Last week I started writing about our experiences with Phoebe and Early Intervention for a language delay. Part 1 was about the original assessment, and part 2 was about starting to work with a speech pathologist. (If you are interested, you may also want to see what I wrote before the original assessment back in November.)
Some time in January, our speech pathologist told us of an opening in a parent-toddler group that we could attend on Mondays. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the play group. I hadn’t had a whole lot of interaction with groups of parents and toddlers.
The group leader, N., was a very friendly young woman who welcomed us warmly. The other parents were generally quite friendly as well, and all were supportive of all the kids in the group. There were about 8 kids in the group (each accompanied by a parent or other family member), with the number fluctuating a bit week by week. The first week we were there, Phoebe was the only girl at the group. Apparently boys are flagged for Early Intervention services much more frequently than girls. However, our group did have quite a few girls re-appear and join the group over time, as well. (In fact, at the last group we attended, there were more girls than boys. However, this was considered remarkable.) All kids were under 3, as services only cover kids up to 3. The youngest child was 18 months when we started, though I later learned that he was a “community child,” meaning a child not receiving EI services, and attending the group as a “model.” Most children were closer to 2. (Phoebe was almost 2 when she started.)
While I know groups vary quite a bit, here’s an overview of what went on during the group.
The group met for 2 hours, from 9 to 11 in the morning. Things started off with some unstructured time where kids could ease into things, and play with various toys set up in stations around the room. This gave adults a bit of time to chat (and thankfully, time to run late). The group leader, N, would also move around the room and chat with each child, and also with the adults to get progress updates. Other activities then followed, in a more-or-less fixed order: clean-up from the free play, snack time, playground time (indoor or outdoor, depending on weather), craft time, “circle time” (with songs) and then the good-bye. Each activity had it’s own routine and sometimes associated songs.
Because the group was geared towards working on expressive language and communication skills, the routines typically involved getting the kids to participate and communicate. For example, for the snack, there was always a choice of 2 snack items, and the child was encouraged to express their choice. “Do you want crackers or raisins?” N might ask, showing both options. And depending on the individual’s abilities and level, different answers would be encouraged. For most of the kids, a single word or sign was encouraged. (Some of the kids weren’t speaking, though all in the group were hearing.) Sometimes a “please” would be encouraged. For some kids, such as those just entering the group, pointing to the desired snack was enough. For more advanced speakers, a whole-sentence request was elicited: “I want crackers.” I remember being impressed by one little boy, who was almost 3 and had been attending the group and getting EI services for at least a year, because he could sometimes be prompted to ask: “Can I have crackers, please?”
Our own goal for Phoebe was to get Phoebe to make requests using single words. Even after she started making such requests with us, she was still very reluctant to speak in front of others. She would sometimes manage only to point, or only to whisper her choice in a single word. What was nice was that every attempt was greeted with encouragement and praise, and there was little pressure. If a child wasn’t up to making a request, a choice would be made for them and they would still get encouragement.
I swear that Phoebe loved every bit of the play group time. She was probably fondest of circle time, where we’d all sit in a circle and sing songs. Each child would get a turn, in the order of our seating arrangement, to pick between two toys representing songs: a spider, a fish, a boat, a bus, etc. Most of the songs (or at least the tunes) were familiar to me (and some to Phoebe), and a subset of the same group of songs would be chosen each week. All the songs had some sort of movement or gestures, so that kids could participate with their hands and feet. (Mostly the kids did not sing along, but the adults all did.)
Phoebe behaved quite wonderfully during the group, staying in her seat, following instructions, and observing everything going on around her. I think it helped that she had already been attending daycare, which also had a bit more structure than our time together at home. (I think Phoebe is also rather on the mellow side, as toddlers go.) The kids in the group varied in how well they could focus. A few kids would have trouble sitting still, especially by the end of the 2 hours. But for the most part, all the kids seemed tuned in for at least most of the group time.
While I was worried that I would find the whole thing painfully hokey, seeing Phoebe so engaged was really gratifying. And while she continued to be quiet during the group time itself, she started to show a lot of signs early on that she was really taking in the lessons of the group.
Okay, I’m still not done. Next time, I’ll write more about Phoebe’s progress. And maybe about the one-on-one sessions. If anyone out there has questions about particular aspects of the EI services we received, please feel free to leave a comment or email me. (See the “contact alejna” page in the sidebar.)