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.







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