Ode to Teacher Tom

Happy Birthday shout out to the one and only Teacher Tom…

I have been reading educational, holistic living, early childhood, parenting and mommy blogs for more than a decade, and one blog of stands out more than the rest. Teacher Tom! 

Teacher Tom is a play-based early childhood teacher based in Seattle and he writes about daily stories and tidbits from his classroom….but he seamlessly weaves in positive discourse about freedom, democracy, rights, and an unwavering trust in children.

Last summer I was near his stomping grounds and I was trying to summons the courage to ask to come visit his program. I typed up a catchy (albeit slightly “fangirl”) message but it sat unsent in my email under drafts. I was kind of giddy to at the thought of going to see his utopia first hand. Since Teacher Tom does claim his program to be the Center of the Universe, it really should be part of our one day stop in Seattle. Then the ‘rational gremlins’ came into my thinking I figured “Chances are too many people want to visit his classroom”. He is probably is turning them away in droves. So why bother asking.

Visiting with Teacher Tom might be as iconic as seeing the fish mongers toss fish!

I mean Teacher Tom is at least as famous as the Gum Wall!

We could even bring him a cup of coffee from a little cafe we learned about!

So I kinda regret not summoning the courage to ask for a tour or a meet up with Teacher Tom. But today as I read his daily post, I felt motivated to finally say thanks, and was moved to send this happy birthday blog post message, from the other side of the country.

Thank you, Teacher Tom for being a storyteller. A weaver of children’s experiences that powerfully demonstrate the deep engaged learning that can occur in a play-based early childhood education program. Thank you for showing us an example of honoring and trusting children to learn through self-directed play.

Honestly, over the years a few of your posts grate my “public school teacher” nerves. I’d read and grumble, “Teacher Tom…clearly out of touch with reality”. But I’d keep coming back to read because I know that his program is on to something, and through reading his approach I began to become clearer in my own approach to ECE. I agree that creating a high quality preschool program is essentially growing your “own unique and quirky community” that honors the place and people where the program is located. I continue to learn and grow through reading your blog, and hope that you continue to do so for many, many years!

Thank you for continuing to blog, Teacher Tom. If you find your way to Vermont, I have a tipi you can stay in or can build you snow quinzee. And if I find my way back to Seattle, I will dust off that email and ask to stop by!

Sincerely,

April

 

 

Play Advocate & BETA Test

Years ago I read about creating a play advocate binder from Lisa Murphy. Her #binder challenge was a practical way to empower early childhood educators of all backgrounds to embrace the research, read it, print it, and then feel confident to promote learning through play. At the time I thought that the Ooey Gooey Lady must be a soul sister, and I followed along her journey from the periphery. I also had been printing, reading and highlighting articles for years to prove my motto: PLAY = LEARNING!

My binder turned into binders, because there is so much important research about ECE and play. Those articles changed me and my classroom practices, so the binders got turned into workshops that I presented in person. Those workshops helped me meet all sorts of amazing early care providers in Vermont, who told me about more articles and books to read. Which lead me to more stuff to learn, synthesize, and apply. And during this journey of ‘teacher as researcher’ I realized that unequivocally PLAY = LEARNING!!!

Well for 2019, I have set my intention to be a more vocal PLAY advocate.

I believe ALL children deserve the right to PLAY! (((shout it from the mountain tops)))

I have been figuring out how my voice could add to and enhance all the great things already happening. I shy away from political action, loathe asking people for money or doing fund raising, and might rather pluck my eye lashes out than to argue with people entrenched in their own ways of doing things. My pal Sally Haughey, of Fairy Dust Teaching fame, urged me to take my ‘teacher as researcher’ practical approach and use my voice to lead online e-courses. So that’s what I am working on this school year…and there is definitely a lot to learn.

Earlier this week I sent out a little message to a private early childhood group about my goal of being a “play advocate” and about the BETA test of my first online course. I want to test out my course with a small group of diverse early childhood educators so that the content is applicable to wider audience and is tested in the field.

