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Friday, October 16, 2009

"Head and shoulders, knees and toes (knees and toes!)!

I got to color and sing "Head and Shoulders" with the most adorable little kids today! It was my first day in the kindergarten, and we learned some body parts in English before breaking out the colored pencils and talking about sea animals that start with the "r" sound in Bulgarian. So fun!

I spent about an hour and a half with them before lunch and nap time, and I am really excited about returning a couple times every week. The kids are absolute sweethearts, and it looks like in addition to mini English lessons, I will get the chance to work with little Hristo. He's six years old, and has Down's Syndrome. One of the "at-risk" groups in Bulgaria are special needs children. A disproportionate number of children in orphanages and institutions are Roma or children with developmental disabilities. Usually, these children are institutionalized at a very young age, so last year when I worked at a day center for special needs kids, it was an encouraging and progressive thing to be a part of. But, they were well staffed and even better resourced, so I decided that even though I loved the kids and young adults there, it wasn't the best use of my time since they were already established and doing so well.

Anyway, Hristo is technically "main-streamed" with the rest of the kids in his class (meaning he is with them all day...), but I noticed that since he isn't capable of performing at the same level as his classmates, he usually sits in the corner and plays since the teacher is spread relatively thin and can't afford to give him one on one attention. So I asked if I could work with him while the other kids are doing their lessons after our English session! The teacher basically told me that whatever I could offer, they wanted. Especially English, since they had wanted to introduce some English words to the kids to help with cognitive development and to prepare them for school in the next couple of years (kindergarten here is technically preschool...). So, I am glad to be of help, but I am also excited about the opportunity to work with Hristo and even though my experience with special needs children is limited (and a bit dated... I worked with some autistic grade school students on a weekly basis while in high school... infrequently since then!), maybe come up with some models for more active participation and interaction from the special needs students. Instead of merely "keeping them busy," I want to encourage emphasis on the development of their cognitive and motor skills.

And, he's a cutie! I got the biggest grin when I gave him a hug on my way out today. Not to mention another little boy asked when I could come back and sing with them.

It will definitely be something to look forward to every week. :)

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