May 2022 Newsletter – Project-Based Learning: Elements of Project-Based Learning

One of the hallmarks of PBL is that children are tasked with answering a real-world question or exploring solutions to real-world problems or challenges. This brings a level of authenticity that is engaging for many children.

Project based learning builds upon the weekly themed lesson planning that traditionally happens in early learning environments. For example, the traditional “community helpers week” is a great foundation for future projects. All of the activities during this week give children a chance to learn more about police officers, firefighters, mail carriers, etc. These activities are most likely planned in advance by the teacher, with little input from the children.

In contrast, a community helpers PBL unit may focus on the real-world question of “How does someone become a community helper?”.  During this project, children not only learn about community helpers but discover the skills and qualifications required to become a firefighter or a doctor. They can work together to generate ideas for how to answer the main question, which may lead to other questions that need to be answered. They can work in teams to write letters to the local police department asking their questions or invite the mail carrier to come into the classroom for an interview.  Prior to the interview, they can generate a list of questions to ask the mail carrier and after they have gathered the answers to their questions, they will need to compile the information into an easy-to-understand presentation or poster.

Projects should promote inquiry and flexibility, meaning that five days into the project, there may be more questions than answers and projects may change direction before returning to the original question (which they may never do).   Teachers encourage children to continue following their interests in the topic until it wanes. As you can imagine, most projects won’t fit neatly into a one-week lesson plan.

The great thing about PBL is that it can be scaled to the interests and developmental level of the children in the group.  For example, older students may work on a project with a focus on how to save money for college or a car.  Younger children could also do a project related to saving money for a class pet or to donate to a local charity.

In addition to focusing on real-world questions and solutions, PBL provides opportunities for:

  • Child choice: children generate ideas for how they will contribute to the project.
  • Child voice: the ideas generated come from the children. Adults facilitate and help children document their ideas and observations, but the children do the work.
  • Ongoing inquiry: children have the chance to revisit and revise questions and ideas throughout the project. Adults encourage children to rethink, redesign, and restart elements of the project as necessary.
  • A tangible product or solution: the goal of a project is for the children to generate a real solution or product that addresses the question or challenge that was the genesis of the project.

Lastly, PBL differs slightly from traditional projects that you may be used to from your experience in school in that they are the learning opportunity, not the culmination of a unit of learning. For example, in a traditional project, a class may read a book about animals and create a poster about the book.  With PBL, the children would research information about an animal that is on the endangered species list and write a book about the animal and how to save them!

Learn more about the difference between traditional projects and PBL here.  You can even take a quiz here to see if you can tell the difference between the two – we scored 8/8!


For the main article Project-Based Learning, CLICK HERE

For the article Benefits of Project-Based Learning, CLICK HERE

For the article Getting Started and Project Ideas, CLICK HERE

For the article Director’s Corner – Supporting Project Based Learning, CLICK HERE

May 2022 Newsletter – Project-Based Learning

With the school year wrapping up, it is time for programs to reflect on what worked, opportunities for growth, and summer planning. Many early learning programs experience an influx of children who require care for the summer months. This is a great time to consider enhancing the learning opportunities and methods that align with the interests and skills of these youngsters.

One teaching tool that programs can incorporate is called project based learning, or PBL, for short. According to the experts at Buck Institute for Education/PBLWorks, PBL can be defined as:

…a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge.

You may recall completing projects, either as part of a group or as an individual, when you were in school. If you participated in a science fair, created a public service announcement video, or built a miniature representation of your town as a student, you are familiar with the idea of completing a project.  Using a project-based learning framework takes traditional projects to a completely new level.

In this month’s newsletter, we will explore elements of PBL and provide project ideas that you can use to engage children in meaningful and active learning experiences this summer. With any luck, the experience and confidence you gain planning projects over the next few weeks will empower you to incorporate PBL year-round!


