Life Lesson ~ Embrace Being a Tortoise

Proud of showing up and finishing the Groton Forest Trail Run 10K ~ Sept. 10, 2022

🐢 🐰 This week I was wavering in deciding whether or not to even show up. I was registered for the Groton Forest Trail Run 10K. I know my pace and I knew it would be hard. The three friends I had planned to race with all decided not to race. It was going to be a sunny and warm, but I also knew the humidity would slow me down. I had made a commitment to myself to participate but my summer training plans had gotten derailed so I felt like I had some great reason to skip it. I contemplated it all week and finally the day before I decided to commit to just showing up and finishing, regardless of my time. So the morning of the race, I wrote this reflection on my favorite Aesop fable. I definitely believe that there is a powerful life lesson on embracing being a tortoise! 🐢

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

“The Tortoise and the Hare” is one my favorite stories to share with children. This Aesop Fable resonates with my work as an early childhood educator, my life as a busy mom, and my fitness routine on my mountain bike and hiking mountains. When we let ourselves get into self limiting we can feel like we are too slow or barely keeping up. The lesson of “The Tortoise and the Hare” is a perfect reminder to live an intentional life and to shift our thinking!

Tortoise is in her own race, calm, steady, moving at her own pace, and not worried what others think. She shows up, does her best, and doesn’t allow competition to steal her joy.

Hare on the other hand, mocked Tortoise for being so slow and even had the audacity to take a nap mid-race. Hare wanted to boast and brag, and for Tortoise to see just how slow her pace was.

When Tortoise came upon Hare napping in the grass, she just continued on her merry way.

And it wasn’t until Tortoise was nearly to the finish line that Hare woke up. Despite his frenzied rush, going as fast as he could, pushing his legs to their maximum, wanting to prove to the others that he was still fastest even with the nap..but he just couldn’t get to the finish line before Tortoise.

At the finish line there was also a Community ~ other animals there to cheer and celebrate. In my version of this tale, I know that Tortoise was humble and kind. She had no interest in boasting and instead savored being in the company of others. She encouraged others do their own thing and to continue to work on being their best selves. She knew it had nothing to do with that finish line. That it wasn’t about the time or how many minutes it took to finish the race. It wasn’t about the data on her fit bit or the number on any scale for that matter. Rather it had everything to do with being present and enjoying the journey.

The lesson to me? Calm and consistent wins the race. Yes, there are likely others who seem ahead of you in life. Yes someone may have already achieved what you are still working hard to make happen. Yes, hare is a better runner but being frenzied isn’t how you want to feel. When you focus on doing your best and no longer allow the pressure of someone else’s judgement then no one can stop you. You find JOY in the journey!

How do you want to feel? Really think about this. You might be bombarded with the message that life is about winning, beating out others, and proving your worth. Can you step aside from those belief and tap into HOW you want to feel instead?
🐰 Frenzied and boastful?
🐢 Calm and consistent?

For me, I am going to enjoy the journey. Calm and consistent. Yes, I’ll eventually see you at the finish line! Probably with a stash of pretty leaves in my pocket that I gathered or a photo of a cool mushroom that I stopped to admire. But that’s the beauty of the loving your journey ~ you have the confidence to pause and savor the little moments! 🐢

Which direction are you headed? I want to encourage you to begin that thing you’ve been wanting to do! Whether it’s a race, a new business, or a writing that book…Calm and Consistent and Community will get you there! And I will be right over here cheering you on!

Rooted and ready,

April

Featured

Setting Up a Quiet Space Outdoors

Often we see quiet spaces or calm down spaces indoors in early education programs, but what could it look like if created a similar space outdoors? I believe children benefit from having a similar structure in their learning environments, both indoors and in their outdoor classroom. Here are some tips to get you started!

(Do you have pictures of your outdoor quiet space? I’d love it if you share them so I can add a variety of pictures to this blog post!)

Tips on creating your Outdoor Quiet Space:

