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