Within an hour of sending out my little message,who is the first to respond but the guru of play advocacy herself! Yes, Ms. Ooey!!! Pinch me, I might be dreaming!

To quote Ms. Ooey’s idea about creating a binder of articles related to play, from a FB post from 2013…. “Put PLAY = LEARNING! PRESENTING THE EVIDENCE. on the cover. From this point forward, copy anything and everything that supports a hands on play based program and put it in there. The intention is to see that it’s not our personal preference that “play is the way” but it is what is backed by science, evidence, anecdotes and experience. It gets it out of us appearing to simply “want it” and shows that others have already done the work to support it.”

For me being a play advocated started with a binder….and now I feel equipped (and most days confident enough) to say that PLAY is a right that is worth fighting for! Maybe I need to sew a cape or make a protest sign!

Stay tuned to April’s Teaching Tree because I have lots of research based information and have the know-how to make it do-able for a wide variety of settings.

I am learning the ropes of the social media world and can now be found here—

Blogging at: www.aprilsteachingtree.com

Facebook – April’s Teaching Tree

Instagram – Aprils_Teaching_Tree

Pinterest – azajko

 

And if you want to be in the small group of participants to BETA test my new course email me – aprilzajko@gmail.com The official well-polished course will be ready for release later in 2019!

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

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!

boy child childhood happiness
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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.

Tech in Early Education?

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When asked about the role of technology in early childhood classrooms I get this little churn in the pit of my stomach. I have not embraced the need for screens for young children, and with the limited hours that my preschoolers are with me I want to offer them the very best that I can. So I have graciously declined having more than one iPad in my classroom and have removed all the desktop computers so the floor space could be used for (dare I say it) a learning center that is more developmentally appropriate. I also think in terms of economics…how many quality learning tools could I purchase with the money it would cost to buy a class set of iPads.

A few weeks ago in the grocery store a local early childhood educator that I know stopped to chat and told me she was working on her Master’s research project. Her topic of focus what technology in early ed and she was in the midst of reading 15 current research articles and soon would decide what her research would focus on.

I literally started to bite my lower lip. Positive self talk began in brain, “Be respectful, don’t jump up on soap box. Let her talk. Maybe you are getting old and grumpy, perhaps her research view might be more up to date.”

As we chatted I politely said that though other ECE providers are excited to learn that they will have 1:1 iPads for all the children in their programs, I have successfully held out. I mentioned wanting to spend more time in nature and to develop the indoor learning environment so it was play-rich, and that I believed there was no role in preschoolers needing to go to kindergarten with iPad skills.

The conversation ended politely but I thought maybe I should have a stronger opinion. Maybe I should voice my concern about the glare, the zoned-out-ed-ness, or the addiction that most all of us face with our smartphones, iPads, and laptops. Maybe I should question how our disconnected society of social media has trickled it’s way down to toddlers. Our passive consumerism now begins before our babies talk. YIKES!

So the next time someone asks my opinion I am going to reverse the question and ask them, “What kind of tasks that the child is engaged with on the screen?” I will listen attentively, and then my follow up question will be, “So is the app sort of like a digital worksheet?” Likely most conversations will end there and we will agree to disagree.

I know in my bones (and valid research supports) the fact that worksheets are NOT best practice for learners of any age, and especially more so for our youngest learners. Most apps are worksheets in disguise with cartoon characters, bright lights, things the move fast, and sounds. So just as we had to stand up and push back against spending our day completing workbooks with 3-5 year olds we need to push back against the invasion of technology.

We know that ample research proves the importance of PLAY in early childhood. We should no longer feel the need to defend our practice of creating uninterrupted blocks of time for children to play. Child-directed play where the learner gets to choose which part of the learning environment to spend their time. We need to be ready to protect play and we need to take an active in our role of explaining the value of play to our stakeholders.

