Outdoor Classrooms and Their Positive Impact on Behavior

Often when I connect with my fellow professional colleagues, there is one topic which
always gets discussed, the behaviors of children. The negative and challenging behaviors are what gets discussed most often and how it affects the classroom dynamic, the other children, the relationships with the parents, and of course the provider’s mental health. Whether I am participating in a local training, an online forum, or even traveling across the country to national conferences, this subject is constantly on the forefront of conversation. This topic affects us all, no matter where we are in the United States (and I might even go so far as to say the world.)

In 2018 I completed a mini research study which set out to answer the question, in what ways can an outdoor classroom promote prosocial behavior?

What did I find out? Well, ultimately my findings confirmed by belief which is… if more of Maine’s early care and childhood educators utilized an outdoor classroom, there would be a decrease in the number of educators reporting challenging behaviors. Therefore, reducing the number of children expelled in early care and education programs.

Maine conducted a study in 2015 around challenging behaviors in early childhood programs and found 92% of educators reported having at least one child with a difficult behavior. In a quarter of those cases, the educators stated these children were removed from the program. (Smith & Granja, 2017)

The graph below features the incident* trends in my family child care program from 2014-2018. The decrease in peer to peer incidents and the increase in self-sustained incidents appear to show a relationship between the amount of time children spent inside vs. outside.

*Incident reports are written anytime a child’s skin is broken, or other physical mark occurred, regardless whether the incident is due to a peer to peer interaction or it was self-inflicted.

Rates of Incidents Over Time

From 2014-2018, the overall mix of development ages was relatively the same. There
were always 6-8 preschoolers, 4-6 toddlers, and 1-2 infants. Two of the three teachers were present all years. The third staff member was hired in 2015.

I started with charting the incident reports. As I reviewed the information, I decided to
group the incidents into 4 categories: inside with a peer, outside with a peer, inside with self, and outside with self. Most of the peer to peer incidences occurred from biting.

The years of 2014 and 2015 showed similar results, with 85% of incidents occurring with a peer inside.



Prior to 2015, my program’s primary purpose for bringing children outdoors was simply
for gross motor. The children in my program would be outside 45-60 minutes each morning, and another 30-45 minutes each afternoon (totaling approximately 15% of their day.) By the end of 2015, the children were outdoors upwards of 70% of their day.


In 2016, there was a 20% drop in incidents which occurred inside with a peer, and peer to peer incidents which occurred outside only increased by 14%. In 2017, the inside with a peer stayed stagnant, account for 65% of the total incidents.


In late 2017, my program made a pedagogy shift. We were allowing more risky play to
occur and focused our annual training around outdoor play. We incorporated a more natural playscape into our outdoor classroom, thereby naturally increasing the children’s access of risky play.


In 2018, this is where the largest drop of inside with a peer, incidences occurred. Though, the outside with peer drastically increased. If you combine the two categories it is equal to 2017’s data, and down fifteen points from 2016, down twenty-one points from 2015, and twenty-five points from 2014.

Every afternoon we have the children gather together after rest time to read a story and talk about the “best part of their day.” This is a routine part of the day which has been occurring since 2016. It ensures all the children are in the same space to allow a snack to be prepared. The learning objective is to build social-emotional skills (turn taking, public speaking) and higher cognitive thinking (memory recall events, understand passing of time, expand verbal skills.) The teachers also use this exercise to help plan future activities. Every child is asked (regardless of their age.) Even the infants babble a few statements!
Best Part of Our Day

These particular observations occurred when the children were spending less time outside, due to the colder winter weather. I tracked the children’s responses over the course of one week. An overwhelming majority of the children (and one day it was unanimous,) stated the best part of their day was outside. They typically did not give any specific detail simply, “outside.” It’s important to note sometimes even when the children said an inside activity, it related to something which occurred outside. For example, one child said the best part of her day was, “napping, because I was so tired from playing outside.”

A recent study in a Florida kindergarten looked at a specific lesson which occurred at the same time each day for 6 weeks. The researchers observed the children in both an indoor and outdoor classroom. The data showed fewer observed instances where a child was off task in the outdoor classroom. The researchers also found the children ad to be redirected less in the outdoor classroom. Both teachers report the children appeared happier during the outdoor lessons. (Largo-Wight, et. al., 2018)


I encourage everyone to jump on board and consider moving (at least parts) of your day outside! Need some ideas on the how?!? Check out my blog post on how to transition to an outdoor classroom!



