Pinecone People

“Pinecone People” – Today I made “Pinecone People” with a group of 20 preschoolers out in the forest. I wasn’t sure how the natural materials would stick because everything was wet from two days of rain. I sort of cheated and pre-glue beads to the pinecones so there would be some level of success, even if the other bits were falling off, at least the heads would stay on! I also had some plain pinecones so children could create whatever they wanted.

Pinecones are challenging in that they tend not to stand up on their own and have very little flat area to glue onto. So this led to exploring the following ‘adhesive materials’ and I share some thoughts on how it went.

The next picture shows the art materials I gathered that I thought might be useful to adhere natural materials to the pinecones. I wasn’t sure how these would work but I wanted to have a variety of options to test out. (If I was making these indoors I would have used my trusty low-temp glue gun since it makes things stick even if the surface isn’t flat.) But that’s a challenge of being outdoors is figuring out how to make it work even in damp weather! Listed below are some thoughts on these materials!

Liquitex Acrylic Medium – I read about this in Sally Haughey’s book, “Wonder Art”, and thought I would give it a try. It’s much more expensive than glue but so worth the investment. A little bit goes a long way and it seemed to work well with a wide variety of textures. Obviously the drier the material the easier things seemed to stick, but even with some damp materials it all stuck really well. So I would definitely suggest adding this to your teacher art supply kit. I used a popsicle stick to get a little out at a time and kept it in a little scoop so I could keep track of it.

Glue dots sort of worked especially if stuffed into the pinecone. If the materials were lightweight and dry, they seemed to hold fairly well. Today with the damp though, wet materials did not stick well.

White glue was all but useless since pinecones have very little flat surfaces and take way too long to dry. This was frustrating for some kids and though they can be independent with the glue it really didn’t work well.

Twine & yarn was woven into the pinecone independently as decoration and with adult support the yarn was used to tie the leaves on like a belt or scarf.

Fuzzy sticks (pipe cleaners) ended up being a great tool. Many preschoolers could independently twist them onto the pinecone and have their people holding acorn babies or used to hold on their wings.

Air Dry Clay was not really great to get the materials to stick together but some enjoyed squishing materials into the clay and squishing small bits into the pinecones.

Wool roving wasn’t in my materials bag today but in hindsight I could see the kids enjoying weaving it into the pinecone, creating hair, or making arms with it.

Moss also wasn’t in my materials bag today but would have been fun to add for hair or decorations.

Milkweed Pods all the little pinecones became ‘babies’ and I was wishing I had some little pods to use as cradles!

A related discovery was that using washable markers on wooden beads led to smears and bleeding. I discovered that the wooden beads and colored pencils worked well though the color was light. I was tempted to use a permanent marker but knew that many other aspects of the projects needed adult support.

Have you ever made “Pinecone People”? Any tips or tricks that you discovered?!

Ice Lanterns ~ Arctic Temperature Fun!

One of the realities of life in northern Vermont that winter brings us extreme low temperatures. Rather than deny it or bemoan it, I suggest that we embrace it!

When I know that we are going to have a Arctic like temperatures I like to seize the opportunity to make: ice lanterns, ice balls, and other icy explorations for my preschoolers. This post is a round up of pictures to inspire you to try your own hand at making the most of the frigid temperatures!

ICE LANTERNS – gather up large plastic containers and fill with water to freeze, add some natural materials like pine boughs. When frozen solid, put on eye protections chip a little indent with a screwdriver and insert tea lights or small candles. Some sources suggest using two different containers one inside the other, but my method makes a really solid lantern that will last a LONG time! I use mine outdoors and love the glow amongst the dark night!

Create a whole display with multiple ice lanterns and adorn them with icicles. After dark the icicles glow as the shadows of the candles dance!
Ice Balls ~ these are great fun to make with children. If you want more perfect spheres, fill the balloon with water and then set inside a similar sized plastic bowl. If you lie them flat like here they don’t roll as well…and you definitely want to try rolling these for a bowling game or with ramps!

