March 3, 2009

The Preschool Years

Hadley had just turned two when we began to investigate preschool options, as most programs in our area required applications almost a year before attending. Almost all of the programs required children to be three before September 1, making Hadley ineligible until she was nearly four years old, thanks to her late September birth date. Dan and I wanted her in a program earlier, both for the language modeling by hearing peers and the social interaction. This narrowed our search considerably. I attended an open house at our town's integrated preschool and, while the teachers were clearly excellent, I was hesitant to place Hadley in a classroom where most of the children had language delays. We opted for the local Montessori school, a place that Hadley had loved during a visit, that complemented our own learning strategies in place at home, and that another family member had attended in the past. All of our conversations with the staff went well and we felt we had all done what we needed to ensure a positive experience for Hadley. We were as eager as Hadley on her first day of school in September 2004.

Hadley initially did well in the Montessori classroom, but after several weeks the teacher informed us that Hadley was having trouble working independently and often just wanted to chat and play with other classmates. As this is counter to the Montessori philosophy, she was redirected by the teacher to her own work. As time went on, more problems arose. We tried to make it work for six months, but finally decided that Hadley was not a match for the program. This was an agonizing process for us: while Hadley was very happy with her friends there, the structure of the classroom did her more harm than good. It was time to search for another placement, which would be difficult as all application deadlines for other programs had passed.

As Hadley was on an IEP, she automatically qualified for the integrated preschool program in our town. Dan and I returned to the school to observe the classroom where Hadley could be placed. Nearly two years had passed since I had last visited, and I was now observing a different teacher. Now knowing what would be best for Hadley, we were pleased to see the structured routine, very small class size, the ease of transition from center to center, and the actual children who would be Hadley's classmates. While the level of spoken language was still below what would have been ideal, we knew that Hadley really needed structured social interaction with her peers to help resolve some of the negative experiences she had in her first classroom. Hadley's own expressive language and articulation had also developed well, so we were less concerned with language modeling in the classroom. We just wanted her to have a good time in school.

Hadley finished the school year at the Hingham Integrated Preschool, and went on to spend two more years in their program. She was fortunate to stay with the same veteran teacher during this time, which allowed them to build a strong bond. Having a teacher experienced in early elementary education and special education meant that Hadley's teacher could easily interpret Hadley's moods and responses to situations, and quietly make appropriate changes as necessary. The class was evenly split between children receiving special education services for a variety of reasons and role model peers. Hadley developed friendships with all of them. She was aware of the different learning differences between her classmates and felt good about being in school with other children who had to work harder at certain things. I was surprised by how nice it was to spend time with other parents who were dealing with various medical issues, who could appreciate the challenges inherent with raising such a child, who were juggling family lives full of therapy sessions and doctor's appointments. We were all in the same boat but, since our children had different diagnoses, none of us had to justify our decisions specific to our child (something we all acknowledged happened sometimes when you talked to parents dealing with the same situation).

Weekly two hour AVT sessions continued until Hadley entered her final year of preschool in September 2006, at age five. Hadley's cert AVT had a can't-pass-this-up opportunity to work for an AV center in Australia for the school year. Hadley's annual reports had continued to show excellent progress in all of her AVT goals, so we planned to use this school year as a transition to kindergarten year. We were fortunate to make arrangements with a recently certified AVT who had regularly participated in our AV sessions for a year. Carrie came to us once or twice a month during that school year, guiding us through a final year of AVT and making sure that Hadley was well prepared to start kindergarten. We were ALL ready for real school to start!

Hadley receiving her preschool graduation certificate from her fantastic teacher!

1 comment:

  1. Great blog! I hope you'll consider adding it to the aggregator at Deaf Village (www.deafvillage.com) -- we'd love to have you as part of our community!

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