Largo-Wight, E., Guardino, C., Wludyka, P. S., Hall, K. W., Wight, J. T., & Merten, J. W. (2018). Nature contact at school: The impact of an outdoor classroom on children’s well-being. International Journal of Environmental Health Research, 28(6), 653-666. doi:10.1080/09603123.2018.1502415

Smith, S. and Granja, M.R. (2017). The Voices of Maine’s Early Care and Education Teachers: Children with Challenging Behavior in Classrooms and Home-based Child Care. New York: National Center for Children in Poverty, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University






Playdough Fun with Books

Playdough might be the most perfect universal material for the early childhood classroom. It is so versatile! Here’s a great way to scaffold the learning of the children in your early education programs.

For younger students, math is still an abstract concept.  Being able to manipulate objects to visually see quantity in a three-dimensional way can support their developing understanding of math concepts.  

Using familiar books combined with play dough will entice these young students to practice adding in a hands-on way.

Screenshot 2019-02-03 at 3.25.30 PM (1)

What You Need:
Play dough in various colors
Story mats (you can make these yourself)
2 pieces of white paper (one for drawing the character and one for writing the equations)
Marker (black or blue)
Plastic sheet protector
Put Me in the Zoo by Robert Lopshire

What You Do:

First, draw the bear character from the book on one of the pieces of paper. The easiest way to draw the character is by tracing. After you trace the character, you can outline it with a dark marker.

Insert your drawing into the sheet protector. If you happen to have a laminator then you can also laminate.

Set up the colored play dough on a table.

Invite your student to listen to the story. As you read the book, ask questions such as, “How many red spots do you think he has on his body?” or,
“How many colors have we seen so far?”

When you are done reading the story, show her your drawing of the character in the book. Explain that she will use the play dough to make his spots and will count how many spots he has.

You can begin by showing an example of how the play dough will be manipulated so that she can follow: Choose one color of play dough and shape a small piece into a ball. Then set it on top of the character. Repeat. After setting a few pieces, do the same with another color of play dough. Repeat until there are a few play dough balls on the character.

Now you will show her the addition part: Ask her how many balls there are. For example, “How many red balls are there? Let’s count.” Ask her to write the total on the other piece of paper.  Then, add the other color of balls, asking, “Now how many green balls do we have?” Again, write the number on the paper.

Now have her add together the total amount of balls, and write the answer on the paper.

Continue this process by having her use the other various colors of play dough.

Screenshot 2019-02-03 at 3.23.09 PM (1)

This activity can be done with many popular story books, such as:
Ten Apples Up On Top! by Dr. Seuss
Ten Black Dots by Donald Crews
Chicka Chicka 1, 2, 3 by Bill Martin Jr.


For further activities I suggest checking out the link below, they have a wide variety of activity ideas for preschool up to 5th grade.



Using Daily Routines to Teach Preschool Academics

As a Reggio-inspired program, we use the environment and daily routine as additional  teachers. Our space is set up so that each child care be successful, as is our day to day routine. Within the routine, the children have expectations; hang up your jacket, put on your slippers, etc. Part of our expectations really come into play when the child turns three years old.

Our program is a play-based, Reggio-inspired program. We move along our days learning about topics that are of interest to the children. We give them the opportunities to learn through play.

There are certain, measurable academics we still want to ensure the children of our program learn as they spend their days with us. We meet these academic needs by utilizing jobs in our program.

At age three, our children are officially “preschoolers.” There are many things that come with being a preschooler, but one of the most coveted is having a weekly job! We have eight jobs, one for each child, which they rotate through on a weekly basis. It is through these jobs that we work on the “academic skills” they will need to acquire to be successful as they continue on to elementary school, and into adulthood.  Each job encompasses many of the standards of the Maine Early Learning Development Standards (MELDS.)


The jobs on rotation are: snack helper, pet help, light inspector, librarian, nap cot helper, nap bags, lunch helper, and name caller. Each of these jobs play an important role in teaching the children in our program a multitude of skills.



In this article I will focus on the jobs of snack helper, lunch helper, nap cot helper and nap bag helper.

Our snack and lunch helper jobs are seemingly the most exciting. Each child here has a placemat, which is the first component of this job. The helper will choose who’s placemat goes where. This means using their executive functioning to determine who is older and tall enough to be at the bigger table, and who needs to sit at the smaller table, and who could be at either table. The helper then puts out the necessary plates, cups, and utensils for the meal.

The meal helpers are building on the following skills.

  • Recognizing print – each child’s name on the placemat
  • Hand-eye coordination
  • Beginning to subitize
  • 1:1 correspondance – one placemat, one cup, one fork
  • Beginning to recognize the relationship between numbers and quantities
  • Beginning to understand self-serving of meals


The nap cot and nap bag helper are ones that are enjoyed almost as much as being a mealtime helper. During the nap set-up, the helpers are tasked with removing the nap bag from the cabinet, unstacking the cots and placing around the space. Each of these jobs help to build math skills. At nap time, we have a few children who sleep in the same spot, but others space rotates daily. It is the choice of the nap bag helper to determine who sleeps where (with occasional teacher input.) Nap cot helper can present a challenge, because the children sleep in multiple rooms and space for nap time, and we are often changing the layout of our environment as we notice the children using or not using, areas and toys.

