Chester County IU 24: Learning Through Play

A profile in the PAIU series, "Early Intervention Changes Lives:
Pennsylvania Families and the Intermediate Units that Serve Them"

The Drew Bucciarelli story: Ready for school
At 7 years old, Drew Bucciarelli loves to play restaurant, pretending that he’s a waiter.
It’s a big change from the days when the little boy, born with Down syndrome, didn’t talk and rarely socialized. He broke through those barriers in his first year with Chester County IU 24 Early Intervention preschool, when teachers and therapists used creative means like getting him to communicate through music.

Then came the focus on his learning and playing skills, and the sociable Drew emerged. He grew so quickly that his mom was advised not to delay his entry into kindergarten.

“By the second year, he was talking, he was playing, he was communicating,” says his mom, Adrea Scaramucci. “By the time he left, he could read. He was writing. The amount of growth he had in two years was just amazing.”

Drew attended preschool with children who had many different challenges. Early Intervention staffers accommodated each child personally.

“These teachers were really trying to find a way to help him,” says Scaramucci. “If they were teaching him one way and it wasn’t working, they’d try something else.”

Drew entered kindergarten ready for the physical and academic challenges ahead, and now, he’s in first grade, fully included and learning with his classmates.

“They really did prepare him for school,” says Scaramucci. “Honestly, I don’t think he would have had that opportunity had I not sent him to the IU.”

Chester County IU 24: Creating curiosity
In Chester County IU 24 Early Intervention preschool, children think they’re just playing with classmates, but teachers have a guilty secret. Actually, they create “learning centers” where activities and role playing address each child’s learning needs. Maybe the spot where children play “store” is set up so some kids can ring up purchases while others use pictures to communicate what they want.

“Children together learn from their peers,” says Supervisor Terry Stewart. “They are cleverly disguised as fun play centers, but there are actually a lot of learning opportunities.”

Many CCIU 24 Early Intervention preschool classrooms are near Head Start classrooms, giving Early Intervention kids the opportunity to play with their typical peers. There, activities might be less structured but still directed toward helping students address their developmental delays – perhaps encouraging a Head Start student to play ball with a student in the Early Intervention program, thus encouraging gross motor and socialization skills.  

“It’s nice to have students of differing levels of abilities play with each other,” says Stewart. “You foster that pairing of students so you create play partners. They start to pick out their new friends, also. It’s a big thing to have inclusive opportunities. We want students to fit in, to be loved, to be welcomed, and to be a part of everyday life.”

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