Gardening with Preschool Children

By Jen Willette, TLC Preschool Teacher

Have you ever wondered how to involve your child in gardening? Involving children in the gardening and growing process can be exciting for both you and them (even if the initial thought strikes the fear of randomly dug holes, plucked seedlings, and mud - mud everywhere - in you). In addition to teaching botany, biology, ecology, the life cycle, and the deliciousness of a fresh veggie picked from the garden, gardening also teaches children many skills, from problem solving, to planning and implementation, to patience, and finally how to appreciate and enjoy the satisfaction of hard work, a job well done, and the final product: delicious, nutritious vegetables. Here are a few simple ways to get your children involved gardening:

1.    Soil preparation: Children love to dig in the dirt! Invest in some quality child-size gardening tools and dig in the garden with your child to prepare the soil for seeds or seedlings. Removing the old and preparing the bed for new will help children learn about the season of spring and ecology of soil, and that in order to grow, we sometimes have to remove the old stuff! This can be done even with young two year olds.

2.    Go seed and plant shopping with your children. Allowing them investment in this process will make gardening more concrete for them. Try to choose plants that mature quickly, along with those that take longer to mature. An example of this would be radishes (28 days) to pumpkins (90-100 days). Let your child pick a few seed packets that they can take ownership of from selecting, to planting, to caring for and harvesting. If your child is very young, seed packets make excellent rattles they love to shake as you shop.

3.    Planting is fun, however, it is one of the shortest processes of gardening. Talking about what plants need to grow and get bigger at this time helps children understand more about why we do certain things, like adding compost and making mounds for melons. Teaching children how good soil, water, sun, and air that can move around helps plants grow will help the children see that all living things need different things to grow. 

 
 


4.    Watering! Who doesn’t love to play in the water on a hot summer day? Giving the plants a good soak on a hot day is important. Sometimes you can even see the difference in five minutes from a droopy plant to a happy plant, creating a great moment to talk to kids about the plant's response.

5.    Bugs, Bugs, Bugs! Make it a point to look for different types of insects and living things in your garden. On a good day, you could spot a ladybug, spider, robin, and a snake all lounging about in your garden. All of these are important to the health of your garden and make it exciting to have a scavenger hunt to search for something new. Ladybugs, spiders, and robins all eat "bad" bugs that can chew away at your plants, and snakes help keep your garden clear of rodents and other small critters that would otherwise enjoy chewing on your carefully cultivated plants.

6.    Weeding: I would love to say that children like to weed, but lets be honest…they don’t. Save yourself some frustration and do most of this yourself. Showing kids that weeds (plants we do not want) will also grow with the plants that we do want is a good skill for them to learn. Children who did not know the difference have pulled many plants that were meant to survive. To help cut down on weeding, you can implement companion planting techniques and teach kids about how some plants help each other grow better. For example, planting certain herbs around and between vegetables both helps the vegetables grow and suppresses weeds. Bonus: you have more fresh herbs to use in the kitchen!

7.    Harvest time: This is often the most enjoyable part of gardening for children; seeing what their seeds turned into brings great satisfaction. Harvest your produce with your child and point out things that you notice: the root system, the size of the leaves, how many fruits the plant produced. 

Gardening is not a guaranteed success. It is often a trial and error and the same is true of gardening with little people. The most important thing is involving them and allowing them to have some investment in the garden. Learning the value of hard work is a skill that will be useful for the rest of their lives. Most of all, have fun and enjoy the time with your kids.
 

Exploring Science with Preschoolers

By Kathy Porter Peden, TLC Teaching Assistant

I love watching children learn about the world around them. They are such eager explorers and anyone who has spent more than a few minutes with a preschooler knows they are full of questions and curiosity.  

Sometimes, as teachers or parents, we are reluctant to dive into science topics and activities with our young kids, but I encourage you to give science with preschoolers a try. Here are four common fears with teaching young children science, and tips on addressing and overcoming those fears for a fun and engaging activity:

1.    "Science is intimidating.  I don’t know much about the subject my child or class is interested in."

