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Every child has gifts, they just open them at different times

Preschool children enjoy the interaction as individuals.

(Editor's note: The 12th annual Fraser, Ltd. Festival of Trees is being featured from now through Wednesday, Dec. 12, at the FARGODOME. The West Fargo Pioneer is involved annually with the event, decorating an artificial tree that will be among the more than 145 on display for the public to view. A special event will be the "Cookies with the Claus Family" celebration scheduled for Friday, Nov. 23, from 1 to 4 p.m. This free activity will include photos with the Claus family, Games Galore, Sleigh Rides, Penny & Pals, and more. At the conclusion of the Festival, the decorated trees will be distributed to area families who would not otherwise have a tree for the holidays. Many people will pass through the FARGODOME for various events during this period of time, also allowing those visitors the opportunity to view the trees. Fraser, Ltd. Events such as the Festival of Trees go a long way in helping provide funding for a variety of programs. The following story was supplied by Fraser, Ltd. Staff member Kim Zeeb, Special Needs Coordinator, focusing on Fraser Children's Services, one of the many support and service programs offered by Fraser, Ltd.)

Wouldn't it be great to be 3 or 4 years old again? Picture yourself as a preschool age child. Do you remember how magical your world was at that age? You couldn't wait to get to daycare to play with your best friend. Singing the days of the week song was so much fun. Getting messy was the best part of art time. Every question was 'why this?' and 'why that?' And you felt that the world revolved around you! If you were a child with special needs, does the picture change at all? It shouldn't have to. Children with special needs should have the same learning opportunities as children that are typically developing. That is what you will find when you walk into every classroom at Fraser Child Care Center -- acceptance and understanding with the belief that each child will open their gifts when they are ready to do so.

Fraser Child Care Center believes in inclusion, where children of ALL abilities learn and grow together. Inclusion can build empathy in children typically developing and boost academic and social skills in children with special needs. There is no cookie cutter approach to teaching, we look at each child as an individual and determine what their needs are. Approximately 25% of our enrollment is children with special needs (cognitive, social/emotional, speech/language, and physical disabilities).

Our preschool classroom has 21 children, with eleven having special needs; asthma, food allergies, cognitive delays, speech/language delays, physical limitations, seizure disorder, and sensory issues. Attending to all the children can be a challenge. How can preschool staff address each child's special needs and still provide a rich learning environment for the other children who are typically developing? It is the responsibility of the preschool staff to ensure their needs are met and they do so with patience, thoughtfulness, and compassion in order to build the greatness in every child they care for.

Individualized instruction for children with special needs does not interrupt regular classroom activities. Fraser's Special Needs Coordinator develops program plans for each child with special needs that is forged by parents, doctors, therapists, and early childhood service providers. Each child care plan is tailored to the child's individual needs. This plan is carefully embedded into the daily classroom activities. Child Care Staff go through special needs training learning what the special needs are and how they can help every child learn and grow to be independent.

Jeremy is a sweet 4 year-old little boy that recently joined our Center. A few months ago he was dismissed from a local child care center. He had behavioral issues - inattention, hyperactivity, aggression. I think most parents would feel helpless and wonder, "why my child?" Jeremy's parents already had services in place and they were happy to join us here at Fraser. Jeremy has a Sensory Processing Disorder. He responds to sensory events in his daily life differently than others do. He has difficulty in a sensory system, which means, that this form of sensory input is confusing, upsetting, or not meaningful for him. Difficulty with sensory input interferes with his ability to complete important activities as successfully as other children. He has a Sensory Diet that the staff and his therapist are working on with him in the classroom and at home. Staff make accommodations for him so he is not overloaded with his surroundings, for example, a weighted vest, scooter board, or gentle help squishes, just to name a few. His Occupational Therapist said he "has been adjusting well to the new setting that provides structure and routine." She went on to say that he "is much more regulated since at a new daycare setting and has made steady improvements." Jeremy is beginning to open his gifts!

Now go back to that picture in your mind again. Your best friend, that you are so anxious to play with, has a physical disability. Sometimes, he leaves the classroom and goes with a nice lady to do exercises so he can get stronger. Does any of this change how you feel about him? He can't run as fast as you but he's a whiz at computer games and that's really cool! He's good at art and even colors inside the lines! What a great place to be with your best friend. The preschool room is an awesome place! Children learn what diversity is all about. The "why" questions are more about "why is the sun yellow?" or "why is the earth round?" Everyone should have the privilege to have a child with special needs in their lives. Fraser staff considers it a privilege to have the opportunity to teach and be around such wonderful children as they watch each child open their gifts in their own time.