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

Getting Gray ready for kindergarten!

little boy standing in front of school bus

Gray was excited to do a test run on the school bus.

This is the moment. My first-born child is starting kindergarten. As much as my maternal instincts want to protest this major milestone, part of me rejoices in the independence and new life phase that my son is about to embark on. He’s attended preschool twice a week, so he is familiar with structure regarding lunch time, clean-up, etc. But since beginning kindergarten will be such a big transition, we made several extra steps to get him ready for his start to school. Already we:

  • Visited the elementary school at Kindergarten Round-Up to meet the principal, two possible teachers, and tour the school (including the library, gym, classrooms, cafeteria).
  • Got to ride a school bus and learned basic rules such as remained seated while driving, where kindergarten students sit on the bus, etc.
  • Downloaded the app that school uses for electronic communications to stay connected over the summer
  • Met Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) members at Open House. These are the volunteers who will host meetings and different fundraising event throughout the school year.
  • Did a monthly calendar over the summer to check off daily and start a countdown until the first day of school
  • Included him in back-to-school shopping for his lunch box, backpack, and supplies he will be using when in school
  • Phased in an earlier bedtime (one month before we started moving bedtime, two weeks before we will move bedtime up again) to ensure an adequate night’s sleep for full day of learning.
  • Discussed how a typical week at school will look like (five full days which means no more days with Nana) and how we will incorporate fun things outside of school days. This was big for my little guy because he thrives on consistency.

As this is our first year, we are looking to learn more about how to effectively transition into the school year from summer fun and eager to watch my child grow into this new chapter.

– Stephanie Babcock is an IFS coordinator with the Parenting Program. She’s a proud mom of two.

Summer slide: It’s not a dance

boy reading

We’re all excited as the school year ends and summer is upon us. Most children are so happy on the last day of school as it means sleeping in, staying up late, and best of all: no homework! But many parents know that we must keep our children reading, writing and doing math to prevent the “summer slide.”

What is the summer slide?

This is the slide in academic skills that happens over the summer. When our children return to school, they’ve fallen to a level lower than they were at when they left school in June. Typically, students can lose up to two months of learning in the summer and it takes the next grade’s teacher four to six weeks to get students back to the level where they previously were. The most profound thing about summer slide is that it is cumulative.

Over the years, the one- to two-month slide adds up and creates a gap by the time the child reaches high school. However, a parent can help your student avoid the “summer slide,” provide the opportunity to step right into the new grade level, and even learn the new grade level materials.

Summer slide is more common in lower-income levels, although no student is exempt.

Reading over the summer

Research shows that the amount of time that students spend reading outside of school is linked to gains in reading achievement. In fact, it shows that if your child reads just six books during the summer months, the summer slide can be avoided!

However, these books need to be “just right fit” books. Talk with your child’s teacher before the end of the year to find the right reading level. The books can’t be too hard or too easy; they need to be just right. This video can help determine a “just right” book.

A child is most likely to read books that he or she selects. We need to give children the time needed to select books that will motivate them to continue to read all summer.

Summer reading programs

  • Most libraries offer free reading programs that are motivating and fun. Check out your library online or at your next visit, so your child is signed up and ready to participate. Libraries are meant to be a place to read, have fun and learn as a family. When my children were little, I packed a lunch, went to the library, then headed to the park to spend some time both playing and reading.
  • Some bookstores offer summer reading programs and discounts on books. One chain even rewards summer reading with a free book at the end of the summer. Also, purchasing books for your own home library may be fun for your child, especially for high interest books. Many stores have a book list for each age and grade that children love, as well as the top picks for different age groups.

Just keep on reading

One of the most important tips that I can offer to parents is to keep reading! It isn’t meant to be something we do for a half an hour a day. It can be done all day and every day.

In the morning, grab a newspaper and read the comics, the headlines or weather. In the afternoon, provide time for your child to read the “just right” books that they selected. In the evening, find time to read with your child and encourage them to read aloud to you. Talk about the vocabulary that you encounter in your reading. Reading together helps build listening skills, as well.

When your child was an infant, you may have had books all around the house. As children grow, we tend to keep books in a central location. Instead, I suggest keeping high-interest books all around the house because kids are more likely to pick up a book and read if they are conveniently set around the house. You might also keep some books in the car; children spend a lot of time while moms drive them from here to there. It’s the perfect place to keep a few books for them to read.

