In this episode of The Preschool Podcast, we connect with Megan Bowling, the Vice President of Stretch-n-Grow International and Owner/Director of Stretch-n-Grow St. Petersburg, Florida on the benefits of partnering with enrichment programs for preschools.
Stretch-n-Grow is a comprehensive fitness and movement program for young children to help them build the foundational skills for an active and healthy lifestyle later in life. With locations and programs all around the world, Megan and her team aim to make exercise and movement part of children’s daily routines through fun and creative games!
Stretch-n-Grow saw the gap between public schools enrichment programs and child care centers enrichment programs. Megan states that “Teachers already have a lot on their plates” and don’t necessarily have time, resources, and energy to run an enrichment program for their children as well…this is where Stretch-n-Grow’s enrichment programs come into play!
Benefits of Incorporating an Enrichment Program in your Center:
- Children will be more tired. Adding in the additional movement for children throughout the day results in tired kids! This means longer naps and more rest for the children and educators, a win-win!
- Increased Practice for Developmental Skills. Enrichment programs incorporate fine motor, gross motor, language, communication, math, science etc, skills for children to practice in every session. The more opportunities children have to practice their skills, the better the skills become!
- Building Healthy Habits. When children learn to incorporate movement into their daily lives, they’re more likely to carry these skills and habits throughout their life. A healthy life is an active life!
- A Much Needed Break for Educators. When you hire an external program to come into your center to work with your children, this creates a break in the day for the educators. This is a great time for educators to take five minutes to themselves, to catch up on neglected paperwork or, to move their bodies with the children too!
How to Incorporate an Enrichment Program in your Child Care
Child care centers can opt to partner with enrichment programs as a center-wide initiative, and the child care center can foot the bill for the whole program. This is a great way for centers to charge an additional fee to families to cover the cost of the program. Another way centers can incorporate enrichment programs is through parent-funded programs. This means the child care center will just need to provide the space and the children and families would pay a monthly fee to participate in the program.
Megan recommends that child care owners and directors who are looking to partner with a high-quality enrichment program will want to ensure several things before sealing the partnership. This includes:
- Backgrounds Checks. Make sure the specialists working directly with the children have recent background checks completed.
- CPR and First Aid Certification. All individuals working with children should be certified in CPR and First Aid.
- Invest in a Structured Program. Children benefit from structure and routine and physical activity time can be chaotic time if no structure is present. Ensure the company you’re using for your enrichment program has a structured timeline and curriculum. Children will thrive from a properly structured program.
- Ask for a Demo. To ensure the program you’re choosing aligns with your curriculum and goals, ask for a free demo to see how the children enjoy the program and if the program is the right fit for you.
Megan leaves our listeners with 2 valuable resources for educators and centers looking to incorporate more movement into their children’s daily routines. Open Phys. Ed is full of free resources, blogs, and professional development courses for educators to level-up their skills with. Shape America is another great resource for educators to ensure they’re meeting national standards when it comes to physical education.
Episode 256 Transcripts-
Just having enough time in that structured physical activity to really work on those skills because we start developing right away. So, it’s important to get that physical education at a young age.
Megan, welcome to the Preschool Podcast!
Thank you so much for having me on!
We’re delighted to have you on the show, Megan. And for our listeners, Megan is the vice president of a Stretch-n-Grow International. And she’s also the owner-director of Stretch-n-Grow in St. Petersburg, Florida. Megan Bowling, welcome to the Preschool Podcast.
We’re here to talk to you today about the benefits of partnering with enrichment programs for childcare and preschool programs. But before we do that, let’s learn a little bit about you and how you got to doing what you’re doing with Stretch-n-Grow.
Alright, well, talking about my background and Stretch-n-Grow’s background, they are one in the same. My mom, Jill, started Stretch-n-Grow when she was pregnant with me in 1992. She noticed a lack of structured physical education for two- to five-year-olds. So, she started doing some research and she’s very creative. And she developed the concept of fun, adventure-themed physical education classes at preschools and daycares.
And at the time, my dad was very business-savvy. He was actually a consultant, so he took the idea and franchised it and it just exploded all over the world. So, I have literally grown up in the early-childhood education community. I went to all the trainings and conferences and I started coaching as soon as I turned 18.
So, I now run the company with my sister, Amanda. We’re very much a family owned and operated business. And we have 200 territories around the world. So, we serve thousands of preschools on a weekly basis.