This is where the one lonely iPad comes in handy. Through digital story telling, documentation panels, and/or weekly newsletters with photographs we can use the power of technology to make learning visible. We can show our administration the importance of play and demonstrate to them what the children are learning while engrossed in deep and meaningful play. Many administrators where preschool is located in a PreK-8 school have limited understanding of early childhood and developmentally appropriate practice. As professionals we can take what we know and show them through photos or videos how our children are learning and growing in all domains.

So the next time I am asked about the best use of technology in an early childhood setting I won’t have a queasy feeling in my stomach. I’ve got a boiled down one minute speech, which by the way you are more than welcome to borrow, steal, cut and paste, make into a meme, or sing from the mountaintops.

“The most powerful use of technology in an early childhood classroom is in capturing the action of ‘kids at play’. Through video, photos, or digital storytelling we can illustrate for parents and stakeholders the many ways that children grow through play. We can harness the power of technology to make visible the deep learning and engagement that happens every day in our early childhood programs.” ~April Zajko

 

For my college student friends – further reading from national organizations related to the topic:

NAEYC Position Statement on Technology and Media

American Academy of Pediatrics – The Power of Play 

Young Children in the Digital Age: A Parent’s Guide by Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Ed.D.

Nature-Based Play and Learning: A Literature Review

 

 

 

 

Private and Quiet Spaces

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Imagine in your mind a preschool classroom and likely you immediately think of a busy, noisy, and chaotic room filled with little people running to and fro. Then imagine that you are a “quiet child”, what does this busy classroom look like to you?

As an early childhood educator, I want to ensure that my classroom is welcoming and inviting to ALL children. So as I design my classroom and set up my learning centers I want to ensure that there are spaces that are offer privacy and quiet for children to go to seek solitude. This might be the writing center that is sized for just two children at a time or a listening center with only two headsets. This might also be a small table in a corner of a classroom set up with a felt board or puzzles that invites just a couple of children at once.

The expectations of these private and quiet areas are explicitly taught to the children. We work towards learning not to interrupt children who are playing in these areas, that our voices are softer, and that we call all have a turn in the area when space allows.

These quiet and private spaces are not used as a punishment, and staff don’t send children there as time out. Rather these spaces are seen as an oasis that children learn to enjoy to select on their own. I share information with parents about how we use these spaces and encourage them to create a similar area at home.

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In addition to spaces for two children I also like to create an area that is designed for one child. I call this space “Tucker’s House” and introduce it after reading the book “Tucker Turtle Takes Time to Tuck and Think”. Tucker teaches young children in an age appropriate way how to manage his anger when things don’t go well. Including the soft turtle puppets and calm down toys are two other tools that support this area of the classroom. “Tucker Turtle” is a scripted story from the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning, which can be downloaded for free at this link: http://csefel.vanderbilt.edu/resources/strategies.html

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I believe that creating these spaces for privacy and quiet help to empower children to know that when they feel like they need to take time to themselves that they can. Often I find that children retreat to these quieter areas and observe what is happening in other places in the room. It is important that we remember that about one third of the population is ‘introvert’ and that it is not our role to make children more extrovert.

One of the best books that I have read in my career is “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” This book really helped me understand that our ‘quiet children’ do not lack energy and are not missing social skills. Instead we need to honor introverts for who they are and that means that we create space for them to be in the role of observer, time to be reflective, and support in finding quiet amongst a busy classroom environment.

 

 

 

Farm to School & Early Ed Resources

 

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Growing Minds Preschool Toolkit

http://growing-minds.org/farm-preschool-toolkit/

“All of our farm to preschool resources are compiled into our new Farm to Preschool Toolkit. The toolkit contains all of our preK lesson plans, “This Week in the Garden” activity guides, and “Farm to School Goes Home” weekly newsletters. It also includes sourcing guidance, tips for cooking with young children, and more!” Note: I sent mine to Staples to be printed since it is 210 pages and it cost me $16.

