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Using laptime activities to facilitate learning in preschoolers with delays.

Abstract

Lakota Early Childhood Center (LECC) incorporates laptime activities for children with moderate to severe delays who are included in the integrated preschool setting. Moderate to severe delays can be defined as having a low mental age combined with significant deficits in the area of pre-academics, communication, self-help and fine/gross skills. Laptime takes the place of morning circle for these children. Laptime is a structured environment that allows these children to further develop their skills. Support is also provided by preschool teachers and various paraeducators. Various laptime activities are replicated back into the integrated setting to promote generalization.

Lakota Early Childhood Center

Lakota Early Childhood Center (LECC) is located in the densely populated suburb of West Chester, Ohio. LECC is unique in that it services 7 out of ten elementary schools in the Lakota School district. The majority of kindergarten classes and all of the preschool classes in the district are located in one building. At LECC, sixteen kindergarten classes occur in the morning and eighteen kindergarten classes occur in the afternoon. LECC also has sixteen half-day preschool classes. Their overall mission is to meet the individual needs of their students, realizing that they are all very different. In each preschool classroom, there are twelve students. Six who are typically developing and 6 who have special needs. In addition, each preschool classroom has a teacher who is certified in the area of early childhood and special education. Each classroom also has two instructional aides. The preschool children with special needs are serviced through an individualized educational program or IEP. An IEP states specific pre-academic and social goals that are to be observed, measured, and assessed for each preschooler with delays. These children may also receive services by a speech therapist, occupational therapist or physical therapist, and an adapted physical education teacher. Looking at the child as a unique individual irrespective of his or her disability is the responsibility of the preschool teachers at LECC.

The Purpose of Laptime

LECC has begun placing more children with moderate to severe delays into integrated preschool settings. The preschool teachers want to create a setting that offers preacademic, gross-motor, and social support for these children. Laptime at LECC is a placement that gives these teachers an additional opportunity to support their children's needs. This researcher visited the LECC two times a week over a three-month period. He videotaped laptime activities and interviewed teachers, administrators, and parents whose children participated in laptime activities. This observational study addressed the following questions:

* How did the process of laptime evolve to meet the pre-academic, social, and gross motor needs of children with moderate to severe delays?

* What are the responsibilities of the team of teachers and therapists who work with these children with moderate to severe delays in a differentially structured environment?

* How are the components of laptime activities reinforced by the teacher when these children return to their integrated preschool setting?

How Are Preschoolers With Delays Identified?

Preschool children with moderate to severe delays were identified as possibly needing laptime activities through the criterion of "least restrictive environment." Laptime came about due to the fact that many of the children with moderate to severe delays were not consistently engaged in morning circle activities. They also could not also sustain the long-term attention necessary for active involvement in these circle time events. These children were identified as possibly benefiting from multi-sensory services that various laptime activities would provide (Hanson, et al. 1998).

It was initially felt that these children could be better reached through music and movement activities, (Taras, 1992). Current brain research suggest that music may enhance social development as children: (a) increase peer contact through the practicing of routines with other children and adults, (b) become more motivated to attend to a musical activity (i.e., ball with beads inside), and (c) become familiar with new words having a corresponding rhythm or movement such as in a demonstrated hand sign (Weinberger, 1998). The five children identified as benefiting from laptime services, were connected one-on-one with another adult (i.e., preschool teacher, instructional aid or speech and language therapist). The names and characteristics of the preschool children involved in laptime movement and music activities at LECC are as follows. See issue's website <http://rapidintellect.com/AEQweb/sum02.htm>

The Basic Structure of Laptime

Laptime took the place of the morning circle (i.e., twenty-five minute period) in the integrated preschool setting. For typically developing children, morning circle activities consisted of varying calendar events, story listening exercises as well as peer-sharing activities. Laptime occurred twice over a four-day period for approximately 25-30 minutes. The basic structure of laptime and its corresponding activities is as follows: See issue's website <http://rapidintellect.com/AEQweb/sum02.htm>

