Parent Toolkit Nights: Expanding Our Toolkit

By Renee and Russell Schoenbeck; Parents of TLC toddler Riley, age 2

 Riley enjoys painting contact paper with watercolors for a fun sensory activity in her toddler classroom.

Riley enjoys painting contact paper with watercolors for a fun sensory activity in her toddler classroom.

We love TLC. Let’s just throw that right out there. We love the mission. We love the philosophy. We love that we KNOW our daughter’s life is being enriched by her time spent at TLC. So, when opportunities at TLC present themselves, like Parent Toolkit Nights, we are eager to participate. 

Let us explain: Parent Toolkit Nights occur 4-6 times per academic year and are available to parents of students at TLC (prospective parents: this is a wonderful benefit). The Toolkit nights are 60 minutes and are lead by a teacher and a therapist who discuss helpful strategies that are taught in school, then offer ways to incorporate those strategies at home. 

Yes, really. The experts in early childhood education are not only willing to teach your child all day long, but they are also willing to teach YOU how to work with your kid (while providing you with snacks, laughs, and childcare). We feel like we could end this right here and invite you to join us, but let’s press on. 

 Riley and her parents enjoyed the toddler costume party together last October.

Riley and her parents enjoyed the toddler costume party together last October.

Toolkit nights are spent reviewing things like visual schedules, calm down strategies, problem-solving strategies and more, in a way that bridges the gap from school to home, and helps us help our kids with life-long strategies. The strategies help us communicate with our children better, and, heck, even our significant others (because suddenly people become a lot less annoying when they say “Geeze, my engine is running so slowly!”)

The teachers and therapists put a lot of time into these nights, and not only do they have a giveaway (we won timers at the last Toolkit night!), but they always have some kind of project or handout that you can make and take home to begin introducing the strategies at home immediately. This past ToolKit night, we received starter Calm Down Kits, complete with a squishy, chew, and lavender-infused weighted pad.  Not to mention, the evening is filled with other parents who are just as grateful for the information as you are. 

At the last Toolkit night, Miss Jen talked about how the trickle-down effect works with our children within the community. If our kids can learn to self-regulate, self-soothe, communicate effectively, and make good choices, then when they interact with other kids, they model that behavior, and it spreads. How can we set our kids up to be part of this wonderful trickle-down effect? By learning. By being involved. By bridging the gap. By extending the lessons that our children are learning at school, to our home.

We are raising the future, and TLC is setting us up to succeed. I can’t tell you how many times the words “If we had access to these skills when our kids were younger…” have been uttered. We are lucky to have access to this information, and we are lucky to have teachers and therapists willing to dedicate the time to teach us.

We hope you’ll join us for the next Toolkit night on Thursday, April 26, 2018, for some snacks, laughs, and learning. 

P.S. Don’t forget, there is free childcare! 
 

How is Your "Engine" Running?

By Mia Girard, TLC Occupational Therapist & YogaKids Instructor

 Hearing a story together in low lights helps our preschoolers calm their engines after fun and excitement outside.

Hearing a story together in low lights helps our preschoolers calm their engines after fun and excitement outside.

Daily life, even with its routines, can be overwhelming at times. When holidays or other new activities are added to the mix, making it through a week can feel like scaling a mountain. As a parent, there is always a lot to juggle and readjust, such as routines, sleeping habits, meals and days off school. Kids can also struggle with maintaining a consistent routine and adapting to changes, and while I know my children love excitement, they also do better with a consistent routine. As much as I love to travel, plan something fun for a weekend, and celebrate holidays with my family, the demands of juggling all the to-do’s can cause me to feel more scattered, forgetful and stressed….so my ‘engine’ tends to run fast!  What is she talking about with this ‘engine’ thing, you say? 

How Does Your Engine Run?, The Alert Program for Self-Regulation by Mary Sue Williams & Sherry Shellenberger uses the following analogy: “If your body is like a car engine, sometimes it runs on high (fast), sometimes it runs slow (low), and sometimes it runs just right.”

Interestingly, these three engine speeds normally occur throughout a given day, and no one way is right or wrong to feel. I can only go to sleep once my engine has begun to ‘slow’ before bedtime, and I do better in a high-paced yoga class when my engine runs ‘fast.’  I have learned that my engine needs to be running ‘just right’ to focus and to be the most present in the moment. The goal of this great program is to help children to learn a common language to describe their level of alertness.

