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!

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. ~

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. 

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. 

Winter Science for Preschool

Backyard Science – When we think about science and young children we want to focus on topics that are relevant to their own life. Noticing the changes that happen during the four seasons is one of the most powerful topics. The idea behind ‘place based education’ is that children should be learning and interacting with this place that they live. When in the outdoor classroom it is often the unplanned teachable moments that are the most powerful learning time. We do NOT need to set up formal or long lessons but rather engage in dialogue, ask open ended questions, not rush to give answers but rather to encourage young children’s wonderings and self discoverings. If a question comes up don’t pull out your phone to figure out the right answer but instead acknowledge it as a great question and start “wondering” together with the children!

Books for Teaching about Winter – check out this blog post for lots of book ideas

Bird calling – While outdoors notice the bird songs that you hear and try to figure out which bird is making the sound. Try using a bird call app to communicate with the birds while outside. Check out this awesome resource for learning more about bird songs when indoors –

Bird feeders & Observing Local Birds – Want to attract more wildlife to your outdoor classroom this winter? Try adding a bird feeder and notice which local birds visit throughout the winter. Be strategic in where you place the feeder so children can also observe birds from a classroom window as well. Consider making a “bird  observation station” in the classroom by giving them a variety of bird identification books and pamphlets and child binoculars to explore. On warmer days you can take these tools outside in a basket to use as well…though children who are playing often scare off the birds. With bird feeders be mindful of when to put them out so you aren’t attracting bears. Learn more backyard bird watching and bird feeders at this link:

Catching & Observing Snowflakes – follow the instructions at my blog post for how to make these simple necklaces to help observing snowflakes easier. Read Snowflake Bentley!

Cloud Watching – Many children have not discovered the simple pleasures of lying down and gazing at the clouds. Read the book, “It Looked Like Spilt Milk”, and then look for shapes in the sky. Build your own background knowledge about clouds at this link –

Frost Line – Look around your play area on days there is frost and notice if you can find a ‘frost line’. Ask children “I wonder” questions about the frost and then model making your own observations: “I noticed that here is crystal looking frost but here there is wet grass. Hmm…I wonder why? As the sun shines the frost will melt but if other areas are still in the shade the frost will remain. Bring children’s awareness to this phenomenon and mark with sticks to show where the line is when you first get outside and then an hour later. 

Frozen Bubbles – Bring out bubble solution and try making bubbles on very cold days. With COVID we do NOT want children spreading germs by blowing on one another but perhaps this is one that the teachers might save for another year or do just with their immediate family at home? 

Maple Sap & Syrup – Explore how we get maple sap from trees and boil it into sap. Take a field trip to a maple sugar house and eat sugar on snow!

Mitten Test ~ Insulation (indoor activity) This is a great ideas to prove the point to children that the type of mittens matter when playing in the snow. Years ago at a parent open house I had the water table set up with snow that was melting and various kinds of mittens and gloves. Parents and children were asked to play together at the snow bins and we had conversations about insulation, cold, and wet ~ which mittens felt best. It drove home the point that we need kids with waterproof gloves…though we still did see some kids show up with only knit ones! 

Pine Tree Exploration – walk around your area and look for all the different kinds of evergreen trees. Take note of the shape of the tree, what kinds of needles the tree, and find pine cones that have fallen from your trees. 

  • Can you notice different smells from the various types of pine boughs?
  • Do the boughs feel different — spikey, soft, bendy, firm? 
  • What differences do you see in the needles? Length, color, size, number of needles in a group
  • Can we find pine cones on the branches? 
  • Can we find pine cones on the ground?

Shadows – Look around your play area on sunny days and take note of the shadows.

Ask children “I wonder” questions about the shadows that you are noticing such as: “Over here there are shadows but in this area there are no shadows but lots of shade. I wonder why?” Taking photos of shadows helps children understand how the movement of the sun makes shadows change shape. Explore this same concept indoors with toys and flashlights! Read the book Guess Whose Shadow? by Stephen Swinburne  to build on this concept. Also read the classic picture book Moonbear’s Shadow by Frank Asch.

Snow Drifts –  Does snow drift in certain areas of your play area? If so, help the children notice what is happening and why. Can you place items in the path of the blowing snow and make designs?

