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A Whole-Child Approach to Supporting Kindergarteners in Mainstream Settings

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Clarke Student Lauren
Lauren, a kindergartener who receives Clarke’s Mainstream Services in her school.

This year’s Week of the Young Child, (April 1—7) sponsored by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), is designed to focus attention on the vital needs of young children and their families.

With those goals in mind, it’s fitting to consider the importance of the whole-child approach to education and the many ways it benefits the youngest children whether at home, daycare, school or within their community.

Educating the “whole child” requires careful attention to all aspects of children’s development, including cognitive/academic skills, social-emotional learning (SEL), mental and physical well-being and more. (Educators and caregivers can find resources and more information—including this list of indicators designed to help identify a whole-child approach—at the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development’s (ASCD) website.

“The whole-child approach allows each child to reach their full potential in all areas and aspects of school,” says Lauryn Corcoran, MEd, mainstream coordinator and itinerant teacher of the deaf at Clarke. “It’s important the child feels like a part of their school community. It ensures the child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported and challenged.”

She adds that for kindergarten-age students, the whole-child approach is particularly important since it is the first formal school experience for so many children. “Even if they came from a preschool, their school day was usually shorter and less structured, making kindergarten a huge transition year,” Lauryn notes. “Kindergarten is a year when students are not only learning how to be students but also learning some of the fundamental skills to be successful in the future. Kindergarten is a year of growth academically, socially and emotionally.”

One of the kindergarteners Lauryn works with is Lauren, who has microtia and atresia, and uses a bone-anchored hearing aid (BAHA) to access sound.

Lauren’s mother, Minseon, says she appreciates how Lauryn has been able to help her daughter set and achieve goals at school. “Lauryn is amazing,” says Minseon. “She always has been a strong advocate for my child. By bringing her expertise to school and sharing it with other teachers—and parents as well—she has helped integrate Lauren with the rest of the school community.”

Benefits for Students with Hearing Loss

The primary SEL needs of kindergarteners include:
  • acquiring and applying the skills to understand and manage their emotions

  • learning how to set and achieve goals

  • forming positive peer and teacher relationships

For students who are deaf or hard of hearing in mainstream kindergarten settings, the whole-child approach to education is particularly beneficial, since they are more likely to have challenges with pragmatic social skills and to miss out on incidental learning opportunities that can aid their cognitive, social and language development. When mainstream educators embrace the whole-child approach, they have the tools to address these students’ toughest challenges in a holistic way.

Minseon says one of the key goals for Lauren this year has been building her confidence, self-esteem and social skills. With encouragement and modeling from Lauryn and her family, Lauren has done just that.

“Lauryn has helped Lauren not only familiarize herself with the [hearing technology] but also built her confidence and positive self-esteem,” says Minseon. She adds that Lauryn provided a fun and informative presentation about Lauren’s hearing technology. “Everyone was so fascinated by this ‘cool’ device. It was a great opportunity for her classmates to learn how different people can be—and Lauren felt special too!”

Lauryn notes that these SEL skills are especially vital for students with hearing loss. “They need to develop self-awareness around their hearing loss so that they can begin to acquire self-advocacy skills and self-confidence,” she says. “These fundamental skills are the building blocks for a successful learner.”

By teaching children about their hearing loss and the assistive technology they use, as well as how to talk about those things confidently, teachers of the deaf can support the development of their students’ self-advocacy skills in their classroom and the community.

 And true to the whole-child concept, the support offered by a teacher of the deaf can extend beyond the student to other support team members . “The mainstream teacher of the deaf can also teach the general education classroom teacher best practices to use with students with hearing loss and help other students in the class understand hearing loss and how they can support their peers.”

The whole-child approach is most successful when families and educators share together and learn from each other. Minseon notes that she and her husband recently benefited from this interactive work during a conference with Lauryn and Lauren’s educational team.

“My husband and I deeply appreciate Lauryn’s expertise, which gives us a different point of view in taking care of our child and managing her hearing loss,” she says.

 Hearing loss impacts multiple areas of a child’s development. Using the whole-child approach can aid mainstream professionals and other educators to address those needs in the most effective way.

Learn more about Clarke’s whole-child approach in “Nurturing All Areas of Development at Clarke,” on the Clarke Speaks Up blog.

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