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

Evaluating Children’s Books about Police


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


Play Resolution 2019

Happy New Year!

Today is the day that many of us set intentions or create resolutions for ourselves for the coming year. We examine the past year and take a retrospective look at ourselves and our work with children and families. We bring into focus what is most important and try to reorient our work and personal lives in that direction.

Each year I select an individual word that captures my intention, and put a lot of thought and focus in deciding the word. (Drum roll please…)For 2019 my word is:


As an early childhood educator I feel that I have taken on a new role as a “Protector of Play”. I haven’t yet made a cape or designed an action hero costume, but I feel a sewing project coming on soon!

We know that ample research shows that play is an essential part of the healthy development of children. We know that child-directed play is a primary contributor to the mental, physical, and social-emotional wellbeing of our children. Yet as teachers or care providers of young children we feel like we need to continue to defend the rights of children to have time to play. WHY?

Sadly, time for play has been eroded away for most children and it’s time to take a stand for PLAY!

Outdoor play, unstructured play, open ended art, and play for all ages…

I won’t get on my soapbox today, but I am eager to share specific strategies for how to put PLAY at the center of the curriculum. And will also be reminding you that grown ups need PLAY and self-care to make 2019 the best year yet!




Creative Schools Initiative Teacher Institute

April’s Teaching Tree is excited to announce that we will be partnering up with the Vermont Creative Schools Initiative (CSI). April Zajko will be the Early Childhood Educational Consultant for the CSI Teacher Institute for the 2019-2020 school year. The institute will have a tailored strand for teams of teachers in grades preschool – 3rd grade, and we are actively recruiting Vermont schools who would like to be involved.

art backlit dark dawn
Photo by Matheus Bertelli on

Teams of teachers attend a week-long professional development institute the last week of June and then meet again for a fall retreat. Teachers are able to earn three graduate credits for their participation. Teams also get to work closely with national leaders in the field of curriculum integration to learn how art and creativity can be woven throughout the school day for children. Schools then get to partner with teaching artists and receive either a 7 or 10 day teaching artist residency.

During the 2016-2017 school year I was able to attend the Creative Schools Initiative Institute with a team of teachers from the school that I was working for at the time. The CSI experience helped me reorient the focus of my classroom to be a hub of creative play, curiosity, engagement and open ended exploration….and helped re-awaken my creativity and passion for teaching.

For more information about the Vermont Creative Schools Initiative check out this link:



Nature Collections


Sometimes it’s the simplest of ideas that spark the best learning opportunities for young children. Inspiring children to create their own nature collections is one of those simple ideas that can be revisited throughout the year.


For the last eight years I have had the pleasure of teaching preschool in Vermont. And if you know anything about Vermont (or New England) one of the most beautiful times of year is autumn and people flock from all over to come ‘leaf peeping’. Children also love to go for autumn walks to gather treasures from nature. These first walks of the school year are memorable because the children are just getting to know our outdoor space and beginning to find all the JOY that is waiting for them to discover among the trees.

I love having the students bring nature materials into our classroom. It helps them to have ownership and increasing their sense of belonging. I do not like to do a traditional ‘show and tell’ because it quickly turns into ‘bring and brag’. Instead, I like to suggest that children bring in items they have found in nature and invite them to add to Nature Table all year. Children love visiting this part of our classroom and spend lots of time investigating the treasures we bring back from our walks and the looking at the materials classmates have found on their own journeys in nature.

Below is a sample handout that I print out and send home with my students. I attach it to a small brown paper lunch bag, and give the family about a week to return it filled. Again, a simple idea but one that encourages families to put down the cell phone and to head outdoors! Children beam when they bring back their filled bag, and are eager to spread out the treasures and chat about what they found!

Happy gathering!



Homework: Fall Nature Collection

We would like to give our students some outdoor ‘homework’ this week. We hope this encourages your whole family to go outside in the fresh autumn air to explore nature together.

Please take this bag along with you as explore so you can collect a variety of fall treasures to share with friends at school. Be sure to talk about the changes you see in your backyard and talk about how things look different from the summer. Point out the many colors of leaves, and smell the aromas of fall.

We will explore these treasures during the next few weeks, so please return their filled bag by _______________. We will gather all the materials together to compare and contrast what all the children found. We will use the ‘loose parts’ to build, explore, and play with by doing a variety of activities during the week. (NO MUSHROOMS PLEASE!)

Thanks for participating!

Mrs. Z


Art Centers to Go




I like to have several different kits made up ahead of time that I can easily grab and go on beautiful weather days. Nothing quite says spring to me than a picnic blanket and some simple art projects! (The picture linked here is from a community gathering where we made memory pages for a family that was moving away. The actual art to go kits are much smaller but I don’t have pictures to link YET.)

Ascetically I like to use wicker baskets for bringing out the goodies. Though in my teacher storage area I use cardboard shoe boxes, plastic sweater boxes, or small fabric totes to assemble my “grab and go” items.

The “Art Centers To Go” are also great to use indoors for multi-age programs that need quick to set up and cleanup activities to use while younger children nap.

I also love these “art centers to go” as gifts for children or families. Imagine the fun of having a pre-made kit for a car trip, the kiddo waiting for their sibling’s soccer practice, or for a fun project at the hotel.

Be sure to pack enough materials that the number of children creating can be engaged, but keep it clutter free so it is still inviting.

Rotate out the bins so children are excited to see what in the kit this week! Here are some bin ideas to get you started…but really the sky is limit!

Drawing Bin: various types of paper, markers, crayons, ruler, pencils, erasers

            Collage Bin: scrap paper, scissors, fabric squares, ribbon, buttons, feathers, glue

            Eco Creation: tape, scissors, rulers, recycled paper tubes, cardboard, and encourage kids to raid the recycle bin to find even more treasures.

            Spray Paint Bin: several empty spray bottles, liquid water color or food coloring, paper, coffee filters, & plastic stencils. Teach kids how to fill bottles, add color, and then paint!

            Play Dough Bin: dough, cookie cutters, and tools all ready to go

Watercolor Bin: watercolor paper, brushes, paints, and shallow bowls.

Card Making Bin: pre-folded cards, envelopes, stickers, markers, stamps & pads

Beading Bin: pony beads, sorting tray, scissors, string, tape