For most children in Russia, kindergarten is the first step in a their education and the first experience of a life outside the family. This is a stage that many disabled children miss out on because mainstream kindergartens aren’t equipped to look after them. There just aren’t enough places in mainstream or special provision.
This term we hope that more children with special needs will have a more positive start in kindergartens, and that the staff will feel more confident meeting their needs. Our partner organisation, Physical Rehabilitation, in St Petersburg has been running a programme particularly aimed at training kindergarten staff and has shared their training materials more widely through You Tube.
To start with our colleagues wanted to involve five kindergartens in their training programme. However, although two of these kindergartens had some idea of the issues facing children with disabilities and were eager to work with them, it wasn’t so straightforward with the other three. Two of them seemed keen to take part initially, but then wouldn’t let the staff on their premises, blaming some new administrative restriction. The fifth kindergarten turned out to be quite unmotivated altogether.
And so, Physical Rehabilitation re-worked their plans to make sure that they could work with at least four of these kindergartens. They visited the first two eight times, and kept in constant touch with them. They’ve trained them on how to position and move children with physical disabilities, how to work out a daily timetable, and on what equipment they will need. These kindergartens now have plans in place for two particular children in their care and are keen to continue the collaboration.
When it came to the kindergartens that didn’t want Physical Rehabilitation to visit, they were at least happy to take part in webinars and to attend one seminar. The seminar was called “The special child and kindergarten: what you need to know so you don’t harm the child and you look after your health.” 24 people attended the seminar from across St Petersburg and the Pskov region. Our partners also ran a seminar on Alternative Communication. Staff from kindergartens were able to assemble their own set of materials for helping communicate with children who don’t speak.
Physical Rehabilitation have made five short films explaining some of the basics for staff working in kindergartens. Parents and staff from our centre explain how important it is to support the child to be as independent as possible. They explain some of the methods used to help children communicate if they can’t speak, and they demonstrate how to move physically disabled children into the right position without staff hurting their backs. These are all on YouTube and have been watched hundreds of times.
So, thanks to funding from St Gregory’s, we are confident that some kindergartens now have firm foundations that they can build on in their work with children with disabilities. In other cases, we hope that we have at least sown the seed that will begin to change attitudes. We hope that we have shown that children with special needs can be included and that they can be supported to make friends and become more independent rather than being completely passive. Not least we hope that the children who take part in our programme directly, will be supported not just in the home, but also when they are at kindergarten, to develop the new skills our colleagues are teaching them.