degree is the only financially viable option. Most lament at the snails pace that gaining these credits will take because nearly all are only able to take two courses a semester and juggle their work and life responsibilities.

Recently as a public forum in my area, several child care directors commented that as their employees attain degrees most choose to leave the child care field,. Most often to go work in a public school, so the employee can earn more money, receive health care, paid sick and personal time, have a schedule that doesn’t include swing shifts or long days, and to have the ability to call out knowing that a substitute teacher will be able to cover their duties for the day.

I don’t claim to have a solution to this. In fact, I have tried creating business plans to open a child care center and attempted to work the numbers so I could pay my staff a fair wage, but I just couldn’t get the numbers to work. When I added in myself as the director and budgeted what I was paid as public school preschool teachers the numbers REALLY didn’t work. The responsibilities of a director of a child care center is a tremendous responsibility, and most are paid well below the manager of any other business.

Families cannot afford to pay more for child care, but we cannot continue to expect that keeping wages low will retain the staff who we want watching our children.

Again, I do not know what the solution is, but I do feel like workforce development and pay equity needs to be at the forefront of our Early Childhood Education discussions both at a state and national level.

Regionally in Vermont we have our Building Bright Future councils where these issues have been talked about for at least the last decade. Statewide in Vermont we have our Let’s Grow Kids movement. There are think tanks, ongoing round table discussions, and regional teams all thinking about this issue. It’s an encouraging and hopeful time for the field of early childhood. With my community college students I am straightforward about the issue of pay inequity, and how even by attaining a Bachelor’s degree their earning potential is lower than most any other field.

Simply put, child care staff deserve to be paid more. 

Children deserve to be in programs without huge staff turnovers, and it’s up to us to start figuring out some solutions.

Thank you to all of you who continue in this field despite the pay, but in addition to our thanks and praise, we need to take action in order to come up with solutions.

#powertotheproffession #Askingwhatif #ECE #NAEYC

 

Further reading:

https://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/fact-sheet-troubling-pay-gap-early-childhood-teachers

http://cscce.berkeley.edu/at-the-wage-floor/

Video explaining the Salary Disparities in NYC’s Early Childhood Workforce

Sprouting in a Jar

I grew up with a mom who loved plants, and who always had small businesses that involved plants. In fact, I helped my mom build a greenhouse at three different properties she owned. Growing plants is one way that I feel connected to my mom and to my childhood roots.

1980’s Childhood with my two older brothers! ~Willow Grove, Delaware ~

So naturally, as a teacher and parent, I prioritize teaching children about their food and think it’s empowering for children to learn how to grow their own food.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to grow sprouts in jars. It takes very little time, space, or effort….and kids LOVE to watch the changes that occur from day to day. Children also are more likely to eat food that they’ve helped to grow!

“How to Grow Your Own Sprouts”

Read the package of your Sprouting Seeds for more specific guidelines, but there really are only a few steps.

Step 1 – Wash a couple mason jars, add 1-2 Tablespoons of seeds, fill with water and allow to sit over night (or about 8 hours). Drain and rinse, lie jar on its side.

Step 2 – Every morning and night, rinse the seeds, drain, shake to distribute them around the jar, and lie jar on its side. (Singing to the seeds is completely optional but my inner preschool teacher knows singing grows happier sprouts.)

Step 3 – In about five days your sprouts will be ready to eat. Just give them a final rinse and eat! I like to serve our fresh sprouts on a platter with raw veggies. This winter I have taken to making veggie art and posting it on Instagram….because I think we all need friendly reminders to ‘eat the rainbow’!

Stop on over to Instagram and follow Aprils_Teaching_Tree for your sprout/veggie man updates!

And…I’ve finally gotten over my fear of posting videos of myself. {Drum roll please…} Here is my first ever video explaining the process of sprouting. Click on the link for my YouTube tutorial and subscribe if you’d like updates when my weekly videos are published!

 

Yoga Teacher Training Reflection

This morning I am finishing my written exam for Yoga Teacher Training (YTT), and later today I graduate with my peers from the Heart Space Yoga Studio – 200 hour program. I feel so much gratitude for this experience.