As the lanterns are used the crevice becomes deeper. You can try adding more water on another frigid night so that it will last longer. The ice lanterns I made in 2021 lasted for almost 2 months!

Ice Sun Catchers – using small shallow pans try creating sun catchers with natural materials. Children love to create these and then once frozen…deconstruct them. Just remember eye protection when chipping or smashing ice.
Ice Sculpture – go big or go home! Grab all the buckets and containers you can find and make a entire palace out of ice. I saw took this photo years ago as I was driving home from southern Vermont. The family had created an ice rink and also had this inspiring colorful ice sculpture display!
Ice Hunting – I have an ongoing project to find the largest icicle that I can. While hiking the Rail Trail in December we found some beauties but these are tiny compared to last years 5 footers!
Bundle up ~ invest in a Balaclava!

No exposed skin is the way to survive (and even thrive) in the frigid temperatures. It turns out that with layering and getting out of the wind, you can still get outside even when an Arctic blast rolls through! I shared this rather unflattering photo on Instagram recently with the caption: “Question: What would you do to spend some quality time with your teenage son? Answer: Travel to the planet Hoth for some ice fishing while hoping that a Tauntaun might come offer a warm spot to defrost! “

Unlike Elsa who said, “Let the storm rage on. The cold never bothered me anyway.”…many of us just are NOT comfortable being outdoors in the cold. In one of my recent trainings, “Nurtured by Nature: Winter Wellness” I shared some of my tips for staying warm outdoors.

Staying Warm Strategies:

  • Get the right gear & wear layers. Not sure what to buy ~ borrow gear from friends to test out & talk to others. Outdoor stores are happy to talk about options to keep you warm. You don’t have to break the bank when you learn how to layer. (which is a post for another day)
  • Try going outdoors for shorter lengths of time
  • Be active while outdoors – keep moving and PLAY!
  • Go out at the warmest part of the day
  • Avoid windy areas 
  • No exposed skin — get yourself a Balaclava type mask which is made of stretchy, breathable fabric that protects your face while wicking away moisture. Function before fashion!
  • HYDRATED before going out
  • Consider using toe or hand warmers 
  • If the cold really bothers you…invest in heated gloves, socks, vest, or jacket! It’s not a sign of weakness but rather a strategy that might motivate you to go outdoors more often this winter!  

Additional blog posts for winter ideas:

Winter Science for Preschool – https://aprilsteachingtree.com/2020/12/18/winter-science-for-preschool/

Winter Inspired Math Activities – https://aprilsteachingtree.com/2020/12/21/winter-inspired-math-activities/

Children’s Books for a Winter Study Unit – https://aprilsteachingtree.com/2017/11/15/childrens-books-for-winter-studies/

Snowflake Catching Necklaces – https://aprilsteachingtree.com/2017/01/19/snowflake-catching-necklaces/

Upcoming Training ~ “Nurtured by Nature: Winter Self Care”

Sponsor: Northern Lights at CCV

Instructor: April Zajko

With shorter daylight hours and frigid weather you might find yourself ready to hibernate. This two-hour training will give you a toolkit of simple wellness and gentle self-care strategies to integrate into your daily routines. You will learn ways that nature can gently nurture you and help you feel invigorated throughout the winter months!

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

Looking for a wellness & self-care training to offer with your child care network or organization? Need something to help boost morale and help renewed in the work that you do with young children? I would be delighted to find a few hosts for my P.O.W.E.R. training series!

Training Title:  P.O.W.E.R. ~ Path of Wellness, Environment, and Relationships

Ten hours of professional development training hours. (Counts in BFIS as Advanced Specialized Care, see note at the end)

Format: Delivered by Zoom – several different options available. One hour per week for six weeks -OR- as 3 two hour sessions -OR- one full day SIX hour training; we can also do additional application homework for a total of 4 hours of outside of class work to include reading articles, self reflection, and written self care action plan.

Training fee: $125 per hour x 6 hours = $750 (for up to 15 participants)

Capacity: 15 maximum participants. A smaller group allows for a more supportive experience.

