Private and Quiet Spaces


Imagine in your mind a preschool classroom and likely you immediately think of a busy, noisy, and chaotic room filled with little people running to and fro. Then imagine that you are a “quiet child”, what does this busy classroom look like to you?

As an early childhood educator, I want to ensure that my classroom is welcoming and inviting to ALL children. So as I design my classroom and set up my learning centers I want to ensure that there are spaces that are offer privacy and quiet for children to go to seek solitude. This might be the writing center that is sized for just two children at a time or a listening center with only two headsets. This might also be a small table in a corner of a classroom set up with a felt board or puzzles that invites just a couple of children at once.

The expectations of these private and quiet areas are explicitly taught to the children. We work towards learning not to interrupt children who are playing in these areas, that our voices are softer, and that we call all have a turn in the area when space allows.

These quiet and private spaces are not used as a punishment, and staff don’t send children there as time out. Rather these spaces are seen as an oasis that children learn to enjoy to select on their own. I share information with parents about how we use these spaces and encourage them to create a similar area at home.


In addition to spaces for two children I also like to create an area that is designed for one child. I call this space “Tucker’s House” and introduce it after reading the book “Tucker Turtle Takes Time to Tuck and Think”. Tucker teaches young children in an age appropriate way how to manage his anger when things don’t go well. Including the soft turtle puppets and calm down toys are two other tools that support this area of the classroom. “Tucker Turtle” is a scripted story from the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning, which can be downloaded for free at this link:


I believe that creating these spaces for privacy and quiet help to empower children to know that when they feel like they need to take time to themselves that they can. Often I find that children retreat to these quieter areas and observe what is happening in other places in the room. It is important that we remember that about one third of the population is ‘introvert’ and that it is not our role to make children more extrovert.

One of the best books that I have read in my career is “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” This book really helped me understand that our ‘quiet children’ do not lack energy and are not missing social skills. Instead we need to honor introverts for who they are and that means that we create space for them to be in the role of observer, time to be reflective, and support in finding quiet amongst a busy classroom environment.





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


Feathers and Friendship


This past summer we went to visit a friend who had relocated to the west coast, and who I have been missing since the previous summer. The summer before, she and her family had sold their house, packed up the RV, and headed ‘back home’ where she and her husband had grown up. She graciously posted regularly on Facebook so I continued to feel connected to her, their journey, and the setting of new family roots.

I have to say that Sarah is one of the kindest, gentlest, most caring, and giving people that I have ever met. I liken her to Mother Teresa but a bit more witty and sassy! When she announced that she was going to be moving I felt heartbroken for her little Vermont town, because she volunteered so much, and, selfishly, was sad for my own self. Even though I didn’t get to spend much ‘in real life’  time with her during the school year we always made a plan to reconnect at our local lake during the summer. Our friendship was mostly through Facebook, so I knew that wouldn’t change, but previously I knew I had solace in knowing that I could make the short 20 minute drive to hang out at any time.

Like many of the friends that I had made when our children were toddlers or preschoolers our adult relationships began to change once our children were enrolled full time in school. I had savored the years that I was a stay-at-home or work part-time mom because I knew that I wanted to be fully present when my own children were young. I found camaraderie with other moms who were making a similar decision and we scheduled play dates or meet ups, and I think we did so as much for us “moms” to connect as we did for the kids to have time together. However, life began to get busy when our children become enrolled in school for a full day and we ourselves attempted to get our own careers back on track. Somehow these little people also now began to have their own social calendar and many of my “mom friends” and I drifted apart as our new duty of “chauffeur” became to eat up much of our free time.

For Sarah and I our children never ended up on the same soccer team or Little League, and so seeing each other in person was rare during the school year. The one overlap was a extended once-a-week children’s music series during early 2015. The focus was on Abenaki music and I was hopeful they would let us moms that wanted to stay on site sit in a little room off of the main room. The drumming, singing, and community during that course felt wonderful and I remember talking to Sarah each week about the progression of my mom’s cancer. She knew that I had just lost my father less than a year ago and she was so kind and sensitive in talking to me about this added grief of watching my mom slip away. Though she didn’t know it, seeing her each week and talking while our children explored Native songs was such a support to me. I realize now that sometimes it’s those little life lines that just keep you afloat when life seems overwhelming, and I knew then if I ever needed to reach out to her I could.

