Preschoolers visit to help special-needs students Children learn from time with peers

November 08, 1993|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

The preschool teacher passed out bright orange tags shaped like pumpkins. Each had a child's name printed in black letters and a colorful string of yarn attached.

"Look, Lindsay, your sister did this just for you," she said as she placed the tag around the 2-year-old's neck.

Lindsay Will smiled at her sister, Megan.

Lindsay had come to the Carroll County Education Center to visit Megan's classroom.

"We like what we are doing, and we want to let others know about us," said Edith Burbage, who teaches seven young children with developmental disabilities at the center in Westminster.

"We also like having visitors on our own turf. We can be helpers when company comes to us."

Lindsay gently pushed Megan's wheelchair as the class toured the school.

"Lindsay, you are being an age-appropriate role model to your sister," said a laughing Robin Farinholt, principal at the Center Street school.

Ms. Burbage said she doesn't expect ground-breaking accomplishments from her students, who range in age from 2 to 5 years old. She watches for the small steps and lavishes praise on each child's efforts.

"It doesn't have to be a big step," she said. "What these guys are doing is wonderful."

The visitors can help with the little steps, she said.

When the class began weekly get-togethers with siblings and friends, 4-year-old Megan invited Lindsay.

"Lindsay was excited about coming to school and enjoys playing with the children," said her mother, Darrelle Will.

The 90-minute visits offer an integrated experience that brings "typical preschoolers in to play and learn with special-needs children," said Ms. Burbage.

"Two- and 3-year-olds don't interact much anyway. They are just hanging out together."

During her visit, Lindsay saw what her older sister does during the school day.

"Mommy, look at Sissy," she said, pointing to her sister exercising with a physical therapist. "She is sitting up in a chair."

Burbage started the program during the summer session and "anticipated quite a zoo."

Instead, she found the children enjoyed and entertained each other.

"Our children had an opportunity for inclusion and worked well with their visitors," she said.

She has made the visits part of each Wednesday morning routine. The friends join in classroom activities and stay for lunch. Last week, they made paper-plate pictures of themselves.

The teacher told one young visitor, "Suzanne, look at Tim's eyes and see what color he needs."

Suzanne Phillips, 3, looked over the crayons before she passed Tim Smith brown and helped him color the eyes on his picture.

With the art project complete, Suzanne showed Katie Mitchell, 3, how to operate a push toy and pulled a doll's string to make it sing.

"See, it's making music," said Suzanne to her new friend.

Sara Phillips, the child's mother and a former teacher at the center, said, "Suzanne is young enough now that she is not XTC fazed by the wheelchairs and other adaptive equipment in this classroom.

"This age is where it has to start, where it is part of their natural world."

Before the morning activities ended, the children gathered around the lunch table.

"It is really important at all levels for meals to be a social, nutritional event," said Ms. Burbage.

Before she left, Suzanne -- still wearing her pumpkin tag -- borrowed a toy from the classroom and promised to return it next week.

Lindsay, too, plans to return.

"Bye-bye, everybody," said Lindsay. "I'm coming back."

Ms. Burbage said she is searching for a few more friends for her students.

"Kids learn from other kids," she said. "This is a real opportunity for our kids to learn from others."

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