Friday, June 15

Kindergarten preparations

I'll admit, five years ago I had no idea what inclusion meant.  I knew there were special needs kids alongside my "typical" older children in classrooms, but never really understood how important inclusion was.  Within the last five years my heart has grown so huge for children with development delays and I appreciate inclusion and efforts toward it.

Now that we are finishing our third year in early intervention preschool we needed to think about what kindergarten will look like for Tommy.  So, I have been reading and studying inclusion in education in all of my spare time.  I really submerged myself in the Infant/Early Childhood Conference classes both these past year and tried to broaden how I thought Tommy would access his education.  

Today Colin and I visited the Life Skills K-6 room at the school that the twins will attend in September.  Yes our transfer is official!  We are not attending our home school, but another in district, where the boys have been for their preschool years. 

Liam will be in a general education kindergarten this fall, his skills are ready to join his typical aged peers.  Tommy will have a Life Skills teacher for kindergarten.  That was hard to write.  Hard to say.  In some ways I felt when Colin and I agreed that it would be the best choice for him, we were somehow selling out.  I felt like we should push Tommy to excel and to demand that he be placed in kindergarten general ed class.  But then we quickly realized, the life skills program would support Tommy the best.  And that he was not ready to be in a mainstream classroom all day.  I will share with you that I am now totally comfortable with our decision.  And actually am really excited!

I will totally admit I was really anxious about the visit and worried a bit too much that I wasn't going to like the program, the environment, the teacher, the paras, oh the list goes on.Within minutes of meeting Tommy's special education teacher, I could tell his passion was with kids and that he would listen to our  needs and wants for Tommy's education.  Granted we do a type of "homeschooling" with the twins on pre-K skills, we really want a strong kindergarten program to lead his education and interests. 

Tommy will be in the special education room for 980 minutes per week, the general education kindergarten room for 670 minutes, and he will receive 45 minutes of speech and language therapy plus 30 minutes of occupational therapy.  When I think of the data regarding when children with Ds "peak" in their education, it's around 12-13 years old, so I really want to make his time at school and at home in these early years rich with experiences for education so I can pack it all in his adorable head!

Very excited that the time he is in the Life Skills room he will be receiving "Discreet trial training", more specifically the "Styer/Fitzgerald" method for functional reading skills, manipulatives for math, shapes, colors and some day soon sight vocabulary.  Discreet trial training is exactly what I had read was appropriate for encouraging kids who have processing and rehearsal difficulties. 

Disappointing that he will not be able to receive sign language support, nor will he be able to receive a 1-on-1 para aide.  For a non verbal child those two things coupled together are really difficult.  Rather he will be paired with another child and have a paraeducator to share, and I can see how Tommy would benefit from that if his paired student had typical speech and language.

I believe the room will have 16 total kids in the fall, about half in the morning and the other half in the afternoon.  One teacher and probably 3 or 4 paraeducators.  So that would be approximately a 2 students to 1 teacher ratio.

The daily routine starts around 9:30 and spends alot of the beginning time on social skills, how to introduce yourself and talk to someone else, how to make a friend.  There is one child in the room currently who is about 8 years old with Ds, so of course I was more attentive to how he was being taught and shadowed him thru his rotations of learning.  The time spent of functional reading using the Styers/Fitzgerald seemed really productive for this student, he was given positive reinforcement and it was "errorless" so the teacher prompts the child for the right answer, which for today was phonics based on a sight/flashcard of the letter. 

The rotations went from around 10-11 with changes every 17 mins between stations.  Different stations worked on different skills and all seemed very child and education centered.  I was happy to see that a few of the stations were in rooms off of the hallway and had very few distractions once you were within the room, which is great for Tommy to pay attention and learn. 

At about 11 all the kids, in this morning group there were eight but only 6 present today, come together for circle time on the calendar.  This section of the morning also stressed phonics and number concepts and was done in a sweet way giving the child a sense of community also with his friends. 

At 11:30 they go to lunch with their age appropriate peers which is terrific and hopefully Tommy is well received in his kindergarten room to make some friends for lunchtime. 

The afternoon is focused on Tommy being inside his general education kindergarten room for music, pe, computer time (which he loves right now) and recess.  Of course the paraeducator would be there to support him.  We have requested that Tommy and Liam be in two separate kindergarten classrooms, and since there are three classrooms we believe that should work.  It's important for them both to have their individual friends, access learning in their own ways and experiences to their own interests. 

I'll be sending the special education teacher an interest inventory and the current two page document on Tommy's sensory seeking activities.  So that the teacher can even better tailor the education and rewards to things that Tommy adores.  So, for now we have the perfect plan for Tommy and Liam's kindergarten learning.  A plan that will require alot of hard work on our part at home and a lot of hard work on some very dedicated teachers in their school. 

I'll soon post our summer "homeschooling" ideas and goals if anyone is interested in pre-K ideas.

Tommy Adventures