Children with developmental delays may need preschool even more than their peers in order to help with their development. By the time a child turns five, their brain has developed 90% of its adult capacity. Children with developmental gaps learn through interacting with other children.
Parents who send their children to high quality programs during their preschool years can expect their child to benefit from long-lasting impacts in their ability to learn and succeed in school and life. The earlier we expose a child to educational opportunities that work towards closing any development gaps, the more time we have to remove barriers to their academic success later in school.
How preschool can help children with developmental delays
Learning in preschool environments allows children to hear and see models of appropriate speech and language as they play. The more peers and adults a child interacts with, the better their communication will be. Interactions at home are more predictable than those with peers, because family members typically know what a child wants. The family can support most daily life activities and routines with limited communication and conversations. However, interactions with peers who have similar interests spark back-and-forth interactions that are not as predictable and help the child to build friendships.
For example, a child with a speech delay may call milk “mak.” Those familiar with the child know what they want and follow through with getting them some milk. If the child were at school and said “mak,” their peers and teacher wouldn’t know what they are saying. The child would have to find a way to communicate their need, whether they use pictures, gestures, or model the language they hear from their peers. This is a key learning moment.
An experienced preschool teacher can provide supports from their training and experience to help a child communicate better. This includes facilitating interactions and communication, and helping children make appropriate decisions. If a child is at school and enjoys playing in the home living center and dressing up, they can play alongside peers and learn how to pretend to dress like a firefighter or chef through role-play. These interactions with peers feel like play to a child and will improve speech and vocabulary skills. Interacting with other children provides a child with many natural opportunities to improve their language skills.
When children engage in play with others, it helps them learn to make choices through their interactions with one another and materials as they play. Children with developmental delays can be positively impacted through play and activities that improve developmental and academic skills.
Choosing a preschool for a child with developmental delay
When you’re looking for a program for your child, emphasize the need for inclusion into regular education classrooms. Make sure that your child will spend time with non-disabled peers, and be part of the learning activities throughout the day. This will allow them to interact with and learn from their peers. Choose a program that values participation for all children within the classroom setting and provides the extra support needed for children with disabilities.
Questions to ask when looking for a preschool program
- How do you track children’s growth and help them learn and reach their developmental milestones?
- How often do you communicate with parents about child development?
- How do you support children with developmental delays in the classroom?
- What type of professional development do you provide to support your teachers?
- What family engagement opportunities exist in your program?
- Do you follow a curriculum aligned to the state’s Early Childhood Standards?
Preparing the teacher to support your child
When you’re talking to a director or teacher about your child, remember to keep it simple. Tell the teacher what your child likes and what comforts them. This can be as easy as telling the teacher about their favorite show to spark conversations. You may also want to tell them what your child dislikes. For example, if your child is triggered by loud noises such as a fire drill, tell the teacher so they can be prepared ahead of time. They may have someone stand near your child; give the option of headphones before the drill; or lead your child away from the source of the noise the first few times until the child understands what is happening.
Lastly, tell the teacher all the things you love about your child. Tell the teacher your fears and dreams for your child so they know what your goals are for them. It’s important that parents and teachers are on the same page when working towards goals that can impact the home and school environments.
Preschool for children with developmental delays is important, because interactions with peers can give a child a sense of belonging and encourage them to improve their language, interactions, and academic skills. As parents navigate the world of developmental delays, interactive opportunities in high-quality inclusive programs is key. Early educational experiences that enrich opportunities for young children with disabilities can change the trajectory of the rest of their lives in how they learn and grow.