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.

For More Information:

Beach to Beacon:

Let’s Go 5210:

Maine Developmental Standards:

Where I purchased the mileage club supplies:

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… 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:

Book List

The Invisible String by Patricia Karst

The Dead Bird by Margaret Wise Brown




Making It Happen: Transitioning to an Outdoor Classroom

An outdoor classroom is exactly what it sounds like, a classroom that is outside. Our outdoor classroom pulls inspiration from our indoor space.  The areas we have inside, we also have outside. Our outdoor spaces are influenced by the Nature Explore philosophy.

In 2015, Shunk Child Care, became the first in the State of Maine to have an Outdoor Classroom certified by Nature Explore. We are very proud of our work and want to inspire others to transition their program to be outside as much as possible.

Here are some photos of our before space.

First, I assessed what I had, which was lots of plastic materials. The primary function of the space was for gross motor. I knew in order to have a successful “outdoor classroom” I would need to incorporate all the learning areas, just like I have in my indoor space.

I worked with my staff and got them to jump on board! Everyone was intrigued with the idea of having an outdoor classroom.

10610746_10152689461164537_154121593277107557_n     IMG_1457.jpg     10978701_10152689461269537_3752265725655776650_n

We started one step at a time. First by moving our group story time outdoors. Then we started eating our meals on the deck. Our last routine transitioned was nap time. We worked on the rest of the areas slowly over the course of a year.

IMG_4688.jpg  IMG_6122  IMG_0574

We still have a large area “action area” which the primary focus is gross motor. We also added….

  • music area
  • nature art area
  • sand area
  • water area
  • messy materials area
  • dirt digging area
  • building area
  • gathering area/books area
  • quiet alone space

Here are our after pictures from 2015…

In 2017, I took a college course on designing early childhood education environments. For one of my assignments, I observed the children’s play and how they moved throughout the space. From there I redesigned the space, filling my design with all my “dream ideas.” Well fast forward to 2018 (and after working with a licensed playground architect) my outdoor design is becoming a reality. This was a decision my husband and I made, knowing we needed to replace our deck and fence anyway. They were over 15 years old and showing their age. I hired Three Stone Landscape here in Portland and so far everything is looking magnificent.

Just remember, you do not need to hire a professional. As you can see from our pictures above, you can create a magical space for children without spending a fortune. It just takes planning. 


Math Books for Young Children

These are a few of my favorite math books! I have linked them to the Maine Early Development and Learning Standards. I created this annotated bibliography as part of a math assignment for my college course.

Campbell, S. C., & Campbell, R. P. (2014). Mysterious patterns: Finding fractals in nature. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press, an imprint of Highlights.

 Mysterious Patterns

MELDS Geometry

Mysterious Patterns is a book which focuses on the patterns found in nature, fractal patterns. Examples of fractal patterns include broccoli, trees, and even lightening.

Though toddlers and younger preschoolers will enjoy flipping the pages of this book, it is written for older preschoolers and school aged children. By modifying the text, I am able to engage all the children in my program.

With the older preschool children, who have a solid concept of basic shapes and their attributes, I utilize this book to further their understanding of shapes. The moment I said the word “fractal” each child’s ears perked up. They knew this word, lyrics from Frozen’s Let it Go. This prior knowledge helped to connect what a fractal is. After reading we went outside to find fractals in nature.


Dean, J., & Litwin, E. (2016). Pete the cat and his four groovy buttons. Louisville, KY: American Printing House for the Blind.

Pete the Cat

MELDS Counting and Cardinality Cluster & Operations and Algebraic Thinking

Pete the Cat is a counting backwards book, starting from 4 and ending with 0. As Pete rides his skate board his shirt buttons keep popping off one at a time.

I use this book in conjunction with a Pete the Cat game I created, where the children roll the dice and “pop” off the number of buttons they rolled.

This book is different than other backwards counting books. Dean and Litwin specifically put the numerical math equation (ex. 4-1=3) after the question was asked, “How many buttons are left?”

I first learned about Pete the Cat at a national family childcare conference back in 2012. I haven’t met a child yet who doesn’t like Pete the Cat!


Falwell, C. (2008). Turtle splash!: Countdown at the pond. New York: Greenwillow Books.

Turtle Splash

MELDS Counting and Cardinality Cluster & Operations and Algebraic Thinking

Turtle Splash is written and illustrated by a Maine author. The story simply counts down from 10 to 1 as each turtle goes into the pond through rhyming text.

This book is similar to a pond the children in my program are familiar with. We visit this pond a few times a year as a group. I always bring this book with us to read. We compare the number of turtles in the book to the number of turtles at our pond.

I use this book to practice rote counting backwards and numeral recognition. With older children I work on algebraic thinking, “There were 8 turtles on the log and 1 went in the water how many are left on the log?” “What if two had gone in the water?”


London, J. (2010). Froggy Gets Dressed. Paw Prints.

