Sandbox“I’m going to big school” are words Karen McClure-Richard and her team at Pine Tree Society’s Early Learning Center work all year for a child to be able to say with confidence.

“When they say those words, they’re showing their maturity and their age and their readiness to move on,” said Karen.

In August, the Early Learning Center celebrated the end of the school year with 16 children graduating to kindergarten. 

The Early Learning Center provides educational programming for young children with special needs. The staff has a common goal for all the students: to foster a love of learning to set a strong foundation for the future.

“Kids enroll with us at age three or four so we have a year or two together before it’s time for them to transition to kindergarten.”

For Rachel, the Early Learning Center provides a structure for her five-year-old son Silas.  “He always does better when goes to class,” she said.  “They do things I don’t know how to do with him and have given me the tools I need at home to help Silas communicate.”

When Silas first came to The Early Learning Center he was three years old and non-verbal.

“When he was able to say ‘I love you momma’ that was the best thing that ever happened.”

The Early Learning Center team has helped Silas discover ways he can communicate his emotions instead of getting frustrated when he’s trying to share what he wants.

“Two things have worked out amazingly well at home,” continued Rachel.  “If it gets too complicated for him to say what he wants, we have created a way for him to point to images that convey things like happy, sad or hungry.  The other thing I’ve learned to do is to break my communication down in a way that’s simple for him to understand which makesSilas it much less likely for him to get frustrated.”

Silas has one more year before he’ll transition to kindergarten. 

“We work really hard to help each child understand that they’ve earned their rights to move on,” said Karen. “And we help their parents to do everything needed to help their child get ready for school.”

The Early Learning Center team creates visual storyboards unique to each student to show them what their new classroom and library will look and where they are going to play outside at their new school. The kids also learn what it’s like to ride a real school bus.

“We do a lot of prep work with the kids around behavior and emotion around change.  We’ve been their constant and now everything is changing.  Their case manager at Pine Tree Society helps them too and supports the family through this transition and will remain with many of these families for as long as the need is there.”

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