By Emilie Borghese

‘Tools for Life’ has been a part of my life for more than 2 years now – in many different capacities. As an early childhood educator I was involved in the initial process of training & implementing the program in our child care centre. During the first 6 months as we rolled out this new program, I worked in a busy kindergarten aged classroom. The following fall I stepped into the role of a full time floater staff, rotating through all of the rooms in our large centre. It was in this way that I could fully appreciate the benefits of this program. I was able to step into any classroom and any age group on any day of the week and speak language that the children already understood and were familiar with to help them figure out the best way to help themselves. But it is as a parent that I am most thankful for the ‘Tools for Life’ program. As the mother of a child (who was also his preschool teacher every other day during his SK year – the same year we rolled out TFL for the first time) who struggles with his emotions and in making appropriate choices, I have been grateful for the effect TFL has had on my child. With a TFL parent kit at home & TFL influences both at school and at daycare, he learned to easily identify his emotions and calm himself to reach a resolution – or at least to ask for help in doing so.

The idea of bringing ‘Tools for Life’ to our centre was presented to staff at a meeting. The advantages of implementing the program in our classrooms were immediately apparent. We especially liked the idea of a common vocabulary, not just throughout our centre as the children graduate to older rooms, but many schools employ the ‘Tools for Life’ program as well. Utilizing the language & principles then helps to prepare the children for the next step in their educational career and they can further explore & expand upon these lessons that were taught to them in their most formative & rapidly developing years.

Though it was easy to identify the many ways in which ‘Tools for Life’ could benefit our centre, there was also some apprehension & anxiety when we began discussion as to whether or not we would undertake this new venture.

In a quality early childhood education program there are so many important curriculum aspects – how were we to find the time, space & energy to give this new element all that it deserves/requires to be fully effective? This concern was common from most staff and as we underwent training, we really wondered how to commit as much as we could to this program that we truly believed in, but that seemed to require so much. Personally, my worries were waylaid when we actually began teaching this as a tangible part of our curriculum. We are a creative sort of people, we ECEs – it’s quite easy to fit TFL language and learning into our planning & preparation just as we would any theme or topic. For example, the week we learned about ‘Put Ups’ & ‘Put Downs’ both of my classes worked to make a class book as a literacy activity. Each person made a thumbprint on their page (“Thumbs up for put-ups!”) and thought of a put-up that a teacher wrote down for them. It’s so important for even the youngest children to see their word put to print & read back to them so they can make that valuable connection. This activity could be modified in different ways: at the end of the year I’d encourage my kindergarten-aged children to try spelling the words independently or with a friend, younger children could practice writing their names, or just making thumbprints. We used the book as a keepsake on the book shelf and read & reread it throughout the year. Another element to the TFL program which eased us through our initial transition is that there is no time frame for teaching the individual lessons. It totally works within the individual elements of each classroom. Time can pass between lessons. Lessons can be repeated as needed or shuffled to meet the current needs of your classroom. ‘Tools for Life’ is adaptable.

As a creative individual who prides herself on vivacious & engaging circles/large group discussions, I worried about the limitations of the scripted lesson plans. How was I going to keep the kids excited and engaged using someone else’s words? The first TFL lesson I taught, I had the binder right next to me and kept referencing it trying to make it perfect. It was awkward and weird and the kids lost interest pretty quickly. After voicing my concern the next time the TFL ladies from kidsLink popped in, I was relieved to find out that the lesson plans were just an example to give teachers an idea of what a circle might look like. As long as I used the key language & terminology that is the essential part of the program, I was free to present the material in the way that best suited me – by putting my own flair into it. Phew! Yet again, ‘Tools for Life’ is totally adaptable.

And while everyone was in agreement that this program would be a benefit to preschool children, we wondered how the lesson plans would play out for our young toddlers; what benefits, if any, would such a program be to them and how do we get these ideas across? In the short time I floated around to all of the classrooms in our centre, I was able to witness how staff implemented the TFL program in the toddler room. Lessons were taught in the simplest form through songs (“If you’re happy/sad/angry and you know it…”) & short stories. While labeling emotions has always been a common practice at our centre, it became much more prevalent in the classroom. Photos were taken of children exhibiting a variety of emotions, grouped together & labeled and displayed on the wall in a lovely documentation. This was an area that the children visited frequently and was also utilized by teachers as an area for discussion, labeling and role playing (“Look at Jimmy. He is angry. Let’s make an angry face together.”).

These initial concerns were easily surmountable and the Tools for Life program was met with great success by children, staff and parents alike. Using this forum, I look forward to sharing more of my ideas and those of my coworkers on how we’ve found ways to incorporate TFL into our centre. I’ll also share our experiences as we continue to use this valuable program, even as we make the switch from a theme based curriculum to a more emergent curriculum this fall.