When  ‘engines are running fast’ we may:
•    feel busy inside,
•    have a lot of energy,
•    want to move around and have a hard time sitting still,
•    And find it is hard to pay attention when we are running ‘fast’.

On the other hand, when  ‘engines are running slow’, we may:
•    have a hard time getting our bodies going,
•    feel sleepy inside,
•    want to rest and hold our head in our hands
•    And also have a hard time focusing or paying attention.

When  ‘engines are running just right’ we:
•    do our best talking, listening, learning and playing,
•    find it easy to focus and pay attention to what is going on around us.

In my household, to help with communication, understanding of stress levels and remaining as calm as possible, I frequently talk about my engine speed and how or why it changes. I can change it with a warm tea, a brisk walk, or accidentally setting off the smoke alarm.  I talk about exploring calming, organizing, or energizing sensory strategies using my movement, my mouth, touch, eyes, and ears.  My goal, and the goal of the program, is to expose my children to language that helps them to talk about and understand their body’s engine better. I also want children to know that while life can be stressful, we all use strategies to help with self-regulation (becoming more calm or alert). We all have our own preferred sensory strategies and use them, many times without even realizing it!
 
So, think about what makes your engine run too fast, too slow or just right, AND what changes it. Changes in routine? Jarring, loud noises? Somebody standing too close? Swinging in a hammock for hours? A warm cup of tea? Sitting for a mindful minute or two of deep breathing? And when your dog’s barking is making your engine run fast, causing you to be distracted, share that experience with your child! When you’ve taken a long quiet warm bath and your engine has slowed down before bedtime, talk about that too! This will help you to see how sensory events (e.g. your dog’s barking) and sensory strategies (e.g. mindful deep breathing) play a part in your life. It will help your child if you can talk about your engine, and share or model using your own strategies to alert or calm yourself so that they can learn this important skill from you, too!

What helps your engine run just right? 
 

Letting Wait Time Happen

By Kathy Keith, TLC Occupational Therapist

 Kathy plays with a toddler during class.

Kathy plays with a toddler during class.

As an OT, I have gained much wisdom from the co-treatments I get to have with my friends, the TLC speech therapists. By working as a team with the speech therapists, I have learned more about the kiddos I work with as well as myself. In one area in particular, the growth has not only been tremendously beneficial for me but also challenging.  

Let’s start with the fact that I can be a little bit of a talker. I love to encourage, give praise, give direction (and sometimes re-direction) and can do so in a highly animated way. All great, but sometimes overwhelming for the listener. I have realized that sometimes I am so busy filling quiet spaces that I am not giving the child ample time and space to process and react to what is being said. So one thing that I have had to learn and practice is the art of WAIT TIME.  

Some kiddos can process all of the information and flurry of activity that we give them more quickly, while others need some time to take in the information, process it, and then do something with it. Innately, I know this; I talk about the importance of processing time frequently. Putting it into practice can be a little harder. The bottom line is that we all benefit from having some space and time to act.

“Go get your shoes,” or “I wonder what color that is?” or “Let me see you jump!” or “ready, set…….”  The recommended wait time before encouraging a response is around five seconds.  Five seconds? That doesn’t sound like much. However, when really giving wait time to a child (or adult), it can feel like an ETERNITY of quiet when you're waiting for a response. The response you're waiting on could be following a direction, answering a question, making a comment, or making a choice.  

One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, one thousand four, one thousand five….

What I have found is that the challenge with wait time is my own challenge, and that if I do not choose to fill in the spaces with more information or by rephrasing the direction I just gave, it allows time for the response I am looking for as well as other productive and creative things to emerge. My advice, then, is to try to remember to always count to five when waiting for a response from a child you're interacting with. Sometimes, if we give them the space to think and process, they'll surprise you with the wonderful thoughts and ideas that go through their minds ...if we give them space and quiet to let those thoughts form.
 

