S.T.E.A.M. Kits to Foster Play Based Learning

Join April Zajko, M.Ed. for a half-day training called “S.T.E.A.M. Kits to Foster Play Based Learning“!

Cost: $45 ~ this fee includes an afternoon session as well with Ellen Drolette or Tom Copeland

Date: October 23, 2021

Time: 8am – Noon (with breaks built in) ~ afternoon session 12:30-2:30

Sponsor: Early Childhood Professional Network – Hartford, Vermont 

Workshop Description: 

We will dive into learning about play-based learning through Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM) which are all important skills to foster in early childhood. STEAM education truly sparks wonder and creativity in children and taps into their desire to test out new ideas. The focus of this training is to develop project-based activity kits that early childhood educators can assemble ahead of time so they can ‘grab and go’. Participants will work in small groups and design a list of materials for their topic, list out potential play-based activities & investigations that children may engage in, create a list of loose parts to gather, and create a documentation sheet that is connected to the Vermont Early Learning Standards (VELS) and Teaching Strategies Gold (TSG). Our focus will be to create low cost yet highly engaging learning kits that take some of the stress out of preparing STEAM learning for your children. 

Learning Objectives: 

  • Define play-based learning and the role of the adult in preparing the environment and supporting the children’s ongoing exploration
  • Practice developing project-based activity kits with low cost materials including loose parts
  • Create a list of learning materials for a specific STEAM topic and list out potential play-based activities that children may engage in
  • Develop a documentation sheet that is connected to the Vermont Early Learning Standards (VELS) and Teaching Strategies Gold (TSG)

Presenter Bio:  April Zajko, M.Ed. is a licensed early childhood educator (ECE) and has taught ECE courses for the Community College of Vermont since 2016. April teaches preschool in a public school where she integrate S.T.E.A.M. and nature-based approach to curriculum. April has also lead professional development for ECE staff throughout the state of Vermont for more than ten years and has worked with a wide cross-section of educators to find ways to help make high quality learning accessible in their ECE programs. April’s primary goal is for ALL students to meet with success and to offer professional trainings that are engaging, relevant, and inspiring

To register – go to this link and click on the register button on the left hand side 

Grant Writing for Outdoor Classrooms

Join me for my two hour training, “Grant Writing for Outdoor Classrooms” which I offer FREE every other month as way to give back to my community of nature-based educators.

Not to brag but the largest grant I have have written & that was awarded was for one million dollars! But you know what….one thousand dollar garden grants also can have a HUGE impact when you are working on developing an outdoor classroom.

My next FREE “Grant Writing for Outdoor Classrooms” virtual webinar is scheduled for Thursday Sept 9th from 2-4pm EST!

Send me your email address through DM or email (aprilzajko@gmail.com) and I will email you the Zoom link! 

Throughout my teaching career, grants have given me the opportunity to create things that would otherwise have been impossible to create. The investment of time and energy to write grants pays off when I can offer my students the outdoor learning environment that I envision. My aim for our two hour training is that you leave feeling equipped and ready to write your first grant…and yes, you are ready to get started writing grants so stop stalling!

Here’s a few thoughts to consider while you await our training together!

Seven Ways to Fund Your Outdoor Classroom

  • Cash Donations 
  • In-Kind Donations
  • Fundraising
  • School Budget 
  • Yard Sale ~ Winter Gear Sale
  • Crowdfunding Sites Donors Choose 
  • Grants…are one great way to get larger amounts of money but I encourage programs to explore all seven options!

Writing grants take time ~ It would be easy to think that grants are just free money but in reality you are investing your time in:

  • researching possible grants
  • sifting through the application dates
  • making sure the grant is a good fit for your project
  • filling out applications & writing narrative answers
  • then if you are awarded…you also need to do reporting to account for how you spent the money. 

Grants are NOT guaranteed ~

  • There may be a LOT of competition for a grant that you apply for and the funder may not fully fund your proposal. 
  • Partial funding will get your project started but you still might need to tap into one of the other funding ideas
  • Turnaround times for grant funding varies. You might receive a check as soon as 1-2 months after you are notified of acceptance but I have also had to wait more than 6 months to see the check arrive.

Grant writing feels hard…until you jump in and try it! When you consider the impact that a grant can have on your learning environment then you will know that it’s time to get started! Hope to see you soon!

Curriculum Development for Nature-Based Early Childhood Educators

Looking for a new high quality professional development opportunity to help improve your capacity to create curriculum for your nature-based early childhood program?!

