Finding the right preschool when your child has delays

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Destinee Sweeney.

For any parent, sending your child to school for the first time can be overwhelming and a little bit scary. But when your child has delays (speech, language, developmental), finding a preschool that is the right fit for your child and your family can seem even more daunting.

To make navigating the process of finding the best preschool feel less intimidating, I compiled a list of five important things to look for and ask about to ensure the best learning environment and support for your child.

  1. Parent/Teacher communication. Understanding how communication is handled and what to expect from the start will be of utmost importance. How will you find out about your child’s day? Will you have the opportunity to communicate with your child’s teacher at pick-up and/or drop-off, or will the teacher send home daily notes with information regarding what happened at school that day? Will you have the chance to ask questions regarding your child’s progress in person or does the teacher prefer email or scheduled phone calls? Will there be conferences to communicate how your child is progressing throughout the school year? All of these questions are important to have answers to prior to enrollment so that both the teacher and you as a parent have clear guidelines and expectations regarding communication. Make sure you are comfortable with the amount and means of communication promised by the preschool. This will set your family up for success, a positive parent/teacher relationship, and make sure you have clear, thorough information about what’s happening in your child’s classroom.
  2. Student to teacher ratio and classroom size. Making sure there are enough helping hands in the classroom is crucial to ensuring that each child in the classroom gets the support he/ she needs. The lead teacher can only be so many places at once, so knowing that there are other qualified adults in the room is important. A 3:1 child to adult ratio is ideal, especially if you feel your child will require more individualized attention. When thinking about student to teacher ratio, you also need to consider class size. Children with any sort of delay will likely benefit from being in a preschool classroom with smaller class sizes. Smaller classes allow for more one-on-one teacher instruction, provide a less overwhelming sensory environment, and create more opportunity for teachers to facilitate social/play interactions.
  3. Willingness to communicate with outside service providers. If your child has speech, language, and/or developmental delays, he or she is likely receiving outside services and working with a team of therapists. When looking for the best preschool for your child, don’t be afraid to ask if the classroom teacher is willing to communicate with outside service providers and join the team of professionals supporting your child. Your child’s teacher will have access to your child for the longest period of time of any of the therapists/professionals on the team. Making sure the teacher is willing to learn more about your child’s goals in therapy, what strategies are most effective/beneficial, and how he/she can incorporate and support generalization of your child’s treatment goals into their school day will be essential for a successful preschool experience.
  4. Visual supports and schedules. We all benefit from the use of visual supports throughout our day. Whether it is a “to do” list, a grocery list or a calendar, visuals make navigating our day more concrete and help to eliminate stress even as adults. For preschoolers, especially preschoolers with developmental delays, a classroom with strong visual supports and schedules is equally (if not more) beneficial. A classroom visual schedule creates routine, predictability, and comfort in what to expect and what is coming up next. Visuals help guide our thinking and make abstract concepts more concrete. This is vital when helping children understand and make sense of a new environment. Look for pictures labeling items in the classroom, photographs of peers for “checking in” or saying “hello,” social stories, and of course, the visual schedule.
  5. Movement breaks/play. Knowing how long your child will be expected to sit for a given time throughout the school day is important to know. Preschool-age children need to move their bodies to be accessible to learning and to soak in the important information being presented during structured activities. They need to “shake their sillies out.” Making sure that movement breaks are embedded in the classroom routine is imperative. This can be achieved by dancing, playing with equipment (e.g., scooters, balls, balance beams, slides, etc.), structured gross motor activities, and more. We also want to make sure that your child has the chance to play! Play unlocks language and builds social skills. Play helps create imagination and develops problem solving skills. Children need to play. Ask how much time in your child’s day will be dedicated to play. Make sure there will be the opportunity to explore new toys, engage in play, and develop foundational social skills that will serve your child forever.

So look for these important things as you explore options for your preschooler. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, to go on visits, to observe, and to make sure you feel comfortable with what the program has to offer. Of course, a teacher who will love your child for exactly who he/she is and make learning fun is key to a positive first school experience as well.

If you have any questions or would like assistance on your journey to finding a preschool that will best fit your child’s unique needs, do not hesitate to reach out to the Beaumont Children’s Speech and Language Pathology department, we would love to help.

– Ali Pettit, M.A., CCC-SLP, Speech and Language Pathologist, Children’s Speech and Language Pathology Department, Beaumont Health

Childcare: The Great Debate Rages On

Mary Poppins and Bert

image credit: Sam Howzit, Flickr

Mary Poppins wanted. Chimney sweep boyfriend not required.

That was how our ad for a new nanny read when we sadly posted it on a month ago.

Our nanny, who has been with us since I returned from maternity leave two years ago, is moving out of state. After this winter, I really don’t blame her, but now we had to look for someone else to watch the kids while my husband and I work.

My kids have always had the nanny come to our home and care for them. It was easier for me in the morning to not have to pack up twins and get them to daycare and me to work with some semblance of punctuality. But now my options were open again. Daycare? Nanny? Spend more time at home? What’s a mom to do?

We did our due diligence and toured daycares and even considered me staying home more. But those options just weren’t for us. While the daycares were completely wonderful, it didn’t feel right for our kids. And the thought of me staying home all the time sounded good at first, but the more I thought about it, the more panicky I became. Nope, not an option.

We settled on a new nanny. After weeding through dozens of applications (When I specified that I wanted an “experienced” person, the 19-year-old with “10 years of experience” doesn’t count. Not even a little.), we settled on seven for phone interviews (to this day my husband and I both swear that one of them was either high or getting high while on the phone with us) and gave four in-person interviews. A job offer was extended and she accepted! A huge weight was lifted off our shoulders.

We’re looking forward to working with the new nanny, and at the same time, we’re sad to see Original Nanny leave. But we have a transition plan in place and our fingers crossed that all goes well.

How do you handle childcare? Do you ever feel like you’re being judged? What do you say?

– Rebecca Calappi, Publications Coordinator at Beaumont Health System and adoptive parent of multiples

Who Knew You Could Worry So Much?

As the saying goes, opinions are like ____, everyone has one. One you announce you’re pregnant, no phrase seems to be more true. As a mom you suddenly find yourself worrying about and questioning EVERYTHING!  Should I remove the bumpers from the crib?  Should I use organic milk? What if I can’t nurse until 12 months?  Why isn’t he sleeping through the night when her son, who is the same age, is?  Is this pediatrician the “right” one?  Day care or nanny?  Day care.  No, nanny. No, day care.  How much TV is too much?  Am I reading enough to my child?  Is ballet and swimming too much? Should I enroll her in swimming before 1 year?  Private or public school?  The list goes on and on. Continue reading

Parents, It’s Time for a Time Out! Hire a Babysitter!

As parents, when we hear the words “time out,” we immediately think of an act of parenting used to modify inappropriate behavior. In this article however, the time-out involves you and your spouse!

It’s difficult and challenging — between parenting, working and other commitments — to take time out for yourselves. However, time away from your child allows you to better manage the daily trials and tribulations of parenting. You probably all agree with this, but you might be wondering, “Who will care for my baby?”

Continue reading