  • You don’t have to be an expert in astrophysics before you start talking about space and stars with your children. You can teach them a vital life lesson by admitting you don’t know all the answers but you’d like to learn something new.
  • The children’s section of the local library has great beginner science books. Many have just a few words and great pictures.
  • You can find some great information and some really good videos on the internet bu make sure to screen these before sharing with your children. Not everyone has the same standards for what a child should see.

2.     "It seems too complex for young children."

  • Children grasp way more than we give them credit for. Think of all the amazing learning they have done in a few short years! Even if they don’t understand all the intricacies of a subject, having fun exploring it now will likely leave the door open to add to their understanding in the future.
  • Preschoolers LOVE big words. Science is chock full of impressive vocabulary. You can teach them one or two big words relating to the current topic and give simple definitions. Give them the opportunity to discuss and use the words several times and you will see their pride as they talk to others using that vocabulary. Recent “big words” in our class have been: nocturnal, echolocation, translucent, opaque, condensation, evaporation, and precipitation. 

3.    "It might not work right. I tried before and it was a flop."
  

  • Well, yes, that does happen. Things don’t always go the way we expect but even failures can be learning opportunities. Talk with the children about their ideas. “Why do you think it didn’t work?” “What should we do differently next time?” “Do we want to try this again to try something else?”
  • Try not to impose your own expectations on their exploration.  If you hear yourself saying, “That won’t work. Do it this way,” you might need to back off and let them do their own research. Last year I had one of those moments when my little students wanted to plant a huge mango seed along with all the lettuce and pansies we were starting for our garden. My first reaction was to explain that mangoes do NOT grow well in Colorado but looking at their eager faces, we stuffed it into a jar of dirt. They watered it and watched for weeks.  I was just ready to throw it away, assuming it was just a moldy mess when I saw a big green shoot was erupting from the ground. We transplanted it into a real pot and it’s a sturdy little mango tree these days. Every time I see that tree-let I am reminded that sometimes following a child’s curiosity can land you in a beautiful place.  

4.    "It might be messy."

  • Well, yes.  There is that.  You can take that into account and minimize the mess.  Do the messiest stuff outside.  Use a drop cloth or work in a dish tub or on a cookie sheet.  Keep towels handy.  Encourage the kids to wear their lab coats (paint smocks)

As you explore science with your children remember to:

Keep it safe.  Make sure your materials are safe for impulsive and fast moving little people.  Supervise closely.

Keep it fun.  Exploration and discovery and laughter are fun.  Memorization drills are NOT fun.

Invite the wonder.  Model asking questions and pondering the things your children ask about.

"I wonder why…?"

"I wonder what would happen if …?"

"I wonder how that works…?"

I hope you have fun exploring the world and seeing it through the wondering eyes of the preschoolers in your life.
 

Tips for Feeding a Picky Eater

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Children can be tougher critics than Michelin inspectors at meal time, making it difficult to figure out how to get necessary nutrients off their plates and into their tummies. Chronic pickiness becomes even more concerning when worrying whether your child is a typical picky eater or has a selective eating disorder. Some signs to look for to help determine if your child is more than just a picky eater include:

  • A restricted range of foods willingly eaten (usually less than 20).
  • Crying when presented with new foods as opposed to simply pushing the food around or away.
  • Refusing groups of foods with similar characteristics (no soft textures, no vegetables, etc.)
  • Never eating with the family and/or always having a separate meal.

If you suspect your child’s picky eating goes beyond what’s healthy for a varied, balanced diet, and your child isn’t showing signs of growing out of their pickiness, a pediatric therapist can help. Therapists, like those at TLC, can help children learn to tolerate new textures and tastes in food, help decrease a child’s anxiety at mealtime, address physical hindrances to eating safely, and more.

Wherever your child lands on the spectrum of pickiness, here are a few tips to help your child better enjoy mealtime, embark on new food adventures, and ingest more nutrition from a wider variety of foods:

  • Keep meals and snacks on a schedule. Kids will be more likely to try new foods if they’re hungry and know the mealtime routine. Set daily times for three meals and two snacks, so your child will learn to anticipate when food is coming, and how long they’ll have to wait if they choose not to eat what’s on their plate.
     