The following year my sweet friend lost her father to cancer, and we now shared that pain of the loss of our fathers. As her father’s disease progressed I reached out to find ways to help and never felt sure how to be there. I wished that our kids shared some sort of after school activity so we could see each other on a weekly basis but they didn’t. She worked from home so I couldn’t just happen to stop by at her job, so I was not sure how to connect with her without invading her privacy. In hindsight, I wish I had convinced her to have a standing weekly mom hang-out (or even monthly), but somehow it never seemed right to prioritize “mom time” over kid chauffeuring, work, or domestic chores.

Thankfully, last summer we did get to reconnect in real life. We went to visit Sarah and family in their new home on the West Coast. It felt so warm and welcoming to be there with them, and our families got to spend more time together than we probably had collectively in the whole time we’ve known them. Sarah and I had time to have some so great conversations, we all  got to explore nature together, we feasted on crab we caught, and we all had a wonderful time together. Sarah shared that one of the ways she and her children know that her dad is shining down of them is when they find random feathers in nature, which is something that I felt about my own dad since his passing. So on the morning of our departure, after we said our goodbyes inside the house, my own family and I were in our car about to back out of their driveway. We took a moment to pause and immediately noticed a feather randomly floating from the sky. We all watched it float down and gently land on branch of a tree next to the driveway. I wanted to run inside to tell Sarah what happened, but then thought I should wait and instead write about it. I should use that little story to tell her how much her kindness means to me, and though we don’t get to sit in cafes and sip coffee together, I am always only a click or phone call away. Somehow it feels weird in a digital age to find ‘in real life’ friends, and somehow taking the time to tell others how we feel becomes risky, and it shouldn’t. So I have no empirical proof but I bet that feather was tossed down from BOTH of our dads, encouraging us BOTH to continue on being our true, kind-hearted, altruistic, and giving selves despite what the state of the world might be. That feather floating down from the sky was such a tender moment and one that reminds me of the power of friendship and faith.

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

Farm to School & Early Ed Resources



Growing Minds Preschool Toolkit

“All of our farm to preschool resources are compiled into our new Farm to Preschool Toolkit. The toolkit contains all of our preK lesson plans, “This Week in the Garden” activity guides, and “Farm to School Goes Home” weekly newsletters. It also includes sourcing guidance, tips for cooking with young children, and more!” Note: I sent mine to Staples to be printed since it is 210 pages and it cost me $16.


Multicultural Collection of Farm to ECE Books –

“The Food Trust’s multicultural collection of farm to ECE books highlights children’s books that feature characters from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, many of which are authored by writers of color. The list also includes a number of books that are either bilingual or written exclusively in Spanish. These books cover a wide variety of farm to ECE related topics including gardening, farms, cooking, family meals, farmers markets, shopping for food and more.”


Farm to Childcare Curriculum Package

“Inside this curriculum package, you will find activity ideas and resources for implementing Farm to Childcare at your childcare center. Many of these resources are ready to use, while some are examples that offer opportunities for you to customize to your own context. Lesson planning charts are provided to help you introduce the children at your center to locally grown food items and concepts.” Note: I sent mine to Staples to be printed since it is 176 pages and it cost me $15.


Cultivating Joy and Wonder: Educating for Sustainability in Early Childhood through Nature, Food, and Community

“Engaging activities, essays, and resources that encourage children to explore and engage in the world around them. The book is the fruit of Shelburne Farms’ years of experience in early childhood education and sustainability, both on the Farm and with partners at the Sustainability Academy and King Street Center in Burlington, Vermont”


My First Garden

“Rodale Institute, the birthplace of the organic movement, has put together this resource “My First Garden,” to help teachers integrate school gardens into their classroom curriculum. This curriculum is designed for preschool or kindergarten children, but could be adapted to suit early elementary school needs.”


A Roadmap for Farm to Early Care and Education: A Guide to Understanding Farm to School Opportunities in Early Care and Education Settings



National Farm to School Network – Database of hundreds of resources


Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and Farm to School

“In 2015, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was reauthorized as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and it includes many new opportunities for the integration of farm to school and ECE activities in educational settings. This toolkit is designed for educators, advocates, parents, and farm to school and ECE stakeholders to understand and act upon the opportunities ESSA provides.”


Farm to Preschool: Farm Field Trips (By EcoTrust)

“Short guide to planning a preschool field trip to a farm, includes information on finding a farmer, example trip schedule, and supply list.”