For the article Elements of Project-Based Learning, CLICK HERE

For the article Benefits of Project-Based Learning, CLICK HERE

For the article Getting Started and Project Ideas, CLICK HERE

For the article Director’s Corner – Supporting Project-Based Learning, CLICK HERE

April 2022 Newsletter – Nature-Based Learning: Director’s Corner – Supporting Staff as They Enhance Nature-Based Learning Opportunities

Director’s Corner – Supporting Staff as They Enhance Nature-Based Learning Opportunities

If you don’t currently work in a nature-based preschool or forest kindergarten, extended periods of nature-based learning may not be built into your program’s routine. There are a few ways that programs can incorporate nature-based learning experiences:

  • Build them into the existing outdoor playtime
  • Increase the amount of time spent outdoors
  • Provide different materials that promote nature exploration
  • Schedule regular community field trips or nature walks
  • Increase the number of natural items and learning experiences that are present inside

It is quite possible for leaders to unilaterally make changes to class schedules and purchase additional materials, but to ensure buy-in, it is better to involve staff members in the planning process.  If boosting nature-based learning is a goal for your program, here are some things you can do:

  • Start the conversation: About a week before your next staff meeting, share an article with your staff that introduces nature-based learning and its benefits. Several appropriate articles are available in this newsletter and you could find others online. Ask participants to review the information in preparation for a conversation that you will be having during the next staff meeting.
  • Brainstorming: During the staff meeting, ask for feedback on the contents of the article. Review your program’s philosophy or mission statement. Ask staff to identify how the philosophy and nature-based learning align. If it is not clear, consider making revisions.  Also, ask team members to come up with a list of opportunities and challenges that they will face as your program moves forward with enhancing children’s experiences in nature. What materials might they need? What changes to the daily routine are necessary and realistic? It may even be beneficial to have teachers reflect on any aversion they have toward spending time in nature. Finally, ask for volunteers to sit on a committee that will focus on creating policies and practices that will be used moving forward.
  • Create an action plan: As conversations continue, you and your committee will have to answer the what, when, where, why, and who of this endeavor. What are the most important tasks that must be accomplished? What materials are needed and what is the budget and plan for purchasing them? What changes need to be made to playground schedules? What nature-related resources and locations exist in your community? Will the program adopt a nature-based curriculum or will teachers come up with ideas on their own? Are there field trip policies and procedures that need to be created or updated? Set the committee to work answering these questions and others that arise during your conversations. Create priorities, timelines, and due dates.
  • Engage families: One of the action items should include how you will communicate this enhancement to families. Be sure to share resources that support your decision to increase nature-based learning opportunities. Talk about the benefits and provide activity ideas that families can try at home. Additionally, efforts should be made to engage families in your nature-based learning experiences, either as field trip chaperones or volunteers.  Perhaps family members work in nature-related fields.  These individuals can be invited to share their knowledge with staff and children.
  • Involve the children: Sometimes, teachers will be able to identify children’s interest in nature simply by observing their play. It could also prove helpful to have conversations with children during meals or group meetings to find out what children are interested in learning about.
  • Continue to learn: Share books and resources with your team so that they can continue to learn about activity ideas and best practices for nature-based learning. Seek out professional development opportunities related to nature exploration. Work with individuals and teaching teams to implement enhanced learning experiences.

By enrolling your staff in the planning of enhanced nature-based learning experiences, you will be creating enthusiasm and accountability. This practice is essential to the success of the project.

For the main article Nature-Based Learning, CLICK HERE

For the article Benefits of Nature-Based Learning, CLICK HERE

For the article Materials for Nature-Based Learning, CLICK HERE

For the article Nature-Based Learning Tips, CLICK HERE

April 2022 Newsletter – Nature-Based Learning: Nature-Based Learning Tips

Nature-Based Learning Tips

One of the most important things to keep in mind about nature-based learning experiences is that they should be based on children’s interests.  They should also be hands-on and promote exploration, observation, and documentation. Educators should avoid lengthy “lessons” about nature and instead, act as a facilitator of children’s learning.  Supervision and safety remain the top priorities, but there should also be a high degree of independence and child-initiated investigation.

There are hundreds of activity ideas that we could list here but since we don’t know the children in your program or their interests, we’ll use this space to share some other key practices to keep in mind.

  • Watch for choking hazards – Be sure to provide materials that are appropriate for the age of the children in your program.
  • Wash hands – Ensure children and adults practice proper handwashing after exploring in nature.
  • Do no harm – Encourage children to observe nature with their eyes, ears, and noses. They should ask to pick up unfamiliar items and should be careful not to harm or damage the things they are exploring.
  • Become familiar with your environment – Learn about the plants, animals, and insects that are common in your area. Inspect your nature space often and remove any hazards.
  • Do thorough research prior to field trips and nature walks- Gather as much information as possible about the site, availability of water and restrooms, and terrain. Visit the site before visiting with the children to get a solid lay of the land.
  • Engage with the children – Ask children questions about their exploration. Talk about their observations and encourage children to document what they see. This can be done in a nature notebook. Introduce new vocabulary words and learning concepts, while continuing to allow the children to take the lead.
  • Challenge your comfort level – Not everyone is comfortable sitting in nature, touching dirt, or picking up items from nature. While it is not necessary for teachers to jump in mud puddles with children, they should be sure that their aversion to nature does not impede children’s learning opportunities. Work with a mentor or member of your leadership team to determine how you can best support children’s learning.
  • Plan activities each week – Make space on your lesson plan for nature exploration activities. Identify the materials you will make available and how you will document what children are learning.