  • Let children feed themselves. Children like the independence of being able to feed themselves, and can better self-monitor their portion sizes and when they’re full. If there are multiple offerings on the plate, the child can also have the power to choose what items on the plate they wish to eat.
     
  • Wait. This one may be the hardest on the list. If you push the child to eat, they’ll resist. If you make a show trying to encourage the child to eat, they’ll not eat to keep the show going. If you applaud and reward when they do eat, they’ll learn that delaying eating merits praise. So the best thing to do? Set the food down, and wait for the child to show interest (or not) on their own.
     
  • Don’t allow old standbys to be an equal option to new foods. When plating, add a mix of new and favorite foods (while keeping a balance of protein, veggies, fruits, and high-fiber starches in each meal), while keeping the serving size of an old favorite small enough that won’t be enough to fill up on and ignore the new food. The more new foods you introduce to your child early on, the less picky they’re likely to be when they’re older, so keep those new foods in rotation.
     
  • Put dinosaurs on the table. Or a book. Or a small toy. My daughter likes to alternate between eating her food and dancing rubber dinosaurs across the table. This helps keep her happy when she wants to take a break from eating. She’s also been known to use the dinosaur’s tail to stab the food like a fork.
     
  • Let kids be involved. Whether it’s standing at the counter with you and “cutting” up a banana while you cook or letting them choose from two options what they’d like to eat, having a child involved in the meal selection and preparation process increases their investment in mealtime, and thus their engagement.
     
  • Tell a story before or along with the meal about the meal. Children are wired for stories, and incorporating the meal prep process, the eating process, and how the food nourishes the body into a story can help get kids excited to eat their food.
     
  • Make meal time play time. Let a child touch, poke, smash, and explore new foods. Helping a child get used to new foods is the first step towards taking a bite. Encourage play by letting children roll peas across a table, build with carrot sticks, mold rice into shapes, make faces on their plate, and more. Help your child associate meals with joy.
     
  • Let your child determine when they’re finished. Even if you don’t think your child has had enough to eat, respect their communication of “finished,” whether its verbal, a head shake, sign language, or another signal.
     
  • Feed each other. Allow your child to give you a bite of food (or three), then see if they’ll let you give them one.
     
  • Sneak the vegetables in from time to time. My toddler never turns down a banana zucchini muffin.
     
  • Start early, be patient, and model healthy eating habits. It takes repeated exposure to some new foods for a child to begin to tolerate, and even like, that food. Present new foods often as soon as your child is eating solids, be patient if they refuse to try the food and don’t force them to eat it, and model eating it for them (with gusto).

It may try your patience, but for the typical picky eater, repeated exposure and working to make meal time enjoyable will pay off as a child grows and their palate expands. If your child continues to insist on an extremely limited diet, demonstrates continued extreme resistance toward new foods, isn’t getting the proper nutrition or is failing to gain adequate weight, it may be time to get some help. Talk to your pediatrician and schedule a consultation with a pediatric therapist.

Here’s wishing many licked-clean plates in your child’s future!
 

Finding Calm through Yoga

By Mia Girard, TLC Occupational Therapist & YogaKids Instructor

During my routine Monday morning yoga class, I was reminded that my favorite part of practice is savasana. To me, this final pose is like a delicious dessert, something to savor at the end of a really yummy meal. I found myself lying there thinking about springtime, change, and new beginnings, and wishing I could recruit and share this fantastic, relaxed, connected, and organized feeling whenever I so desire!  The spring is a time of year full of transitions for myself, my family and also the kids that I work with at the TLC Learning Center.  Savasana, such a nourishing, sweet, soul-satisfying pose, helps me feel as though I can take on anything that life dishes my way! 