Benefits of Farm to School (Fact Sheet)

“Farm to school programs provide a variety of benefits to students, parents, schools, communities and farmers. This fact sheet offers a research-based overview of the benefits of farm to school and a list of sources. (Updated April 2017)”


Growing Healthy Kids through Farm to Child Care

“Next to parents, child care providers can be some of the most influential people in helping children get a strong, healthy start in life. The Public Health Law Center has developed a series of resources designed to inform and support efforts to cultivate child care settings that promote healthy eating, active play opportunities, reduced screen time, and tobacco-free environments. This fact sheet explains the Farm to Child Care movement and provides tips for child care providers about how to incorporate fresh, local food and healthy food education into their programs”




Early Childhood Acronyms

Early Childhood Acronyms ~ Compiled by April Zajko, M.Ed.

An acronym is a word formed from the initial letters or groups of letters of words in a set phrase or series of words and pronounced as a separate word.  Acronyms are known to cause confusion or overwhelming feelings to people new to the early childhood field. I created this list for students in my community college courses. Some of the acronyms are Vermont specific, but many would be applicable to a larger audience.

NOTE: There is ample room on the second page to add additional acronyms since this list will never be complete. ~


AHS – Agency of Human Services
AOE – Agency of Education
ASQ – Ages and Stages Questionnaire
ASQ-SE – Ages and Stages Questionnaire – Social and Emotional
BBF – Building Bright Futures
BBF SAC – Building Bright Futures State Advisory Council
BFIS – Bright Futures Information System

BSC- Basic Specialized Care

CDA – Child Development Associate

CDD – Child Development Division (within CDD)
CIS – Children’s Integrated Services (within CDD)
CLASS – Classroom Assessment Scoring System

CSEFEL – Center for Social Emotional Foundations of Early Learning
DAP- Developmentally Appropriate Practice

DEC – Division of Early Childhood

DCF – Department for Children and Families (within AHS)
EC – Early Childhood

ECE – Early Childhood Education

ECSE – Early Childhood Special Education

eMTSS – Early Multi-Tiered System of Support

ERS – Environmental Rating Scales (Related terms: ITERS = Infant and Toddlers Environmental Rating Scale; ECERS = Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale; FCERS = Family Care Environmental Rating Scale; SACERS = School Age Care Environmental Rating Scale)

FTS – Farm To School

GOLD – Teaching Strategies Gold

IPDP – Individual Professional Development Plan

M.A.T.C.H. – Mentoring, Advising, Teaching, Coaching, Consulting, and Helping
NAEYC – National Association for the Education of Young Children
T.E.A.C.H. – Teacher Education And Compensation Helps
TS Gold – Teaching Strategies Gold

TSG – Teaching Strategies Gold
VtAEYC – Vermont Association for the Education of Young Children
VCCICC – Vermont Child Care Industry and Careers Council

VDH – Vermont Department of Health (within AHS)
VELS – Vermont Early Learning Standards

Digging Deeper Conference


IMG_9236.jpgI am so excited to be presenting at the “Digging Deeper Conference” that will be held at Shelburne Farms in Shelburne, Vermont. This will be a one day conference on Thursday, May, 24th 2018 and there are three different tracks participants can register for!


Click here to register for the Digging Deeper Conference

“Digging Deeper Conference”
Date: Thursday, May 24, 2018
Time: 9am – 4:30pm
Looking for ways to integrate your classroom curriculum in the garden? Or want to learn some new strategies with introducing new foods or building confidence and strategies in cooking with our youngest age groups? Or are you hoping to connect with a local farm and not sure how or want to hear how others are connecting classrooms to farms? Join us on Thursday, May 24th for a day to discover how to bring these connections back to your classroom and everyday curriculum for place-based learning at its best!  Choose your track for the day to fully immerse yourself. Each track offers endless opportunities for learning!


Please note that you will pick one track during the registration process. This will help support a stronger learning community and give participants ample time for experiential learning, discussion, and peer networking. View each track description below.

Fun with Local Foods Track with Abbie Nelson and Marissa Watson

Preparing and serving new foods can be more fun and less arduous, with a few tools and by involving kids in the process. In this workshop we will explore how people develop food preferences, and how we change these preferences. We will share innovations in purchasing, serving, and educating kids about local foods through simple activities and recipes.

Participants will:

  • Learn how we develop food preferences and how to introduce new and local foods to kids.
  • Practice incorporating nutrition education into food-based experiences.
  • Learn how to find and properly procure local foods.


Gardening All Year Track with April Zajko

Do you want to help children connect to the natural world through gardening, composting, and observing the seasonal changes? This workshop will explore how to implement a year-round study of plants, using both indoor and outdoor gardening activities. Participants will leave with many ideas for creating engaging learning environments, lists of suggested plants for children, science experiments, tips for sensory explorations, and meaningful ways to get young children growing plants all year!
Learning Objectives:
1. Participants will discuss ways to incorporate both indoor and outdoor gardening concepts into preschool and kindergarten classrooms.
2. Participants will investigate a variety of ways to create engaging learning explorations to teach characteristics of living organisms and local ecosystems.