Team Collaboration and Coordination of Laptime Activities

LECC's goal was to foster inclusionary practices in the preschool classroom. In addition, it was important to explain to parents that laptime allowed the teachers to better meet their child's needs by grouping them with peers having similar needs. Laptime allowed these children with moderate to severe delays the opportunity to work on specific IEP goals in a more structured environment. Starting at the beginning of each year, the special needs preschool teacher, the speech and language therapist, the occupational therapist and the physical therapist met weekly to determine if the laptime activity would effectively meet the goals of each specific child. The team consulted with the physical therapist and the adaptive physical education teacher to determine the best way to facilitate movement for a particular child. For example, certain child movements were reinforced through specific teacher statements and/or gestures (Malmskog and McDonnell, 1999). Thus, through observations as well as consultation, the team was able to determine developmentally appropriate goals that were specific to that child. The team conferenced weekly with the preschool teacher of the integrated classroom. The conferences concerned what occurred in laptime and what activities they wanted the preschool teacher to carry over into their classroom. Some of the current laptime activities that were replicated in the integrated preschool settings were: (a) signing specific functional words, (b) laptime songs, and (c) turn-taking activities. Typical preschool peers often "incidentally" extended laptime activities in the integrated setting. This occurred through the modeling of specific laptime behaviors and/or verbalizations. This modeling often took place in the presence of their peers with delays.

Laptime activities: Multisensory Involvement

The premise behind laptime was for children with moderate to severe delays to receive multi-sensory stimulation through various one-on-one activities that promoted: (a) joint attention, (b) visual tracking, (c) turn-taking, (d) environment/peer/teacher awareness, (e) teacher prompting/child response, (f) receptive and expressive language, (g) motor planning, and (h) object manipulation. A teacher, an instructional aide or a speech and language therapist was assigned to a preschooler with moderate to severe delay. A favorite activity that occurred at the beginning of laptime was the "Who is here" ball activity.

Context: Jason, Helen, Fay, Mary and Karen are seated on the rug in a circle. They are either sitting next to an adult or in an adult's lap. The speech teacher places a brightly colored plastic ball (i.e., filled with beads) in Mary's lap.

Teacher: Look at Mary, Mary wants it. Yeah, Mary! (She assist Mary hand over hand with pushing the ball in the direction of Helen). Helen grabs and holds onto the ball.

Class: I see Helen, I see Helen, (Adults look at and points at her). She's got the ball, she's got the ball. Very nice to see you. Very nice to see you. Glad you're here. Glad you're here.

Helen: (Looks at the adult whose holding her). She then looks in the direction of Fay. Helen pushes the ball towards Fay. The adults and child begin singing the song again.

During the initial stages of laptime, a ball containing beads was sometimes used to facilitate visual and auditory tracking as well as gross motor skills (Zanandrea, 1998). This occurred when a child was encouraged to move the ball in the direction of a chosen peer. The child who received the ball was more likely to attend to the ball's movement. This was due to the visual and auditory message that was being relayed as the ball was pushed across the floor. Diane Keene, a speech and language pathologist at the Lakota Early Childhood Center states that. "A lot of preschool students need that multi-sensory stimulation. They need to touch it, smell it, do everything with it." For example, during the laptime event, the teachers gave each preschool child a "squeezie" or plastic oval ball that conformed to the shape of the child's hand. This was a toy that could be used to warm up a child to upcoming activities in laptime.

Within the context of a laptime activity, songs, music, and gross-motor activities also become very motivating for the children. Songs and music activities that were used were very repetitious. This was important for early learners. Because, they needed more time to process an activity. It was important that the teachers who participated in laptime assessed the effectiveness of the materials that were being used.