Back in 2015, a couple of months after my mom’s death, I was on vacation in Cape Cod and I knew I needed to do something for myself to heal. So I sent an email to get enrolled in a Yoga Teacher Training. It felt like a way to reorient my own ‘true north’.

Back in 1996, when I was 21, and seeking clarity in my life path, I traveled to Val Morin, Quebec to do my first YTT. It gave me the chance to fully focus on myself, work on my ‘stuff’, and helped me become clear on my vision for life. Now almost two decades later I thought it was time to enroll again in another YTT.

That year I got eight months into the training I realized that I couldn’t finish. I hit a wall with too many things happening in my life and the one thing that I felt was ‘for me’ had to wait. I had hit that ‘pause button’ for three years, and when I started again in the fall of 2018, I knew that the timing was just right.

Grieving is hard work, and I feel we live in a culture that doesn’t understand how to create ‘safe space’ for this phase. We are expected to hurry through our sadness and to not show signs of how much we are hurting, but I think it is in experiencing those feelings that we begin to live into our fullness.

For me, the lesson of  my parents’ early death made me realize that I don’t want to postpone JOY. I don’t want to wait to chase my dreams. I don’t want to fill my life with busy-ness.

My lifelong setpoint is “happy-go-lucky” but this grieving phase of life had me feeling Eyeore-ish. It was so foreign and uncomfortable. Through yoga, I was making time for myself to shed the tears, to do the inner work, and to be comfortable enough to ask for help. Through yoga, we each go for our own reasons. For me, I seek finding home and feeling whole.

For me, Yoga Teacher Training has helped my compass re-adjusting. I know that life will never feel like it used to…and that is okay. My mom had always been ‘true north’ for me, and when she was gone, I felt lost at sea. Somehow, Yoga Teacher Training, is what brought me back on course, taught me how to adjust the sails, and helped me feel like I found solid ground.

With gratitude to my fellow yogis….

 

With gratitude to my teachers….

“Serve, Love, Give, Purify, Meditate, Realise; Be good, Do good, Be kind, Be compassionate.” ~ Swami Sivanada

Andrea Thibideau and the Heart Space Yoga Studio

Seeds, seeds, seeds

As spring begins to arrive we start to think about sprouting seeds and begin dreaming of our gardens. There are countless different ways for us to explore, examine, investigate, germinate, and even feast on seeds. Here is just a sampling of the seed investigations that I have offered, throughout the year, in the preschool programs I have taught in.

Some of favorite seed investigations include:

Seed Exploration Bin – add a variety of seeds or dry beans for closer observation and exploration. Larger seeds such as sunflower, wheat, peas, corn, pumpkin, and beans are great for sensory bins. If you have a large collection of seeds, put them into a bin so kids can scoop, sort, and pour.

Seed Exploration Trays – If you have a small amount of seeds, use trays with bowls.Try saving seeds pods from nature to explore as a cost free alternative. I keep a metal cookie tin in my science center with a nice variety of seeds for children to explore.

“Ziploc Greenhouse & Bean Seeds” – soak beans overnight. Decorate their own greenhouse sheet. Child moistens a paper towel and folds & lays it in the bottom of their Ziploc baggie. Place 3-4 bean seeds onto the towel and partly close the bag. Tape bag to the greenhouse and hang in window. Observe the greenhouse each day and record on “My Observation Log” sheet. (Note: if your classroom windows are cold because of outdoor freezing temperatures, do not hang them in the window because the germination will slow or not sprout at all.) Free printable here: http://kindergartencrayons.blogspot.com/2013/04/growing-beans-like-jack-did-freebie-fun.html

 

Greenhouse – small collapsible ‘greenhouses’ can be purchased such as this one pictured on the right. This mini four shelf unit with a plastic zippered covering was sold at our local Ocean State Job Lots for only $20. This allowed me to grow a larger number of seeds so we could have seedlings both for our school garden and for children to take home seedlings!