Zzz! The Active “Sleeping” Brain 

By Brenda Lord, TLC Preschool Teacher

 Sometimes you're too tired to even make it onto your nap mat before Zzz

Sometimes you're too tired to even make it onto your nap mat before Zzz

Infants, toddlers, and preschoolers are busy people. Parents and teachers alike know that young children can be constantly in motion as they learn to move through and explore the world around them. As children are engaging with their surroundings, their brains are flooded with new information. We all know that sleep is important, and many assume that sleep is critical for resting our bodies, especially for active toddlers. However, research indicates that this is not the case. 

Building Brains

Surprisingly, the brain is more active when one is sleeping than awake! When young children and adults are sleeping, their brains are busy building and strengthening connections within the brain. Words, movements, and ideas that are introduced to children while they are awake get built into more permanent knowledge while they are asleep. If children or adults are deprived of sleep, research indicates that learning simply can’t happen. Also, when you are tired, your brain is not as good at filtering out distractions and focusing on tasks. Loss of sleep in both children and adults hurts attention, working memory, mood, quantitative skills, logical reasoning, and physical movement. 

Naps improve the brain’s day to day performance. These short bursts of sleep are critical for developing bodies and brains. The information from children’s rich and social learning environments in the mornings can be solidified into lasting memories during their afternoon naps. 

Creating Good Sleepers at Home

Many children thrive on routines and structure. Recognizing this, the TLC classrooms have well-established routines around quiet time. Children are used to having quiet time at the same time each day in a darkened environment with cozy blankets and relaxing music. Their bodies become accustomed to slowing down at this designated time. Establishing nighttime routines at home might make evenings more relaxed and getting children to sleep more successful. Taking baths, reading books, and snuggling together might be part of your bedtime routines. In addition, deep pressure exercises and calming yoga poses can be effective at quieting young bodies. Doctors also recommend that children should not have any screen time—computers, TV, video games, cell phones—at least an hour before bedtime. These video screens produce blue light which affects melatonin production, a hormone that signals your body that it is time to sleep. Creating and sticking to structured bedtime routines is important for helping children establish positive, lifelong sleeping habits. 

Napping is for Everyone!

Lastly, some great news for adults! Those naps that we envy our wobblers and toddlers taking are just as productive and valuable for adults. In one study, a 26-minute nap improved NASA pilots’ performance by 34 percent. Unlike our children, adults, unfortunately, are rarely able to have an afternoon snooze. Even though biologically our brains are programmed to slow down between 2-4 pm, work schedules and the realities of life usually make naps prohibitive. When you get the afternoon slump, recognize that this is normal. Nap if you are able; otherwise, try not to schedule important meetings at 3 p.m. Your body will thank you. 

Celebrate Pollinators with Kids

June is pollinator month in Colorado, and you can learn more about these critical critters (bees, hummingbirds, moths, butterflies, wasps, beetles, and more!) at Save Our Pollinators Day tomorrow from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM at the Jefferson County Courts Administration Building (100 Jefferson Parkway, Golden CO). 

 A bee covered in pollen

A bee covered in pollen

When most people (especially children) think of bees, they think of honeybees. Did you know honeybees aren't native to North America? While a welcome immigrant to this continent (honeybees were brought over in the 1600's to make honey), we have hundreds of native species of bees and pollinators who also need our care and appreciation. As most bees are not aggressive (and only lady bees have stingers), it's important to teach our children to appreciate these garden friends, without whom we wouldn't have 70% of the produce we eat. If you're having a healthy snack right now, thank a bee!

We're serious - let's thank the bees! First, get to know some of the bees that are native to Colorado. These include: metallic green bees, sweat bees, cuckoo bees, wool carder bees, leaf cutter bees, mason bees, carpenter bees, squash bees, digger bees, bumblebees, mining bees, and so many more! Each prefers a different kind of nest, with some, like the squash bee, burrowing beneath squash blossoms, and others, like the leaf cutter bee, making nests out of cut-up leaves to secure in a safe spot, like a hole in a wood post. 

 A shallow dish with rocks and water provides a safe place for bees and butterflies to land take a drink

A shallow dish with rocks and water provides a safe place for bees and butterflies to land take a drink

Only 12% of Colorado’s bees like to live in a colony in a hive (known as social bees). The majority of Colorado bees are solitary, and would love to find an inviting bee house waiting for them in your yard (or a bare patch of dirt to dig in, or an old log they can burrow into - there are so many options for providing bees with a safe habitat).