Snowflake Bently The story of Snowflake Bentley really captures the attention of children and I think we should be inspired by his parents enthusiasm for him to follow his interests. Read more at my blog:

Snowman Snow – I can’t tell you how disappointed I was when I figured out that there were different kinds of snow and not all snow will allow you to make snowmen. Growing up in Delaware we really only had a few snowfalls a year and I remember always being able to make snowmen. Snow however can be either too wet or too dry to make snow. When children are eager to build snowmen and they can try reading the book, Snowballs by Lois Ehlert, and begin to put together your own ‘sack of special snowman items’ so when you do have the right kind of snow you can get right to work decorating them! “Scientists actually classify snow based on its moisture content—the amount of free water relative to ice crystals—not to be confused with the amount of water the snow would produce if melted. Snow comes in five categories: 

  • dry (zero percent water), 
  • moist (less than 3 percent), 
  • wet (3 to 8 percent), 
  • very wet (8 to 15 percent) and 
  • slush (more than 15 percent)

Build up your own snow knowledge with this link:

Snow Melt with tin pie plates – Super simple but oh so fun. Have children fill up tin pie pans with snow and then bring indoors. The shallow amount of snow will melt quickly. 

Solid & Liquid Exploration – At the water table indoors explore this concept with snow, ice, and icicles. When outdoors look for more signs of solid and liquid water on your playground and take photographs!

Solid & Liquid Exploration with Ice Balls – Put water in a balloon and let it freeze solid (outside or in the freezer). Put water into another balloon and let the children compare and contrast. Ask open ended questions and elicit rich vocabulary as you explore this concept. Remove the balloons and compare – then take the ice balls outdoors to play with. *Balloons are a choking hazard so be sure to keep them out of reach of children. 

S.T.E.M. Building Challenge – Think of all of the possible building challenges that you could have children create to foster their problem solving skills! These might be fun for your school age children to do in your after school program and will benefit the younger children during the day! Some ideas include:

“Stick Fort / Lean To Building” 

“Snow Wall Construction” 

“Snow Ball Catapult” – using just a board and a rock

“Build a Snow Bridge”

“Snow Bank Stair Steps” – carve in steps up a steep snow bank

Temperature – Exploring how temperature impacts our outdoor play is a great topic to learn about. Discuss – how does temperature affect the snow? How does temperature affect how we dress? Explore that even though it’s winter here in other parts of our country it is not as cold and in other parts of the world it is summer! 

Thermometer – kindergarteners can learn how to read a color-coded thermometer as part of your weather exploration. See the thermometer clothing visual thermometer idea here –

Tools of Scientists – On warmer days, bring magnifying glasses and binoculars outdoors for children to make observations. Explore how one tool lets us see far away and the other lets us explore close up. Check out the idea of making a snowflake catching necklace with a magnifying glass-

“Tool Shop” Exploring Tools for Winter – In winter there are tools that children may not have explored before – ice scraper, snow brush, snow shovels of different sizes, snowball maker, ice molds, and snow brick makers. Set up an outdoor “Tool Shop” and encourage the kids to explore how to use the tools. Extend the learning indoors and explore the many tools children use in our classroom: hole punch, scissors, paper punch, magnifying glass, funnel, measuring cup, markers & pencils, rulers — the list is endless. Read an informational book such as “Tool” by Ann Morris to explore the concept of tools, how many different tools exist, and how tools are used around the world.  I also love to read the book, “Tool Box” by Anne and Harlow Rockwell to talk about the tools of a carpenter. 

Animal Tracks in the Snow – Fresh snow makes it really easy to see who has been visiting our play area. Look for animal tracks, make predictions, try to follow the tracks, take photos and try to identify using a track book or track printable. Free printable at this link and some other resources that could be fun

Kid Tracks with Sticks – Create your own tracks and try dragging sticks to make a path for another group of children to follow. Read the book, “The Snowy Day” by Ezra Jack Keats and notice the tracks the boy makes with his feet and with the stick. 

Water in Snow? – Give each kiddo a cup to fill with snow to bring inside afterwards. Ask them what they think will happen to the snow. Observe what happens to the snow after they bring it in. Involve the children in discussing the changes and have them dictate a sentence or story to you about your ‘experiment’. Take photos and create a class book!