I am excited to announce a new 3 credit course that I have been busy designing and will teach this summer called Curriculum Development for Nature-Based Early Childhood Educators.

This course will be offered at the Vermont Early Childhood Educators Institute 2021 and will be a great course for anyone who wants to incorporate more nature-based strategies into their teaching.

FULLY ONLINE & a very affordable price ~ click the link below for the full information!

Course Description: 

Early childhood educators who support a nature-based approach in their classroom often discover that they need to embrace a unique design to curriculum development. This curriculum work often differs from conventional approaches included in college or previous internship experiences. In the context of examining indoor and outdoor environments, preschool and kindergarten teachers will discuss how to utilize nature to foster skill development in young children and how to meaningfully embed early learning standards in a nature-based program.  We will discuss how we can incorporate authentic observations to assess and monitor our student’s growth and to continually enrich our programs.  Participants will feel empowered to incorporate developmentally appropriate teaching practices including: interactions, learning environment (indoors and outdoors), daily schedules, routines, and implement a dynamic nature-based approach in their classrooms.  Participants will design a nature-based integrated curriculum unit that includes language and literacy, mathematical thinking, nature and sciences, social studies and creative expression for early education. Due to the small class size and course format, participants will have the opportunity to reflect on their current practices as they begin to consider and solidify new concepts presented.

Registration opens May 1st! This summer course is for Vermont based ECE folks since it is grant funded!

https://www.castleton.edu/academics/professional-development-continuing-education/the-castleton-center-for-schools/continuing-education-workshops-contract-courses/early-childhood-educators-institute-2021-schedule-course-information/?fbclid=IwAR3EZ_k06gZcWmMabOVLoP_rvSdm9Rb-K954bdG5m9_f97zqhhK9rOKW1k4

P.O.W.E.R. ~ Path of Wellness, Environment, & Relationship

“P.O.W.E.R. – Path of Wellness, Environment, and Relationships” Hybrid E-Course – Are you ready to reclaim your inner power and clear a path toward the life you envision? Join me this summer for a six-week online course that will help you reconnect to your most powerful self.  With all that is happening in the world it is easy to feel like we are giving away our power, burning our candle at both ends while we are on a hamster wheel not getting to where we want to go. This course will help you identify how to refuel so that you prevent burning out.

We will will practice recognizing and addressing issues related to vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue.

We will explore the eight domains of wellness and determine which areas to add focus and attention.

We will discuss ways to improve the environments that we live, work, and socialize that align with our core values.

We will brainstorm how to develop nurturing and supportive relationships as a way to build support one another.

Throughout the six week course, participants will hear inspiring stories of growth and transformation that others have found on their own path back to their P.O.W.E.R.

“P.O.W.E.R. – Path of Wellness, Environment, and Relationships” – the summer course begins the week of July 11th and runs for six weeks. There will be six meetings “in real time” on Zoom for one hour ~ day of the week & time to be determined. There will also be at your own pace assignments to help integrate the strategies into your life.

Investment: $197

Registration is not yet open ~ but to get on the list to be notified, email – April Zajko, M.Ed. ~ aprilzajko@gmail.com

April Zajko, M.Ed. is the founder and owner of April’s Teaching Tree, a consulting business that aims to deepen our roots in connecting to nature and stepping into our full powerful selves. April has led professional development programs for hundreds of teachers and child care providers throughout the state of Vermont, and is now exploring ways to share her knowledge with people around the globe. April provides online and in-person professional development and consulting with a focus on integrating nature, art, and self care. Her flagship e-course, “P.O.W.E.R. – Path of Wellness, Environment, and Relationships” helps individuals reclaim their inner power and clear a path toward the life that they envision. 

Outdoor Classrooms Community Conversations

I am excited to announce my “Outdoor Classroom Community Conversations” that are open to anyone who is interested! Throughout the Spring of 2021, April’s Teaching Tree will lead two monthly *FREE* community conversations about outdoor classrooms & nature-based education.

April Zajko, M.Ed. is dedicated to building community & deepening our roots for nature-based education

Format for these conversations:

10-15 minute slideshow and discussion led by April Zajko

15 minute guided small group activity using ‘break out rooms”

30 minute whole group conversation

Other details:

Community conversations will be on Zoom (to get the link – email aprilzajko@gmail.com )

No registration required

FREE

There will be NO certificate or PD hours for attending since this is an informal conversation.