You can help thank bees and celebrate pollinators with your children by making your home and/or yard pollinator-friendly through habitats and flowers. A green lawn without flowers is like a desert to a bee - no food, water, or place to rest in sight. Here are a few ways you can make a flower buffet and rest stop for busy bees with your own little busy bees:

 

Plant these flowers as suggested by the Denver Botanic Gardens’ Sonya Anderson, via The Denver Post

Spring: Crocus, tulips, snowdrops, hellebores, lenten roses, poppies, crab apples, serviceberries, false forget-me-nots (also known as brunnera), creeping Oregon grape, sweet alyssum, snapdragons, blue flax, pasque flower, mock oranges, currents, gooseberries, columbines, and bachelor buttons.

Summer: Salvia, lavender, catmint, yarrow, yucca, bee balm, black-eyed Susans, penstemon, snapdragons, verbena, coreopsis, echinacea, milkweed, agastache, blanketflower, gayfeathers, rabbit brush, button bush, and herbs like fennel, dill, oregano, and parsley which support both the immature and adult forms of butterflies (let them go to flower for the nectar).

Fall: Asters. autumn sages, Mexican sages, and goldenrods.

While we love bees, let's not forget our other pollinating friends, like hummingbirds! There are 11 species of hummingbirds that arrive in Colorado in April and will stay till September, drinking nectar and pollinating our plants while they're here. Plants that hummingbirds love include:

  • Flowers with red blossoms and a tubular shape. But they also feed on pink, orange, peach and purple flowers.
  • Bee balm 
  • California fuchsia
  •  Lobelia
  • Catmint
  • Columbine
  • Delphinium 
  • Firecracker penstemon 
  • Garden phlox 
  • Honeysuckle 
  • Indian paintbrush 
  • Maltese cross 
  • Pineleaf penstemon 
  • Salvia
  • Spider flower
  • Sunset hyssop 

(via Beauty of Birds). Remember if you put out a feeder for hummingbirds to keep it disinfected and clean. Dirty hummingbird feeders can cause an infection in hummingbirds that leads to starvation and death. 

 A bee house that can be purchased at a bee supply store or built at home. Each tunnel has cocoons for leaf cutter bee eggs. The Plexiglas cover lets children peak at the progress the momma bees have made in laying their eggs and taking care of their young! When these eggs hatch, they'll fly out into your garden looking for food from flowers. (Image via The Bees Waggle)

A bee house that can be purchased at a bee supply store or built at home. Each tunnel has cocoons for leaf cutter bee eggs. The Plexiglas cover lets children peak at the progress the momma bees have made in laying their eggs and taking care of their young! When these eggs hatch, they'll fly out into your garden looking for food from flowers. (Image via The Bees Waggle)

Switching Hats: Teacher to Parent

By Amanda Brunning, TLC Preschool Teacher & Parent

 TLC Infant Lead Teacher Debbie Van Thuyne with a friend

TLC Infant Lead Teacher Debbie Van Thuyne with a friend

I have been working with and teaching children with special needs and their families for the past eight years. I have been through many emotional roller coasters with parents and have been a part of many conversations where parents just needed to vent and I was happy to listen. I tried to be as much help as I could, but before becoming a parent myself, my view was limited and I couldn't say that I knew what it was like to parent a child with a disability full time.

Teachers in early childhood have kids from four to eight hours a day before they go home and we're off duty. We work with the children in a controlled setting and on a consistent schedule. We have extensive training and on-hand tools that we can draw from and utilize when a child is having a hard time. Life outside the classroom - with families, in public places - is very different and far more unpredictable than classroom life. As a teacher, I have preparation and immediate assistance for handling trying situations and behavior on top of my primary job of helping teach children educational skills and positive social behaviors,  but when a person becomes a parent, there's very little preparation for the next 18+ years of caring for and raising children of any ability. Children don't come with handbooks, and parents have to learn as they go.
 
My husband and I had been going through the adoption process for several years, and nine months ago we were matched and placed with a 7-month-old little boy with Down syndrome. I would love to say - with all of my experience and degree in early childhood and special education - that I was prepared. In truth, I did not feel prepared at all. I knew that this beautiful little boy would need pediatric therapies and that TLC would be the perfect away-from-home-home for him when I went back to work, and that the therapists would work with him both at our house and in the TLC infant nursery, and that was a huge relief when I felt overwhelmed. I was so thankful for all the help from my co-workers in getting his therapies and early interventions in place and for helping the process of transitioning our son into our home go as smoothly as possible.