Childhood by Nature has created a list of activities that you can explore to help you implement nature-based learning experiences.

For the main article Nature-Based Learning, CLICK HERE

For the article Benefits of Nature-Based Learning, CLICK HERE

For the article Materials for Nature-Based Learning, CLICK HERE

For the article Director’s Corner – Supporting Staff as They Enhance Nature-Based Learning Opportunities, CLICK HERE

April 2022 Newsletter – Nature-Based Learning: Materials for Nature-Based Learning

Materials for Nature-Based Learning

Before you create the materials list for enhanced nature-based learning, it is a good idea to review some of the resources that are available. Childhood by Nature has compiled a list of Top FREE Nature-Based Learning Curriculums for Schools and Homeschools.  By reviewing these resources, you will have a better idea about the types of materials that you will need.

Some of the materials may come in a standard science kit, such as magnifying glasses and bug observation boxes.  Other materials may be collected from families or community marketplaces such as Freecycle or Craigslist. Sometimes, the only materials children require are their eyes, ears, noses, and hands.  Here is a list of just a few of the items that you could introduce to the children in your care:

  • Garden tools – shovels, spades, rakes, watering cans, gloves, etc.
  • Seeds and planter boxes, indoor plants (Check the poisonous plant list to avoid dangerous plants)
  • Buckets, baskets, sifters, and funnels
  • Carts and wheelbarrows
  • Books about nature topics
  • Binoculars and magnifiers
  • Bird boxes, houses, feeders, etc.
  • Butterfly gardens and plants that attract butterflies
  • Outdoor seating or mats
  • Sand and water tables or bins, sound garden from repurposed pots and pans, mud kitchen
  • Art supplies, notebooks, pencils
  • Various nature-related loose parts and figurines
  • Lumber, stumps, tires, recycled boxes
  • Weather tools – thermometer, rain gauge, windsock, etc.
  • Measuring tools – rulers, measuring tapes, measuring cups/spoons, etc.

For more material ideas, check out these offerings from Discount School Supply.

For the main article Nature-Based Learning, CLICK HERE

For the article Benefits of Nature-Based Learning, CLICK HERE

For the article Nature-Based Learning Tips, CLICK HERE

For the article Director’s Corner – Supporting Staff as They Enhance Nature-Based Learning Opportunities, CLICK HERE

April 2022 Newsletter – Nature-Based Learning: Benefits of Nature-Based Learning

Benefits of Nature-Based Learning

Researchers have long studied the benefits of nature for both adults and children. In 2019, a team of researchers, led by Ming Kuo, associate professor at the University of Illinois, reviewed hundreds of studies related to the benefits of exposure to nature.

The results of the review identified several positive benefits that nature has on students in the following areas:

  • Physical activity and fitness
  • Self-discipline and motivation
  • Stress reduction
  • Resilience
  • Attention and perseverance
  • Engagement and enjoyment
  • Cooperation and teamwork
  • Creativity
  • Exploration
  • Independence
  • Critical thinking
  • Leadership
  • Environmental stewardship or caring for the planet

These studies align with the many studies on the benefits of nature for adults that have documented the stress-reducing and health-promoting effects of spending time in nature.  The fact that so many areas are positively impacted by nature reinforces the idea that it is possible to enhance student outcomes through nature-based learning.

Even if individual children do not experience all of the benefits, the potential that children will experience some of these benefits makes the effort worthwhile. For example, if nature can help reduce stress in a child’s life, they will be better able to engage in learning experiences and interact with peers, even if they never become a steward of the environment.  And when that child’s stress is reduced, they are likely to be less disruptive in the classroom, creating a more calm and safe learning environment for all children.

You can learn more about the finding of the research review here:  Do Experiences with Nature Promote Learning? Converging Evidence of a Cause-and-Effect Relationship.