Workshop 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 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 sessions 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 meaningful 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

Bio for Presenter: April Zajko, M.Ed. began her career as a massage therapist and yoga instructor. While earning her bachelor’s degree in Psychology, April began to lead women’s retreats and stress management seminars at a holistic health center in Delaware. Once April earned her Master’s Degree in Education, she began to weave her holistic minded approach into her work with young children and with her adult learners. Currently, April teaches early childhood courses for the Community College of Vermont and leads professional development for child care providers around the state of Vermont. April graduated from the 200 hour Yoga Teacher Certification program at the Sivanada Yoga Center in Val Morin, Quebec in 1996 and earned a second 200 hour Yoga Teacher Certification from the Heart Space Yoga Studio in St. Johnsbury in March 2019. April is also an October 2019 graduate of the Snelling Center for Government’s Early Childhood Leadership Institute. April embraces the value of reclaiming our personal power, both as we advocate on behalf of children while simultaneously learning how to take good care of ourselves. April believes that through the models of self-care, professional support teams, and community care our joy and longevity in the field of Early Childhood Education will be persevered.

Professional Team Building and Self-Care – counts as ASC hours for BFIS

• Team development: roles and effective practices

• Reflective practice and supervision

• Learning about self-care strategies for professionals

• Recognizing and addressing vicarious trauma

“Winter STEAM Training”

Photo by Kristin Vogt on Pexels.com

(Vermont Based Early Childhood Educators) New training coming up ~~

“Winter S.T.E.A.M. ~ Ideas to Foster Science Play & Literacy”


Tuesdays, November 16 & 30, 2021 ~ 6-8pm on ZOOM!


Sponsored by the Randolph Early Education Network
Cost = FREE!
***To register email Belinda Snow- Gifford your BFIS Number and place of employment happytadpoles@hotmail.com

Workshop Description:

❄️ Want to be geared up with ideas for all WINTER that will foster play-based learning through Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM)? Eager to add winter themed hands-on STEAM projects while building literacy skills into your early childhood education program? This training is geared for children ages 2-6 years old but all the ideas can extend into school age care and after school programs.
⛄️ Winter brings so many opportunities for wonder, creativity, and exploration , and creating STEAM Kits will help you feel prepared to engage children throughout the winter months. STEAM Kits are teacher created bins so you can easily foster science play-based learning for your children. These kits will use materials that you likely already have in your program or can gather locally at an affordable price. These kits are meant as “grab and go” tools so you can take them outdoors (or even use indoors) that will inspire your scientists and engineers to try out a variety of play-based learning ideas.
✏️ During the workshop participants will separate into small groups to develop a list of materials for the project-based activity STEAM kits. All of the ideas will be recorded in a Google Doc and the notes for designing all the Winter STEAM Kits will be shared with the group via email.
💻 In this 2+2+2 model, participants will complete a two hour practice component where they assemble their own “Winter STEAM Kit” utilizing materials they already own and select ONE children’s book that can be used in conjunction with the kit. (Participants will earn SIX hours of professional development by completing all three parts of the training — Zoom session on 11/16, homework assignment done prior to the second Zoom session on 11/30).

Learning Objectives:

❄️ Define play-based learning and the role of the adult in preparing the environment and supporting the children’s ongoing exploration during *winter*

❄️ Examine developmentally appropriate literacy opportunities inspired by Winter for children through play-based STEAM learning.

❄️ Practice developing project-based activity kits with low cost materials that can be used this winter.

Grant Writing for Outdoor Classrooms

Join me for my two hour training, “Grant Writing & Fundraising for Outdoor Classrooms” which I offer FREE 3-4 times per year, as way to give back to my community of nature-based educators.

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

My next FREE “Grant Writing for Outdoor Classrooms” virtual webinar is scheduled for August 9, 2022 from 6-8 pm EST!

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

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

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

Seven Ways to Fund Your Outdoor Classroom

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

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

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

Grants are NOT guaranteed ~

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

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

Curriculum Development for Nature-Based Early Childhood Educators

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

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

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

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

Course Description: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Investment: $197

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

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

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.