The children living in the Kate Ross neighborhood of South Waco are born into multi-generational urban poverty. Most likely, their parents and grandparents lived in poverty and grew up with same frightening insecurity in their own childhoods. The monumental task of simply surviving poverty puts an enormous physical and emotional toll on both parents and children. Starting from birth, a child’s brain begins to develop around repetitive experiences. When children live with this type of stress it slows down the neural connections that develop in a child’s brain the first five years of their lives. If there is no appropriate early intervention, neural connections become impaired in ways that last a lifetime. The result is a child who is unable to control their behavior, make good choices, or have academic success.
Talitha Koum’s goal is to send these children into public school at Kindergarten with a brain organized for learning, the emotional strength to self-regulate, problem solving skills, and compassion for others. It is the role of our therapeutic nursery to shape each child’s day with consistency of loving care, sensitivity to their individuality, and opportunities for self-expression.
We begin our program with children at 8 weeks of age. Most brain development programs will not take children until age two or three when the greatest window of opportunity has already passed. Talitha Koum is the only mental health therapeutic program in the state of Texas taking children into the cognitive program during infancy. Starting at infancy, we develop individualized cognitive plans and sensory integration “diets” for each child that is regularly reviewed by Psy.D. intern and teachers during Friday Supervision with Clinical Directors. With our low 3:1 ratio of students to teachers and our small class sizes of just six students, we are able to provide the absolute best therapeutic care to our students.
Additionally, we ensure the formation of strong bonds between student and teacher through “looping.” With “looping,” the child’s primary teacher moves into successive classrooms with them through the first three years of life. This continued relationship creates attachment and bonding with the child and minimizes dysregulation. The effect also reaches into our relationships with parents as trust builds over those years. At Preschool age (3), a new primary teacher receives that group of three and stays with them for the next two years. All day nurture also includes healthful meals and snacks: hot breakfast, lunch and two substantial snacks, much of it “scratch”-made to incorporate whole grains and to provide children with an opportunity to enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables, often missing in the diets of children living in below poverty level homes where cost is prohibitive.
Our program combines all day nurture with the best, proven cognitive curriculum for children living in the chronic chaos of deep poverty. The HighScope® curriculum holds a nationally acknowledged reputation based on a 40-year longitudinal study performed via a cohort of Perry Preschool graduates. The results are astonishing, and support the kind of intervention we are doing in children’s lives. At age 27, the 123 African-American preschool study participants, who had used the HighScope curriculum, had significantly higher earnings, rates of home ownership, and levels of schooling, as well as significantly fewer arrests and social service interventions, than a control group of non-preschool participants.
Some of our toddlers receive weekly visits from a play therapist in our specially equipped play therapy room. This delicate form of therapy uses symbolic play and expressive art approaches to help children connect with their feelings and experiences. Primary to our time with infants and toddlers in the classroom is our growing psychological understanding of each child.
Our brain development program is paired with sensory integrative treatment strategies developed for each child’s needs. Research has established that children exposed to chaos and trauma in the first three or four years of life experience some relatively enduring changes in brain organization. The result is that their stress response system is hyper-reactive. Sensory experiences that should delight and entice, instead send their neurosystems into overload and fill them with anxiety, often “triggering” aggressive and violent reactions. Sensory activities such as sound boards, tactile stimulation, rocking and spinning, and bubble tubes help improve the functioning of these various brain areas by increasing the capacity for self-soothing, decreasing the intensity of the hyper-reactive stress system, and improving self-regulation. Our goal is for the child to enter “calm-alert state,” in which the child’s ability to function and learn is maximized and to become practiced at arriving at calm-alert state on their own. This skillset will equip our students to be successful in kindergarten and beyond.
Using these research-based interventions, Talitha Koum partners with families to help raise children who are intellectually capable, emotionally resilient and prepared to be valued contributing members in their community. The Nurture Center is wholly dependent upon outside donations, grants, and limited government funding to survive. We ask that you will come by our building at 1311 Clay Avenue in Waco, and prayerfully consider how you might help us to say to these little ones, “My child, rise up!”