Seed Trays Indoors – children delight in seeing multiple types of seeds sprouting next to each other in a tray. It is fun to do daily observations of the sprouts to compare growth, color, texture, and germination rates! If you have access to a grow light and warming seed mat the seeds will grow stronger, but even a sunny window is enough for our young scientists

Seed and Plant Matching – print the matching cards from http://www.montessoriprintshop.com/Free_Montessori_Downloads.html

Have small containers of the nine types of seeds. Display the seeds with the matching cards – Sunflower, Pumpkin, Sesame, Flax, Fennel, Cumin, Poppy, Pomegranate, and Mustard. Children love this matching game!

 

 “Our Seed Book” – this site has 4 different printable covers and detailed directions here http://www.prekinders.com/2012/04/make-a-seed-book/   This Ziploc bag book is made with empty seed packets and real seeds. It’s great to compare the sizes, colors, and shapes of seeds.

 

Examining Seeds – open several seed packets and compare the size, color, and shape of the seeds! Children are often surprised to find out that some seeds have a scent, which is easiest to detect with herb seeds.

Seed Sprouting Necklaces – moisten a cotton ball and put it inside a mini jeweler’s Ziploc bag. Add a seed and close the bag. Poke a hole in the top of the bag and add a yarn or hemp necklace. Make the length of the necklace so it fall where the child’s heart is ~ the warmth of their heart will help the sprout grow. After the roots and first leaves appear, transplant into a small pot and then later into the garden when it’s warm.

Surprise Garden –let children choose from 6-8 different types of seeds, they plant their own container. Let them sprout at school, then send home. Send a list of plants that might be included in the garden.

Sprouting in a Jar – a fun year-round activity is to grow sprouts in mason jars. Start them on Monday and by the end of the week the children can feast on a fresh batch of sprouts!

Finding the Seeds– bring in a variety of fresh fruits and veggies. Cut them open and have the kids help you find where the seeds are located. Scoop and spread out the seeds to dry. These can be planted (though some may not sprout) and others could be used in art projects.  Also try finding seeds in other foods we eat….such as delicious local bagels!

No sun. No soil. No Water. Experiment-take three Ziploc bags and write one sentence on each. One another bag add a small amount of dirt, some water, and three bean seeds. In each other the other bags add three bean seeds and do whatever the sentence says. (ex. the ‘no sun’ bag add the beans, dirt, and water but hide it in a shady place) Observe the bags for a couple of weeks and discuss the results.

Harvesting Seeds – look around outdoors for dry seed pods either from the garden or the wild garden in the forest. Lupine is one type of seeds that are easy for little hands to harvest and then can spread the native species seeds on the edges of the school yard!

Exotic Fruit – children develop their palette in early childhood…so why not bring in unusual and exotic fruits. Try to see how different seeds look in fruits from other parts of the world.

Seeds & Balance Scales- another way to explore seeds to weigh and compare them using balance scales

Grass Heads – this project helps children see how grass or wheat grows. First decorate small clear cups with wiggly eyes and construction paper glued on. (The clear cups let children see the roots, but small pots could also be used.) After the faces are dry, add a small amount of rocks in the bottom of the cup for drainage. Then add potting soil leaving ½ an inch from the top of the cup. Finally add the wheat seeds. Moisten the soil and mist once a day until it sprouts. Show kids how to give their ‘Grass Head’ a haircut.

So many engaging ways to explore seeds….all while dreaming of the days when the garden is in bloom again!

Books about Seeds:

A Fruit is a Suitcase for Seeds by J. Richards

A Seed is Sleepy by D. H. Aston

From Seed to Plant by Allan Fowler

From Seed to Pumpkin by W. Pfeffer

How a Seed Grows by H. Jordan

I’m a Seed by J. Marzollo (compares pumpkin to marigolds)

Just a Seed by W. Blaxland

Oh Say Can You Seed? All About Flowering Plants by B. Worth

One Little Seed by E. Greenstein

Seeds Like These by Paki Carter

Spring is Here! A Story About Seeds by Joan Holub

The Carrot Seed by R. Krauss

The Surprise Garden by Zoe Hall

The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle

We Plant a Seed (Troll First Start Science)