All preschool programs use one or more of the following ways of working with families.
- Home-based services: Teachers, counselors, or consultants come to your home on a regular basis. All activities take place in your home. These teaching/training visits usually last about an hour; they can occur as often as four times a week or as infrequently as once a month, depending on how well staffed your local program is, how many families it serves, and how far staff members have to travel to reach all families.
- Center-based services: You and your child travel to a central location. All teachers, consultants, and counselors are located at the center and work with children individually and in small groups. Depending on how old your child is, you may be able to drop your child off for a class and return when class is over. Or you may be asked to help out in the classroom, or to join a parent discussion group.
- Home- and center-based services: Some activities occur in your home and sometimes you and your child go to the center.
Regardless of which type of services your preschool program offers, it should provide the following "good practices."
- A certified teacher of the visually impaired and an orientation and mobility specialist, if not directly on staff as teachers, are at least involved in assessment, planning, and consultation. No other teacher is trained to understand how visual impairments affect development, or how a child can learn to compensate for the visual impairment.
- An occupational or physical therapist should be available to answer questions about your child's motor development and to work directly with your child if your doctor prescribes it. If a therapist is not available, the program can refer you to one.
- You are involved in the choice of which program your child receives and what goals your child works on.
- The program asks your permission to assess your child, to obtain copies of medical records, and to take pictures of your child, and you are given a copy of any permission forms you sign.
- Any record on your child contains a sheet of paper that tells you who has looked at your child's file and who has received copies of any papers in the file. Your child's file is confidential; no one should be able to see it without a good reason.
- You are given copies of your child's assessment report and individualized educational plan (IEP).
- You are kept up to date on how your child is doing, including receiving ideas for activities you can work on with your child at home.
- You have a chance to meet with other parents, either in a formal meeting or informally, over coffee or soft drinks.
- The curriculum (what your child is taught) covers motor development; visual development; self-help skills; language and communication; social and emotional development; mental or intellectual or cognitive development; orientation and mobility and sensory development (touch, smell, hearing, and taste).
- A variety of support services (extra but necessary services that add to the quality and completeness of the program) are available. Some examples are social workers, speech therapists, low vision examinations, toy libraries, pediatricians, transportation, ophthalmologists, and psychologists.
The program you find may not use all of these good practices now, but you can work together with the program's staff to see that they are in place in the future. Every program learns from the people who are part of it, so share your ideas freely.
Learn more in Reach Out and Teach: Meeting the Training Needs of Parents of Visually and Multiply Handicapped Young Children, by Kay Alicyn Ferrell, Ph.D.