Preschool a New Beginning for Children and Parents

Article excerpt

CONTRAST THESE PROGRAMS:

Early intervention programs These programs, which offer home-based services for infants and toddlers, typicaiiy::ily allow the families to see the provider each time he or she visits the child. In many instances where the early intervention program is center based, families may bring the child to the center to participate in parent-infant playgroups and have opportunities to communicate with service providers. It is not unusual for families to be updated on their child's progress on a weekly basis.

Preschools

Early childhood special education services for 3-to 5-year-old children often work against the type of frequent communication parents have been used to (Hains, Rosenkoetler, & Fowler, 1991). Many young children with special needs ride the school bus or van to and from school. As a result, families may not have face-to-face conversations with their child's teacher. Even if children are transported by their families, opportunities for conversation may be constrained by the hectic atmosphere of children arriving and departing at the same time.

The transition from early intervention to preschool represents a new beginning for families and children. Almost overnight, it seems that toddlers become preschoolers. Families and providers who share expectations with each other about the child's skills and abilities can plan appropriately for the child's first day, week, and month of preschool, thereby setting the stage for communication and collaboration across the year. Such efforts are likely to support a happy and successful transition and first school experience for a young child (see box, "Research Provides a Rationale"). This article presents an approach to communicating with parents during the crucial transition period.

Families Speak Out

Unfortunately, many families of young children with special needs may experience a decrease in communication with service providers when their children exit early intervention programs and enroll in early childhood special education programs (Hains, Rosenkoetter, & Fowler, 1991; Johnson, Chandler, Kerns, & Fowler, 1986). This decrease may be due to logistical barriers such as transportation but also may be due to a change in program philosophy. Early intervention programs tend to focus on the central role of the family in a child's life, a position that would naturally lead to frequent communication between service providers and family members (Bruder & Chandler, 1996). On the other hand, preschool programs often focus on the child in his or her educational setting, an orientation that may lead to less frequent parent-professional communication (Hains et al., 1991).

Some families report frustration over this decrease in communication. Hadden, Wischnowski, and Fowler (1997) interviewed 17 families of children who had recently exited early intervention and found that most of the families experienced a reduction in communication after their child enrolled in preschool. Although 3 families reported daily communication, less than half of the families indicated weekly contact with their child's new teacher. Some families reported that they communicated with the new program only once a month. This communication was not always individualized for a child. Rather, many families received a weekly or biweekly newsletter detailing the activities of the class. Families expressed dismay over this decrease and stated that they would like to have more frequent communication specifically about their child. One parent explained, "[You] always know what the kids are going to do that week, but not the little things that your child has done." Another parent stated that she "would be happier if I knew more on a regular basis what he was doing specifically, not what the class was doing."

When to Communicate

Communication between teachers in the new preschool program and families needs to take place throughout the transition-before, during, and after the child has exited one program and entered another. …