Preschool to Public School for Children with Disabilities: Preparing for the Transition (page 3)
As the parent of a preschooler who has a disability, you may feel anxious about the move to kindergarten. This transition from home or preschool to public school is a big step, so it understandably causes you and your child some fear, as well as excitement. The best thing you can do to help your child make the change is to get yourself prepared. Then you can relax and concentrate on easing the way for your child.
Early childhood educators and experienced parents suggest beginning preparations when your child is three-and-a-half to four years old. You want to plan well enough in advance that you won't feel rushed.
Some of these suggestions will take time-learning the laws, for instance. And you may find that you want to do other steps more than once, like talking with school personnel. Keep track of your meetings and correspondence; a written record of your activities may be helpful later.
- Find out about laws and regulations that affect children with disabilities. Call the Division of Special Services at (207)624-6650, and ask for a copy of the Maine Special Education Regulations, Chapter 101 or Maine Parent Federation at 1-800-870-7746.
- Contact the special education director and other school personnel. Ask to meet them, one at a time, to talk about available services and placements.
- To get specific ideas about the kindergarten program, ask for a copy of the curriculum and look for areas that match your child's strengths and those that may need special attention. Visit kindergarten classes to see the routines and activities. Some things to look for are:
- how long the children stay in one group, how much independence they show, how often they talk out or move about;
- the physical arrangement of the room;
- the work they're doing; and
- where the program may need to be modified for your child's participation. It's a good idea to observe in the fall so you can see new kindergarteners.
4. Get ideas from other people:
- Meet with your child's preschool team to discuss concerns they have.
- Talk to other parents who have been through the transition.
- Attend meetings for all parents of children entering kindergarten.
- Ask the kindergarten teacher for suggestions.
The school personnel need to hear from you about your child-his or her past experiences, special relationships, and strengths and needs, if they are going to provide an appropriate education for him or her. You can make sure that when you and the rest of the team are planning your childs education, the members are aware of your child as an individual, whole person.
- Think about your hopes for your child, for kindergarten and well into the future. Make a list of long-term goals you would like to see your child achieve; then write the skills he or she will need to learn in order to reach them. This exercise can help prepare you for the first Individualized Education Program (IEP) you'll participate in writing.
- Invite the special education director and other school personnel to get to know your child. Ask them to observe in the preschool or to visit your home. Talk with them about your child's likes and dislikes and your family's values and goals. You may also want to share your fears and dreams for your child. Encourage them to ask you questions and share their concerns.
- If they do not already exist, you might, suggest that the school offer certain activities and set specific policies to ease the transition for all children entering kindergarten:
- Have a "Move-up Day" in the Spring for incoming kindergarteners to visit.
- Develop written, systemwide guidelines for the transition.
- Make a handbook for all parents of children with special needs.
- Hold Pupil Evaluation Team meetings in the spring before kindergarten.
- Offer informal meetings with all parents to share concrete information and to answer questions about programs and practices.
- Create a team that meets throughout the year to monitor the success of a child's special education program.
Preparing for the Pupil Evaluation Team
In the spring before your child is entering kindergarten, congratulate yourself for getting some of the hardest work out of the way early. The purpose of the first Pupil Evaluation Team (PET) meeting is either to determine if your child needs special education or other accommodations to write an Individualized Education Program (IEP), which becomes part of his or her curriculum in kindergarten. It will be much easier for you if you are not meeting all the professionals and learning about the special education process for the very first time.
- Collect all the information you want to share at the meeting. It's best to write down what you want to say, because it's easy to forget when you're in a group.
- Call the special education director and ask who will be at the meeting and if you can get an agenda ahead of time. Let him or her know who will attend with you, and that you will want time to contribute, too.
- Ask the preschool team again for their input.
- Take good care of yourself. Eat well; get enough exercise and rest. Play with your family and friends. Remember, all the work you've done will pay off for your child.
Working on the Team
You are an equal member of this team. Although your role and the professionals' roles are different, they are equally important. They have experience and knowledge of special education programs; you have experience and knowledge of your child.
The relationship should be a give-and-take of information. You tell them what you know, and they share information with you.
- Bring someone with you take notes or ask the school if they mind you taperecording the meeting.
- Ask to be introduced to everyone; introduce those who are with you.
- Listen to what the school staff suggests for programs and/or placements for your child, then share the goals and objectives you brought with you. The IEP can be written and agreed upon based on the two sets of information.
- Bring your special education regulations with you and ask for reasons and support in the regulations, if you have any concerns.
- Ask that another meeting be scheduled if time runs out and the team still has work to do.
- Ask for a written summary of the meeting, if there is one, if one isn’t offered to you before you leave. Compare your notes with the summary to see that all major points are included. Discuss with the group any questions you may have regarding the written notes. When you receive your copy of the minutes of the meeting, let the special education director know right away if they are incomplete or incorrect.
Keeping in Touch
The relationship between school and home is a long-term one, so you want to maintain good communication. As in other relationships, this takes time, effort, and good intent. Problems make occur, but solutions can be found if everyone works at it.
- Show the school that you want to be involved in your child's education: Be positive. Be visible. Be available.
- Join the school's parent group (PTA, PTO, or PTG).
- Make a plan with the teacher on how you will keep in touch and how often.
- Use phone calls and notes to share information informally. Pass on good news, too. If you have important questions or concerns, write letters.
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