Froggy Gets Dressed

MELDS Geometry & Measurement and Data

Froggy Gets Dressed depicts a young frog who wants to play outside, but he keeps forgetting to put on different articles of his winter clothing. By the end of the book he figures out the correct order to put his clothes on it, but alas, he is too tired now to play outside.

I use this book to teach sequencing skills, especially as we head into the winter season. This book is filled with prepositional words. As the children dress themselves I am sure to model the same language they heard in this book.


Mazzola, F. (2000). Counting is for the birds. New York: Scholastic.

Counting is for the birds

MELDS Counting and Cardinality Cluster

This is a counting book which increases from 0 to 20 as more birds fly to the feeder. The family cat is close by on each page trying to catch a meal. Before the cat can capture on his feast, a pesky squirrel interferes.

This book is wonderful because all the birds depicted are ones possible to see ay my childcare. Many have been spotted in the outdoor classroom.

I use this book to teach cardinal counting by both 1’s and 2’s. On each page two bird are added, which makes it a great way to have children practice counting by twos. I also use this book to practice numeral recognition.

I pair this book with our bird sensory bin. I include bird manipulatives and a bird house within a bucket of bird seed. I also make sure to include the cat!


Shannon, D. (2011). Duck on a bike. Auckland, N.Z.: Scholastics.

Duck on a Bike

MELDS Mathematical Practices & Geometry

Duck on a Bike is a story about a duck who decided he wants to try riding a bike. He rides his bike in a variety of ways around the animals of the farm. He rides, slow, fast, toward, and past. All the other animals thought duck was silly, but after they saw empty bikes they changed their mind. All the animals ride bikes around the farm.

In the warmer months we often have bike parade days. Each child brings their bike from home. We bring this book out every bike parade day! Riding bikes not only promotes prepositional language, but also works on balancing skills.

Additional Resources:


Simple Math Materials to Enhance Your Classroom

Math, there is so much more to explore than simply 1, 2, 3, 4!

Here at Shunk Child Care, we work hard to make sure your children develop the necessary mathematical skills to become lifelong mathematicians. We do this by ensuring our curriculum meets Maine’s Developmental Learning Standards (MELDS.)

MELDS define five areas of math: mathematical practices, counting and cardinality cluster, operations and algebraic thinking, geometry, and measurement and data.

I purchased cedar deck railings from Lowe’s for about $12 each. I painted with black acrylic paint. I opted to add yellow dashes as this material was originally intended for the cars in the block area.

The railings can be used as ramps. The children time how long it takes their car to get to the end. We have 2 railings, so they compare times. The children try and roll down numerous types of materials (cars, balls, pinecones, acorns, etc.)

The children also use the railings for balancing. Experimenting with standing on each side. This helps them explore weights, leverage, and balances. The sections I have are 6ft, I opted not to cut in half. The children even devised their own teeter totter.

Ramp 4

Our railings have persisted for over a year providing HOURS of learning enjoyment for the children. Open ended materials are the perfect “math material” to enhance your classroom.

This material meets MELDS standards Mathematical Practices, Geometry, Measurement and Data:

  • Recognizes the idea of a “problem” and “problem solving” in the physical and social world.
  • Communicates math ideas verbally and non-verbally
  • Uses physical movement to gain understanding of orientation and directionality
  • Responds to words indicating directionality and position through physical movement (near, far, beside, up, down, over.)



Click to access Maine-ELDS.pdf

Outdoor Books for the Outdoor Classroom

An Outdoor Classroom means we spend all day outside, which includes story time! As we transitioned to our all day outside curriculum the book issue became quite apparent, quite quickly. Between weather, dirt, moisture, and well, 12 children a day, our books were not up for the wear and tear of being outside. This lead to a brilliant idea, laminate those books!!

What you’ll need:

  • Laminator
  • Laminator Sheets. We use Scotch™ Letter Size Lamination Pouches
  • Paper Cutter
  • Three Hole Punch
  • Staple Remover
  • Staples™ Loose Leaf 1 inch size metal rings. 16 pack found Here  (3 per book)
  • Books!


What to do: 

First, the books to be brought outside need to be selected. Paperback books are the easiest to transfer as the staple is right there on the binding. At first we selected books we had multiples of and then selected books we found fit with our theme of nature and the outdoors.

If the page numbers are not marked, write them in yourself! You will want to be sure of the order once you disassemble the book!!

Use the staple remover to remove the staples from the binding and dispose of them. You will then need to cut the page in half at the binding. For a neater, straighter, quicker cut, use a paper cutter. If using scissors, only cut a few pages at a time.

You will then stack the pages in order from cover to cover. Taking one page at a time, place each one in a laminator sheet.
Once the laminator is hot and ready, you can begin to send the pages through. As they come out you can stack them back in order.

Even if the pages are smaller than the laminator sheet we have found it best to not trim them. This allows us to place each sheet into the three hole punch.
Once all pages are laminated and hole punched attach a metal ring into the three holes.  Your book is complete!


For storage keep them in a dry place as heavy saturation will seep through the lamination.

To clean, wipe with a damp cloth and dry.

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