The skills learned in these jobs are:

Nap Bag Helper

  • Print recognition – name tag with each child’s name on their bag
  • 1:1 correspondance – one cot, one bag
  • Develops increased ability to make independent choices

Nap Cot Helper

  • Develops motor coordination skills
  • Demonstrates spatial awareness in relation to stationary objects in the environment
  • Uses physical movement to gain understanding of orientation and directionality
  • Recognize and duplicate patterns in the environment.

Stay tuned for future articles when we discuss our other preschool jobs!

Family Child Care: A Professional Career Path

I always had one passion in life, for as long as I can remember I wanted to be a teacher. I remember playing “school” with my younger brother. I would write math problems on the windows for him to solve. Throughout high school I participated in Future Teachers of America. Each week I would spend a few afternoons volunteering in the classroom at the local elementary school. At this point in my life I only associated a teaching career being possible in a K-12 school. No one ever told me there could be another option.

After I graduated high school, I went straight to college. After a semester, though my passion for becoming a teacher didn’t cool, my interest in attending UMF did. I missed my family, my boyfriend. I transferred to University of Southern Maine for the spring semester. USM did not offer an education degree, so I opted for another interest of mine, business. A few years went by and I got married, bought a house, and had a great career start in the investment field.

22308808_10155716367824633_8132545034294681172_nThen I had my son. A lightbulb went off in my head as I started looking for childcare. I realized I could do what I always dreamed of, be a teacher, and stay home with my children. I enrolled at Andover in the late summer if 2003 and opened my family childcare. With every class I took and every day working from home I knew I had made the right decision. I graduated in 2005, right before the birth of my second son.



When I first told my employer I was leaving to open my own business, they highly discouraged me. I was given stats on how many new business’s fail in the first year. I was asked why I would want to throw away my current career to become a babysitter. I had doubts myself, but it felt right to move in this direction.

My first early childhood professor showed me how important this career path was. This is where I first learned about Maine Roads to Quality and National Accreditation. I learned the business side of childcare was just as important as the educational component of childcare.

I often hear providers discuss the challenges they face with parents and community. They discuss how they are not being respected. Parents don’t want to pay for a vacation or late pick up charge. Parents treat the provider as an employee, trying to dictate what is done in the business. Parents challenge their knowledge, questioning everything. I know I still experience “the look” when I say I am a family childcare provider. I am asked why I still do care in my home since my children are older. Or they assume I will stop once my children graduate, then I will go back and get a real job. Even my employees are asked when they will get a real job. They get a paycheck each week, they have a real job!

The financial field I was first in, is considered a professional career. When I was in that career, I took finance classes to get certifications. I had to have a fingerprint background check done. I had to pass tests to be licensed to trade on the stock exchange. When I told people where I worked, they would say, “Wow” or “What a great career path you’ll have.”

Over the years I have been a family childcare provider, as I obtained certifications, acquired more experience and education, I am treated more like a professional than a babysitter.

I first obtained national accreditation in 2007 and have since renewed three times. I now have 3 employees and 12 children every day. In 2015, Shunk Child Care, became the first in the State of Maine to obtain outdoor classroom certification through Nature Explore. In 2018 we were endorsed as an Eco-Healthy Child Care through the Children’s Environmental Health Network. Family child care is my calling and I am enjoying every moment of it.

I have been involved with our state associations (with the various forms it has taken) over the years. I am the current treasurer of our newly formed State Association (FCCAM) which is an official affiliate to the National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC.)

I encourage all  early educators, especially family providers to join your State and National Associations. Look for credentials and certificates you can obtain to improve the quality of your program. The more you view yourself as a professional business owner in a professional career the more others will view you that way as well.

I wish when I was in high school someone had told me being a early education teacher was a career option.  My goal is for everyone who is interested in becoming a teacher to know family childcare is a possible choice. I want communities to understand the importance of home-based family childcare providers. Family childcare providers care for over 900,000 children in the United States. We must continue to come together and continue to develop our profession.

80% of a child’s brain develops before age 3, 90% before age 5. We truly are helping to raise the future.



screen-shot-2016-12-25-at-9-16-07-amFamily Child Care Association of Maine: https://fccamaine.wordpress.com/

National Association For Family Child Care: https://www.nafcc.org/

Nature Explore: https://natureexplore.org/

Let’s Go 5210: https://mainehealth.org/lets-go/childrens-program/child-care-providers

Eco-Healthy Child Care: https://cehn.org/our-work/eco-healthy-child-care/

Maine Roads to Quality: http://muskie.usm.maine.edu/maineroads/

NAEYC: https://www.naeyc.org/our-work/initiatives/profession




Our Newly Updated Outdoor Classroom!!