Weather Observer – Build children’s understanding of various winter weather and build their vocabulary of weather terms. Collect and record daily weather on a monthly calendar that you bring outdoors. Create a simple symbol to represent each type of weather and perhaps record the temperature at a specific time of day. It would be great to compare the fall to winter and talk about the differences.

Wind Watchers – Help children become more aware of the wind by hanging windsocks that the children made as well as hanging wind chimes on the playground. These two tools help children both see and hear when the wind blows. Can we figure out which direction the wind is coming from today? Read the book “The Wind Blew” by Pat Hutchins. 

Bubble Day

~ Bubble Day ~ when my children were younger we loved to explore with bubbles and I thought I would share a post I wrote on the topic back in 2012 when I wrote about our home learning adventures! “Bubble Day” is a perfect way to celebrate the beginning of ware summer weather.


The Night Before:

Make a homemade bubble recipe: 1 cup of dish soap (I used Dawn, but many websites suggest Joy brand), 9 cups of water, and the secret ingredient to making super strong bubbles– glycerin. The original recipe called for 8 tablespoons of glycerin, but I don’t usually use that much.

Directions: Pour in the dish soap first then fill the rest of the bottle with water. Lastly add the glycerin and stir or shake. Then let it sit overnight! The longer you let it sit, the better the bubbles.

Let the Bubble Day festivities begin!!!

Project 1: Beaded Bubble Wands (Fine Motor)

We started the day my making our own bubble  wands by using pipe cleaners and pony beads. These are best to make BEFORE you bring out the bubbles.
Use cookie cutters to bend the pipe cleaners around to make a wide variety of shapes, then put on the beads to make them colorful and a little more durable. If you want to make really sturdy wands, make a handle out of chopstick or Popsicle stick and then wrap the pipe cleaner around it.These are so easy to make that even my 3 year old made hers on her own! Math extension ~ practice making patterns with the beads

Project 2: Wash Up Station (Sensory Play) Whenever we get bubbles I save the empty containers. On “Bubble Day” put bin on a small table. Fill a metal bowl with warm soapy water. The kids splash and play and eventually everything gets a thorough wash.
I like that this kept the kids busy for a while in the morning before it warmed up outside, and because their ‘messy play’ was just soapy water the floor in the sun room got a bit cleaner in the process!


Project 3: Homemade Bubble Machines (Art) – to make simply hole punch two holes on opposites side of a plastic lid of short container (such as cottage cheese, dip, etc). Fill the container with a small amount of water and dish soap, and then blow until bubbles come pouring out of the top.
Be sure kids know how to blow out so they don’t get soap in their mouth. The first time I did this my then 2.5 year old could not remember to blow out and got a large mouthful of soapy water.  (Tip:Put a pin prick at the top of the straw to prevent, or slow down, soap being sucked up. Use shorter containers like hummus tubs for little hands. The cottage cheese container worked well for my six year old.) These bubble machines are great for tub time too!

Project 4: Filling Station (Math – Volume) Explain to the kids that we wanted to fill up all of our bubble jars so that we could play bubbles anytime we wanted. We filled them in a dishpan and then used the dishpan “overflow” as our main bubble tub for outside bubble time. I stashed the majority of the filled bubble bottles away so we could use them over the next few weeks. I also immediately put the remaining mixture away and out of reach so we didn’t use it all in one playtime. Math – filling bottles is a great way to explore volume. Add plastic measuring cups and spoons and talk to further explore math concepts.

My three year old loves to just dump the bubbles so I got her busy at the wash station filling her bottles with soapy water (not the concentrated bubble mix). This way she could fill, dump, fill, dump (repeat, repeat) and I didn’t have to get all bent out of shape that she was wasting our mix. {This was a challenge before….but I think giving her alternatives and me being a bit more understanding has made Bubble Day more fun for all parties involved!}

Project 5: Play with the bubbles outside while mommy mops the floor!
To make this a peaceful playtime, I set up two stations for my kids. My son got the dishpan and selected a bunch of wands. For my three year old, I set up the outdoor water table with soapy water on one side, and bubble jars on the other side. I explained why we don’t dump them…but then I left her to play to her hearts content without policing the bottles. The next time I checked on her the bottles were dumped but she has having a blast. {Deep breath…it’s all good!}

