A key aspect of actualizing our vision is our mainstreaming program. We, along with parents of special-needs children, wish to see them growing up like any other children. This wish isn’t a dream; Petachya’s inclusion program is making it a reality.
How does mainstreaming work?
At the beginning of the school year, Petachya’s staff conducts a comprehensive assessment, taking into consideration the child’s strengths and weaknesses. Based on these assessments, the staff puts together an individualized mainstreaming program, deciding for which activities the children with special-needs will be mainstreamed with the typically developing children.
To optimize inclusion, the staff of the typically developing kindergarten undergoes special training with the special-ed staff, learning various teaching methodologies and assessment techniques, and participates in an advanced training course on mainstreaming. Ongoing pedagogic guidance is given to the typically developing kindergarten, together with the special-ed kindergarten or separately, as needed.
In order for children to feel “on par” with their peers, some of Petachya’s kindergartens, such as those for children with Down’s syndrome, are paired with a mainstream kindergarten of an age cohort one year younger. This enables interaction and camaraderie that is developmentally compatible with the integrating class.
Types of inclusion
In this model, a special-needs child is mainstreamed into a typically developing kindergarten for a set time during which the teacher can closely monitor the child’s social interactions, noting his or her progress as well as areas that need strengthening.
In this model, a number of children from the special-needs kindergarten join the typically developing kindergarten. This model is especially suited to children lacking in self-confidence, who are empowered by the group.
In this model, the typically developing kindergarten is hosted by the special-needs kindergarten. This type of inclusion inculcates the values of giving, welcoming others, sharing and reciprocity, and boosts the self-confidence of special-needs children.
The benefits of inclusion at a young age
We have found that the mainstreaming model benefits not only the special-needs kindergartens but the typically developing ones as well: not only are children inculcated with the value of accepting those who are different, they also benefit from their staff’s ongoing training throughout the year, as they are better equipped to pick up on any developmental issues.
Fortunately little children are a lot more accepting, having no preconceived notions about what’s “different” and “unusual”; they are naturally more welcoming to special-needs children.
The daily schedule in kindergarten allows for different types of instruction: frontal teaching, group activities and one-on-one time, enabling individually tailored curricula that factors in the work of ancillary staff (occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, etc.).
Opportunity to bridge developmental gaps
At this young age, cognitive-developmental norms and the growth curve allow for a wider range of differentials. Since meeting milestones isn’t as pressing as it is once kids are older, this age affords an excellent opportunity for bridging gaps.
The multidisciplinary skills required of kindergarten-aged children constitute a definite advantage when it comes to inclusion: in contrast to success indicators at the school age, in kindergarten a positive self-image and peer status are developed not only by means of cognitive achievement but by excelling in other areas as well, such as role-playing, song and music, and arts ‘n crafts.
Optimal inclusion at Petachya
Petachya’s inclusion program benefits from the supportive infrastructure of the Beit Yaakov network of nursery schools, both of which are run under the same auspices. This makes for a natural fit between Petachya’s special-ed and typically developing nursery schools. The staff of both schools receives ongoing instruction and guidance, and there is a mutually beneficial cross-fertilization throughout the year. The smaller, special-needs kindergarten meets the child’s individualized, special needs, filling in gaps as needed, while the mainstream kindergarten views the child as an integral part of the whole group.
Petachya’s network has nursery schools in many cities and neighborhoods, enabling children to attend school in their natural environment. The children’s neighborhood friends are their friends from school, allowing for the benefits of Petachya’s inclusion program to carry over even after school hours.