There are many online reading programs that find a student’s level and provide motivational activities and books for your child. Talk to your school to see if this is available for you to purchase.

Another idea is ordering a magazine that your child enjoys. It gets delivered right to your house each week or month. They can be very motivational and can keep kids reading.

Don’t forget about math

Math is another area where students slide during the summer. Provide level-appropriate workbooks to practice the skills that your children learned during the school year.

Estimation is an important skill that can be practiced whenever you can. It can be how many miles to you think it is to grandma’s house, how long you think it will take to get somewhere, how many M & M’s are in the jar. Whatever you think of to support this skill will benefit to your child.

Write, write, write

Writing over the summer is also important. Provide a fun summer journal. Each day, have your child take time to write. It can be a journal of what they are reading, or maybe a place to write a story or poem. It is often fun to reflect in writing what they have done that day. Of course, a letter to grandma is always loved and appreciated. Just find time to practice writing.

Enjoy your summer!

– Lori Irwin, M.Ed., is a Parenting Program volunteer. She’s a former teacher of children with severe disabilities in reading, a consultant with a leading educational book publisher, and a mother of two adult children.

Parenting politics

Vote

Unaltered image. Theresa Thompson, Flickr. CC license.

With the November election today, you can’t read a newspaper, watch television, listen to the radio or peruse social media without encountering political messages. And while many people have expressed exhaustion with the constant bombardment, the election is certainly important. In part, it’s important because we are electing a new president. Equally important, we are choosing representatives, senators, mayors, and judges on the federal, state and local levels, as well as voting on various proposals. Even more important, every election gives us an opening to educate our children about the political process and its attendant issues.

Why talk to your kids about politics? For that, there are several answers.

  • Liberty. We live in a country with the freedom to self-govern. We exercise that freedom by being informed and involved in the political process. Children who are comfortable with government, politics, and social and fiscal issues will be involved and informed citizens.
  • Self-Interest. The business of government is the peoples’ business, and what is accomplished (or not) in the political arena affects the lives of the people, including the lives of the little people. Does your daughter’s school have enough computers in her classroom? Does your son want to see an expansion to the city’s recreation department? These are issues that are addressed in the political arena.
  • Influence. Put quite bluntly: Other people are talking to your kids about politics; shouldn’t you be too? From what kids see on TV to what they hear in their classrooms, there are subtle and not-so-subtle messages reaching your children about government, politics and politicians. When we discuss politics and government with our children, our voices, our values and our beliefs will give them a framework against which to weigh all of the other information they receive.

So that’s the why. Next it’s the how.

How do you talk to your child about politics? The first step is not about talking at all, but about showing. We all know that kids won’t do what we say but rather what they see. For example, we can tell them to eat their vegetables until we are blue in the face, but unless they see us munching carrots and cauliflower the message will never hit home. So show your kids that the political process matters to you. Take them with you when you vote! There is no message so strong on the importance of exercising your right to vote than having your kids see you do it. In every election. For every issue. Remember that while presidential elections get all the attention, the local millage vote has as much impact on your child’s life as, if not more than, who sits in the Oval Office.

And then talk to them. Start with explaining what you do in that voting booth and why it’s important that you do it. When it comes to issues, I recommend being guided by their interests. If your elementary school age child loves tigers, talk about wildlife conservation. If your high schooler bemoans the fact that there is no lacrosse team at school, discuss school finance. Make the discussion of political issues a natural part of family discourse. If your kids see you filling out your tax forms, talk about tax policy. And if they hear about crime on the news, discuss your beliefs about crime and punishment.

Finally, if you encourage a spark of interest in your children, nurture it. Take them to a School Board or City Council meeting. Encourage them to volunteer to help a cause they are passionate about before they are old enough to vote. When my own kids started to show political passion, I sat down with them and watched the West Wing on DVD. It opened up the opportunity to discuss process and positions in a way that held their interest. (And yes, for those of you familiar with both the show and this author, there is a reason my youngest daughter is named CJ.)

So while political fatigue may be setting in, please remember that your little people are looking to you for example and information. The choices you make at the polls affect their lives, but not nearly as much as teaching them to make those choices for themselves.

– Nicole Capozello, Parenting Program volunteer

Do the language dance

Dad reading to a little boy

Unaltered image. Jinglejammer, Flickr. CC license.

Wouldn’t it be reassuring if we could see into our child’s future? To see them as a well-adjusted, content, healthy teenager who is making the most of their academic and social opportunities in high school, could make our parenting job just a little easier.

