Your child’s third birthday is a big event in his or her educational programming. This is the day he or she exits the infant program and moves on to preschool.
If your child receives early childhood intervention services (ECI), planning for this big move begins when your child turns two. The year between your child’s second and third birthdays is called “transition”. During this time, you and your child’s ECI service provider will develop a plan that will ensure a smooth movement from ECI to preschool. This transition plan is part of your child’s Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) and should be in place by his or her second birthday. It establishes the goals your family has developed for your child, and outlines a plan – including services and supports, resources, and timelines – to help your child attain those goals.
An important part of the IFSP is identifying the preschool programs and/or community services that will help your child reach his or her maximum potential.
Just like services in grades K-12, there are a continuum of placements available for children age 3-5. Here are some options to discuss:
- Dual enrollment, in which children stay at home or attend a private preschool (at the family’s expense) while receiving special and related services through the school district.
- Head Start usually has income requirements for participation, but these can be offset by the fact that Head Start programs are required to have 10% of the student population as children with disabilities.
- Pre-Kindergarten, other programs for children ages 3-5 that may be offered by the school district (specific eligibility requirements) but often children with disabilities may participate.
- A segregated placement on a specific campus in your district (may not be your home school) that only has children with disabilities
When your child turns two, ECI is required by law to contact your school district to give notice that your child will turn three in a year and may be eligible to receive public school services. Over the course of the next year, your ECI provider will gather information and conduct assessments that will later be used to determine your child’s eligibility for public school programs and services. This information will also help you set preschool goals and plan for the services and supports your child will need.
Things to Consider
An entire year is devoted to preschool transition because it takes a lot of time to explore all the different possibilities for your child. A good place to start is by sitting down with your ECI service provider to discuss the hopes and dreams you have for your child. Picture the ideal setting where your child would play, learn, grow, develop...and flourish. There are more opportunities for children with disabilities today than ever before, so let your dreams soar!
When exploring all the different preschool programs, parents and the ECI provider should take the following factors into consideration:
- Opportunities for your child to interact and develop friendships with children without disabilities. Research shows that children learn best from their typically developing peers. Play is an important part of a preschooler’s development, and children without disabilities provide positive behavior and speech models.
- Your vision for elementary school and how to best prepare your child for that transition (at the age of 5). Remember that children with disabilities are entitled to a Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). The more opportunities your preschooler has to learn and play with his or her non-disabled peers, the better prepared he or she will be to participate in inclusive settings later on. Also, this is a good time to familiarize yourself with the state’s Prekindergarten Curriculum Guidelines to understand what is expected of all preschoolers in Texas in preparation for public kindergarten and elementary school.
- Personal circumstances, such as family finances, daycare needs, etc. Your ECI coordinator can connect you with community resources that will allow your child to get the services he or she needs based on what works best for your family. These may include: babysitting cooperatives or playgroups, mother’s day out programs, Head Start programs, daycare centers, local Mental Health/Mental Retardation (MHMR) programs, programs through local agencies such as The ARC, and more.
- Your child’s eligibility for public school programs. Parents are often surprised to find that eligibility is very different for public school services than it is for ECI. (See “Disability vs. Diagnosis.) Be aware that your child will not automatically qualify for public school programs based solely on his or her having received ECI services. During the transition year, your child will be evaluated to determine if he or she is eligible for public preschool services, such as PPCD or Head Start. This can only be done with your written consent. If you are considering public preschool, be sure to return consent documents in a timely manner to avoid any delays in the process.
- The child’s therapeutic needs and where those therapies can best be delivered. Keep in mind that therapies in schools are educationally based. The public schools are only required to offer the “related services” that will enable a student to benefit from special education. The therapies offered through the public schools are not intended to replace the medically based therapies your child requires outside his or her educational setting. You and your ECI provider will use this transition phase to help research other resources for the therapies and services that are not provided by the school district. Your ECI provider may also be able to train you and/or family members to work with your child at home.
- The supports available to the child in order for him/her to be successful in a particular setting. For some parents, the thought of their young child with a disability “keeping up” in a busy, typical preschool classroom is daunting. However, with the right supports and services, preschoolers can successfully work toward their own goals, at their own pace, while enjoying the benefits that an inclusive classroom setting has to offer.
Use this time to visit different programs in your school district and community and start getting to know the people who may be working with your child. Take notes about your observations, and keep a file of all documents and contact information. Don’t hesitate to ask questions. Discuss any concerns you may have with your ECI provider. Always consider how a particular program reflects the hopes and dreams you have for your child.
The Transition Meeting
A “transition meeting” must be conducted 120 days prior to your child’s third birthday. This meeting is designed to review your child’s preschool options, determine eligibility for services under IDEA, and create a plan that ensures that services begin on time.
Who attends this meeting? You, your ECI providers, and representatives from the preschool program you are considering. If you haven’t made a decision by this time, you may want to have more than one transition meeting to discuss the different options. Be sure to request a translator if you speak a language other than English.
Ninety (90) days before your child turns three, ECI will make a referral to the PPCD, Head Start, Pre-K, or other community service provider that you have selected. ECI may send your child’s comprehensive evaluation and IFSP along with the referral. ECI must have your written consent before making a referral or sending personal records, so again it is imperative that you return paperwork as soon as possible to keep the process moving. A meeting will be arranged with representatives from the preschool you have selected to plan for services. If your child is eligible for public school services under IDEA, this meeting is called an Admission, Review, and Dismissal “ARD”. You are important member of the ARD meeting. See The Special Education Process Step-by-Step to learn more about the special education referral and planning processes.
You know your child better than anyone. If your instincts tell you that the recommended referral is not appropriate for your preschooler, it is your right to advocate for your child. Gather paperwork that will help support your position, including letters from professionals and caregivers who work with your child. You may want to get an outside evaluation; however, this will be at your own expense. Familiarize yourself with the Texas Project First to help you better understand the process and become a more effective negotiator.
Preparing for the First Day of Preschool
Whichever option you choose for your child, remember that a smooth transition requires planning. Here are some tips to help your child prepare for the first day of preschool:
- Make an appointment for your child to meet his or her new teacher prior to the first day. If at all possible, meet in the setting where your child will be receiving services so he or she will feel more comfortable the first day in new surroundings.
- While at the meeting, ask if you can take photos of the teacher and the classroom. Keep them somewhere at home where you and your child can view and discuss them often.
- Read your child books about the first day of school. The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn and Don’t Go by Jane Breskin Zalben are popular selections.
- Make a student introduction portfolio. Be sure that teachers, therapists and paraprofessionals working with your child receive a copy well in advance so they can get to know your child beyond his or her disability.
- Allow your child to take a small favorite toy or a photo of your family to school on the first day. This is a great “ice breaker” to conversations and can provide that little extra bit of security.
Pacer Center Resources - Top Concerns for Parents of Children Birth to 5