Kid Friendly Farmyard Track with Michaela Ryan and JoAnne Denee

Join Michaela Ryan and JoAnne Dennee in exploring the range of what farm and garden tasks are conducive to young helping hands. This will include an off-site visit to the farmyard at New Village Farm to explore tending chickens, sheep, cows, and goats, along with milking a cow or goat and collecting eggs. We will navigate these tasks together while facilitating a conversation about what it can be like to do so with young children. We will touch on essentials like allowing time and breath for observations with all the senses, embracing the cycle of life including birth and death, managing children resistant to engage, and building a partnership with a farm. As time permits we will explore managing other tasks with children in nature and gardens because we feel that a mix of animal care and earth care strike a nice balance of building an eagerness to work and participate in the world in young children.

A few words from past participants:

I thought the format was so well thought out.
I loved it! I didn’t feel rushed or on a time limit. It helped me to be in the moment.
This experience was super inspiring. You are deeply passionate folks teaching an important subject in a beautiful place – keep them coming!
The flow worked really well – keynote speakers, breaking out into smaller groups & moving!, coming back together, breaking out again!

Facilitator Bios:

Abbie Nelson is the NOFAVT, Food Systems Education Director, and Program Director of VTFood Education Every Day (VT FEED), a 18 year-old statewide Farm to School Project of NOFAVT, and Shelburne Farms. Abbie serves as a statewide school food system consultant and trainer involved in aspects of local purchasing and professional development with school food service. She has been working with statewide partners to advance access to local foods in institutions as a member of the VT Farm to Plate, and the VT FTS Network.
Marissa Watson is the NOFAVT School Food Programs Coordinator for VT FEED. She came to NOFA after falling in love with the Farm to School program in Georgia, where she got her MS in Agricultural Economics. For the past five years, she has worked as a farm manager for two different farms in South Carolina. Her career began in Washington, DC, with National Geographic and Discovery Television. While travelling to produce a television series, she dove into books about organic agriculture, and became hooked on the idea of making fresh food available to children and families. She enjoys working in the community to connect all kinds of people with local, organic food. She lives in Burlington with her pup Wilson, who is always a handful and always ready to play outside.
April Zajko, M.Ed. is the founder and owner of April’s Teaching Tree, which aims to help parents and educators renew their interest in connecting children to nature. 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 courses with people around the globe ~~through curriculum downloads and online e-courses. April is a Licensed Early Childhood Educator and Reading Specialist. Her bachelor’s degree was earned at the Delaware State University, and her master’s degree was earned at University of Virginia. Her passion for lifelong learning has led her to numerous studies through Shelburne Farms, Fairy Dust Teaching, and Heart Space Yoga…as well as many other programs. Through the last 17 years, April has taught early education programs in both public and private schools. Currently she teaches preschool at a public school in Vermont. Through these various roles, she has learned many ways to connect to children and families, and loves to share this knowledge with other interested professionals. April hopes to share meaningful ways to use nature to meet early childhood standards through play-based learning, nature infused materials, and joyful learning environments!
JoAnne Dennee grew up spending her childhood afternoons bike riding away to the far edges of her suburban neighborhood to find respite in the embracing shelter of the thickets and wild places.  She has witnessed the great joy and transformative power when children experience their lives through farm, food, and forest education. She began growing food organically in children’s gardens for 9 years before moving to VT to teach at Poker Hill and then Lake Champlain Waldorf for the next 35 years. Author of  In the Three Sisters Garden she currently creates visual art from her gardens, mentors teachers in biodynamic gardening with children, and develops nutrition based programs for Common Roots VT.
Michaela Ryan: Growing up on a sheep farm in southern Quebec, Michaela Ryan found her way back to farming after spending a few years as an Environmental Engineer, a full time mother and then a Grief Recovery Specialist.  She is the founder of New Village Farm, a Biodynamic Learning Farm right here in the backyard of Shelburne Farms. She particularly enjoys working with cows and vivacious children who need a little more space than their modern upbringings often afford them.  Her inspiration to start an education farm was born of her deep love of growing up on a farm and her awareness that she is unlikely to have made it this far without the strength of will, love of the outdoors, and fundamental sense of belonging that came of it.  She is excited to share with you what nuggets of wisdom have come out of her 10 year journey of farming with children.