Children's Home Network plants SEEDS of learning

Some preschoolers aren’t ready to advance. They don’t know the basics: colors, shapes and numbers. 

Tosha Johnson runs a program that helps them catch up. She’s director of the Children’s Home Network’s Supporting and Empowering Educational and Developmental Services (SEEDS) program, which helps kids from birth to third grade who are behind in reading, written communication and math to get on and stay on grade level. She says specialists who work with the children also help parents create an environment for learning in their homes.

“I would remind our parents that basically, they are the first teachers,” Johnson says. “I think some parents rely on the educational system to do that. You’re the first teacher, and creating that learning environment or space at home is critically important.”

Parents should use everything available to get young children school-ready, Johnson advises.

“We go as far as closed-captioning on a television,” she says. “That’s exposure to some of the letters and words. Helping to make the grocery list. Reading the back of a cereal box. Having that child immersed in learning at home first. On car rides, trips, we do educational games and encourage parents to do that.’’ 

Games such as I Spy, as in “I spy something green” can help teach them colors, she says.

“Introducing them to names and letters even with a grocery store,” Johnson says. “‘Okay, that’s Publix. What’s the first letter?’ Incorporating learning into every aspect of their daily living is what I recommend.”

“We always encourage families, make time, even if it’s just three, four times a week, to read,” Johnson says. “Make it a family time. Everybody has 20 minutes of silence to read a book... Find things that are interesting to that child.’’

SEEDS has three goals: ensuring children are ready for kindergarten, promoted at the end of the school year and reading on grade level by third grade.

SEEDS teams work with public, private and charter schools and are invited into family homes throughout Hillsborough County to help children. They check scores on tests and other evaluations to come up with a plan. They involve parents, teachers, other school personnel, tutors, mentors and others to help the child.

It’s a free service for all families in Hillsborough County that need it, Johnson says. Funded by the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County and the Hillsborough County School Board, the program started in 2012 and has established a good track record, Johnson says.

“Over the last several years our families have shown tremendous improvement,’’ she says. “We’ve been in a 93, 95 percentile in terms of grade promotion.’’

They don’t just put a Band-Aid on the problem, Johnson says. For example, if, say, a second grader is performing at a kindergarten reading level, the team goes back to where the child is functioning currently. Using a tutor, materials that the teacher recommends and any other resources available, they work to steadily bring the child up to grade level.

Johnson is also the director of the Children’s Home Network’s  RAISE program, which works with support groups in the community to help children with physical, mental or emotional barriers heal, learn and thrive. In addition to the SEEDS and RAISE programs, the Children’s Home Network provides foster care for kids, caregiver support, and runs Kids’ Village, a residential center to help heal children from ages 6 to 17 who have been abused and neglected.

The programs are all part of the Children’s Home Network’s evolution as an organization since its origins more than a century ago as the Children’s Home, an orphanage that opened in 1892.

For more information, go to Children’s Home Network SEEDS 

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Philip Morgan is a freelance writer living in St. Petersburg. He is an award-winning reporter who has covered news in the Tampa Bay area for more than 50 years. Phil grew up in Miami and graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in journalism. He joined the Lakeland Ledger, where he covered police and city government. He spent 36 years as a reporter for the former Tampa Tribune. During his time at the Tribune, he covered welfare and courts and did investigative reporting before spending 30 years as a feature writer. He worked as a reporter for the Tampa Bay Times for 12 years. He loves writing stories about interesting people, places and issues.