You are welcome to invite friends and share the link.

NOTE: These sessions will be recorded and will be posted on April’s Teaching Tree on Facebook & Instagram. 

Currently Scheduled Sessions:

Outdoor Classroom Vision Map – Sunday, March 14, 2021 4-5 pm EST

Outdoor Classroom Overcoming Obstacles – Sunday, March 28, 2021 4-5 pm EST

To get the link – email aprilzajko@gmail.com 

Growing Outdoor Classrooms ~ 3 credit course

Growing Outdoor Classrooms

3-credit course through Castleton University

Taught virtually by April Zajko, M.Ed.

April is a Licensed Early Childhood Educator and Reading Specialist. Her bachelor’s degree was earned at Delaware State University, and her master’s degree was earned at University of Virginia. Her passion for lifelong learning led her to study in-depth about place-based learning, mindfulness, holistic development, nature-inspired approach to early childhood, and creating supportive learning environments for all children.

Course Description: Every outdoor classroom is as unique as the school or program that designs and builds it. Whether you are starting from scratch, transforming a traditional playground into a nature-inspired play area, or expanding an existing outdoor classroom, this course will help you define and prioritize design elements for your space. Research confirms that learning outdoors promotes child development and learning in all domains – physical, cognitive, and social/emotional. By understanding the benefits of outdoor learning, participants will discover ways to share information with stakeholders as a powerful way to communicate the value of creating nature inspired learning spaces

Audience: Early Childhood Educators (PreK – 3rd grade) 

Course Dates: April 25 – May 20, 2021 

There will be synchronous meetings via Zoom on two Saturdays, May 1 & May 15 for six hours each day. The remainder of the course will be at your own pace.  

Credits: 3 Undergraduate or Graduate Credits

Cost: $975

Deadline to register: April 1, 2021

Registration steps:

  1. Fill out the registration form to hold your spot. (Registration is limited to 20 students per semester.)
  2. Mail payment – Course payment of $975 is payable by check to the Fairbanks Museum. This is due 2 weeks from the time of registration. Please mail your check to: Fairbanks Museum, Attn: Karina Weiss, 1302 Main Street, St. Johnsbury, VT 05819 
  3. Confirmation of registration will be emailed to you once payment is received. ​

For additional course or registration information, please contact Karina Weiss 

Required Readings/Texts: (not included in cost of course)

Cultivating Outdoor Classrooms: Designing and Implementing Child-Centered Learning Environments by Eric Nelson, Redleaf Press 

Course Goals

  1. To explain the developmental benefits of learning in an outdoor classroom and create buy-in with stakeholders within your school or early childhood program.
  2. To develop a vision map and action plan for developing an outdoor classroom that meets the need all children.
  3. To define obstacles, develop solutions, and create a funding plan in order for the outdoor classroom to be established and thrive for years to come.
  4. Establish or expand the outdoor classroom that meets the developmental needs of young children

Course Objectives

Through participation in this class, the student will be able to:

  • Recognize the differences between an outdoor classroom and traditional playground
  • Describe the significance of nature-based education in early childhood (preschool through 3rd grade) and name the developmental benefits from learning in an outdoor classroom.
  • Demonstrate ways to share information with stakeholders about outdoor classrooms as a way to communicate the value of creating nature inspired learning spaces
  • Explore ways to get buy-in from stakeholders and discuss ways to assemble in inner circle of supporters 
  • Design a vision map of your outdoor classroom with multiple phases of implementation
  • Research ways to secure funding to build or expand outdoor classrooms 
  • Develop an action plan for creating an outdoor classroom based on your vision and research. 

Loose Parts and Building

A couple new loose parts for my preschool classroom ~ firm polystyrene inserts from new kitchen appliances & these wooded scraps meant for kindling that were only five dollars for about 20 planks! There was a huge interest in construction and building before break so I am eager to see if these materials spark their curiosity!

Another simple idea that we’ve been playing with is making “Snow Faces”. Since we didn’t have snowman making snow, we figured out that if scooped snow into bowls we could still ‘build snow faces’ with natural loose parts!

My new professional development offering “Math & Loose Parts” that I offered in November & December was a success and I promised I would add ideas to my blog. I invite you to also come check out my business page “April’s Teaching Tree” on either Facebook or Instagram since I am much more active there than here on the blog!

Best wishes,

April

Snow Faces!