I first intrigued with outdoor classrooms back in 2014. That is when I first learned about Nature Explore. I was at the National Family Child Care Conference and I overheard another provider talking about her certification.

I decided right then, outdoor classroom certification would be my program’s next long-term goal. My staff and I worked hard over the course of the next year. I am proud to say in 2015, Shunk Child Care, became the first Nature Explore Outdoor Certified Classroom in Maine.

In 2016 we tweaked out design just a bit….trying to improve the overall flow and feel of our outdoor environment. (You can see pictures of the space in this blog post – https://shunkchildcare.blog/2018/05/20/making-it-happen-transitioning-to-an-outdoor-classroom/ )

In 2017, I, Sasha, took an environments course through University of Maine at Farmington. One of our assignments was to create our dream outdoor space. Here was my design…


Though I was happy with my design (and with my grade,) I knew I needed a professional to touch it up before breaking ground and making my dream a reality.  I hired Sashie Misner to review my design. Sashie is a landscape architect who has designed several playgrounds around the State of Maine.

Once Sashie’s design was complete, it was time to pick a landscaper. I chose to work with, Three Stone Landscape, as they had experience working with Sashie’s designs. They helped create the playscapes at East End School, Breakwater, Children’s Center, and most recently at the Goldman Family Preschool.

So here is the finished product (well not quite finished we are still waiting on a small slide!)

This is the view from the front yard. We have plans to grow a vine plant (perhaps grapes?) up and over the arbor.

As you walk through the gate, to your right are blueberry bushes. This year’s crop has been our biggest yield! In addition to all the berries we have eaten fresh, we have an additional gallon bag filled in my freezer….and we’re still picking! To the left we have a stone path, playhouse, and tunnel. The children utilize this space daily.

Continuing down the walkway to the right is our water area. We painted the rain barrels with acrylic paint. We repurposed our sand tables as water tables. The small hose attachment has made filling the tables much easier. That was a great, inexpensive investment. The storage rack is a repurposed shower caddy. Since it is designed to be in water, it won’t rust!

Our journey continues with our building area and dirt digging area. The two spaces are divided by a large green maple tree. This helps to shade practically the whole area. We also had a bench built around the tree. The children enjoy jumping off it, sitting down relaxing on it, and sometime covering the entirety of it with dirt.

As we round the corner, we have our stage, music and movement area, art area, and our library. These spaces fit nicely next to each other.

Across from these areas, we have our sand area along with our mini climbing wall and (eventually) a slide. The picture shows an open space to the deck. There is a built in gate which we can slide shut if needed. Here is a view from the deck. I love my picnic tables, though in retrospect white was not the best color to choose. Our shade sail allows us to eat outside no matter where the sun’s position is in the sky.

Past the sand area and the deck, we have our action area, which is a larger open space along with the trains the children can climb through. Just off the deck is our messy materials area aka the play kitchen. The children have a variety of pine cones, acorns, woodchips, rocks, and dirt to use in their play. Last, but not least, are the gardens. I was insistent on having as many gardens beds as possible. The original plans had the gardens outside of the play area, then the plans changed to have 4 beds. Ultimately we were able to fit 7 raised beds in the space. 

If you are planning to redesign your space I suggest you first draw the space. Get some graph paper, a tape measure, pencils. This will help to make sure you proportion your areas correctly. Think of what you already have and can repurpose. You don’t need everything to be new, because real quick the children will make it look old. Use the same techniques you use for your inside space. Quiet areas such as books and art should not be next to louder areas such as blocks or water play. Children love to run in a figure 8 pattern. Think about how the children will move from space to space when you set your design.

Though the pictures show a large space, my lot is less than 1/3 of an acre. You can transform your yard no matter how big or small.

Please reach out if you have any questions about creating your own outdoor classroom.

Our Favorite Materials:

Butterfly Wing – https://douglascuddletoy.com/product-category/dreamy-dress-ups/wings/

Children’s Picnic Table – https://www.polywoodoutdoor.com/picnic-table.html

Recycled Tank Drum – https://www.facebook.com/jetabdrums/

Rain Barrels – https://www.pwd.org/sites/default/files/rain_barrel.pdf

Train Set (I have a 4 piece set, I don’t know if they make those anymore) – http://www.pinecraft.com/amish-made-train-engine-locomotive-playground-set.html

Shade Sails – http://www.coolaroousa.com/shade-sails

Library – https://littlefreelibrary.org/

Additional Resources:

Sashie Misner – https://natureplaydesign.wordpress.com/consultation/

Nature Explore Classroom Certification – https://certified.natureexplore.org/

Three Stone Landscape – http://www.threestonelandscape.com/


Homemade Paper – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Do you find scraps of paper collecting endlessly and tell yourself they are for a project or that the kids will use them eventually? Well, Eventually has come!


