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! 
 

St. Patrick's Day Crafts for Kids

By Laurel Martinez, TLC Teaching Assistant & After School Teacher

You won’t need the luck of the Irish to pull together these five easy and fun St. Patrick’s Day crafts with kids. They’re colorful, kid-tested-teacher-approved, and sure to be a hit with any preschooler when celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.

Pom-Pom Rainbow Craft

Puff Ball Rainbow.jpg

This craft is so simple and requires very little prep. Just find a printable rainbow with a pot of gold at the bottom or draw one yourself! 

What You Will Need:

  • Red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple small pom-poms
  • Gold sequins
  • Glue
  • Black marker.

Directions:

Draw or print a rainbow with a pot of gold at the bottom. Use the opportunity to look at pictures of rainbows and talk about the order the colors go in with your child. Have your child place the pom-pom in the corresponding rows and glue them down. Add some gold glitter to the pot of gold and let them color the pot black! Voila - fine Motor Skill practice and color learning all in one!

Shamrock Slime

Shamrock Slime.jpg

This craft is for the preschooler who loves all things slimy. This ooey-gooey shamrock slime is tons-o-fun.

What You Will Need:

  • ½ cup of sater (divided in two)
  •  1/4 cup of clear glue
  • Glitter and shamrock confetti
  •  1/4 teaspoon of borax

Directions:

Get two small bowls and add 1/4 cup of water to each. To one bowl add 1/4 cup of clear glue and sprinkle some glitter and shamrock confetti. In the other bowl add 1/4 teaspoon of borax. Mix each bowl really well. Slowly stir the borax mixture into the glue mixture and watch the slime begin to take shape! Continue stirring until everything is mixed well. Keep your shamrock slime in a sealed container when you’re not playing with it. 

NOTE: Children should never have direct contact with borax! Never leave them unattended while playing with slime!

Beaded Shamrocks

Beaded Shamrock.jpg

These beaded shamrocks are a great parent and kid work-together activity as they are a little more involved. It offers great motor skill practice and the supplies can be used over and over again!  

What You Will Need:

  • Pipe Cleaners (I used green sparkly ones)
  • Pony Beads

Directions:

Twist two pipe cleaners together.  Leave them in a straight line. Work together to make your own unique pattern with the beads. Once the patterns are complete fold the pipe cleaners in half. Create one heart shape at the curved end of the folded pipe cleaner. Twist underneath that heart to help it hold its shape.  Fold the remaining edges up and twisted them in the middle. Form them into heart shapes as well. Then, finally, add another pipe cleaner to make the stem of the shamrock. This one is, again, great motor skills practice. Try making some with rainbow pony beads or green and white as well!

Melting Pots of Gold

Melting Pots of Gold.jpg

Preschoolers love to help, this we know. So how about letting them help the leprechaun find his pot of gold and all his coins. This one requires some prep time but it is worth the fun. 

What You Will Need:

  • Mini Black Pot/Kettle
  • Gold Coins
  • Gold Glitter
  • Jewels in Rainbow Colors
  • Eyedropper and Squeeze Bottle
  • Pennies
  • Container
  • Water

Directions:

To set up this St Patrick’s Day ice melt activity, I recommend you freeze the items in layers. In the first layer freeze the pot of gold (fill with pennies to sink), some jewels, and coins.  Make sure it freezes completely before adding the next layer. Top it all off with some glitter and coins. Allow your child to test which method works better to melt the ice, eye dropper or squeeze bottle. Both are great motor activities. This activity is an easy, fun, and simple science concept as well.  Want to add math skills? Just count the coins together! 

Quilted Paper Shamrocks

Mosaic Shamrock.jpg

What’s St. Paddy’s Day without some shamrocks? This easy craft is great for a variety of ages and is almost completely mess-proof. 

What You Will Need:

  • Paper in different colors and patterns
  • Green shamrock cut out (use cardstock or heavier for best results)
  • Glue

Directions:

Work on those motor skills once again and allow your preschooler to cut out pieces of paper that they like. Allow them to apply the glue to the precut shamrock (glue sticks work best) and then stick their cutout paper on to the shamrock shape. If some of the paper overlaps the edge of the shamrock just trim it once it is all dry and enjoy! 