Winter Inspired Math Activities

Counting Practice Counting how many steps to get outside, counting how many sleds, counting the number snow trucks, …counting just about anything that we see!

Counting Tracks Notice tracks in the snow and see if you can count how many steps the animal took to get from one place to the other. Compare the steps for children and the adult. 

Magic Number = Counting Sets “Today our ‘magic number is ___. Help me count everyone in line before we go outside to make sure we have our magic number!” (The magic number is the number of children who are here today and is an embedded counting routine we do several times a day. Try writing the numeral down to work on number recognition as well.  

Sled Count “1-2-3 blast off”- count up to three before the sled riders get their push down the hill. Practice counting higher up to 10 if they are patient enough! Or try counting backwards 3-2-1!

Snowman Features – Practice counting groups by counting the number of buttons, eyes, mouth pieces, etc. 

Snowball Fractions- Create several large snowballs and practice cutting them into ‘fair shares’ – talk about halves, quarters, and fourths! Make a ‘snow cake’ by using a large plastic tote as a mold and cut it into enough pieces to serve to every child! Count how many kids there are and then count to make sure there is enough for each child!

Snowball Groups – Create two different groups of snowballs – compare which looks like there is more. Count and discuss 

Painting Numerals in the Snow

Tracking & Position Words – Even if the only ‘tracks’ on your playground are the neighbor’s cat or squirrels children will love to follow them and describe what the animal was doing. Ask leading questions that get the children to use spatial words. 

Sledding Conversation  Make sure the rope is inside the sled or it will slow your ride down. Both friends need their hands on top of the sled so our fingers don’t get pinched. Put your legs around the person in front. When you get down the hill move to the side of where we sled so no one bumps into you. Pull the sled up to the top of the hill. 

Stick Shapes – explore building 2D shapes by offering a collection of sticks of various sizes. Squares, rectangles, triangles…as well as coming up with creative designs. Read the book, “Not a Stick”!

Shape Stamps – explore making 2D shapes by bringing out different shapes that you cut out of cardboard. Children can push the cut out into the snow to make designs or pictures. 

3D Snow Shapes & Sculptures- explore making 3D shapes by making snowballs (spheres) and using plastic molds in different shapes. Orange juice container cut into smaller square (cubes); snow brick makers (rectangular prism), and 5 gallon food buckets (cylinder).

Measuring Snow – Set up a “Snow Measurement Board” by getting a 24×24 inch of exterior grade plywood. Have the children help you paint the plywood on both sides and edges with exterior white paint. Purchase a Measuring Stick that has easy to read numbers. Take a reading each day for total snow, and if you clear one half of the board each day you can measure ‘new snow’. Read more at this link for specific directions or just have fun exploring measurement when you think about it. 

https://www.weather.gov/dvn/snowmeasure

Measuring Snowmen – Create a snow family of different heights then compare and contrast the different sizes. Try measuring them using a tape measure or non-standard unit such as Yarn. Read the book, Snowballs by Lois Ehlert. 

Measuring Snow Angels 

Have several children lie down near each other to make Snow Angels. Afterwards talk about the different sizes and compare sizes of each child’s snow angel. 

Walking Stick – Measuring – A walking stick can be a great non-standard unit of measurement. Create several different length walking sticks and use them to measure things in the outdoor classroom. 

Measuring Icicles – children love to examine and investigate icicles. Talk about whether the icicles are short or long; narrow or wide; heavy or light. Make predictions about which one will take the shortest amount of time to melt and which one will take the longest time to melt. Photograph the icicles next to a ruler and compare every hour with a new photo. How does it change over time outside vs. inside?

Recipes in Snow Kitchen – children can explore measurement by adding plastic measuring cups and measuring spoons to the ‘snow kitchen’. Add various sized bowls or containers for scooping and pouring and packing…all great ways to explore volume with snow!

Snow Volume – have children fill up a variety of containers with snow. Pack the snow in tightly and look how full it is. When you go indoors take the filled containers with you and watch the snow melt. Compare how much water is left once fully melted. 

Patterns in the Snow – Use two different types of natural materials and create an AB pattern (such as pinecone, stick, pinecone, stick…). Have children help figure out what comes next and practice extending the pattern. 

Pattern Making with Snowballs & Snow Molds – Use two or more different containers that can be used as a molds – create a pattern such as Snowball, Yogurt container, Snowball, Yogurt container…