With just a few handfuls of ripped paper we made over 20 pieces of paper in this child geared project!

What you’ll need:

  • A Blender, a cheap one that you don’t use for food. I picked one up for $15 at a big name box store.
  • Scrap Paper
  • Water
  • Mold and Deckle ( DIY for a more inexpensive option)
  • A large plastic bin ( We used our sensory bin)
  • Measuring cup
  • Wash clothes and Sponges
  • Flat Surface (cookies sheets, wood panels, plexiglass)
  • Glitter (Optional)
  • Cookie Cutter Molds (Optional)


First you can have the children rip up the scrap paper, it should be about a square inch in size or smaller. You only need a two handfuls per batch.


Place them in a bowl with a bit of water and soak overnight.

* You don’t have to soak it long but it does help for a smoother finish of the paper.

Get a large space where you can set up all you’re materials. Being an outside classroom, and having this be a messier project, we set up outside on the back deck.

We made an assembly line of of our process which started with the bowl of paper.


Fill the blender with water. We used a watering can we filled from our rain barrels. This gave a child a job opportunity to keep the watering can full. Once the blender is full, add a small handful of paper. Pulse the blender until the paper is a fine pulp. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also add extra fine glitter! If the mixture is too watery (not fluffy) add a small handful and pulse again.

Place your mold and deckle into the large bin. The bin will catch the liquid of the mixture while the screen of the mold will catch the fluffy paper pulp.

Pour the mixture into the measuring cup for more accuracy when pouring.

Pour a small rectangle shape into the mold and deckle. Use the edging of the frames as a template.

Allow the mold to drain slightly, try not to shake the mold too much or you could get holes in your paper.

Remove the top half of the mold revealing just the screen with the pulp. Flip the screen onto the flat surface for drying. Before removing the screen,  take a washcloth or sponge and remove as much moisture as possible. 


Remove screen and allow a few hours to dry. We placed ours in direct sun which dried the paper within a few hours.


Once comfortable with the process, you can use cookie cutter molds to create different shaped paper. Pour the mixture into the cookie cutter on the screen of the mold, remove cutter, flip screen on flat surface to dry. 

This activity opens up an important conversation about the materials we use everyday! Reduce the trash we produce! Opt for reusable materials such as washcloths instead of paper towels! And recycle as much as possible!

Enjoy your Recycled Paper!



Bridget Goes to Conference…

Bridget and ShannonConference 2018 Thoughts…

This was my fourth time attending the National Family Child Care Association’s Annual Conference. This year was an entirely different experience, as I attended not just as a provider, but as a board member of Family Child Care Association, Maine.

In previous years, I chose workshops based on my own personal interests, and topics that I thought I could adapt into my teaching. This year was different, in that I chose workshop sessions that were more about leadership and working with a broader scope. One of these workshops was one that I was invited to, which was quite exciting. I was asked to participate in an open dialogue with Shannon Christian. Shannon is the Director of the Office of Child Care at HHS’ Administration for Children and Families. The OCC is responsible for the Child Care Block Development Grant. This is federal money that is allocated to the states, so long as each state meets the requirements outlined in the grant. This grant is working to help families receive high quality, affordable child care.

The purpose of this open dialogue was to share with Shannon challenges we face as Family Child Care providers, as well as programs and supports within our state that are working well for us. This session included around twenty-five other family child care providers, all of whom are affiliated with their state’s Family Child Care Association. It was very informative to hear from providers around the country. I found that we all had similar concerns, and when we shared them with Shannon, she seemed interested in ways that she and her staff could help us to overcome roadblocks.

One issue seemed to stand out most, and that was states not recognizing Family Child Care as what it is. Family Child Care is a valid avenue for the care and education of our young children. The idea of FCC is that children are taught, loved, and nurtured in a home like environment. Too often, when FCC is observed by state and federal funding sources, we are held to the same standards as child care centers, when that’s not what we are. FCC providers don’t want their homes to look like little, “mini centers”, they want them to look like homes. This is not to say that one is better than the other, but there are differences in what FCC looks like, as there well should be.

This issue of states sending in personnel who are unaware of what a family child care looks like, and what it is, seemed to raise the importance of providers joining forces in their states. Each of the state representatives who mentioned issues with their states, were part of their state’s family child care association. This stressed the importance of groups, such as Family Child Care Association, Maine. It is through these affiliates that each of our whispers becomes a shout, and we work together for the good of the state.     