Project 6: Bubble Challenges! (Cognitive)
Playing bubbles is fun and very open ended. Certainly you don’t need to make Bubble Day structured but I thought that it might make my older child more engaged if he had some challenges to complete. So I came up with a little list that I would whip out when he began to lose interest~

Bubble Challenges:
Catch a bubble upside down
Find the largest bubble
Find the smallest bubble
Count how many seconds you can hold a bubble for
How many bubbles can you get to connect together? Talk about double, triple, quadruple

Other thoughts that bubbled into my mind as we played today:

Indoors? We have had a successful indoor bubble station at Dabble Day, which is our local children’s day. We found that if you do the activity on a tile or linoleum floor and then lay down huge pieces of cardboard, it’s not slippery and very easy to clean up afterwards. Obviously outdoors is more fun though!

The beginning of summer is the perfect time to make a big batch of bubbles! If the bubbles are going to be stored for awhile you may want to use distilled water. I didn’t worry about it because I am pretty sure we will use up our batch pretty quickly!

Tell the kids about “Bubble Hands”. If the kids dip their hands into the soapy mixture they have a better chance of catching bubbles without them popping. It’s a great cooperative game to have the kids work together to see how many bubbles they can catch.

Saving up empty bubble bottles, wands, and mini bubble jars is an economical way to have a huge selection of bubble jars for the kids. My kids love having a wide variety of wands and after saving them for a few years we have gathered a nice selection of different shapes, sizes, and lengths.

Other fun wand making ideas:
LIDS: Draw shapes onto recycled plastic yogurt lids, and then I cut out the design. (These are fun to use as tracers at the Writing Center as well.)

CYLINDERS: Raid the recycling bin for cylinder shaped containers and then cut off the bottoms so they are tubes. Kids can dip and then blow through to make bubbles. Small sections of PVC pipe or PVC connectors would be good…I’ll add that to list of important play things to buy!

Next time we do bubble day I want to:

  • Straighten wire coat hangers and make them into over sized shapes. One tip is to use duct tape to make sure the ends are not sharp.
  • Borrow a mini baby pool from someone and try the hula hoop bubble making trick
  • Create a pulley with a straight bar so the kids can make a ‘bubble wall’ like they have at our local children’s science museum
  • Bubble painting
  • Bubble Machine, Electric version – I don’t think I would buy one of these, but maybe a friend has one we could borrow one day.
  • Bubble Wrap Rubbings – lay it on a table, place paper over it and do a crayon rubbing. A Lego base board is fun to do rubbings on as well.
  • Bubble Wrap dance party – put large pieces of bubble wrap on the floor and jump & dance!

How about you….what are some bubble ideas you like? I’d love to hear some feedback!!!

Children’s Books to Inspire Collecting & Playing with Natural Materials

Thanks for dropping my April’s Teaching Tree. I am April Zajko, M.Ed. and I am nature-inspired early childhood educator. Through my blog, writing, and professional development offerings I aim toward ‘growing a holistic view of childhood’.

Children need nature now more than ever ~ fresh air, freedom, movement, and play….all important parts of raising happy and healthy children. Please subscribe to my blog by putting your email address in the top right corner!

Follow along with April’s Teaching Tree on Facebook or Instagram for a daily photo and idea to for “Growing Outdoor Classrooms”!

Books are perfect way to inspire children and families to collect and play with natural materials. Loose parts are open ended play materials foster children’s creativity and imagination!

No book list is ever complete but here is a start. I’d love to hear about books that you like to read aloud to children to inspire playing with natural loose parts! I have tried to create categories…but near the top of the list is a new book I added this year to my book collection called “Anywhere Artist” and an old favorite “Hannah’s Collection”. 


