Monday, January 25, 2010

What is an integrated preschool

The Burlington Integrated Preschool held it’s open house this past Thursday and we had a great turn out. It was wonderful to meet new prospective students and parents and to answer questions about the program. One question that came up over and over again is: How will my typically developing student benefit from an integrated setting and how can we assure that his/her needs will be met? This is a great question and I always enjoy answering it. I think if we start by explaining what an integrated preschool is it will assist in providing an answer .
An integrated preschool classroom is comprised of 7 students with identified special needs and 8 students that are developing along a normal continuum. The classrooms are capped at 15 and can’t exceed that number at any time. Each classroom is staffed with a master’s level teacher certified in early childhood special needs, a teaching assistant that has a bachelor’s degree and an additional teacher’s assistant. Many of the assistants also have college degrees. Incorporated into the program are additional specialist staff members, including a speech and language pathologist, an occupational therapist and a physical therapist. The teaching staff is highly trained with a specialization in early childhood development.

Children without disabilities, although developing along a normal development continuum, still possess strengths and weakness and need to continue to work on mastery of fine and gross development and language development. However, one of the biggest benefits is that they acquire a broader understanding of accepting differences. Children learn at a very young age that there is something special about each and every one of us and that those qualities need to be celebrated. The child whose language that might not be developing the way it should be could be a rock star in the motor room. The child whose language is developing normally may be apprehensive with motor skills and may need guidance and support in that area. Each child has unique abilities that are shared and celebrat ed. All the research shows us that children without disabilities benefit just as much as children with special needs.

One wonderful quality about children is their ability to take things at face value and not harbor predjudices or preconceived ideas. The child that needs the walker to help him walk is just as special and important to the classroom as the child that is agile on his/her feet. When you look around the integrated classrooms, it’s difficult to distinguish the children with special needs from the typically developing children. All children are special to us and are treated equally. All children not only acquire and master the skills that will make them successful in kindergarten but they also acquire the social skills that will help them be accepting of all people and be more well rounded adults. I have included our program overview for people to review. Take a minute to read it and then ask yourself the following questions: What are the skills that are important to me for my preschooler to learn; What are the life lessons that I want my child to learn as he/she goes out into the world? Remember childhood is a journey not a race. There is no need to rush our children through it. Time goes fast enough as it is!

The program’s curriculum is designed to promote children’s cognitive, language, social emotional, fine and gross motor skills. Program staff is committed to helping each child reach his/her full potential and offering children a range of enriching experiences to promote a lifelong love of learning.
The teachers in the program are highly trained and skilled and serve as facilitators. Each classroom is staffed with a head teacher, a teacher assistant and teacher’s aide. The head teacher has a masters or bachelor level degree in Special Education. Teaching assistants have bachelor’s degrees and many are working towards their master’s degree in education. The educational aides in the program have significant experience in working with young children.
The program offers a developmentally appropriate curriculum with readiness skills embedded into the daily routine. During different times of the day, children are exposed to letters, word recognition, number patterns, sorting, and categorizing, shape and color recognition. During choice time activities, children work on developing cognitive, fine, gross motor and play and social skills. The adults in the classroom help to facilitate and model for the children