Whitman-Hanson Regional School District’s Integrated Preschool
What Is an Integrated Preschool?
The Whitman-Hanson Regional School District’s Integrated Preschool Program has been servicing preschool children, ages three and four, with and without disabilities for approximately twenty years. The program has always been dedicated to meeting the needs of all children through a developmental model. This means that educators think first about what young children are like then create an environment and experiences that meet these needs. Early Childhood research indicates that young children learn best when the activities are direct interactive experiences that are meaningful to the child. The program has been accredited by the National Association of Education for Young Children for the past fifteen years. As part of the preschool literacy curriculum, the WHRSD adopted the Scott Foresman Reading Street program. The program is research based and supports the state standards. The activities build oral vocabulary, phonemic skills and a reading foundation through rich literacy experiences. The preschool has also adopted the writing program “Handwriting Without Tears” which was designed by an occupational therapist and uses music, movement and multi sensory experiences to provide a meaningful writing foundation.
The question that is unanswered for many people is “What makes the program an integrated setting and how would my child benefit from attending?”
An integrated preschool setting is one in which children with disabilities are integrated or included in a classroom with typically developing children. The children with disabilities participate in all activities within the class and modifications are made as needed. By having children with disabilities participate in this type of program, they are provided with same age role models for language, fine and gross motor skills and behavior development. Inclusion is learning to live with one another, including those with special needs and limitations. Preschools, playgroups and daycare centers are the earliest and best places to start the inclusionary process.
Inclusion is not a single event but rather the process of educating children with disabilities in their neighborhood school; the same school they would normally attend if they did not have a disability. It refers to the commitment to educate each child to the maximum extent possible, as an equal participant in a society in which all children are given the same opportunities to reach their potential.
Inclusion is not something that just happens; it takes planning and forethought by the teacher. Inclusion often requires planned social skills interventions, such as helping children to learn to share, make friends, and encourage play between children.
In an integrated preschool setting, it is vital that teachers differentiate the instruction to allow all children access to the curriculum. The modifications may be as simple as posting pictures to visualize the routine, stating expectations to an unfamiliar event or using signals to indicate a transition in the routine. In an integrated setting, you may find a speech pathologist, occupational or physical therapist working in classrooms with small groups of children, building upon each child’s experiences.
In our preschool, high value is placed on individuality and compassion. I believe the skills a child learns in these early stages of development provide the foundation for all other skills that will be learned through out life. The Integrated Preschool Program helps children to develop an appreciation that everyone has unique and beautiful characteristics. Children develop a feeling of empowerment and the ability to make a difference. When children are part of an inclusive setting, everyone gains an understanding and appreciation of differences among people- a lesson of a life time.