“In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kinds of variables in it.” ~Simon Nicholson




Collections by Margaret Ballinger and Rachel Gosset

Hannah’s Collections by Marthe Jocelyn

Look What I Found! By Deborah Schecter (Level A Reader)

Small Treasures by Akimi Gibson

Snowballs by Lois Ehlert (collection of good snowman making things)

When This Box is Full by Patricia Lillie



A Stick is an Excellent Thing: Poems Celebrating Outdoor Play by LeUyen Pham

Bees, Snails, & Peacock Tails by Betsy Franco & Steve Jenkins

Discovering Nature’s Alphabet by Krystina Castella and Brian Boyl

No One But You by Douglas Wood

One Little Balsam Fir: A Northwoods Counting Book by Lesley A. DuTemple

Stranger in the Woods by Carl R. Sams II



A Rock is Lively by Dianna Hutts Aston

Everybody Needs a Rock by Byrd Baylor

If Rocks Could Sing: A Discovered Alphabet

If You Find a Rock by Peggy Christian

Let’s Go Rock Collecting by Roma Gans

Stone Soup by Jess Stockham

Rocks: Hard, Soft, Smooth, Rough

On My Beach There are Many Pebbles

Elizabeti’s Doll

Rocks, Fossils, & Arrowheads (Take Along Guides) by Laura Evert

Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran


Sticks, & Bark:

The Alphabet Tree by Leo Lionni

Not a Stick by Antoinette Portis

Stick Man by Julia Donaldson

Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry and Tom Lichtenheld

Trees, Leaves, & Bark (Take Along Guides) by Diane Burns


When Clay Sings by Byrd Baylor

Clay Boy by Mirra Ginsburg



Leaf Jumpers by Carole Gerber

Leaf Man – Lois Ehlert

Leaves by Violet Findley

Leaves on the Trees by Thom Wiley

Leaves! Leaves! Leaves! By M & G. Berger

Look What I Did with a Leaf! By Morteza E. Sohi

Make a Leaf Rubbing by M. Ballinger,Gosset

The Leaves are Falling One by One by Metzger

We’re Going on a Leaf Hunt by S. Metzger

When the Leaf Blew In by Steve Metzger

Why Do Leaves Change Color? By Betsy Maestro

Acorns & Squirrels

Acorns Everywhere! by Kevin Sherry

Busy Squirrels by Melvin and Gilda Berger

Chipmunk at Hollow Tree Lane by Victoria Sherrow

Earl the Squirrel by Dan Freeman

Just One! by Sam McBratney

Nuts to You! by Lois Ehlert

Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt

Squirrels by Brian Wildsmith

The Busy Little Squirrel by Nancy Tafuri (board book)

The Secret Life of Squirrels by Nancy Rose

Those Darn Squirrels! by Adam Rubin



Evergreens are Green by Susan Canizares

The Pinecone Walk by Barbara Springfield

Night Tree by Eve Bunting


What Lives in a Shell? By Kathleen Weidner Zoehfelf

Seashells, Crabs, and Sea Stars (Take Along Guide) by C.K.Tibbitts

Seashells by the Seashore by Marianne Berkes

April’s Teaching Tree ~ Upcoming Trainings Spring 2020

*Big news ~ April’s Teaching Tree has moved all of our early childhood professional development training sessions online for the remainder of Spring 2020! These sessions are approved for Vermont Northern Lights/ BFIS hours and are offered to early childhood educators for FREE thanks to our sponsors!

These sessions will fill fast but if you would like April Zajko, M.Ed. to offer a training for your ECE network or staff please send me to

~~ Growing a holistic view of childhood! ~~


Finding Your Way: Ethical Decision Making  – 6 hours (Advance Specialized Care)

“This training uses reflection and conversation to introduce critical concepts in the NAEYC Code of Ethical Conduct. Participants will practice strategies to effectively manage ethical dilemmas that arise in their work with children, families, and coworkers.”  FREE  – Register at the link (Max 20) 

Choose which session works for your schedule:

A.Wednesdays, April 22 & 29  9-11 a.m.

B. Wednesdays, April 22 & 29  1 – 3 p.m.


Building Collective Resilience = 3 day, 6 hour mini-conference — FREE — April 27-29, 2020 — Six different presenters are coming together to present a powerful online conference.  April’s session is “Powerful Tools for Community Care”  – Description: For years we have heard about the importance of self care and this continues to be important, but through the last few weeks we have seen the powerful influence and collective impact of a “Community Care”. This session will be packed with practical “Community Care” strategies we can use to support one another (both in person and through digital spaces). Topics will include: story circles, peer support chats, collaborative process art, professional reflective partner work, and finding your tribe.