After he arrived, every day was a new experience and a new visit to a new doctor. In the first few months of having our little boy we saw so many different doctors and with each doctor we felt overwhelmed at what this new doctor could say or what that visit could bring. His therapist became my go-to when I was unsure what advice to take, what direction to go, or when I was trying to figure out if something going on with him was normal for his diagnosis, or when I needed guidance on what I needed to do to help him grow and develop. His infant teacher at TLC is my other go-to when I have a parenting/infant question, and I no doubt ask her a million questions a day. Debbie (the TLC infant teacher) has also listened to me vent about everything from difficulties getting him to sleep to doctors appointments that we came away with no answers or nerves about surgery. These people have become part of our support system and we are so thankful for them. In stepping into the role of parent of a child with special needs, I'm finally getting to walk in the shoes of the parents of kiddos I've worked with throughout the years, and I feel even more connected to them and struggles that come with parenting young children.
 
Switching hats to the parent roll has opened my eyes to so much of what families with children with special needs can be going through. I hope that my new roll as this beautiful little boy's mommy can help me grow as a teacher and better support the children and families better that come into my classroom.

Through all the struggles, the late nights, spit ups, and parade of questions, I wouldn't change a thing, and I'm so grateful to my TLC support group.
 

Putting Toys Away: Tips for Fostering Language While Keeping Your House Clean(ish)

By Grace LeVasseur, TLC Speech Language Pathologist

 TLC student Daphne has fun with a combination of toys and cardboard boxes at home.

TLC student Daphne has fun with a combination of toys and cardboard boxes at home.

I love picking out the perfect toy for a play session. Finding a motivating toy for a child can spark engagement to help best instruct specific speech and language skills. However, as a mom of a toddler, I know the reality of caring for these toys and the constant picking up and putting away of books, dolls, puzzles, play food, and more. Is there a way to balance exposing your child to developmentally appropriate toys/play while also keeping a clean house?

Maybe not all the time. However, given the steps below, language skills like attention, following directions, categorization, requesting, and pretend play can be fostered even during clean up. 

Step 1: Dump toys on the floor (pick a corner!) and sort. Why? Embrace the mess! What is your child drawn to out of all those toys? Which ones need to go? 

Language learning opportunity: categorization/following directions: Have your child assist you in the sorting/organizing their toys. You can do this simply and increase difficulty. 

•    "Find a book!"
•    "Grab all the books!"
•    "Put the books on the shelf"
•    "Put the books on the shelf and the animals in the basket"
•    "Put the big books on the shelf and the little books in the box"

 
 

Step 2: Put those toys in containers or reclosable bags. Why? Putting toys in their assigned groups helps a child make associations. For example, if a child pulls out "pretend foods," their experience with each fruit and vegetable reaffirms the multitude of specific "foods" within that category. 

Language learning opportunity: requesting: Is your child showing interest in the zipped up bag full of blocks? Let him/her ask to open the bag! You can do this simply and increase difficulty.

•    "I see you want to play with the blocks!"
•    "You are <insert here the action your child is taking to show you she is requesting such as reaching, pointing, nodding head, or even saying "open!">"
•    Incorporate a "script" to repeatedly use every time you open an item
o    "Knock knock, open!"
o    "zzziiiippppppp, open!"
o    "Is it stuck? Oh, you need help, 'help please! Open!'"
•    Additionally, while having a clear container creates an opportunity to label the contents inside, a colored/blocked container allows for a child to guess what's inside. 

 
 

Step 3: Put half of those containers away in another room. Why? This helps your child focus on the toys available, removes clutter (less cleaning for you), and makes for a more interesting toy after they've been out of sight for a while. 

Language learning opportunity: Attention/following directions. Is your child all done playing blocks? Using "first, then" language can help transition between activities and/or increase the time spent on the activity. 
•    "Are you all done playing blocks?"
•    (no)
•    "Oh, you still want to play with blocks! Let's stack up up up" <Voila 2 more minutes of play!>
•    "Are you all done playing blocks?"
•    (yes)
•    "Oh! First, we put the blocks in the box, then we can eat our snack!"