Finding Peace in a Busy Schedule

So then, after class, I began to think about how I can accomplish this task, using yoga like the YogaKids pledge reminds us: “anytime, anywhere to calm myself, energize myself, and make myself feel better.” I am reminded of my most difficult time of day, the after-work pre-dinner time frame when I am running low on patience, life gets briefly super busy, and my sensory system is most sensitive and fragile. Doesn’t it seem like everyone needs a bit of you then? To help with homework, answer the phone, cook dinner, pick up a something at the store, go through the mail, see who is at the door, answer a text message, etc.? Sometimes I feel as though if one more person needs my attention I am either going to run for the hills or cry like a baby. Not a very pretty picture, is it?  As an occupational therapist I am more aware than most of my sensory system; what calms and soothes it when I am frenzied, what alerts it when I am drowsy, and what disturbs it and sends me into a fight or flight response. Most of the time I have enough wits about me to remember my strategies: take a break for a minute or two, spritz myself in a calming essential oil mist, do some alternate nostril breathing, a forward fold, a sun salutation or two. While I might not be able to enjoy savasana at this time there are other yoga poses and tools that I can access to find the serenity within me. I have ways to regroup and re-enter my world with a refreshed mind, an open heart, and a calmer sensory system.  

Sharing Calming Choices with Children

Not all children are able to do this. In fact, many are not. One of my favorite things about YogaKids is that it gives us the opportunity to teach children about the art of self-regulation – the ability to calm or energize to meet the demands of the environment at that moment. More and more often children need strategies to learn how to calm and center themselves. While we adults may have developed many strategies without even being aware of them, children benefit from learning strategies from us! So maybe in my kitchen in the evenings, I can more openly share that I am about to enter into a fight or flight response, and communicate with my family what I am doing when I start my ‘Finger Flowers’ deep breathing and why it helps me! Maybe I create a spot on my fridge or wall for pictures or hand-written sticky notes of my favorite calming choices to remind myself and empower my family to build upon and use them!  

So put on your detective spectacles over the course of a day or so and see what your children do to calm themselves. Do they rock in a rocking chair, chew gum, take a bath, swing on the swing set, ask for a hug? From their choices, see what you can glean to enrich the sensory opportunities they are seeking and expand upon them. For example, if they like rocking chairs think of yoga poses that involve rocking like Rocking Horse or Rock ‘n Roll. Do you own a child-sized rocking chair, and might this be a perfect gift at a birthday? If they self-regulate through the use of their mouth, consider if deep breathing through Take 5, Finger Flowers, or Polar Bear Pose might be good choices for them. If they like the warmth and feel of being in a bath, try offering them a 2-3 pound heated and scented rice pack as a strategy to calm. In your time with your child, notice what helps him or her to settle down.  Share these observations with your child so that you have encouraged the ability to self-regulate within AND outside of the coziness of your home.  Empower children to develop for themselves the art of self-regulation!

Finger Flowers

Welcome to TLC's 61st Year Serving Children!

TLC preschooler Oliver paints in Ms. Jen's classroom.

TLC preschooler Oliver paints in Ms. Jen's classroom.

Welcome to 2017 at the TLC Learning Center!  We're a little late on the new year's welcome, but we've been busy growing (we have a new toddler classroom and full or nearly-full preschool classrooms and infant nursery) and learning. Whenever you arrive, we're glad you're here!

For over 60 years, TLC’s mission has been to provide, in a fiscally responsible manner, comprehensive early childhood education and therapeutic services to assist each child in reaching his or her highest potential. For this first blog in 2017, I am very pleased to announce that TLC Learning Center will finish our fiscal year 2016 with a positive net ordinary income bottom line! This is a huge accomplishment and only happens when you have a strategy-minded board of directors, focused and competent leadership, dedicated teachers and therapists, and a supportive community. Because of the success of our two fundraisers (2nd annual Kentucky Derby Party and 35th annual Christmas Tree Festival), full classrooms and caseloads, excellent turnout for Colorado Gives Day, and public and private foundations awarding us with much needed resources, along with conservative spending and operations, we were able to achieve a positive bottom line for the first time since we moved into our new facility in 2005.