 

Multicultural Collection of Farm to ECE Books –

http://www.pareadysetgrow.org/book-list/?ct=t(Ready_Set_Grow11_28_2017)&mc_cid=93d78583de&mc_eid=b7c5f86429

“The Food Trust’s multicultural collection of farm to ECE books highlights children’s books that feature characters from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, many of which are authored by writers of color. The list also includes a number of books that are either bilingual or written exclusively in Spanish. These books cover a wide variety of farm to ECE related topics including gardening, farms, cooking, family meals, farmers markets, shopping for food and more.”

 

Farm to Childcare Curriculum Package

https://www.iatp.org/files/2014_07_16_F2CC_Curriculum_f.pdf

“Inside this curriculum package, you will find activity ideas and resources for implementing Farm to Childcare at your childcare center. Many of these resources are ready to use, while some are examples that offer opportunities for you to customize to your own context. Lesson planning charts are provided to help you introduce the children at your center to locally grown food items and concepts.” Note: I sent mine to Staples to be printed since it is 176 pages and it cost me $15.

 

Cultivating Joy and Wonder: Educating for Sustainability in Early Childhood through Nature, Food, and Community

https://shelburnefarms.org/our-work/resources/cultivatingjoyandwonder

“Engaging activities, essays, and resources that encourage children to explore and engage in the world around them. The book is the fruit of Shelburne Farms’ years of experience in early childhood education and sustainability, both on the Farm and with partners at the Sustainability Academy and King Street Center in Burlington, Vermont”

 

My First Garden

http://rodaleinstitute.org/myfirstgarden/assets/pdf/rodale-hshs-program.pdf

“Rodale Institute, the birthplace of the organic movement, has put together this resource “My First Garden,” to help teachers integrate school gardens into their classroom curriculum. This curriculum is designed for preschool or kindergarten children, but could be adapted to suit early elementary school needs.”

 

A Roadmap for Farm to Early Care and Education: A Guide to Understanding Farm to School Opportunities in Early Care and Education Settings

http://www.farmtoschool.org/Resources/Roadmap_FarmtoECE.pdf

 

 

National Farm to School Network – Database of hundreds of resources

http://www.farmtoschool.org/resources

 

Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and Farm to School

http://www.farmtoschool.org/Resources/ESSA_Toolkit.pdf

“In 2015, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was reauthorized as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and it includes many new opportunities for the integration of farm to school and ECE activities in educational settings. This toolkit is designed for educators, advocates, parents, and farm to school and ECE stakeholders to understand and act upon the opportunities ESSA provides.”

 

Farm to Preschool: Farm Field Trips (By EcoTrust)

http://www.farmtopreschool.org/pdf/states/or/State_OR_Howtohostapre-kfarmfieldtrip_v2.pdf

“Short guide to planning a preschool field trip to a farm, includes information on finding a farmer, example trip schedule, and supply list.”

 

Benefits of Farm to School (Fact Sheet)

http://www.farmtoschool.org/Resources/BenefitsFactSheet.pdf

“Farm to school programs provide a variety of benefits to students, parents, schools, communities and farmers. This fact sheet offers a research-based overview of the benefits of farm to school and a list of sources. (Updated April 2017)”

 

Growing Healthy Kids through Farm to Child Care

http://www.publichealthlawcenter.org/sites/default/files/phlc%20fs%20Growing%20Healthy%20Kids%20through%20F2CC%20Oct%202014.pdf

“Next to parents, child care providers can be some of the most influential people in helping children get a strong, healthy start in life. The Public Health Law Center has developed a series of resources designed to inform and support efforts to cultivate child care settings that promote healthy eating, active play opportunities, reduced screen time, and tobacco-free environments. This fact sheet explains the Farm to Child Care movement and provides tips for child care providers about how to incorporate fresh, local food and healthy food education into their programs”

 

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