Shannon also mentioned that overall, the amount of family child care homes has been on a decline over the last ten years. Based on what I heard at this meeting, it seemed like most family child care homes are closing because the cost of living is rising, and that most new homes built have Homeowners Associations, which bar homes from having businesses in the development.    

What does this mean for Maine? It seems like, overall, we are doing better than some states. We have already implemented childcarechoices.me as a source for searching child care by area. We have Maine Roads to Quality, which is an excellent resource for those in our field. This meeting stressed to me the importance of providers belonging to organizations like MRTQ, as they can keep track of programs, and what types of support and trainings providers need.







Community Partnerships Can Change Lives: My Beach to Beacon Story

If you don’t know about this race, let me fill you in. The Beach to Beacon is an iconic race which has been a staple in Maine since 1998. Joan Benoit Samuelson is the founder. Who is Joan? She was the first woman to win an Olympic gold medal for a marathon. She won the inaugural woman’s marathon in 1984.

We first need to start back several years….high school. Remember having to run the mile in gym class? I do and it was terrible. I was overweight and generally unhealthy. I have this vivid memory of my freshman year when another girl and I were the last 2 rounding the bend, slowly. She was popular, I was not. 4-5 of the popular boys ran back to her and literally pushed and pulled her across the finish line. They yelled things like “you’re not going to be last, you’re not a loser.” They also said a variety of other not nice things toward me for being last. Needless to say, that experience in no way empowered me to become healthier.

Now let’s fast forward to 2012. This is the point where my husband’s running journey started. He was a school bus driver and had the opportunity to transport a group to and from the Beach to Beacon. He was able to watch the elite runners cross the finish line, it was nothing like he had seen before. The strength and endurance they displayed had my husband in awe. Back on the bus, as the racers loaded on, everyone seemed to have this glow about them. Also, they all had medals. My husband thought that was cool and thought to himself, “I want a medal.” Literally the next day he started running. The following year he would go on to run several 5ks, a couple of 10ks, and a 1/2 marathon.

James encouraged me to run. He was always there to support me. I struggled with running, it was not fun. After focusing on healthy eating, general exercise, and lots of stretching, I was ready to try some races. My first 5k was in October 2014, the L.L. Bean Bright Night 5k. Yep, I came in dead last. Though this time, everyone was cheering me on. After the race people approached me and said congrats and wow you were amazing. It felt great. I knew then I was going to keep running!
1st 10k

In February 2015, I remember being on the treadmill at my gym, Anytime Fitness. I finished a 5k, then decided to try for 4 miles, then I kept going hit 5 miles, well then I thought I’m almost there and got to 6.2 miles….a 10k. I couldn’t believe what I had done, “Who am I?” I thought. I decided then and there to try and get into the Beach to Beacon. 


August, 2015 I ran the B2B, my first official 10k. What an amazing race experience. The running community is so supportive. I felt more empowered with every step. I am proud to have participated in 2016, 2017, and will again in 2018.

At the B2B, I won the raffle for a free entry into the Lake Auburn 1/2 marathon and I completed my first half that September. Yep, I was dead last again. I had no ill feelings though, only positivity. Everyone was so supportive, cheering me on. I have since completed 8 half marathons! Something I never thought I was capable of.

I have extended my “miles” by having mileage club each summer in my childcare. We have a .5 mile, 1 mile, 2 mile, and 4 mile route (for our oldest only!) The children love the medals my husband and I have earned. So, I created a “medal” for the children. Everyone has their own necklace and for every mile they walk, a foot is added. One year the challenge was who could get to 500 miles first Sasha, or the children collectively. Another year we tracked our progress on a State of Maine Map. As we accumulated miles, we marked on a map of the State of Maine. This year we are simple tracking with a goal to collectively reach 500 miles. By the end of June we had already completed 107 miles!

What do we learn in mileage club?!? So much! It fills me with joy when the children request a walk, and want to challenge themselves by going further or running faster. Below is from our newsletter explaining the how our mileage connects to Maine’s Developmental Learning Standards.

We use this activity to meet a variety of learning goals as put forth by the State of Maine. It is so much more than us simply going for a walk. Maine’s Development Standards are written as a continuum from age 3 to 5. Maine also has infant/toddler guidelines which feed into the Preschool Age Standards.