But there isn’t a crystal ball for that, just some significant research.

Which of these factors contribute most to the future school achievement of our children: income, IQ, school, where we live, genetic code? Actually, none of them. Instead, our children’s achievement in school is determined by the number of words parents say to them between birth and 3 years of age.

Research shows that by the age 3, some children heard a total of 13 million words while others heard a total of 45 million words. (Words from a TV, computer or iPad don’t count.) The more communication our babies have with us, even before they can talk, the better their language development will be. Language development is the beginning of literacy (reading, writing and communicating). A strong literacy foundation is the key to school success.

Children who heard 45 million words didn’t only hear directions such as “Eat your peas,” or “Don’t stand on the furniture.” Their parents also talked to them when they didn’t have to; this is called the language dance.

More talk is good, but not just any talk will make your child smarter. To positively impact our children’s language development, we must engage them in the language dance. One way to do this is with books. Yes, this includes reading them, but it is mostly by talking with our children about the books we are reading.

Language dance tips

Going beyond the text is one of the best ways to engage in the language dance. When reading books with your child, pay attention to what he is pointing to or looking at, then say something about it. Some ideas for comments are:

  • Name a character or item: “The little boy’s name is Jack.”
  • Describe the character: “Jack looks excited,” or “Jack’s mommy is working really hard.”
  • Describe the item: “That ball is round and rolls on the ground,” or “The white clouds in the sky are fluffy.”
  • Connect to your child’s life: “You have a colorful ball too. Look, here’s your ball.”

Remember, the language dance supports language development and, ultimately, literacy. So while we may not actually be able to see into our children’s future, one sure way to create a good one is by building the components of a solid literacy foundation. Your children will thank you.

– Stacey Sharpe Mollison, Simply Smart Kids, Co-Founder

Disciplining a toddler

Toddler girl throwing a tantrum

Unaltered image. Citril, Flickr. CC license.

Being the parent of a toddler can be fun at times, but it’s definitely challenging sometimes, too. Toddlers often cause concern and frustration for their parents through their behaviors like biting, hitting, pulling hair, being defiant, using bad language, and throwing temper tantrums. How do you deal with these behaviors? Are they too young to discipline and how do you go about doing that for such young children?

Beaumont’s Beginning Discipline – The Toddler Years class can help parents dealing with the wonderful but sometimes difficult toddler years. You’ll learn where toddlers are at developmentally and why their behaviors make sense within that context. You’ll also get suggestions for how to help them learn to manage their emotions and act more appropriately. Discipline means to teach, not to punish. Come join us at Beaumont’s Toddler Discipline class and learn how to better understand your toddler and how to help them learn positive behaviors.

Register for an upcoming class.

Infant and Child CPR Tips

Every parent should take a CPR class. It can’t hurt to take a class and get certified in Infant and Child CPR by the American Heart Association. You’ll get to see these techniques performed in person and ask the instructor any questions. And someday you may save a life! 

Shout and tap.

Decide whether CPR is necessary. Call out your child’s name and gently tap him on the shoulder. If there is no response and the baby isn’t breathing (or not breathing normally), position the infant on his back to begin CPR. 

Remember to “Take a CAB”.

Performing CPR on a baby comes down to these three steps.

C = Circulation

1. Place the baby on his back on a firm, flat surface, such as the floor or table.
2. Place two fingers of one hand just below an imaginary horizontal line between baby’s nipples.
3. Give 30 chest compressions. Hard and fast! Depth should be 1½ inches to circulate the blood.

A = Airway

After 30 compressions, gently tip the head back one hand and lift his chin slightly with the other.

B = Breathing

1. Cover the baby’s mouth and nose with your mouth.
2. Give a gentle puff of air in baby’s mouth, wait one second, and then give a second puff of air.
3. Give two breaths after every 30 chest compressions.

Do the CAB steps 5 times (30 chest compression to two breaths) = 2 minutes. At the end of every 2 minutes, assess the baby. If there is still no movement or breathing, continue to repeat the CAB steps until help arrives.

Call 911.

If there’s someone else at home with you, have her call for help immediately. If you’re alone, you can start CPR. If after two minutes there is still no response, call 911. Once you give the emergency operator your info, continue to administer CPR until help arrives.

– Michelle Enerson, RNC, is the NICU Program Coordinator for the Beaumont Parenting Program and a certified Basic Life Support Instructor.