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? 
 

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:

Finding Inner Peace: Calming Choice Boards

By Mia Girard, TLC Occupational Therapist and YogaKids instructor

Transitions are difficult for everyone, kids and adults alike. It's hard to transition to something new – a new schedule, new school, new job, new season, new whatever! While it can be exciting, it can also be a bit anxiety-producing and unnerving.  This is especially true for small children, who often don't know what to expect from a new experience, new face, or just a new activity sequenced in the day's normal events.

Calming choice post-it's to pick from in stressful situations.

Calming choice post-it's to pick from in stressful situations.

During my routine Monday morning yoga class, I was reminded that my favorite part 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 transitions and all that is new to my family and the kids that I work with, and wishing that I could recruit and share this fantastic, relaxed, connected and organized feeling whenever I so desire!  Savasana -- such a nourishing, sweet, soul-satisfying pose. It helps me feel as though I can take on anything that life dishes my way!

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 right then? To help with homework, answer the phone, cook dinner, pick up 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 scream like a baby.

A calming-choice board in the Yogakids classroom.

A calming-choice board in the Yogakids classroom.

Not a very pretty picture, is it? Most of the time, I have enough wits about me to remember my strategies: take a break for a minute, spritz myself in a calming essential oil mist, do some alternate nostril-breathing, a forward-fold, a sun salutation... While I might not be able to enjoy savasana at this time, are there other yoga poses and tools that I can access to find the serenity within me? Ah, yes!  And these help me regroup and re-enter my world with a refreshed mind, an open heart, and a calmer sensory system.  

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 any moment. More and more often, children need strategies to learn how to calm themselves. How can I help my kids learn them?

One way is to more openly share when I am about to enter into a fight-or-flight response. This allows me to communicate with my family what I am trying to accomplish when I dive into a forward-fold! Another way is to create a choice board: a place for pictures or hand-written sticky notes of choices. In this case, calming choices that work for both myself and the others in my family.

I often use choice boards at work with the children and within classrooms as I find that the visual reminder can help more than a verbal cue to remember strategies. After all, when I am nearing a fight-or-flight moment, the last thing I want is for someone to suggest I calm down! With a visual reminder of options for calming choices, it empowers rather than recommends a choice. The key is making sure that the pictures or choices used on the board will work.

How do you know what will work? Put on your detective spectacles over the course of a day or so. 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.

A few calming yogakids pose choices

A few calming yogakids pose choices

For example, if they like rocking chairs, think of yoga poses that involve rocking, like Rocking Horse or Rock ‘n Roll.  If they self-regulate through the use of their mouths, consider deep breathing through Take 5, Breezing, or Sitali Breath. If they like the warmth and feel of being in a bath, try a 2-3 pound heated and scented rice pack as a strategy to calm.

Depending upon what you find that works, creating a calming choice board for your home (or your classes) can empower children to develop for themselves the art of self-regulation.

The Power of a Pledge: Yoga with Kids

by Mia Girard, TLC YogaKids instructor and Occupational Therapist

Maya Angelou once said, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I love this quote and want people to remember from my interactions with them that I made them feel good on some level. Often I am reminded of this quote as I am planning and teaching my YogaKids classes, thinking of ways to help my YogaKids feel confident, celebrated, and validated in a memorable way.

For me, the YogaKids pledge is an important part of how I create a loving, safe and memorable community within my classes. I make a point to recite the pledge with the kids regularly. I find that it not only has special meaning for me, but also special meaning for them. For me, its importance lies in the fact that it delineates some of the expectations of our class, as well as the overall purpose for participating. For the kids, it becomes a consistent and routine activity that they can anticipate and participate in. It allows them to feel purposefully connected to the class, to their peers, to me, and to people and things in their world.

I also feel it is important to live by the pledge myself. If I simply treat the kids as the pledge suggests, I see that I have made them feel celebrated and honored in a memorable way. This is my job as a YogaKids teacher and I find it extremely important. As an Occupational Therapist, my classes include children of all abilities and our pledge has morphed and changed as the need arises. The pledge is as follows: 

  • I believe in myself.
  • I love and honor my body. 
  • I will do my personal best.
  • I will stay on my mat to keep us all safe.
  • I will be kind and gentle to myself and others. 
  • I can use yoga anytime, anywhere to calm myself, energize myself, and make myself feel better. 

I have found that if I treat children in a way that honors and shows fidelity to this pledge, they not only remember me but more importantly, the pledge and the connectedness that we share in yoga. After all, yoga means to join together or unite. So, for me, the pledge is: 

  • I believe in them.
  • I love and honor their bodies. 
  • I acknowledge them doing their personal best (often).
  • I help to keep us all safe in class.
  • I am kind and gentle to myself, the children, and others.
  • I model and teach them to use yoga anytime, anywhere to calm themselves, energize themselves, and to help them feel better!

I remember realizing the meaning and importance of the pledge years ago in one of my first YogaKids sessions. One of my students was a beautiful child with cerebral palsy. She had limited use of her legs and feet and yet participated beautifully with modifications in every aspect of the class whether it was balancing poses, or Michaelangelo's Drawing with My Feet activity.

Her mother shared with me that one day she found her daughter upstairs with her dolls, playing. The girl had arranged her dolls in a circle just like the one we sit in during YogaKids, and was pretending they were in the midst of a YogaKids class. She picked up one doll, moved it gently up and down as if giving it life and movement, and said "I believe in myself.” She then picked up another doll, moved it up and down and said  "I love and honor my body.”  She continued this way, until the dolls had recited the entire pledge, word for word.

To hear that she incorporated the pledge into pretend play with her dolls made me realize that she felt connected, comfortable, and confident in our class. While her body presented her with significant challenges, she was able to rise above that and, at least in those moments, love and honor her body, her grace, and her beauty. When children bring yoga home and practice off the mat, it validates for me the connection between our classes, the YogaKids pledge, and Maya Angelou's quote, that "people will never forget how you made them feel." I hope that all children who take a YogaKids class leave feeling as strong and good as that little girl.

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TLC offers YogaKids classes throughout the year for all full-day preschool students, and as an after-school enrichment class for children up to age 12. To learn about TLC's programs for children eight weeks - 6 years old or YogaKids after-school program, call TLC at (303)776-7417.