Teacher wins grant to work on “Sensory Toolbox” project, which helps young kids solve social problems and learn to work together.

Photos courtesy of the Finkelstein family

Earlier this year, early childcare educator Caryn Finkelstein of Farmington won not her first, but her second grant from the Terri Lynne Lokoff Child Care Foundation.

Finkelstein, who has degrees in child development and teaching from Michigan State University and University of Michigan Dearborn, has been an early childhood professional for 27 years, 21 of them at the Early Childhood Education Center (ECEC) at University of Michigan Dearborn.

Finkelstein’s class includes a large number of students with special needs. Working with these students throughout the year inspired her to appeal to the Terri Lynne Lokoff Foundation for a grant to work on a project she has termed the “Sensory Toolbox.”

“Teaching 3-and 4-year-olds is incredibly rewarding and unpredictable. No two days are ever the same,” says Finkelstein, who is single and often attends Congregation B’nai Moshe in West Bloomfield, where her mother is a member. “The responsibility to help tiny humans become empathetic and caring members of a community is immense.”

Finkelstein adds that she spends a great deal of the day helping students solve social problems, learn how to work together as a group and talk about how actions affect others.
“Sensory play is so important in the classroom,” Finkelstein said. “The materials in this toolbox will help my special needs students, but all the children will benefit.”

These “emotion faces” are an example of what will come from Finkelstein’s Sensory Toolbox.

Finkelstein’s goals for the toolbox are to help students develop body awareness and regulation of emotions. “Many of the materials in the Sensory Toolbox will assist the children in calming down when big emotions overwhelm them and help them identify a range of moods and emotions.

“Special needs children can go to extreme feelings very quickly and if they can learn to manage these feelings in a play situation, they can use the things they learn when they do get angry or upset,” she adds.

The toolbox will include timers, weighted pillows and neck wraps, kinetic sand, instant snow and different strengths of therapy putty, among other things.

Caryn’s mother, Paula Finkelstein, feels supporting early childhood educators is more important than most people believe and credits the Terri Lynne Lokoff Foundation for providing support to this community.

The foundation was founded in 1987 following the death of early childhood educator Terri Lynne Lokoff in a car accident the year before. Her family set up the nonprofit to honor her memory and “fulfill her efforts.”

“The Terri Lynne Lokoff Foundation is the only organization nationwide that recognizes early childhood educators,” Finkelstein says. “They really make an effort to support, recognize and reward teachers that don’t get a lot of credit or pay.”

Read more: Metro Detroit Religious Schools Staying Relevant

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