These projects are easy and (mostly) no mess. You possibly already have most of the ingredients at home, too! So gather the lads and lassies and get crafting! Happy St. Paddy’s Day!

Valentines Crafts for Kids

By Laurel Martinez, TLC Teaching Assistant & After School Teacher

Valentines is such a fun time to get creative with kids. There's themed art projects, fun snacks, and my personal favorite activity: red glitter playdough. Here are 5, teacher-tested, kid approved Valentines Day crafts for you and your preschooler to do together: 

Valentines Day Crown

Valentine's Crown.jpg

This cute Valentine’s crown can be tailored to fit the interest/involvement level of any kid. Add different stickers, glitter, markers, crayons, etc. Go themed with cute animals, or even use superhero stickers! Let the kids' creativity reign. This craft is so simple and needs very little prep.

What you will need:

  • Adhesive backed foam hearts
  • Poster board
  • Markers/crayons/etc.
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Stapler

Directions:

Cut the poster into strips and let them decorate their headband with markers and stickers. Then twirl up some pink pipe cleaners and staple the whole thing together. So inexpensive and fun. This craft hits fine and gross motor (allow them to try to twirl the pipe cleaner around a pencil, or even allow them to help you staple it together,for older preschoolers). Plus they can wear it and declare themselves Queen/King of Hearts.
 

Heart Shaped Bird Feeder

Heart Bird Feeders.jpg

For the preschooler who loves all things animals, this heart-shaped Valentine’s Day Bird Feeder is an easy way to combine social responsibility with the ooey-gooey fun of peanut butter.

What You Will Need:

  • Bread
  • Peanut Butter
  • Cookie Cutters (heart-shaped, of course)
  • Bird Seed
  • Twine or string

Directions:

Use the cookie cutters to cut heart shapes out of the bread (this is a great chance to use up any stale bread). You might have to help your child push the cookie cutter all the way through the bread, depending on age and skill level. Use a straw to poke a small hole at the top of each cutout. This is where the twine will go through, so you can hang your bird feeders outside. Use a butter knife to spread the peanut butter on to the bread (this is part of why stale bread is better). This is the messy and fun part for the kids. Then sprinkle the bird seed on to the peanut butter (best to do over a bowl). All that’s left is to string the twine and hang them up outside! So fun and eco-friendly.


Heart Glitter Jars

Heart Glitter Jars.jpg

Heart Glitter Jars are the perfect sensory valentines project for calming and focusing. These pretty swirly jars are so much fun for kids (and adults) to look at. 

What you will need:

  • Glitter
  • Clean glass bottles or plastic bottles (plastic is safer for younger kiddos)
  • Glitter glue
  • Water
  • Measuring Cup

Directions:

To start, pour most of a red glitter glue bottle into a measuring cup. Then add about the same amount of hot tap water to the cup. Mix everything together until it seems thoroughly mixed. Then pour the glue and water mixture into your bottle of choice. After that, just add a bit of heart glitter. The glitter doesn’t need to be measured – just add whatever you feel like. Easy and fun, not to mention sparkly. 

 

Magic Marbled Milk

Magic Marbled Milk.jpg

Magic Marbled Milk is pure science fun. Watch your kids' faces light up in amazement as this nifty little experiment. It’s an easy activity that is kid-friendly and clean-up friendly.

What You Will Need:

  • Milk (any kind of milk will do)
  • A bowl, casserole dish, or baking sheet
  • Food Coloring (especially red and pink)
  • Glitter
  • Heart cookie cutters
  • Liquid dish soap
  • Toothpick

Directions:

Place a heart-shaped cookie cutter in a shallow dish or baking sheet. Pour milk into the cookie cutter. It will leak out into the dish, but that’s fine. You don’t need much, just a thin layer that covers the bottom. Squeeze a few drops of food coloring into the milk. Then dip the end of the toothpick into the dish soap and then into the center of one drop of colored milk. Don’t stir it! Watch the color explode and swirl inside the heart. Repeat and enjoy this valentine’s science experiment. 

 

Red Glitter Playdough

Glitter Playdough.jpg

Red Glitter Playdough is another perfect sensory activity for little ones. I love homemade playdough and this no-bake recipe is perfect. Add some lavender essential oil for even more sensory fun.