Social/Emotional Development: plays beside and interacts with peers, participates in group glee, impulse control, anticipates and follows routines, follow safety guidelines

Approaches to Learning: participates in an increasing variety of tasks and activities, begins to set goals, develop plans and complete tasks

Language Standards: vocabulary acquisition and use

Safety: seeks adult approval before approaching unknown pets

Motor Skills: walks/runs well, increase of jumping, hopping, skipping skills

Physical Health Status: maintains physical growth within the CDC recommended body mass index, develops and awareness of personal health and fitness

Math: rote count to 10 and beyond, recognizes written numerals 0-5, responds with number words and/or counting strategy when asked the question How many, transitions from rote counting to 1:1 correspondence, color recognition, recognize and duplicate patterns, represents data using simple graphs

Physical/Earth Science describes temperature, weather and seasons using words such as, rainy, cold, warm, sunny and identifies items used for protection, safety and enjoyment in different weather conditions, makes simple observations about the sky and connects observations to what we do outside

Social Studies: understands the reasons for rules in the home and classroom and for laws in the community, displays awareness that rules and laws change, participates in developing classroom rules and decisions, recognize that people share the environment with other people, animals and plants, recognizes aspects of the environment such as roads, buildings, trees, gardens, uses words to describe time such as yesterday, tomorrow, before, and after

In 2017, Let’s Go 5210, was the beneficiary for the Beach to Beacon. Since Shunk Child Care was (and still is) a Let’s Go Gold Site and my coordinator knew I was running the B2B, we were asked to host Joan Benoit Samuelson.

The Beach to Beacon helped to change my life. If my husband hadn’t initially been to the event, he would have never started running. Without his encouragement, I would have never started running. Though, I might have still started mileage club, it would not be at the level it is today. For certain, Joan would have never visited the program and most importantly a picture of my bathroom would have never garnered over 600 likes!


Though I realize not everyone wants to start running. I would encourage everyone to try and be a bit more active and find a way to incorporate with the children you care for. Teach them at a young age to be supportive and help each other.

I am fundraising this year for Let’s Go 5210. Below is a link to my page. http://events.mmc.org/site/TR/Events/General?px=1166141&pg=personal&fr_id=1220

For More Information:

Beach to Beacon: http://www.beach2beacon.org

Let’s Go 5210: https://mainehealth.org/lets-go/childrens-program

Maine Developmental Standards: https://www.maine.gov/doe/publicpreschool/documents/Maine-ELDS.pdf

Where I purchased the mileage club supplies: https://www.fitnessfinders.net/

Connecting Across the Nation

Family child care providers, by and large, work solely by themselves. Though I now have employees, this was the case for my first several years as a provider. It’s hard work to work with young children each day by yourself. It can be quite isolating. We don’t get breaks, work 12 hours days at least, and just because the children are not here, doesn’t mean we are not working! There is meal prepping, cleaning, activity planning, and the PAPERWORK. Ugh, paperwork!

So how can providers overcome the isolation? By connecting with those who do the same work.

I attended my first conference in 2012, Atlanta, Georgia. Honestly, a life-changing experience. I wish I had better pictures (especially when I got to meet Grover from Sesame Street!) The trainings were good, but it was the connections I made were the best. Meeting providers from around the nation and hearing their stories was powerful. I never realized there was such a difference in requirements from State to State. I was naïve for sure. After this experience, I vowed to try and attend each year and bring my staff as well.

As psyched as I was to go again in 2013, I just couldn’t make the trip to Arizona. Timing and money didn’t work in my favor.

In 2014, I was fortunate to have saved enough money to attend, along with my staff, so we headed to Orlando, Florida! I was able to take a preconference training with Tom Copeland about fun stuff (seriously I do love thOrlando 2e business side of my job) like record keeping and policy writing for legal matters. This is the conference I really started connecting with other providers. Facebook made it easy to exchange information and stay in touch! This conference is where I first learned about Nature Explore, a provider in Kansas had a certified outdoor classroom. If I hadn’t met her, I never would have become the first certified outdoor classroom in the State of Maine the following year.

At conference we are appreciated in a variety of ways. My favorite is the Tribute to Family Child Care, held the Saturday evening of conference. This year’s theme was “shimmer, sparkle, shine!” Though it wasn’t a red carpet, blue carpet treatment is just as amazing!

Of course who can go to Orlando without heading to DISNEY WORLD! I know I can’t. Disney was a great bonding experience for my staff and I.

2015 I was back again at the “Together We Can” conference in Bloomington-Minneapolis, Minnesota. This was an exciting time as I attended the Train the Accreditation Trainer during preconference. My co-provider received a grant from Maine Roads to Quality and was able to take the observer training. So excited her and I were now both NAFCC observers! I was able to finally meet Mason from NAFCC. I had talked with him on the phone so often this past year. He was my observation scheduler. It was wonderful to put a face to a name.

The Mardi Gras themed tribute was a success! Mother Goose Time graciously gave $100 gift certificate to each accredited provider in attendance. Another highlight was a scavenger hunt at the Mall of America.

