Saturday, January 19, 2008

Good Job!

The child development experts tend to say that it's not so important when a child learns something as it is in what order he learns. For instance, a child should crawl before he walks. But Tim tended to turn that whole child development chart upside-down, especially in the intellectual areas.

When he was three and four years old he was still unable to put any words together to make a sentence. He had no problem repeating any single word you would throw at him, so it wasn't a speech problem. But the interesting thing was that he was an early reader - able to read a simple sentence before he could form one on his own.

Concerned about his development, I took him to Western Oregon State College (now known as Western Oregon University), in Monmouth, Oregon, for an evaluation. They determined that Tim was having trouble with sequencing, and offered to let us enroll him in the Children's Language Development program that they operated as a part of their graduate education program. I jumped at the opportunity, although it meant driving about 50 miles (round trip) between our home on the east side of Salem and the campus in Monmouth, two or three times a week.

I was permitted to sit on the other side of a one-way mirror from Tim as he worked with various graduate students on his language development. In the beginning, as they were evaluating him, they did want to hear to his pronunciation of various sounds. The grad student would place a picture before Tim and ask him to tell her what it was. He would respond "elephant" or "sandwich" with no problem. Each time he said the word, the student would say, "Good job!" and then move on to the next picture card. If he didn't know what the picture was, he'd look up at her, and she would tell him the word and then ask him to repeat it.

Tim, though he had a problem with sequencing, was bright and clever. I was always amazed at how he could turn this game around. After a few cards had gone by, he would ask if he could hold the cards. The grad student for that particular day, happy that he was so totally engaged, would turn the stack of cards over to him. That's when he would turn the tables on her. He'd start looking to her for help with words that I was sure he knew, and she would say the word for him. Instead of repeating it, he would lay the card down on the table and say, "Good job." Sometimes three or four cards went by before the grad student realized that he had taken over her job.

The Monmouth experience was a good one for Tim. He made some solid progress on his sequencing skills. The next fall the federal funding for this program was discontinued, and it was closed. We then enrolled him in a co-operative preschool, where the parents were committed to working, according to a schedule, in the classroom alongside the teacher. Being around other children and adults who didn't know his body language encouraged more growth in his language development, putting him on target for starting kindergarten, along with his peers, when he was five.

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