Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Preschool Program at Boys Town National Research Hospital

For nearly 4 decades, Boys Town National Research Hospital's educational programs have provided state-of-the-art learning experiences for families and their children birth to five years of age. The primary goal of the Boys Town family-centered early education programs is to promote optimal development of every child who is deaf or hard of hearing. This goal is achieved through the following guiding principles:

  • Respect that the child who is deaf or hard of hearing is, first and foremost, a child whose individual nature, strengths and learning style are to be celebrated
  • Honor each family's unique beliefs, traditions and strengths as it is the family's right to incorporate these values into their decisions for their child
  • Empower the family by providing unbiased and up-to-date information to assist them in promoting their child's social-emotional, communicative, cognitive and educational development
  • Establish effective partnerships between families and school districts as these partnerships will support educational advancement

The Boys Town National Research Hospital Preschool Program is a five-day a week early-childhood program providing comprehensive educational programming for children three to five years of age who are deaf or hard of hearing. Inclusive educational practices are promoted with the enrollment of typically-developing peers. The program follows the developmentally appropriate guidelines identified by the Division for Early Childhood (DEC), the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), and Nebraska Department of Education (Carotta, 2016).

Acoustically-appropriate classroom environments and therapy spaces with family observation capabilities assist the early-childhood special educators, speech-language pathologists, audiologists, art and music therapists, and counselors in working with families. The preschool program aims to develop the child's many ways of experiencing the world by providing a range of small and large group experiences focused on social, emotional, cognitive, auditory and communication development. While the program is well known for the specialized methods used to develop listening and spoken or sign language abilities, people are less familiar with how the arts are integral to providing the children with other avenues for expressing themselves and making their thoughts visible. Continue reading to learn more about one of the many educational practices used in the Boys Town Hospital Preschool Program.

Early Childhood Practices: Featuring the Reggio Emilia Approach

The preschool promotes child discovery and active learning through a blend of early childhood practices including High Scope, Creative Curriculum, and the arts-based Reggio Emilia approach. Reggio Emilia inspired education is an internationally known approach that began over 50 years ago in Reggio Emilia, a small city in northern Italy. This approach is particularly valued as children who are deaf or hard of hearing and who often require extensive support in developing their language skills.

The Reggio approach encourages educators to consider the use of a variety of means to communicate using the Hundred Languages, a term coined by Reggio Emilia founder, Loris Malaguzzi, which refers to children using a variety of mediums (e.g., cloth, textiles, paint, wire, clay, wood, music, dance, photography, etc.) to represent their ideas about their world. In essence, the approach explores the ways these media become a visual, aesthetic and kinesthetic canvas representing what children feel, think, create or discover. When the approach is used with young children with developing language systems, it provides them with numerous ways to express their ideas. It also provides educators with multiple opportunities to honor children's internal conceptualizations while promoting the emergence of spoken or sign language. The approach fosters children's intellectual development with specific attention given to symbolic representations. Through experimentation with drawing, painting, music, building, clay, wire sculpture, and dramatic play, children make visible what they are learning and thinking while developing competencies using the various forms of media (Edwards, Gandini, & Forman 2012).

The Reggio Emilia approach often uses projects to explore areas of in-depth study based on children's interests, focusing attention on the discourse of learning, and the documentation of the learning process using photographs, audio recordings, notes, and the children's work samples. As educators document and engage in discourse with children about their work, they shift from their role of teaching children to studying children, hence learning alongside them. Included in the Reggio approach is a public documentation of the children's work which serves four purposes:

  1. Making visible the children's thinking by providing traces of their explorations
  2. Providing the children and adults with a "concrete and visible memory" of what they have done so they can revisit their work for the purpose of remembering or extending thoughts about next steps
  3. Demonstrating teachers' and families' thoughts about what the children are noticing, exploring, thinking, wondering
  4. Informing the larger community about the value of young children's learning and education

The documentation process allows children and adults to reread experiences, renew their memories, and rethink their thinking and learning (Edwards, Gandini, & Forman 2012). Documentation portrays the children as competent and capable and the parents and teachers as partners in their learning.

The Boys Town Preschool Program's documentation of the children's projects is visited frequently by individuals wishing to know about early childhood practices and is on display throughout the Center for Childhood Deafness, Language and Learning year-round. New installations arrive in spring and fall of each year, just in time for the April Family Art Event and the October Pure Inspiration community food-wine fundraising event. This arts-based approach is critical for developing the power and promise of children with communication and hearing challenges and has been supported by the Gilchrist Foundation, Why Arts? and other community partners.

The Reggio Emilia Photo Gallery

In recent years, the Boys Town Preschool Program has featured learning projects under the direction of art therapist Jill Dibbern Manhart that included young children's interest in exploring cameras, experimenting with drawing themselves, creating wedding celebrations, and designing multiple representations of cars. Small glimpses of this work can be viewed in the photo gallery that follows.

Camera Exploration

Simon was fascinated by the camera from his first day of school. He held the screen up to his eye and moved the camera around the room. He spent a great deal of time with Miss Marleni exploring the various parts of the camera. He was captivated by the lens and the camera lens cap. Jill wondered what Simon was thinking when he moved from viewing the picture he took to looking at the lens.

Camera Exploration Project

Self-Portrait Project

Children are always fascinated when looking at themselves in a mirror. We decided to use mirrors to help children create self-portraits. We engaged in a four-month project of exploring the many ways children can create pencil and clay images of themselves. This documentation makes visible what children are seeing and thinking about themselves.

Self Portrait Project

Wedding Celebration

The children became very interested in weddings and people getting married. We decided to explore all components of wedding celebrations. The children drew and constructed a variety of wedding cakes. They decided to have a wedding for their stuffed animals. The children created and constructed a plan for their frog wedding that included clothing designs, wedding invitations, and the wedding cake.

Wedding Cake Project

A video of two friends problem-solving during their wedding cake construction.


Leo's Story

Leo was fascinated with drawing cars. His enthusiasm for his car project lasted several weeks with Leo first drawing a simple car and then drawing more intricate car designs which included wheel hulls. Leo then moved on to constructing a car out of cardboard, random wooden parts, and playing cards. The playing cards were used with clothes pins to create windshield wipers. Leo's car creation was a marvel to all, complete with a round rear window, car seats, and windshield wipers for a rainy day.

Leo's Story


  1. Carotta, C. & Edwards, C. (2018). Leo's story: From the corner of one's eye: attending to bids for democracy from voices not easily heard. Omaha, NE: Boys Town National Research Hospital.
  2. Carotta, C. (2016). Supportive early childhood practices.  In M.P. Moeller, D. Ertmer, C. Stoel-Gammon (Eds.), Contemporary methods of promoting speech and language development in children who are deaf and hard of hearing (pp. 247-279). Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing Co.
  3. Edwards, C. & Carotta, C. (2015). Listening to children, seeing possibilities: Stories from a Reggio-inspired inquiry circle at Boys Town National Research Hospital, and beyond. Omaha, NE: Boys Town National Research Hospital.
  4. Edwards, C., Gandini, L., & Forman, G. (Eds). (2012). The hundred languages of children, 3rdEd.: The Reggio Emilia experience in transformation. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, Division of ABC-CLIO.