Once again in 2016 conference was on the west coast. Unfortunately the flight times and cost did not make it possible for us to attend in San Diego.

2017 was in Mobil, Alabama. This time we had the red carpet treatment for our gala event along with the Southern Belles! A highlight for me was during one of the sessions everyone was asked to write on a sticky note what team work means to them. The top 3 stickies were put on the wall and…..one was written by me and the other two by my employees! I guess that is why we work so well together. We are all on the same page.

Once again we accredited providers were doted upon. We received a nice tote with books galore. It feels great to be appreciated. It helps me get through the challenges of the year.

We got a little sight seeing in, it was a gorgeous view right on the water. The Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center was across the street from the hotel. We had a wonderful afternoon there. Our favorite excursion would be Dauphin Street and the boozy slushies (well we were on vacation after all.)

In 10 days, my staff and I will be headed to Chicago for the 28th annual conference…Celebrating the Power of Family Child Care. I am looking forward to my cup being refilled once again. At least in my State, the number of Family Providers is on the decline. I hope to be filled with ideas to help encourage more providers to open their doors.  Stay tuned for a follow-up blog about our Chicago experience!












Death and Your Curriculum

Death is never an easy topic to talk about. It is especially overwhelming to think about explaining death to a young child. Here are some of the ways we have dealt with and explained death to the children of the childcare.

Gardening is where all the children at Shunk Child Care first learn about death. The children observe the life cycle of a plant. The plant grows through spring, summer, fall and then ultimately dies in winter. We use vocabulary like die, dead, and death. These are not words to be afraid of. I think it helps when a child has heard and experienced death on a smaller scale. It gives them a better understanding to such a difficult, abstract concept. It really helps prepare them for life.

Pets are another way children learn to cope with death. Over the years our family cats have died. Notice I did not say, pass away. This is a term used by adults, but can be confusing to young children. You never want to say “passed away” or “put to sleep.” This can make children afraid of going to sleep or just confuse them. You don’t want the child to think the animal (or person) has just gone to sleep and will wake up again.

Today a few of the older children noticed a dead bird by the shed.2 They quickly yelled “Elephant” (our word to alert a teacher if they see something unsafe and needs to be attended to immediately.) I ran over to see what it was. Indeed, a bird had died beneath the feeder. The questions the children had were fairly basic…”How did the bird die?” “Can I touch the bird?” “What kind of bird was it?” Children are concrete thinkers at this age. Of course the answer was no to touching the bi9rd. We used our backyard bird guide to determine it was a song sparrow. The children hypothesized how the bird died. The consensus was a larger bird attacked it. Just as we came to this conclusion a predator bird was circling overhead!

We bring the children in our program on visits to local cemeteries. Evergreen is our favorite to visit, as we can explore the ponds as well as model cemetery etiquette. We do not touch headstones (unless a family of the deceased says you can.)  I allowed the children to feel the headstone of my grandparents. We do not step on the plaques markers on the ground. We are quiet and respectful of others who are visiting.

Back to our bird today…

Because of their prior experiences, the children expressed the desire to dig a grave for the bird. They were eager to help and got right to planning. They chose a spot near where it died, right under the feeder, that way the other birds could come visit if they wanted too. Many of the children drew a picture and dictated their words. We placed the pictures into the grave and covered with soil. We found a rock to create a headstone and used acrylic markers to write our message. Each child and teacher had an option of saying a few words.

May you be at peace little song sparrow. 

I stumbled upon this book at the library last year, The Dead Bird, by Margaret Wise Brown. We have read this in our program before and we listened to the story again today. Our bird was clearly dead, we did not need to touch it. I would not promote any children touching dead animals. Though, I like how this story states very clearly how the bird’s heart was no longer beating. This is something concrete for a child to understand. They can feel their own heart beating, they can feel their friend’s hearts beating. This story also pulls in vocabulary words such as grave and funeral.

Another wonderful book to read to children is, The Invisible String, by Patrice Karst. It was recommended to us last year by a social worker. This book is a must for every childcare library! It is a story about how our love is connected even at the greatest of distances. It is great for separation of any sorts, whether it’s a caregiver leaving for work or someone you loved has died.

Discussing and bringing attention to the topic of death may be difficult but it is a very important one.  Even the death of plants can help build resilience in children and help give them tools and skills for later on in life. Today we had a example of our emergent curriculum at work. Something died in our classroom and we made it into a teachable moment right there and then. Do not let the circle of life catch you off guard, whether it’s a dead bird or a dead loved one. Start preparing, and encompass the topic of death into your everyday curriculum.

Additional Resources

Center for Grieving Children: http://www.cgcmaine.org/



Book List

The Invisible String by Patricia Karst

The Dead Bird by Margaret Wise Brown