What you will need:

  • Liquid food colouring
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup Salt
  • 1 tbsp Oil

Directions:

Mix the flour and salt and add the tablespoon of oil. Add the water and mix well. I usually start with a spoon to gather it mostly together then use my hands for the rest. Kids love this part and it’s a great opportunity to include them. Once mixed to desired texture add the glitter and mix again to ensure an even distribution. Add essential oils to preference. This is sure to be asked for over and over.

Note: Want to bring in some literacy? Use masking tape to spell out letters and have children roll out the playdough to spell the letters - this makes great name practice and hits motor skills as well!

 

All of these projects are totally teacher tested and kid approved. They’re super easy and most of the ingredients you probably already have at home! So gather the kids and get crafting! Happy Valentine’s Day!
 

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.
 

Teaching Babies to Self-Regulate Themselves to Sleep

 When you're this little, even a toy cubby makes a good space to curl up for a nap.

When you're this little, even a toy cubby makes a good space to curl up for a nap.

;By Shari Karmen, TLC Therapeutic Services Manager & Occupational Therapist

Sleep is so important to our everyday wellbeing. Babies, children, and adults all need sleep, along with food, to be self-regulated. Self-regulation is the ability to manage emotions and control body functions as well as maintain focus and attention. Self-regulation happens differently over the many stages of our lifespan. Self-regulation in an infant encompasses how an infant deals with a disruption (for example, a loud television) and regains control of their behavior so they can focus on what they're doing (nursing, eating, playing, etc.). In a preschooler self-regulation looks at how a child plays with others, learns to share and take turns.

If a child doesn’t have a healthy sleep and waking pattern, it makes it hard for them to learn. In babies we tend to see two issues with sleep that can cause problems with self-regulation:

1.    Fragmented sleep – many short periods of sleep, but not good long sleep cycles and

2.    Too much sleep, especially during the day. This frequently suggests a developmental issue. Daytime is when sensory stimulation occurs and the sleeping baby is not stimulated.

Parents and caregivers play a vital role in how babies learn to sleep. The amount of support given in the beginning impacts how much caregiver involvement is needed later on. This means if we teach babies early how to fall asleep in a healthy, self-regulating manner, the better off they are for sleep learning. It’s important for the caregiver to recognize:

–   Their decreased role in helping a baby to sleep;

–   Recognizing sleep cues and conditioning;

–   The infant's ability to self-regulate.

Having a consistent place to sleep is another important key to sleeping. Young infants have few self-regulatory behaviors, but as we teach them self-soothing techniques – pacifier, lovey – they become more competent self-soothers. Crying it out doesn’t work because babies don’t have the skills to self-regulate, calm, and then fall asleep on their own.

In the first few months of life babies show clear signs of sleepiness:

–   Yawning

–   Glazed eyes

–   Rubbing eyes

–   Heavy eyelids

–   Decreased sucking during feeding

–   No, or less, interest in interacting

–   Turning away from stimulation in the environment

–   Body movements become less organized

–   Fussy behavior

It’s important to recognize these cues and respond to them while the “sleep gate” is open. If you don’t catch the sleep cues within 15 minutes, “tired is wired.”

Place a drowsy baby in the crib and stay close by without touching the baby. A self-regulating baby will suck fingers, look around and then fall asleep. If the baby cries, wait for a time and then approach with a comforting voice.

If your baby continues to cry, approach and pat, but don’t pick up. Provide reassurance with your voice. If crying persists, re-enter the sleeping area with a “boring” visit. Stand close by, but don’t interact with the baby.

Encourage naps when babies are full. It’s easier to fall asleep with a full belly rather than after a baby has been stimulated with play. Between 6-8 months separation anxiety is heightened so parents are encouraged to move baby out of their room before this period if they are sharing a room.

Routines create predictable patterns. Babies with bedtime routines develop into toddlers and preschoolers with predictable bedtime routines. Sleep in the same location every night. Start to power down an hour before bedtime. Read books, play soft music, have a small snack, and other calming activities are pieces you can add to a bedtime routine.  Developing a consistent bedtime routine is key!

Happy sleeping!

Read more about cultivating healthy sleep habits in children:

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)

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.