Step 4: Use what you've got around and outside the house. Why? This is a free and functional way to optimize vocabulary development with household items and role play of daily routines. 

Language learning opportunity: pretend play. Not using that cardboard box lying next to the recycling? Can it be transformed into a house? A kitchen?
•    Play Peek a boo! around the pretend house going in and out, flapping the doors open and shut
•    Act out daily routines: pretend to eat, sleep, wipe the floor, etc.
•    Extend these routines to include other toys: feed the doll, put the teddy bear to sleep, clean up the kitty's spilled milk, etc. 

I'll confess, I'm actually not a neat freak. To be honest, my living room is usually messy... However, considering from time to time that cleaning can also be an opportunity for play and interaction, making "putting toys away" that much more fun and meaningful for you and your child. 

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.
 

Super First Foods for Baby

By Amanda Boldenow, TLC Development Manager & Parent

Introducing baby to his first solid foods can be far more exciting than presenting bland rice cereal in a bowl. There are a whole world of delicious fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and proteins that can be offered to baby in a safe and engaging way, no spoons and pretend airplanes necessary! 

Before six months of age, babies can taste small flavors of new foods on the tip of a caregiver's finger. "Flavor" means strictly that - a small taste of the juice from a solid food, like a fruit, smeared on a fingertip that baby can suckle off, or that can be dabbed on baby's tongue. By six months of age, a baby's digestive system is ready to handle small introductions of solid foods. But what foods are healthiest, that a baby is most likely to enjoy and be enticed by into trying more?

To start, let your baby try new foods gradually. If baby has a negative reaction to a new food, the offending item will be easy to identify if new food introductions have been spaced out over several days. Nurse or bottle feed baby before offering new foods, as early solids are an opportunity for experimentation and fun more than they are suitable for meal replacements.

Ready to try solids? Here are some healthy choices that push the produce envelope beyond the bland and the boring (looking at you, mashed bananas and cereal):

The Basics

Pears: Fruits that can be steamed until they are soft (including apples, peaches, apricots, and plums) and then mashed are a sweet treat for budding palates. 

Avocado: Rich in healthy fats, avocados are easy to mash with a fork. Plus, avocados are fun for little hands to squish - let them try these utensil free.

Squash: Steamed squash of any variety, whether winter options like butternut, hubbard, or acorn, or summer squashes like zucchini can be easily steamed and mashed. They have a mild, sometimes sweet flavor, that can be made adventurous through the addition of herbs or pureed leafy greens.

Grapes: Grapes and other small "finger" fruits, like berries, are delicious first foods, but be sure to slice them before presenting to babies. Round fruits (like any solid food) can present a choking hazard.

Sweet Potatoes: Like squash, sweet potatoes (or yams) can be easily steamed and eaten plain or with flavor boosters like turmeric, basil, or light sweeteners. Steamed sweet potatoes are also fun for little fingers to smoosh and squish!

Carrots: The most common root veggie to introduce as a first food, carrots have a naturally sweet flavor.

The Adventurous

Eggs: New research suggests that common allergies, such as eggs, nuts, fish, and soy, can be prevented through early introduction. Eggs can be hard boiled and chopped, scrambled, or mixed into an omelette and diced for baby to try.

Salmon: Fish is full of healthy fats and, like eggs, brain-building omega-3's. Try mashing cooked, flaked fish for baby to try.

Turnips: Give the carrots a break and let baby try a variety of healthy root vegetables, including mashed turnips, parsnips, and beets. There are a rainbow of root vegetables to try, and early introduction can help prevent turned-up noses at unfamiliar fare later.

Kale: Leafy greens, including kale, spinach, arugula, frisee, and others are both fun to touch (especially the frisee), and healthy additions to a baby's expanded diet. Greens are easily assimilated into other dishes, including scrambled eggs and squash purees. 

Lentils: Healthy proteins like lentils cook in minutes, and can be mashed together for an easy protein boost to veggies.

Sauerkraut: Want to really go out on a limb? Try fermented foods! Try sour foods! Let baby experience a full range of flavors as they learn that the world is full of delicious flavors, most of which can come straight from the produce aisle, as opposed to the boxed fare in the middle of grocery stores.