Our classes are all adventure-themed, so each week we’re on a new adventure. We might be running on the moon or swimming at the beach. So, we’re exercising and having a really good time. But we’re teaching the children about the importance of a healthy lifestyle.
So, we are curriculum-based. We teach them about their bones and muscles, about healthy habits. We have three-year-olds who can name all of their major muscle groups, which is pretty cool because some adults can’t even do that.
So, over the years, our company has evolved from just fitness. We now offer dance, music, yoga, soccer, sports, gymnastics. And then we also have a school age program called Camp Fit. But we try to make it really easy for schools to partner with us and give them lots of options. And it’s just an awesome, awesome space to be in.
Very cool. And I guess the number of childcare and preschool programs that are using Stretch-n-Grow I think probably just speaks to the value that you’re adding. I didn’t realize how expansive the program was, that’s really cool to hear.
And putting yourself in the perspective of a childcare program director or owner – or a teacher as well, or an educator – you’re kind of evaluating your options when it comes to things like yoga and sports or dancing. And you kind of have a couple of options right now. You can design your own programs or do your own programs, or you can work with somebody like Stretch-n-Grow. How do you go about thinking through those options and why you might choose an enrichment program like Stretch-n-Grow, versus just doing those things yourself?
Well, we do see some centers do that do it themselves. But I try to look at how the public schools do it. And they have specialists that do their physical education program and art programs and music programs. It’s not something that their teachers are expected to take on because their teachers have quite a lot already on their plates.
Yeah, so it’s, I guess, a combination of that specialization that you’re getting, plus, obviously, the educators have a ton on their plates already. So, it almost gives them… they can’t be experts in everything. So, it gives them some, I guess, relief for lack of a better word in that way.
Exactly. And depending on how the enrichment program that the center chooses works, it can give their teachers a bit of a break. And also, if it’s a movement-oriented enrichment program, the kids are going to be tired. They’re going to take a little bit longer naps. And that’s great for everybody, right?
That’s never a bad thing, My three-year-old is napping right now and that never happens. So, we’re very happy this afternoon. And so let’s touch on that a little bit more. So, what are the different ways, I guess, that you can partner with an enrichment program like Stretch-n-Grow? How does that work?
Okay, so there’s really two main ways you can partner with enrichment programs. And there are a lot of them out there. And some of them only do one way and some of them do both. We do both.
The first option is what we call “center-wide”, and that’s where the center pays for the entire program. And it comes for each child at a very discounted rate. So, for example, for our Fitness Stars classes, the majority of centers use it as their physical education program and they pay for it. And the entire center participates.
And all of our coaches are caregiver-qualified. So, the teachers are able to leave them with the coaches and take a break. Or sometimes the teachers come in in their workout outfits and they get a little workout in, too.
But this is really cool because schools can actually use this as a fundraising opportunity. They can charge a little fitness or activity fee, which will cover the enrichment program, and then they can keep whatever’s left. So, that’s the first way, center-wide.
The second way is the parent-paid option, which doesn’t cost the school anything. The program does all of the enrollments and billing. All the center has to do is provide the space and the children to let the program sign them up. So, for example, if we have a dance class at “School A B C”, we would go, we would advertise this to the parents. The parents would pay a monthly fee. And then every week the children who are signed up for that program would just go to that dance class and whatever space the center has allowed them to. And this is also a way that centers can add revenue because they can charge a 10% or 5% kickback to those enrichment programs on their enrollments. So, those are really good ways.
Cool. And if I’m interested in looking at enrichment programs, how do I know if I’m partnering with a high-quality program? Because obviously I want to have that high quality in my programs for my children. And if this is something that costs money, we want to make sure that we’re getting the quality, in terms of that value.
Absolutely. The first thing that I would suggest would be to make sure that the programs, coaches or teachers have their background checks, CPR’s, first aid’s, insurance. And for Stretch-n-Grow, we require all of our coaches to take a youth fitness certification exam to make sure that the standards are being met in safety and everything. So, I would be my first suggestion.
The second would be to make sure that the program is curriculum-based and structured. So, we want children to get that structured physical activity, 60 minutes of it a day. So, we don’t want a program that’s just going to come in and maybe throw soccer balls around. We want it to be, “Okay, we’re going to dribble the soccer ball to Cone A. Okay, we’re going to dribble it to Cone B.” So, I would just suggest that they make sure that it’s a structured program.
