Professional Development Offerings

“Deepening our roots of nature based teaching.”

April E. Zajko, M.Ed ~ Experienced Nature-Based Educator offering professional development, Mentoring & Coaching, as well as nature-based college courses!

Please email April for scheduling details at

April Zajko, M.Ed. is a licensed early childhood educator and reading specialist. She has a deep passion for the natural world, advocates for protecting play, and feels that giving children strong roots allows them to flourish and grow for a lifetime. April shares her knowledge of early childhood through teaching college courses, mentoring & coaching, and leading professional development trainings for early childhood educators and nature-based educators. Learn more about April’s Professional Development offerings at this link.  

Training titles include:

  • Shifting toward Nature-Based Approaches
  •  P.O.W.E.R. ~ Path of Wellness, Environment, and Relationships
  • Winter in the Outdoor Classroom
  •  Leading with Empathy
  • Self-Care for Care Providers
  • Math Naturally for Preschoolers
  • Natural Loose Parts
  • Sensory Gardens for Children
  • Small People, Big Feelings   
  • Everyday Science
  • Breathing Life into the Art Center
  • Gardening All Year
  • Bringing the Outdoors In: Creating Joyful Learning Environments
  • Winter Scientists
  • Natural Materials to Inspire Literacy Development

Growing Outdoor Classrooms – Workshop Series 

Each module can be presented as a two hour virtual or in-person training, or select multiple modules to be implemented as a series of training for your school, childcare program, or network. 

Introduction to Outdoor Classrooms ~ Every outdoor classroom is as unique as the school or program that designs and builds it. This module will define terms related to outdoor classrooms, give an overview of what an outdoor classroom can become, and help define key factors in how outdoor classrooms differ from typical playgrounds. Participants will learn about the Engineering Design Process as an instructional model for all aged children in the outdoor classroom. 

2 Developmental Benefits of Outdoor Classroom ~Research confirms that learning outdoors promotes child development and learning in all domains – physical, cognitive, and social emotional. This module will increase participants’ understanding of the benefits of outdoor learning and will learn ways to share information with stakeholders as a powerful way to communicate the value of creating nature inspired learning spaces. Once stakeholders understand how outdoor classrooms positively impact student growth, development, and learning they will be more confident in investing time and money into building or expanding the outdoor learning space. 

3 “What’s your WHY?” ~ Getting clear on WHY you want to create or expand your Outdoor Classroom helps you to define your goals. In this module you will be tasked with writing down your “Why Story” and sharing your story with three people who might be interested in your project. Most people agree that children need more time outdoors, and sharing your WHY will help you find your inner circle of supporters. 

4 Growing Your Team ~ Often an Outdoor Classroom begins as a dream of an individual teacher, but to really grow and thrive you will need a team of supporters. This module will provide a five-step plan for growing a dynamic team with sample letters, social media blurbs, and newsletter content that you can share with your stakeholders. After completing this module you will have the confidence to share your WHY with others which will help you organically grow your team! (Find Your Inner Circle of Supporters; Gain Administrative Support; Connecting with Community Members; Partnering with Area Businesses; Private Online Group to Help You Stretch & Grow)

5 Design Elements of an Outdoor Classroom ~ Whether you are starting from scratch, transforming a traditional playground into a nature-inspired play area, or expanding an existing outdoor classroom this module will help you define and prioritize design elements for your space. Participants will create the “Outdoor Classroom Map & Vision” which is a scaled map of your current space and how you would like to transform the space. In this model participants will also list their current resources, identify barriers, and create a wish list so that their vision of an outdoor classroom begins to take shape. Find a visible space within your program to display your “Outdoor Classroom Map & Vision” so you will begin to get more buy in. Learn how to conduct a child survey to get the most important input…the children themselves!    

Immediate Results with Little (or no) Money ~  One of the most important things about Outdoor Classrooms is to keep it simple. It is easy during the design phase to get overwhelmed by the options or end up spending countless hours on Pinterest gathering ideas without gaining steam. This module is designed for you to roll up your sleeves and make the first phase of changes to your outdoor space. You will photograph and share with your families about the changes and the benefits of creating this space. You will also add more detail your “Wish List” to post on your “Vision Map”. Projects like this one take some energy to get started, but once the ball is rolling the buy in and excitement builds. 

7 Funding & Power of Story ~ As the old saying goes, ‘money doesn’t grow on trees’. This module will explore seven different ways to fund your outdoor classroom. Participants will also explore the power of story in creating a compelling case for getting others to support this project. 

8 How We Teach in an Outdoor Classroom ~ Children learn through play, so we should prioritize unstructured child-initiated PLAY during our outdoor time. This module will explore developmentally effective approaches to: staff/child interactions, circle time outdoors, seasonal considerations, open-ended inquiry, clean up procedures, and considerations for developmentally appropriate practice while teaching outdoors. Participants will help contribute to a list of curriculum resources to use to foster outdoor learning.

9 Content Areas ~ Children learn through play and teachers can add materials that foster learning within all content areas. In this module, we will closely examine ways to use the outdoors as an instructional tool for learning activities in all content areas ~ math, science, literacy, gross motor, and art. We will how to document student learning while outdoors.

10 Tools of the Trade ~ A powerful teaching truth of Outdoor Classroom is that ‘less is more’. This module will explore suggestions for materials, science tools, toys, and loose parts that can enhance learning and development in the outdoor classroom. Learn practical ways to rotate and store materials that make the process easier to implement with mixed ages of children. 

11 Risk in the Outdoor Classroom ~ ensuring healthy and safe environments is the top priority of licensed programs, but we also know that children need to have the opportunity to take healthy risks. This module will help you navigate through some of the “Big Bad Wolf” issues that arise in the context of Outdoor Classrooms: parent worries about health & safety, staff perceptions, child care licensing regulations, liability insurance concerns, and seasonal considerations. Participants will have the opportunity to read written policies from other programs and will draft language to add to their parent handbook.

12 Obstacles Implementing Outdoor Classrooms ~ This module will offer tips and tricks of the trade to help overcome obstacles in our outdoor spaces. We will explore perceived barriers that keep students stuck indoors. : teacher & staff lack of confidence teaching outdoors, schedule confines, ticks, poison ivy, storage, weather, clothing, perception of administrators, and academic pressures. Participants throughout the course are encouraged to share questions, concerns, and obstacles that they are facing by posting in our private FB group. This module can be tailored to the specific needs of the cohort, so post your questions as we go!

13 Sustainability Plan: Building Family & Community Relationships ~ Growing Outdoor Classrooms is a journey. Take time to celebrate how far your project has come, even if you’ve only taken small steps. Create a simple scrapbook or binder of the project to date. Share photos and thank you notes with all your supporters. This module will help you plan out what is next along this journey and will give your strategies for building even deeper family and community relationships. You will create a “Sustainability Plan” that works for you and will keep this journey going. The private FB group will continue to exist and I hope that you will want to continue to be active in the group. 

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P.O. Box 4115, Saint Johnsbury, VT 05819