For the main article Nature-Based Learning, CLICK HERE

For the article Materials for Nature-Based Learning, CLICK HERE

For the article Nature-Based Learning Tips, CLICK HERE

For the article Director’s Corner – Supporting Staff as They Enhance Nature-Based Learning Opportunities, CLICK HERE

April 2022 Newsletter – Nature-Based Learning

Nature-Based Learning

Outdoor play is an exciting part of the routine in most early learning programs. You can sense a change in the air as playground time approaches. Have you ever stopped to wonder why that is?  What is it about the outdoors that inspires such interest and engagement?  Is it the sliding board or the tricycles?  Perhaps it is the freedom to run and jump and roll around.  Or maybe it is the opportunity to discover, observe, and interact with nature.  Whatever the reason, children get really excited when it is time to go outside, and where there is excitement, there is the opportunity for learning.

Being mindful of not stripping away the child-led, free-play nature of outdoor time, there are ways that programs can adopt a nature-based learning approach: According to an article by Childhood by Nature.

Nature-based learning includes learning about the natural world but extends to engagement in any subject, skill or interest while in natural surroundings.

It’s more than bringing items from nature into the classroom, which should be a normal practice.  It is about creating engaging learning experiences outdoors. In this month’s newsletter, we will explore how this can be accomplished.

For the article Benefits of Nature-Based Learning, CLICK HERE

For the article Materials for Nature-Based Learning, CLICK HERE

For the article Nature-Based Learning Tips, CLICK HERE

For the article Director’s Corner – Supporting Staff as They Enhance Nature-Based Learning Opportunities, CLICK HERE

March 2022 Student Spotlight – Kierst Doolittle

Initially, I went to school for communications.  After a couple of internships, I realized that while I enjoyed the field, I wanted to try something else.  A relative thought I would be a great teacher so I gave it a shot.  After a few months, I was sure that I wanted to stick with teaching.  My co-teacher was a fabulous mentor and encouraged me to try ChildCare Education Institute so I completed CCEI’s Early Childhood Credential.

I think that the children themselves as well as my education motivates me to work with children.  I love gaining knowledge from my classes and seeing it first hand in being applied the classroom.  I think that my personal strengths are well suited for teaching and being able to be hands on, creative, and problem solve on behalf of children who are struggling.  Helping children make leaps in their development is very rewarding.  I am fortunate because I get to work in a toddler class, young three-year-old class, and the mixed age after school program.  Getting to watch the children grow and to continue to have a connection throughout their entire preschool experience is special.  I am motivated to make sure they are ready for their next class and see them have the competencies to be fully engaged in the pre-K classes.

One of my favorite things about working with young children is watching them meet new milestones.  It is so exciting to see a child come in and begin to master a new competency that they didn’t have the week before.  I also love their enthusiasm and hearing what they have to say.  Hearing life from their perspective is so fascinating.  It is neat to see what concepts they are able to grasp and how their understanding changes throughout the year.

My favorite time of the day to spend with the children is after school at “Stay and Play.”  “Stay and Play” is the after school program for children 2.9 years-old and up.  This is a less formal time of the day.  We eat lunch and the children often help decide as a group what they are interested in doing that day.  It is a smaller, mixed age group.  I love the chance to get to know children who aren’t in my class and get to have more one-on-one collaboration with all the children.  Sometimes we build campsites or workshops outside, work on projects such as painting and decorating a playground for monkeys, or making boats out of found materials and making adjustments with trial and error.

The children’s favorite time of day is outdoor free play.  Because of the pandemic, we have been spending a lot of time outside and have created classroom centers on each playground.  At the end of the day, we go back outdoors for free play and the children love being able to run, jump, climb, use the outdoor mud kitchen, mixing tables, outdoor reading center, imaginative play areas, and coloring.  Right now their favorite activities include building with the large blocks in the sandbox to build homes for animals, creating obstacle courses, and mixing up pies in the kitchen area.  The children have hugely benefited from the increased outdoors time.

I currently live in Boston, MA and work at a small play based nursery school in Weston.  In the winter I love to ski.  I also enjoy cooking and going for runs in the city.  I am currently at Northeastern studying  psychology with an early education minor.  I am focused on my classes at Northeastern; however, I intend to take more classes at CCEI.   While I love being in the classroom at the moment, someday I would like to be the director of a school.

CCEI was recommended to me by one of my co-teachers and the director of the school.  We all had a positive experience with CCEI!  My education coach was very helpful, responsive, and encouraging.  I would not hesitate to recommend CCEI to anyone in the ECE field!