Register at this link:

Growing Outdoor Classroom 6 hours – via Zoom – FREE – Max 20! 

Online sponsored by Stephanie Carvey in Rutland, Vermont 

(See description below) 

May 4, 2020 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm

May 6, 2020 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm

May 11, 2020 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm

May 13, 2020 6:00 pm – 9:30 pm



Growing Outdoor Classrooms with April Zajko, M.Ed.

Sponsored by the Caledonia &, S. Essex and the Orleans & N. Essex Building Bright Futures 

Format: Delivered by Zoom 

Time: Mondays & Thursdays, 10:30 am- Noon 

Dates: May 4, 7, 11, 14    (6 hours) Cost: FREE

Open first to early childhood educators who work in Caledonia, Orleans, Essex  until 4/27/2020. (After 4/27/2020 if slots remain the workshop will be open to other Vermont ECE professionals)

To register email

Registration is limited to 20 ~ first come first served!


Description: Every outdoor classroom is as unique as the school or program that designs and builds it. This training will define terms related to outdoor classrooms, give an overview of what an outdoor classroom can become, help define key factors in how outdoor classrooms differ from typical playgrounds. Participants will explore the developmental benefits of teaching in an outdoor classroom and learn how to communicate these benefits to parents. 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 learn ways to share information with stakeholders as a powerful way to communicate the value of creating nature inspired learning spaces. Once stakeholders understand how outdoor classrooms positively impacts student growth, development, and learning they will be more confident in investing time and money into building or expanding the outdoor learning space. ** Whether you are starting from scratch, transforming a traditional playground into a nature-inspired play area, or expanding an existing outdoor classroom – this training will help you define and prioritize design elements for your space. Participants will create the “Outdoor Classroom Map and Vision” which is a scaled map of your current space and how you would like to transform the space. In this model participants will also list their current resources, identify barriers, and create a wish list so that their vision of an outdoor classroom begins to take shape. 

 Learning Objectives:

  1. Participants will create a glossary of terms related to  outdoor classrooms and explore an overview of what an outdoor classroom can become in early childhood programs.
  2. Participants will identify key factors in how outdoor classrooms differ from typical playgrounds. 
  3. Participants will explore the developmental benefits of teaching in an outdoor classroom and learn how to communicate these benefits to parents. 
  4. Participants will learn ways to share information with stakeholders as a powerful way to communicate the value of creating nature inspired learning spaces. 
  5. Participants will create the “Outdoor Classroom Map and Vision” which is a scaled map of the current space and how you would like to transform the space.
  6. Participants will define and prioritize design elements for their space. Participants will be guided to list their current resources, identify barriers, and create a wish list so that their vision of an outdoor classroom.



P.O.W.E.R. – Path of Wellness Environment and Relationships  

Sponsored by the Caledonia &, S. Essex and the Orleans & N. Essex Building Bright Futures 

Format: Delivered by Zoom 

Time: Friday mornings 8-9 a.m. 

Dates:  May 1, 8, 15, 22, 29, & June 5

6 hours 

Cost: FREE

Open first to early childhood educators who work in Caledonia, Orleans, Essex  until 4/27/2020. 


To register email 

Registration is limited to 20 ~ first come first served!


(After 4/27/2020 if slots remain the workshop will be open to other Vermont ECE professionals)

Description: As childcare providers it is easy to feel like we are giving away our power and begin to feel burned out. During this time of social distancing and facing the COVID 19 pandemic we are even more overwhelmed in how to care for ourselves. We will explore the eight domains of wellness and determine which areas in life we need 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 for one another.  Throughout the six week session participants will have the support of an ongoing group that will give them the opportunity for growth and transformation as they find their own path back to reclaiming their inner power. 

 Learning Objectives:

  • Participants will practice recognizing and addressing issues related to vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue.
  • Participants will explore the eight domains of wellness and determine which areas in their life they need to add focus and attention as a powerful way to develop meaning self-care routines.
  • Participants will discuss ways to improve the environments that we live, work, and socialize to align with our core values. Journal prompts and guidance on how to begin a Reflective Practice will help providers become intentional in how they create safe, nurturing learning and work environments.
  • Participants will create self-care actions plans with daily, monthly, and yearly goals to revitalize their own personal wellness.
  • Participants will brainstorm how to develop nurturing and supportive relationships with other child care providers as a powerful way to find support in the field.
  • Participants will explore how to establish “professional support teams” and “community care” models in order to foster joy and longevity in the field of Early Childhood Education


Virtual Teaching with Young Children

“Virtual Teaching with Young Children ~ Out of the Box thinking for Early Childhood Educators” 

By April Zajko, M.Ed.

