1999 Conference Proceedings

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A Unique Preschool Curriculum

Mary Sagstetter, M.A.ed.
Sales Consultant
AbleNet Inc.
1081 Tenth Avenue S.E.
Mpls, MN 55414-1312

We are at an exciting and important time in the formulation of treatment strategies for young children with special needs. As we have seen in the literature, the dynamic-systems approach represents a holistic model in which the child, environment, and the functional tasks are not isolated from each other. This model represents a paradigm shift that focuses on the interaction of the child within his environments.

From this perspective, functional tasks and the environment are used to present motor tasks, communication opportunities, and cognitive skills; intervention is carried out in a functional context rather than through a series of isolated exercises. By combining current knowledge about motor control, learning and development, psychology, education strategies, communication services and "best practices," integrated preschool programs provide an effective service delivery model for all young children.

From a holistic point of view, Knickerbocker (1990) described the primary goal for the child with a motor impairment, " ... to enable him/her to bring organization out of disorganization in sensory input, motor output, social responses, and academic performance so that, in so far as possible, he/she and function among peers." (p.23).

This holistic approach is reflected in the development of the preschool curriculum, appropriate for all children regardless of the severity of the disability. The preschool curriculum provides a framework which is organized to facilitate learning based on current research and the latest recommendations in the literature for "best practices" for young children with special needs. It is believed in an integrated setting which utilizes a transdisciplinary model of service delivery is the most effective way to teach young children. The content of the curriculum includes a variety of activities which are meaningful and relevant to young children, some of which include simple technology tools. The activities have been carefully chosen to meet the ability levels and needs of all students.

Children in regular preschool programs will benefit from the activities as well as children with delayed cognitive development or physical disabilities.

The curriculum is organized by monthly themes that relate to the books being used in the classrooms. In this way, the vocabulary and concepts the children are being introduced to in the classroom are reinforced and the children again have opportunities across many settings to use the vocabulary that goes with the theme. A group experience provides them with many opportunities for modeling and playful interactions with peers. The activities can be done in the therapy room, classroom, gym or at home.

For each month in the preschool curriculum, there are recommended favorite children's literature books that relate to the themes. Books have been included because they are a wonderful means of teaching children about cultural diversity as well as diversity of ability.

Reading books with good vocabulary, clear, concise, uncluttered illustrations and simple story with repeated lines will encourage children to be active participants in literacy activities.

In addition, the curriculum uses visual pictures, mostly pictures from Mayer Johnson's preschool edition of Boardmaker. There is a visual picture paired with each activity and on every switch used. The activity is paired with a picture and simple language. Visual cues assist children in using their strengths. Again, the high structure of the pictures if helpful for many children. The pictures, along with simple words, provide a language rich motor environment. These symbol can be found in the back of the curriculum.

The important elements of the preschool curriculum are self-organization, repetition, and motor. Self organization through the use of structure, routine and music plays a significant role in creating a supportive learning environment. Children bring organization out of their disorganization through carefully structured routine environments and learning experiences.

Adults provide the structure, within the external environment, to facilitate increased internal organization within each child. External structure should progress from maximum to minimal.

This structure helps children move from avoidance of a motor activity to exploration of a motor activity. More structure within the environment provides less need for specific instruction, enabling a child to be more self-directed.

Repetition of tasks through variation is required for children to develop skill transference. This form of repetition allows the child the opportunity to practice and learn skills with a wide variety of materials by embedding activities into regular routines.

Motor fun allows for learning through play. It is known that movement promotes cognitive and perceptual development. To the young child, play is life itself. Play fills the mind and body, mentally, emotionally and physically. A child engrossed in play is inventive, free and happy.

Through the variety and depth of play, the child learns and grows. It is serious business; it is his/her world. (J.Burke). Play through movement reaches all domains of the young child.

When self organization, repetition and motor are all combined the child will be learning and having fun at the same time.

For each of the important elements in the preschool curriculum suggestions are given for ways to adapt the activity using simple assistive technology to encourage participation of a student with disabilities. It often has been experienced that assistive technology is highly motivating and useful for a wide range of students with autism, student who are nonverbal, students who are unorganized, and students who are very shy. Grigley (1998) shares that "Assistive Technology can allow children with disabilities to accomplish tasks that develop their sense of independence and freedom." Assistive technology increases a child's ability to learn, work, play, and interact with others.

Technology is fun and motivating for many children. It can open many doors and provide new possibilities for these children to work side by side with their peers. For a child with physical challenges, who often has an assistant, the curriculum also describes ways of using these assistants as facilitators and coaches for the child. Too often it is observed that adults do the activities with the child. As much as possible activities are set up to encourage pairing the child with a peer and using the adult as the "coach". This promotes child to child interaction rather than child to adult.

The curriculum developed is a synthesis of what has been learned on an intuitive level, from years of experience with young children, and on an intellectual level, from current research. The designed environments exemplifies one of the critical factors in effective treatment programs for children with special needs and allows for new possibilities to be introduced and implemented by therapists and teachers in the environment.

In this presentation the preschool curriculum will be introduced to the participants. Many activities will be shared, including those using simple technology. Stories of preschool children using this curriculum will be told and shown via slides. Participants will leave with many ideas they can use directly with their students, some of which incorporate simple technology, and other activities which do not. Time will be allowed for questions.

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