Now that summer is half over it’s time to think about the fall. What should parents of children with hearing loss be looking for in a pre-school program? Perhaps the first question to ask is should they be looking for a pre-school program? And, if the answer is yes, when should they start looking?
Should children with hearing loss attend pre-school?
In my mind, the answer is a resounding yes! Some children need to attend pre-school because parents need to work. Some attend because of the benefits these programs offer. These include exposure to children who may have better language skills than the child does, thereby providing good language models; the opportunity to develop social skills through group activities, including turn taking; and developing the kinds of language skills that can only be learned in a group.
Parents are frequently concerned because their children with hearing loss may not have the same level of language that typical hearing kids have. Some parents feel that keeping their children home in a one-to-one situation will improve their language more quickly. Plenty of mommy time will do a lot in improving language, but the other skills that children learn from playing with other kids is invaluable. A program that meets for 3 hours twice a week will provide a lot of benefit and leave a lot of mommy time.
Should children with hearing loss attend a pre-school for children with hearing loss?
Some children with hearing loss will benefit from a self-contained pre-school class, and having all services at school will definitely be convenient. But kids still need exposure to typical language models. So, if a child is in a self-contained pre-school, it might be useful to have the child spend some time in a mainstream pre-school also. Time with typical kids will facilitate movement into mainstream school in kindergarten.
What should you look for in a pre-school?
Questions about the program
Is it licensed? Accredited? What do you know about the staff? Do they attend continuing education courses? What is the ratio of children to adults? Does the program allow parents to become involved? Has the school had a child with any disability before and how do they feel about children with disabilities?
The school environment
Is it clean? Does it appear safe? Does it look welcoming? Are the toys well organized or just dumped into piles? Observe the center when there are children there. How are they playing with toys and how are teachers interacting with them?
What kind of education does the staff have? Does the staff sit on the side and observe the children or do they play with them? Does the staff help children who appear to be having a problem socializing move into a play situation with other children? Is the staff respectful of differences in abilities and personalities?
Ask other parents about their experiences
Not everyone has the same goals so what one parent likes another may not. Ask if children came home generally clean and happy. Were they hungry when they came home? What did their kids say about the program. Where they happy to go every morning?
The role of parents
When I first sent my children to pre-school I was terrified. Would these people be good to my kids? Were they nice? Would my children be happy? My mother, wise woman that she was, said “If you are comfortable, they will be comfortable.”
I am not sure I completely understood that then, but I do now. Parents have an instinct about what is right for their children. If you feel like something is wrong, check. If you are not comfortable then it is likely not the right place for your child. A red flag for me is a program that does not allow parents in. Parents should not be there full time. Kids need to learn to follow other people’s rules, and learn to socialize with new people. But if parents are barred from the school, that is not a good thing. Parents may be a disruption, but we are the parents so we need to be comfortable with the program.