Sign language was incorporated into the laptime activity for four of the five children. Sign language was being used to facilitate communication between the preschool children and their teachers. It might take a child with moderate to severe delays more time to process sign language as well as respond to a hand-sign in a meaningful manner. Thus, signs were introduced usually one at a time and for a longer duration. In the integrated preschool classroom, teachers were beginning to incorporate the Picture Exchange Communication System or PECS to further reinforce communication within the classroom. The following scenario involving the "Macaroni Pony" song demonstrates how children make a choice to continue with an activity through the signing of the word "more".

Context: Fay, Jason, Mary, Helen and Karen are seated next to an adult on the rug. The preschool teacher looks around the room and states that it's time for a new activity.

Teacher: Now we're going to do our "bounce" song. (She takes the Mayer Johnson picture of a child moving in the air off of the poster board). The other teachers place the child seated next to them on their lap.

Class: I have a little pony (child bounces on an adult's lap). His name is "Macaroni". He trots and trots, and then he stops (teacher leans back with child now laying on her shirt). My funny pony (teacher pauses for three seconds) "Macaroni"! (Teacher lays her child flat on his back so his feet go in the air).

Teachers: Say individually to their child, "Say more_ say more". (Adults put their hands together and model the signing for the word "more"). Mary moves her hands together.

Teacher: (To Mary). Good Job! (Teachers begin song again)

Assistant: (Karen smiles and claps as the teachers sing the "Macaroni Pony" song, lay back on the ground with their child and kick their feet in the air).

Teacher: What do you think? Anybody want "more"? (She looks around the room). (Other adults sign "more" to their child). We got lots of "more". Helen and Fay motions "more" (Some of the adults and children begin to clap).

Future Directions for Laptime

In the future, both the preschool teachers and speech and language teachers envision the incorporation of more functional sign language in this laptime event. For example, the word "ball" could be associated with an object that a student was familiar with. In addition, a gross motor game that allowed for child movement may lead to the teaching of hand signs for specific body parts or actions such as "hands", "feet", "up" or "down". LECC has an after school sign language class for adults, parents, and teachers. The purpose of this class was to allow more individuals to begin developing sign language skills within the school environment.

Conclusion

The laptime activity at the Lakota Early Childhood Center was a very beneficial activity for preschool children with moderate to severe delays. In this caring environment, preschool teachers and speech, and language teachers worked with a small group of children. They practiced and further developed skills for these children in the areas of communication, turn-taking, attention and response, and peer-child social interaction through music and movement activities. In addition, IEP goals could be effectively implemented for these children, in relation to a laptime activity that took place. IEP goals were then assessed for replication in a child's particular preschool classroom. Further research is warranted (i.e., in the area of movement, music, and social skill development) to assess the possible benefits of laptime activities for children with moderate to severe delays who are being included in the preschool setting with their typically developing peers. Through continued exploration, similar or related laptime play activities may be further developed and enriched for this population of young children.

References

Hanson, M.J., Wolfberg, P., Zercher, D. Morgan, M. Guttierrez, S., Barnwell, D., & Beckman, P. (1998). The culture of inclusion: Recognizing diversity at multiple levels. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 13(1), 185-209.

Malmskog, S., & McDonnell, A. P.(1999). Teacher-mediated facilitation of engagement by children with developmental delays. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 19(4), 203-210.

Taras, H. L. (1992). Physical activity of young children in relation to physical and mental health. In Young children on the grow: Health, activity, and education in the preschool setting, ed. C.M. Hendricks, 33-42, Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse.

Winberger, N. M. (1998). The music in our minds. Educational Leadership. 56(3), 36-49.

Zanandrea, M.(1998). Play, social interaction, and motor development: Practical activities for preschoolers with visual impairments. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 92(3), 233-237.

Brown, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor. His research interests include examining the social competency of preschoolers with exceptionalities. His teaching agenda includes curriculum based assessment, parental collaboration, and special education practicum courses.
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Author:Brown, Mark
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Geographic Code:1U3OH
Date:Jun 22, 2002
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