Strategies for Success During the Preschool Years

The issue

Current early childhood educational initiatives emphasize the importance of preschool children being “ready to learn” before entrance into kindergarten to support their academic success. A solid foundation in early school readiness skills in the areas of cognitive (e.g., language, pre-literacy, math problem-solving) and social-emotional (e.g., self-concept, peer interactions) domains predict later academic achievement in typically-developing hearing children. Success in these skills may also provide preschool children who are deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) with the same educational and social opportunities as their hearing peers. Parents and early childhood professionals, working collaboratively, can positively influence school readiness skills for DHH preschool children. However, specific intentional strategies for ensuring effective access to language and ways to support cognitive and social-emotional development are necessary during the preschool years.

What we know

DHH preschool children are at risk for delays in school readiness skills. Access to language (signed or spoken) is essential for the foundation for children’s school readiness skills. Consistent exposure to sign language or spoken language fosters the development of word knowledge and expressive language skills. Children who are DHH and who have limited language skills are more at risk for having difficulty with pre-literacy (e.g., alphabet knowledge, phonological awareness), mathematical tasks (e.g., problem-solving), and social–emotional skills (e.g., peer interactions), and thus, later school-age related skills.DHH children need to be in stimulating environments that foster their cognitive development and social skills with typical peers (hearing or deaf). Developmentally appropriate preschool programs with highly trained professionals in the field of early childhood and/or working with DHH children, is also essential for children’s school readiness. Preschool children learn and communicate best with language facilitation and social emotional support. Simply placing a sign language interpreter in a preschool classroom for a signing child is not sufficient. Additional services (e.g., language facilitator), supports (e.g., intentional encouraging of peer interactions), and interventions focused on early literacy and mathematic concepts need to be tailored to each child’s Individualized Education and Communication Plan.

Parents who are involved in their children’s early learning positively support later academic skills. One way for parents to be involved is through shared book reading. Storybooks can provide children with exposure to richer language structures and more complex vocabulary than they may be exposed to in everyday conversation. Adult initiated behaviors such as following the child’s lead and pointing to and labeling pictures in the book, maintaining physical touch, using open-ended questions, and linking prior life experiences to the text are beneficial for young children who are DHH. Deaf mothers who frequently read to their children make use of specific strategies to make the book more visually accessible as well. For example, signing on the book within the child’s visual field, tapping or moving the book, providing definitions for English vocabulary, and discussing how to figure out a rhyme scheme are also important strategies to guide early school readiness skills for young Deaf children.

What we don’t know

Future studies with larger populations of DHH children with varied levels of hearing loss will be necessary to confirm the contributions of child factors (e.g., language abilities), family factors (e.g., parental involvement), and preschool program factors (e.g., specific literacy and math interventions) that best support school readiness skills for preschool children. Studying how other factors such as a child’s hearing status, mode of communication, and cultural and linguistic features (e.g., second language acquisition) influence parent involvement will also be important.

Implications

Young DHH children may be at risk for school readiness skills. Early childhood professionals and parents can work collaboratively to guide children’s early learning. Specific strategies to enhance the preschool learning environment to better support children’s communication, mathematical knowledge, and social-emotional skills are crucial. Active, intentional, activities embedded in daily routines provide children with opportunities to learn new skills and foster peer interactions. Ways to include parents and caretakers in their child’s early learning is also pertinent. Coaching and providing guided practice of specific shared book reading behaviors is an important step in the parent – professional coaching process. Armed with specific information, parents have the potential to better facilitate their children’s development and attainment of school readiness skills during the preschool years, as they prepare their children for a successful kindergarten experience.

Posted on July 1, 2015 by
Jean DesJardin
Department of Education
Moravian College
jldesjardin {at} moravian.edu

Sophie E. Ambrose
Boys Town National Research Hospital
sophie.ambrose {at} boystown.org

Further reading