Another suggestion would be to ask for a little demo class. We do free demos for schools so they can see that our program is high-quality and aligns with their core values. So, that’s what I would suggest to make sure that the program is going to be a great fit for your school.
Cool, yeah, I really like the demo opportunity. That’s great that you offer that. And from the perspective now of the children, what do you think are the main benefits that children are getting out of the Stretch-n-Grow programs?
Well, first of all, we focused a lot on growth and fine motor skill development. So, just having that time in that structured physical activity to really work on those skills because we start developing right away. So, it’s important to get that physical education at a young age.
The children are so excited when we get there. It’s funny, our coaches feel like preschool celebrities or something because the children are just so, so excited when we walk in. So, that’s another benefit to them. It’s a break in their day and an exciting class for them. And then we talked before about the longer naps – they really do after they get that exercise, they really do take a longer nap.
Yeah, cool, I remember when I was in school, too, was like, “Ooh, a guest speaker,” or, “Somebody else is going to spend time with us.” So, it’s funny you say that. I could definitely see the children getting excited about that opportunity and the opportunity to move, which we all know is so important for young children.
Yes, absolutely. And just for Stretch-n-Grow, our programs are imagination-based. So, they have an opportunity, as well, to pretend with their friends and go on an adventure just right at school.
Oh great, that’s awesome. And in all your experience of enrichment programs with Stretch-n-Grow, what have you personally learned or taken away from all that experience that you’ve had over the years?
Well, that children are really like sponges at that age. I mean, I said before that our children know their bones and muscles, but also we have them learn to pick apples over candy and pick the healthier choices. And it’s so important at that young age to instill those healthy habits because the obesity levels are rising, depression is rising, anxiety is rising. And movement, it changes all of that. It is just so important for them.
And then as far as the teachers, our teachers, they enjoy it and they need that break. And they become part of our family, really. I mean, our Stretch-n-Grow coaches and we go to graduations and back-to-school nights. And it’s just an awesome partnership.
Cool. Do you know off the top of your head any childcare programs that you’ve been working with for a long time, like a number of years or anything like that?
Well, I mean, in my territory, I’ve only been running the Stretch-n-Grow in St. Pete [Petersburg], Florida, for about five years. But we do have Beth Cannon, she was on this this podcast, she actually has been with us for 23 years, 25 years. And so she’s had schools partnered with her that long.
Oh wow, cool. Those are some of those situations where you could have – which we’ve had on the Preschool Podcast, as well – where it’s an educator who had a child in their class and then they ended up being an educator in that same program. So, that’s like 23 years, you’re getting there with that. So, that’s pretty cool.
Yes, we’ve had that. We’ve had children who were in Stretch-n-Grow come back later on and be a coach.
Yeah, that’s very cool. Awesome, well, before we wrap up, just a couple other things: So, one of the things we’re really trying to emphasize this year is learning and having that growth mindset and always wanting to also be like a sponge as adults, as well. And so just wondering if you could share with our listeners any resources that come to your mind, like a podcast or a book or a website or something like that, that you think could be valuable for listeners to check out?
Sure. OPEN Phys Ed [Online Physical Education Network, www.OpenPhysEd.org] is a very good resource and they have a whole area dedicated to preschoolers and just ideas and simple things that you can do to get your children up and moving.
As well as Shape America [Society of Health and Physical Educators, www.ShapeAmerica.org]. Shape America outlines standards for physical education. So, that’s a good resource just to make sure that you’re meeting those standards for your children.
Oh, those sound like good resources. Thanks, Megan. And what about Stretch-n-Grow? If our listeners want to check out your programs or get in touch with Stretch-n-Grow or maybe check out one of your demos or something like that, where can they go to get more information?
They can go to www.Stretch-n-Grow.com/ECE. And they will be able to look at our locations and see if there’s a territory where their center is. Or if maybe they know someone who they believe would like to work for Stretch-n-Grow or have their own Stretch-n-Grow business. They can also fill out a form right there.
Oh, very cool, okay, that’s amazing. Well, Megan, thank you so much for joining us on the Preschool Podcast. Thank you for enlightening us on some of the benefits of enrichment programs and movement and sharing those excellent resources with us. It’s been wonderful having you.
Thank you so much for having me. Yes, when centers begin to look at us as resources for them, it will really help them out.
Wonderful. Thanks so much, Megan!
Alright, thank you. Have a good day!