We have lofty goals for 2017, but we need your help.  Here are the top 10 things you can do to support TLC Learning Center:

1.     Mark your calendar now and plan to attend the 3rd annual TLC Kentucky Derby Party Saturday, May 6th at Schlagel Farms.
2.    Contribute to TLC through your company’s matching gift program, or sign-up to support TLC on a monthly basis at ColoradoGives.org (you can also contact us at 303-776-7417 to set up a monthly gift, as we can only accept one-time gifts on our website at this time).
3.    Commit now to sponsoring a tree at the 36th Annual TLC Learning Center Christmas Tree festival using this form.
4.    Refer a friend to TLC for any child eight weeks to six years old and that family will get 50% off their first month of tuition. See our flyer for more information.
5.    Have your employer call TLC Learning Center and become a corporate partner and all employees will get 10% off tuition!
6.    Connect a new business that is moving to town with TLC Learning Center and help them become a part of the TLC community as an event sponsor or financial supporter.
7.    Invite me to come speak at your Rotary club, church mission’s committee, or civic group.
8.    Donate a monetary gift or item to our classrooms or pediatric therapy rooms. Visit our supply wish list to see what we're most in need of right now.
9.    Contact us with information about family foundations, community grants, or other philanthropic opportunities to share the mission of TLC Learning Center.
10.    Be an advocate for all children in our community and partner with TLC as we ensure every child is able reach his or her highest potential.  
Thank you for your support and feel free to come visit us anytime!  

A Scary Story by TLC Alum Hunter

Hunter is a TLC alum who received pediatric therapy services from age two to 12. Hunter's mom reports that he's doing great in school and recently wrote a Halloween story he was very proud of. We're proud of the story and of Hunter, so thought we'd share it with you!

Scary Story

John can see the old, abandoned lighthouse from his bedroom window. One night, the lantern in the lighthouse flicks on, and begins rotating. In front of the light, walks a shadowy figure…spooky. Is it the old lighthouse keeper, the one who disappeared years ago? John is so spooked that he yells for his parents. His dad comes into the room and John points at the lighthouse. “Look at the lighthouse!” he screams.

His dad turns on the bedroom light and looks out the window. The lighthouse is dark and the light isn’t spinning anymore. “What are you pointing at?” his dad asks.

John looks at the lighthouse, but there’s nothing there. “There was a really creepy ghost. He had a really creepy cloak on,” John says.

“Calm down. It’s nothing. Go back to sleep,” dad says, but John can still feel the creepiness as dad leaves the room and shuts out the light.
John doesn’t go back to sleep. He is worried the lights on the lighthouse will come back on again and he keeps thinking he sees a ghost near his window. He thinks the doors might open automatically. 

Something hits his window and the window glass shatters. John screams. Dad comes running back into the room. 

“What happened here?” he asks, but before John can answer a creepy shadow passes by the broken window. Dad reaches to turn on the lights but they don’t come on. 

John, shivering in fear, just points at the window.

Dad stays in the room with John until 3 in the morning when the power comes back on. The lights turn on, and the water in the sinks in the bathroom and kitchen starts running. 

“Why is the water running?” Dad asks. He tries to shut off the water but it won’t shut off, so the house starts flooding. Dad grabs John and starts to run outside. After three minutes, the water stops. The floor is wet but they go back in the house to clean things up. The clean up takes a long time, and by the time they’re done, John has to go to school.

At school, all of John’s friends are talking about the power being out. At all of their houses on the same street, glass shattered, power went out, and flooding happened. 

“It can’t be a coincidence,” John says.

After school, John and his friends are talking in the hallway and trying to figure out the mystery. John tells them what he saw at the lighthouse, so they decide to investigate. They reach the lighthouse but they notice something is wrong. There is a fence around the lighthouse when there never was one before. The friends decide to climb over the fence. Once they are inside the fence, they hear a bell ring, and the fence becomes electrified. They are completely surrounded. After five minutes, the bell goes off again and the fence is not electrified. They think they have five minutes to get over the fence. They go as fast as they can. As they are running away from the lighthouse, they hear a ghostly voice say, “Get out of here and leave me alone!”

The friends decide that’s a good idea, so they never go back to the lighthouse again.

TLC kiddos have fun with Executive Director Matt Eldred on Halloween last year. Kids are welcome to bring their costumes on Monday, October 31st, for a TLC Costume Parade.