March 2022 Newsletter – Speech and Language Development: Augmentative and Alternative Communication Tools

Augmentative and Alternative Communication Tools

Sometimes, children with speech and language delays use tools to help them communicate.  These tools are typically introduced by speech and language therapists or other early intervention professionals.  They are trained in the best practices for using these tools in the home and classroom environments. If a child in your care uses a communication device, be sure to speak with the child’s family or therapist to ensure you are using the tool appropriately.  Request training or ask for a demonstration of the tool so that you are confident in how to support the child who is using the tool.

Some forms of alternative communication include gesturing, pointing, and indicating needs through eye-gaze. There are many technology-based tools, as well as no- or low-tech options available to support children’s communication. Common tools include:

  • Picture cards and cues – Some children use picture cards or cues to communicate a need or preference. Sometimes, the picture cues are arranged onto a page or board using Velcro. This allows the communication board to be set up for a variety of scenarios. For example, the card can be set up to allow a child to choose a learning center or a snack option, depending on the cards offered.  Teachers can also create cards that depict parts of the daily routine and other common prompts.  When working with the child, the teacher can flip to the appropriate picture card to provide a visual prompt to the child.
  • Switches and buttons – Switches and buttons can also be used to support communication. When activated, these tools help a child gain the attention of others and communicate needs and preferences. These tools can be pre-programmed with messages that play when the buttons are pushed.
  • Communication Boards and Tablets – These electronic devices allow children to create longer sentences in the moment. They follow the same principle as the picture cards, but these devices generate audio messages that can be created spontaneously. In addition to electronic communication boards, there are also applications that can be downloaded onto a tablet that assist with communication in a similar manner.

There is a wide variety of tools with different levels of communication support.  Again, be sure to work closely with the child’s family and therapist to be sure you are using the tool appropriately and in a way that aligns with the child’s developmental goals.  Click here to learn more.

For the main article Speech and Language Development, CLICK HERE

For the article Elements of Speech and Language Development, CLICK HERE

For the article Speech and Language Development Milestones, CLICK HERE

For the article Promoting Speech and Language Development, CLICK HERE

March 2022 Newsletter -Speech and Language Development: Promoting Speech and Language Development

Promoting Speech and Language Development

From the earliest age, the best way to promote speech and language development is to model skills by simply talking with children.  When others speak, infants are exposed to the sounds of speech as well as the patterns of grammar and sentence structure.

Early learning environments, including infant and toddler rooms, should be filled with light-hearted and joyful conversations. Conversations can be initiated by paying close attention to what the children are doing or showing interest in.  For example, a teacher can describe what they notice children doing or strike up a conversation about something that had grabbed a child’s attention.  Take a moment to reflect on the amount of time spent engaged in meaningful conversations with children versus the amount of directive or corrective language that you are using in the classroom.  If you feel like most of your interactions are focused on giving directions or addressing issues, make an effort to infuse more casual conversations into your day.

Playing turn-taking talking games with children, even when they are only babbling, models the natural flow of back-and-forth conversations. As children age, the language games can change to include riddles and rhyming games. Songs and fingerplays are also great ways to build speech and language skills.

Reading to children is another vital opportunity to introduce new vocabulary words and create strong bonds with children. Introduce a variety of literature to children including poetry, fables, and works of nonfiction. Doing so will help ensure that children are exposed to a wide variety of vocabulary words and styles of language.

Ask lots of questions. At first, children may point to objects in the environment if you ask them where something is located.  They will soon develop the ability to use short phrases to respond to your questions.  As they age, children will develop the thinking and language skills to answer more complex “How?” and “Why?” questions.

When children mispronounce words, it is sufficient to simply repeat the word or phrase back to them using the correct pronunciation. For example, if a child tells you, “I had take for my burtday” you can say “Oh, you got to eat cake on your birthday? Cake is my favorite treat!” This example illustrated how adults can model the appropriate pronunciation (which children likely know, but their oral motor muscles are not yet able to produce) and expand upon what children say. Another example of expanding on children’s language would be to say “Yes, that is a big red fire truck” when a child points to a firetruck and says “tuck.

Model non-verbal communication skills in addition to verbal parts of speech. Show children they have your attention by putting down your pen, turning your face toward them and making eye contact.  Nod as the child speaks and use appropriate facial expressions in response to what children say.  It is important to not force children to engage in these non-verbal cues, just act as a model and have fun!

For the main article Speech and Language Development, CLICK HERE

For the article Elements of Speech and Language Development, CLICK HERE

For the article Speech and Language Development Milestones, CLICK HERE

For the article Augmentative and Alternative Communication Tools, CLICK HERE