Lantern of Self Care

By April Zajko, M.Ed. 

We know that work we do in education is essential and has a tremendous impact on our communities and the families that we serve. We also know that being a caring, responsive, nurturing care provider can take a toll on our own wellness and health. The long hours and attentive care leaves us vulnerable to burnout during a normal year, but we can all agree that the last two years have been anything but normal. 

Self care is of critical importance now more than ever in order to maintain our own personal health, to minimize illness, to continue to find joy in our work, and to keep our passion for working with children and families alive.

A powerful image and analogy that I use when teaching fellow educators about self care is an old camping lantern. We can only burn as bright as the fuel that we put into our own lantern and we each need different types and quantities of fuel. The foods that we eat, the water we drink, the time set aside to be with friends, the uninterrupted hours of sleep, the positive words we read, the mid-day pause to notice the joy of the children in our care ~ all of these serve as fuel for our inner lanterns. 

The mobile nature of a camping lantern is that you get to shine wherever you go. Your impact on the world is greater when you shine your light on the issues that matter most to you. Wherever life takes me, and your lantern, you have the opportunity to spark hope, joy, and passion in the lives of those around you. Being in community with other like-minded individuals magnifies the impact of our lanterns. We can shine our light to help illuminate the path of others. When we figuratively or literally gather together our own lights are magnified and illuminate even more. 

We do not want to be burning our candle at both ends. We can not completely deplete our fuel reserves and still do the important work that we do. Instead we need to set our boundaries, continue to refuel, and prioritize that our flame is never too depleted. 

Right now in the education world (and many other professions) we are at a tipping point. We have a staffing crisis, we have a workforce that needs support for the work that we do, and we need to develop a stronger system that  helps each of us shine in our own way as we support children. It isn’t that we are ‘burned out’ and if only we did yoga more frequently all our problems would be solved. Rather we need to take time to care deeply for ourselves AND to do the advocacy work to build the systems that truly will support us as professionals and will support families. 

Other analogies of self care such as putting on your oxygen mask makes it seem like refueling is limited. Instead, the image of a lantern and knowing that we each need different kinds of fuel is more robust in view. We can learn how to refuel ourselves and at the same time help empower others to learn how they too can refuel. When we do this important work in community then we can illuminate the path forward. 

Reflection questions ~ take time this week to think about your own lantern and the reserves of fuel that you have. 

  • Are you running on empty? 
  • Is your light burning low and you need to refuel? 
  • What actions will help your refuel?
  • What parts of your day feel draining?
  • Who do you spend time with that lights you up?
  • Who depletes your energy? And can you shift how much time you spend with that person?
  • Are your volunteer opportunities fueling or depleting you? Can you shift how much time you spend volunteering?
  • What part of your home helps you recharge? Could you make changes to improve that space (declutter, rearrange furniture, add coziness..)
  • Journal about specific ways that you can carve out time in order to care for yourself so you can shine bright.

Story Maps

I was reminded of this project when this photo of my daughter popped up in FB Memories. Somehow six years have passed since this photo was taken but it reminded me of how much enjoyment she got out of having giant “Story Map” to play with. During my daughters preschool years we made several different versions of these and she loved decorating the box, making map features, adding characters and details from a favorite story. She spent so much time creating and playing with these “Story Maps” that I began to use them in my preschool classroom as well.

During this time of year when we see ads and feel pressure to buy more and more things for our kids, lets remember how much fun the box itself can be. It’s an important reminder this time of year when the over-commericialized Christmas Machine begins to rev that we can offer simple props for truly engaging play and creativity.

📦 Directions: Take a giant cardboard box laid flat to inspire children to make simple sketches, models, or pictorial maps to locate objects (which is also perfect for observations for TSG21a).

Connect it to a book that you are reading but have the *children* be the ones in charge of the design. As they want to add elements from a story explore colors and textures. If you keep it 2D at first with just drawing with markers and crayons (or paint) it’s really easy to fold up and store, but children will have all sorts of great ideas and likely want to create 3D objects.

As they want to add characters or buildings or cars or bridges or whatever, bring out loose parts and collage materials to let them create…and resist the urge to control the process to make it look awesome. Children who make their own story map without any pressure of making it Pinterest worthy will engage in such a deeper level than an adult controlled story map. 📦

{Possible learning objectives: TSG 32. Demonstrates simple geographic knowledge / 33. Explores the visual arts / 21A. Understands spatial relationships / 18C. Retells stories & comprehends and responds to booksand other texts}

Materials:

Giant cardboard box, markers, art supplies

Group Management:

Years that I have done this with a full classroom of children, I have offered each child to create their own building with a shoe box. We discussed how the story map was for all of us and hat we didn’t want to draw over other children’s ideas which led to a great conversation about respecting each others artwork. Through group conversations we decided how to create our Story Map which with this group of children was all about “Frozen” and creating Elsa Castles!

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.

S.T.E.A.M. Kits to Foster Play Based Learning

Join April Zajko, M.Ed. for a half-day training called “S.T.E.A.M. Kits to Foster Play Based Learning“!

Cost: $45 ~ this fee includes an afternoon session as well with Ellen Drolette or Tom Copeland

Date: October 23, 2021

Time: 8am – Noon (with breaks built in) ~ afternoon session 12:30-2:30

Sponsor: Early Childhood Professional Network – Hartford, Vermont 

Workshop Description: 

We will dive into learning about play-based learning through Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM) which are all important skills to foster in early childhood. STEAM education truly sparks wonder and creativity in children and taps into their desire to test out new ideas. The focus of this training is to develop project-based activity kits that early childhood educators can assemble ahead of time so they can ‘grab and go’. Participants will work in small groups and design a list of materials for their topic, list out potential play-based activities & investigations that children may engage in, create a list of loose parts to gather, and create a documentation sheet that is connected to the Vermont Early Learning Standards (VELS) and Teaching Strategies Gold (TSG). Our focus will be to create low cost yet highly engaging learning kits that take some of the stress out of preparing STEAM learning for your children. 

Learning Objectives: 

  • Define play-based learning and the role of the adult in preparing the environment and supporting the children’s ongoing exploration
  • Practice developing project-based activity kits with low cost materials including loose parts
  • Create a list of learning materials for a specific STEAM topic and list out potential play-based activities that children may engage in
  • Develop a documentation sheet that is connected to the Vermont Early Learning Standards (VELS) and Teaching Strategies Gold (TSG)

Presenter Bio:  April Zajko, M.Ed. is a licensed early childhood educator (ECE) and has taught ECE courses for the Community College of Vermont since 2016. April teaches preschool in a public school where she integrate S.T.E.A.M. and nature-based approach to curriculum. April has also lead professional development for ECE staff throughout the state of Vermont for more than ten years and has worked with a wide cross-section of educators to find ways to help make high quality learning accessible in their ECE programs. April’s primary goal is for ALL students to meet with success and to offer professional trainings that are engaging, relevant, and inspiring

To register – go to this link and click on the register button on the left hand side 

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.