TLC kiddos have fun with Executive Director Matt Eldred on Halloween last year. Kids are welcome to bring their costumes on Monday, October 31st, for a TLC Costume Parade.

Help for Riley, a TLC Kiddo

Because TLC is a combined preschool and pediatric therapy center, we work with both healthy, thriving children and medically fragile children. Sometimes our medically fragile children make huge strides in gaining strength and independence, but sometimes the challenges they face are far greater than any a child should ever be asked to overcome.

Riley is a seven year old boy with bright blue eyes and an infectious giggle who has been part of the TLC community since 2010. In 2013 he was diagnosed with PKAN, a progressive neurological disorder that causes progressive degeneration of specific areas in the central nervous system, affecting movement and muscle tone. Recently, Riley has had rapid progression of this disease and has been at Children’s Hospital for two weeks in and out of medically induced comas to try to help bring him relief.

Seeing Riley shift from a vibrant, healthy child who wants to do normal things like play and be with his family to a child who can't leave his hospital bed has been extremely difficult both for Riley and those who love him, including his family and the TLC staff who have worked with him for six of his seven years.

Riley's family has partnered with the Martyred Angels charity out of Boulder, who is sponsoring a GoFundMe campaign to help pay for Riley's medical expenses, expenses that are consuming most of the family's income (Riley's primary caregiver is his mother Erin, a single mom). Right now the primary focus of Riley's care is on making him comfortable for the time he has remaining with his family. Please keep Riley and his hope for recovery in your thoughts, and be thankful for everyday your children are healthy.

As Riley is part of the TLC family, we're sharing his story and GoFundMe page here, should anyone be interested in helping him and his family during this very difficult time. 

 

Hear What Parents are Saying About TLC!

TLC celebrates all of our families! Recently we welcomed new Speech Therapist Grace to our staff, and her daughter Daphne to our infant room

TLC celebrates all of our families! Recently we welcomed new Speech Therapist Grace to our staff, and her daughter Daphne to our infant room

We love when our parents and families share their thoughts about how TLC has impacted their children. Below are a few comments we've received from current parents, and we are so thrilled to be such a positive experience in their family's lives! You can read what other families have to say on our Testimonials page.

Isabel Cardoza, TLC preschool parents

I am really happy with TLC. I've noticed my son's improvements while coming to school - he wakes up energetic and happy to attend school. He also loves his teacher Ms. Caitlin. Everyone is so nice and kind and very supportive.

Robin Newman, TLC preschool parent

We are very happy with TLC. My son enjoys coming to school each day. We have a great support system here and I am thankful for each and every person - Caitlin, Lupe, Lindsey, Cindy, Breck, Cynthia and Kelly. TLC is a fantastic preschool! Thank you for all that you're doing for my son.

Marley & Jason Woods, TLC toddler parents

We love TLC. Our son just turned two and can already count to 20 and knows his alphabet. The teachers at TLC are amazing. My son is excited to go to school everyday!

TLC parent to a preschool four year old

I am very happy with TLC! My daughter has always loved school, but had a bad experience at a different school. I switched her to TLC and within a couple of weeks she was back to loving school again! TLC is so loving, patient, and genuine. So grateful to TLC!

We're Growing!

Our intrepid toddlers are sailing into new territory... a third classroom!

Our intrepid toddlers are sailing into new territory... a third classroom!

In response to community need, TLC will be opening a third toddler classroom by the end of June! The renovations were completed over spring break (thank you so much to our partners and grantors who contributed to the project) and we plan on opening the new room on June 20th. TLC will welcome new staff Karianne as the room's new lead teacher, and Mera as the new assistant teacher.

With the opening of a third toddler classroom, there will be some transitions for students in June. If your child will be affected by this change at TLC, you will be notified by your child’s teacher. 

Thank you to the support of the parents and community who have trusted us with the care and education of your children. We hope to continue to serve as many children as we are able with high quality, fully inclusive early childhood education programming, and this expansion is another opportunity for us to open our classroom doors to more families.