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

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

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

Location = St. Johnsbury ;

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

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

Gardening ALL YEAR with Children – Wednesday, May 29th

Mathematical Learning through Messy Play – Wednesday, June 5

Engineering with Eco Art  – Wednesday, June 12

Process Art for All Ages– Wednesday, June 19

Natural Materials Make & Take Workshop – Wednesday, July 17

Constructivists Approach to Learning Environments – Wednesday, July 24

 

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

Child Development – Summer 2019 – CCV in Saint Johnsbury

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

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

 

Block Center Inspiration ~ Photo Blocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beating Postpartum Depression with Fitness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Pay Inequity for Child Care Providers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#powertotheproffession #Askingwhatif #ECE #NAEYC

 

Further reading:

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

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

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

Yoga Teacher Training Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With gratitude to my fellow yogis….

 

With gratitude to my teachers….

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

Andrea Thibideau and the Heart Space Yoga Studio

Grieve through ART PLAY

To be clear, I am no grief expert and suggest that you talk with some more knowledgeable than me about your grief.

Today, I want to tell you a couple of ways to work through my grief. I feel like I could write a dissertation about this topic, but today I am setting a ten minute timer and offering just some first thoughts.

When I sat beside my mom’s bed and held her hand as she took her last breaths a song popped into my mind. So I sang as many of the lyrics as I could remember and her breathing changed, her body seemed to relax, and within the hour she was gone.

I went online and listened to the song and cried. I doodled. I cried. Repeat. Repeat.

I decided that the best way to grieve for myself, and for my children, was to intentionally make time to PLAY. I began to ask myself a very serious question, “Will this bring me JOY?” and if the answer was no, then I declined the commitment or wiggled out of saying yes. A couple of friends were offended, and then I told them that my life priorities had shifted to self care for myself and prioritizing my own family.

Art PLAY – open ended, process oriented art, and finding our laughter again. Multi-generational art play is the sweetest medicine for a grieving family! I am lucky to have a room in my home we call “The Studio”, put honestly, most days it was just a few markers at the dining room table. When you are grieving, give up on the idea of Pinterest worthy set ups…it is the “making” that matters to feed your soul, not creating a image for your social media feed.

Out of time to write today, but here is some advice I just posted to a friend:

“Lay out some water color paints, white paper, and other art supplies. Children have a beautiful way of expressing their thoughts, and when grown ups PLAY and explore the process of art the whole family can release. Our faith guides our words we say to children, and in my experiences the less I say and the more I listen, the better we all move through our grief. And DANCE parties in the kitchen, explain to kids that it is okay to feel both SAD and HAPPY and whole range of feelings after saying goodbye. So much love to you, please, take time to yourself as well.”

Thank you, Pete Seeger, your song continues to soothe generation!

Turn, Turn, Turn

Positive Role of Police Officers & Young Children

As a preschool teacher I always include community helpers in my dramatic play area, but I also realized that it was important to intentionally teach what the community helpers roles were in our lives. Talking about police and firemen are two topics that are especially important because young children might be frightened by their uniform or by misinformation they have heard. Teaching that police officer’s role is to serve and protect might bring up conversations or questions that the children have. Children who have (or had) an incarcerated parent or family member might have lots of questions, and it is important to create a dialogue with both the child and with the family.

Sometimes I over hear a frustrated parent at the grocery store tell their child, ‘if you are naughty the police officer will come arrest you.’ It’s cringe worthy to me because I want children to have a positive view of police officers. I want children to know that police officers are in our communities to help, not to punish or threaten us. These negative images of police can impact children even when they are very young.

As an adult, I also know that there are many accounts of police brutality but those few incidents do not detract from the vital role officers serve in our communities. The upsetting stories of tragedy or violence that children might be hear about from their families or crime shows they might see on television leave many children with mixed messages.

As an early childhood educator my number one goal in my classroom is to communicate to children that they are safe and that there are adults who they can always turn to for help. Below is a list of activities that focus on how create a positive view of police officers in our classrooms, and I would appreciate your feedback on additional ideas. (Also stay tuned for a separate post about firemen)

Ways to create positive relationships between young children & police:

  • Read age appropriate books about police and ways officers care for our community. “Office Buckle and Gloria” is a humorous book about a police officer and his dog who present safety talks to children. This books helps frame the conversation how police officers follow rules that help keep us safe, and the dog, Gloria, will keep the kids engaged and laughing!
  • Add a police uniform or badges to the dramatic play center.
  • Post photos of community helpers in your classroom. If possible, post photographs of local police so the uniform is familiar to them.
  • Lego Police set or Police props in the block center give children the opportunity to pretend to be police officers, and through observation and reflection give you a chance to talk about their feelings about helpers in the community.
  • Become pen pals with a local officer and develop an on-going friendship.
  • Ask the local police to bring a cruiser over for the children to sit in. Learn how the CB works, and make a pretend CB for the classroom to use to call for help.
  • Take a field trip to the police department to get a behind the scenes tour.
  • Create a special card thanking the police department, or invite a police officer in for a party. National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day is January 9th, though any day could be a celebration.
  • Host community events (such as a Bike Rally or Walk to School) and ask local police officers to participate. On-going events that build rapport between children and officers is the best way to develop a sense of trust!

 

Additional Resources:

Coping with Incarceration https://sesamestreetincommunities.org/topics/incarceration/

Evaluating Children’s Books about Police 

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1rytbtFbHtH6UYRLzUQDf3h4gJ6noSPIAxhHJsfo-QTw/edit#

 

If you have additional ways that work well in your program, please email me and I will update this list periodically. aprilzajko@gmail.com