  • Establish a space in your program as a “quiet” place and teach that this is a place a child can go when they need to relax, reset, and calm down. 
  • In one program they had designated spots outdoors as “Quiet Zones”. They used rope and triangle cloth flags to indicate these spaces (see picture above). This could be an easy way to create multiple areas and children could even help with the creation of flags so they had some feeling of ownership or belonging to the space.
  • I often establish a bean pole trellis (see picture below) that is easy to create and affordable. I just set up five bamboo poles that are 6 feet tall. Tie the top and create a trench around the base to plant bean seeds. This is a small enough space that creates some privacy and feels cozy. This same structure could be covered with cloth for similar privacy earlier in the season or when the plants have died off.
  • Another affordable space would be to build a simple fort structure. My son built the photo below for an outdoor program in my area. He built a solid main structure and the children added pine branches, other sticks, and leaf debris to create privacy.
  • Maybe the space is mobile ~ What about establishing a special “Quiet Chair” ~ perhaps tucked away in the garden or in an area of the Outdoor Classroom that tends to be less busy. Having a folding chair makes it mobile and could give children the options of moving their space or having multiple spaces.
  • Reinforce that this is a safe and cozy space that helps us feel calm and safe and that children can choose to go to this space to play alone for a while
  • Offer calm down materials, which outdoors might look like a bin that you bring out from storage with a few board books, a non-breakable sensory jar, and various loose parts to explore. 
  • Post a visual of the calm down technique you use in your program. To make this work outdoors, I laminate the visual and post it on the storage bin so it’s protected from the elements. In my preschool classroom I use the Tucker Turtle Technique. (see resources below)
  • Create a durable mini version of books that you use to teach social emotional skills. Lamination can help them last longer and you still may need to replace them yearly. 
  • Introduce the space during outdoor circle time and model how it is used. For our indoor “Tucker Turtle’s House” we only allow one child to be in the space, but I find this harder to manage outdoors. I would decide with your teaching team if it’s an ‘alone space’ or if a pair can be in there together. 
  • I tell a lot of social emotional stories with my turtle puppet. There are many life lessons that we can
  • Reinforce with simple tales of how turtles see things differently. Moving at their own pace, taking time to tuck & breathe, resting when they need to, have calm and confidence to race a speedy Hare, and the list goes on. 
  • Work with small groups to practice using the space and revisit it often so children remember why the quiet space is there. 
  • Reinforce the quiet place when you see them experiencing strong emotions or if a child seems like they need to regroup
  • Reinforce to staff that this space is NOT used as a punishment.
  • What if your group is on the go? Instead of a designated spot for the quiet space, maybe have a piece of cloth or small portion of yoga mat that serves as a spot that children can go to be alone. 
  • Our space indoors is a wooden cube, and using more durable materials I can imagine creating something similar outdoors though I have not yet created that myself. (If you have, I’d love to have additional pictures to add to this post!)
Affordable & easy quiet space ~ bean pole trellis!
Simple fort structure & kids add pine branches or leaf debris

Related Resources:

“The Quiet Chair” ~ tucked away in the garden

Resources for teaching “Tucker Turtle” from the Pyramid Model / Challenging Behavior 

https://challengingbehavior.org/?s=tucker+turtle

Check out Susan Cain’s Ted Talk and Book – “Quiet: The Power of Introverts”

Read more thoughts on my blog post ~ “Private & Quiet Spaces”

Daily Routines for Teacher Wellness

One of the keys to taking charge of your own personal wellness is to take ownership of your daily routines. 

This week I invite you to start small with ONE healthy habit. Something that is achievable and you know that you can stick with. Maybe drinking water or going for a ten minute walk. No matter how small that habit will help build momentum to other healthy habits. 

Then BRAINSTORM a list of different routines to try out throughout your day. Experiment and try out simple and easy morning & evening routines until you find something that feels right. This is not meant to be regimented and rigid, but rather more like an experiment to see what feels best for you! Start with small healthy habits and achievable actions. 

Try to find a mid-day mini-routine that acts as a reset before post lunch slump comes. For me, 2pm is the time that I seem to want to grab a sugary treat or raid the staff room candy jar. I have found that if I take a couple of minutes to make a cup of tea that I am more energized and can finish out my work day on a happy note!

Explore & have fun with this process! For me, one routine is to make sure that I make time to be outdoors everyday. I find a quick walk on my trails in the forest, a little bit of time in the garden, or even sitting out on the patio noticing the birds helps me refocus, especially after a long day working with children. This time outdoors helps me to feel more connected to nature and to myself!

Photo by Hassan OUAJBIR on Pexels.com
  • Tips for successful routines:
  • Explore what routines work best for you and prioritize those habits in your daily schedule. 
  • Small, realistic, achievable goals. 
  • Written Self Care Action Plans are more effective than thinking about or dreaming about what you might do. Write it down and make a commitment to YOU! 
  • Consistency & preparation are key to making routines easy to implement
  • Accountability partners can help you meet with success!
  • Enjoy the process, gentle self awareness & positive self talk make a HUGE difference! 
  • Set backs, stumbling blocks, life happens – just pick up and keep going! 
  • Remember, your wellness is vital to your physical and mental health so take the time to invest in yourself!
April Zajko, M.Ed, is an experienced nature-based early childhood educator and serves as a professional development leader, college faculty member, and educational consultant. April brings straightforward practical knowledge, rooted in best practices, with humor and tales from the classroom. April is committed to supporting educators bring nature based approaches into their classrooms and early childhood programs. April moderates an active Facebook group called “Nature Inspired Teacher” where she supports educators who want to to dive deeper into this powerful way of supporting children. 

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.