3/27/2020  – rough draft form for now! 🙂


None of us have a page in our early childhood education (ECE) programs about what to do when a worldwide pandemic hits. None of us as schools, whether preschool or higher education, have a detailed plan for what to do when we need to close our program to protect the health and well being of our students or staff. None of us were ready for the cascading events that unfolded over the last two weeks.

So please….do not for one second feel like you didn’t do enough this week to meet the needs of the children or families in your early childhood programs. We each are doing the best we can to figure out how to precede.

It’s the end of week and I promised the participants on my plethora of Zoom Calls entitled “Virtual Teaching with Young Children” that I would create a blog post as a “round- up” of the information and resources I had gathered. My voice is hoarse from all the Zooms, webinars, and Facetimes I hosted and participated in this week. When the WiFi didn’t hold out….we even moved to chatting by landline!


I also promised my family I would log off the computer by 5 pm on Friday and would be screen-free on Saturday 3/28/2020. So I am going to keep my word to both my ECE friends and to my family…this is what I have to share so far.


*Please subscribe to my blog as I will update and refine this post next week.



Rooted in best practice ~ Guiding Thoughts:

  • There is no such thing as online preschool! These virtual methods are to help serve the needs of our children and the families we support. We will always need high quality early childhood programs!
  • Self care is more essential now than ever ~ please care for yourself first, then parent, then serve as an early childhood educator ~ this sequence is essential!
  • Developmentally appropriate practice – this is the opportunity to share practical, easy to understand ideas for parents so they know how to help their child learn through PLAY
  • Content that we deliver must be play based
  • Nature helps us during times of crisis ~ content needs to encourage outdoor play
  • PLAY is the curriculum in early childhood
  • Even our online offerings should promote the holistic development of children ~ physical, cognitive, and social-emotional. We are growing healthy and happy children and so during a pandemic we need to protect children and PLAY is a powerful way to do this!
  • Worksheets are not developmentally appropriate for preschool age children. Sending home a packet of ‘sheets’ is not the way to provide for families in crisis.
  • If you already sent home a packet of worksheets or are required to continue to send home worksheets….it’s okay. No guilt.
  • Apps do not replace real life interactions
  • Screen time limits are important for preschoolers (link to guidelines)
  • Infants and toddlers should not be on screens (link to research)


Virtual platforms are tools that we are learning and implementing but it takes time to learn how to use these effectively.

Live & Interactive Platforms (link to comparisons)

Morning Meeting Model using Zoom (link to Miss April’s video)

Interactive Family Art Lesson (link to Miss April’s video)



Parental involvement:

Poll for time availability

Inventory access to technology

Clear feedback will help us figure out how to make this work – survey questions


Questions and Worries:


Children’s Privacy –


Equity –


Copyright infringement – artists include children’s authors and illustrators; if you are reading a book in a public forum or posting to YouTube be sure you have read information about this (link)



“What does the research say about Virtual Teaching with Young Children?”


Still working on:


Schedule of Zoom Q&A calls the week of March 29th:   (will be posted by Sunday evening)


Schedule of “April’s Teaching Tree” online trainings that will count for Professional Development hours:  (will be posted by April 1, 2020)


This blog post is clearly in draft form….check back next week for a little more polished document! I need to log off and go back to my own family! ((BIG VIRTUAL HUGS))






Watch the video “Working Virtually with Children” that can be found at my friend, Sally Haughey’s website “Fairy Dust Teaching”.  If you are going to offer live group chats (such as Zoom) check out her free printable at the same line, “20 Zoom Activities: Simple and Engaging Activities with Young Children”

 “How to Tell Stories to Children” – Brush up on your own story telling skills by watching this   video –

Play by Age – ideas for ways to playfully support learning and development The activities are developmentally appropriate for each age category and support multiple domains.