TLC Learning Center in Longmont is a therapeutic early learning center where parents, teachers, children, and caregivers discover the benefits of an inclusive education. TLC Development Manager, Amy French-Troy says, “Our strength and what makes us unique in our community is our diversity. Our classrooms are carefully cultivated to ensure there is a balance of children from different background and abilities.”
Founded nearly 70 years ago, TLC’s inclusive model welcomes both neurotypical and neurodiverse children into its preschool classroom. It offers children with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism spectrum disorder and other learning differences an opportunity to learn alongside their peers and offers amazing advantages for all children.
Amy says, “Our goal is to lay a foundation of social and emotional skills that encourage children to be more compassionate. We encourage children to be kinder. When our children enter kindergarten in a public school, they are not only prepared academically, but they have better problem-solving and social-emotional skills than other children.” TLC is a nonprofit that offers childcare from 6 weeks of age until they are ready for kindergarten.
Access to a therapeutic team
Each classroom at TLC has two teachers, in addition to a physical therapist, speech therapist, and occupational therapist assigned to the classroom. The team meets a couple of times each week to understand what every child’s need may be. Even though some children don’t need a therapist, the nice thing about TLC is that a therapist is observing your child. For example, an occupational therapist might notice that a child likes to do certain things and they will suggest to the parents that they might continue to do those activities at home.
It normalizes the presence of therapists for children who do need special services. Amy says, “From a young age, children at TLC accept that everyone has different needs in school.” Very few organizations in the U.S. have a therapy center in conjunction with a preschool. Special Olympics Colorado provides the physical education curriculum, which also incudes teaching skills such as getting along and taking turns.
In most preschool settings, children will be taught the basics, but they don’t always learn how to be around different types of people while getting along and working together as a community. Before TLC, Amy was an elementary school teacher. She says, It was always a pleasure having TLC preschool graduates in my kindergarten class. They were able to self-regulate, they were able to mediate conflicts among their peers, and it’s because TLC puts a huge emphasis on those skills as part of the learning journey.”
Nurturing compassion in children to become better adults
Amy’s children graduated from TLC preschool and when they entered public school teachers would tell her when other kids weren’t getting along on the playground, her son would be the one to mediate the conflict.
Amy says, “Given that my son has been around children with special needs, he tends to seek out children with special needs to be a helper. When my son finishes early in class, he then asks others if they need help. It’s something he learned in preschool. Teaching others is also a great way for children to reinforce their own academic skills, which helps both learners be more successful in the classroom. Our goal at TLC is to nurture compassion in kids. That’s what makes the education at TLC very special.”
The TLC perspective is that compassion is a foundation for caring for each other in society. We all bring different strengths to the table and solve problems in different ways. Amy says, “We are all richer because we have those different perspectives. The inclusive education experience results in better outcomes for our children, academically, socially, and emotionally. We are not just raising kids; we are raising adults.”
The view is that the more opportunities children have to learn these vital social skills among a diverse group of people will serve them well, not just through their school years, and into their professional lives. Amy adds, “It’s something that translates overwhelmingly well to the workplace when they are adults.” As a parent and teacher, Amy French-Troy wishes that this type of inclusive education would be available to all students.
TLC Learning Center is currently enrolling preschool students. For more information call (303) 776-7417 or visit: www.learningwithtlc.org.