If your child has cerebral palsy (CP) and is nearing preschool age, you may be feeling anxiety about your upcoming schooling choices. Although your child is entitled to a free public education and an individualized educational plan (IEP) to help meet his or her specific educational needs, the idea of "mainstreaming" your child without giving him or her a few years of preschool to acclimate to collaborative learning may seem like a bad plan. Read on to learn more about the best educational environments for a child with mild to moderate CP.
The Montessori method focuses on learning through play and experimentation, with a particular focus on sensory learning—classrooms are often set up with several sensory stations spread throughout at which children can play with modeling clay, sand, water, or other child-friendly materials. This method can be ideal for children with CP, as Montessori classrooms are generally designed to handle age spans of three years between the youngest students and the oldest ones and can be more flexible for children who may be a bit behind their younger peers. Your child will also be encouraged to participate in as many activities as he or she is physically able to (without feeling pressured), and the interactive nature of many Montessori activities ensure that your child won't be bored or left out.
Many Montessori preschools are set up to handle older grades as well, and that can make for an easier transition into elementary school if your child seems to really click with this teaching method and if you think continuing is the right decision. During the elementary years, your child will be able to immerse him- or herself into studies that hold particular interest—whether science experiments, math games, or a rigorous reading assignment—without being constrained to standardized testing and other hallmarks of the public education system.
Check out schools such as Sammamish Montessori School so you can observe for yourself what this is like.
This educational method focuses on building life skills at a young age rather than drilling academic skills during the preschool and kindergarten years, and this can make things perfect for children with CP who may not yet be ready to tackle the fine motor skills necessary for printing or cursive handwriting. In fact, the original Waldorf philosophy dictated that children not learn to read or write until at least age 7—equivalent to first or second grade in most public school systems and long after penmanship and basic reading skills are usually taught. This style can relieve any academic pressure to which your child might otherwise be subjected at an early age.
The focus on life skills inherent in any Waldorf classroom can also be a boon for children dealing with CP, as many of the tasks others take for granted —feeding, dressing, and brushing one's teeth—can be especially challenging when battling physical spasms or mobility issues. As your child learns to master these skills, he or she will build confidence and be more willing to branch out in other areas.
This nurturing educational philosophy is wonderful for children between ages three and six who might be feeling apprehensive about a formal educational curriculum. Reggio Emilia is child-led and designed to foster a seamless transition between home and school, with classrooms set up to resemble living rooms or playrooms and relatively unstructured lessons that can take any number of forms. Like its fellow Italian educational system, Montessori, Reggio Emilia focuses on creative learning through experimentation rather than formal teaching.
Reggio Emilia also encourages family involvement in education, which can be helpful for worried parents who are concerned about how a child with CP can manage in a new environment.