Each child begins class by saying hello and introducing themself. (Photo credit: Lauren Feldman)

Every Child Matters To Roslyn Heights Special Ed. Teacher

Kerri Dalessio (center) alongside assistant teachers Marsha (left) and Domenica (right).

The early years of a child’s education are the most impactful and informative, and play a large role in shaping future members of our society. Unfortunately for many children, these years are fraught with difficulty, complex emotions, and feelings of unease or unworthiness.

Enter Kerri Dalessio, former NYC special education teacher and founder of Kerri’s Kids Play2Learn in Roslyn. Play2Learn is a therapeutic social skills playgroup for children with developmental differences, developed from Kerri’s experiences with children who struggled to find their footing in traditional schooling systems.

Dalessio has been working with children for over 20 years and holds a Master of Science degree in Special Education. She began her teaching journey at Central Park Early Learning Center (AHRC) in New York City. As a teacher, she organized a center-based learning environment for special needs preschoolers. “This was my ‘A-HA moment’ where I realized I can make a difference in the lives of children,” She recalled. “What other profession allows you to giggle, laugh, smile, and be silly for most of your day?”

Making Valentine’s Day cards.

Realizing her passion to work with children and their families, Dalessio later accepted a position as an Early Intervention Home-Based Service Provider at YAI/NYL Life Start, an NYC-based nonprofit organization. As an Early Intervention Specialist, her main goal was building a close relationship with families, and helping parents and caregivers to reinforce the gains made. She worked intensively with speech pathologists, occupational therapists, and physical therapists to help children develop skills in the home setting and the outside world. “My love for teaching and strong desire to create change, even in the simplest of tasks, is how Kerri’s Kid’s Play2Learn came to life,” she said. “As the saying goes, ‘A great teacher takes a hand, opens a mind, and touches a heart!’”

All children are unique, develop at different rates, and face different challenges. They deserve individualized teaching that will meet them where they are. In Dalessio’s experience, many programs do not concentrate on teaching and developing play skills; they expect children to learn by chance. Without fundamental play skills, children may experience difficulties participating appropriately and spontaneously when in a group setting. “These kids are stars, they really are, but it’s hard [to stay motivated / encouraged] when you’re constantly told what you’re not doing, the marks you’re not hitting,” Dalessio said.

Every child has their own “Super Power“. Some children respond better to auditory cues while others are kinesthetic learners who need to “do” in order to learn. These should not be seen as barriers, Dalessio clarifies, but rather routes towards success. “Some kids don’t speak much or at all when I meet them. Some of them have motor delays. So I think, ‘okay, what is the best way to work on that? How can I make sure these kids are still learning?”

Kerri incorporates visual support, such as physically modeling a task or by placing boundary markers on the floor to support each child to better understand what is expected of them. She also emphasizes the value of establishing a routine. Many children benefit from daily routines because they understand what to expect. Routines are an important part of any child’s life because they help children develop a sense of stability and order as well as give children the information and experience necessary to complete tasks with increasing independence.

For parents uncertain of their child’s progress in standard education systems, Dalessio encourages them to take action, but not to worry. “I talk to a lot of parents, and they’re worried about their kids, or they have no clue what’s going on… the biggest thing is to recognize when your child needs help. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s so important to get them on the right path to be successful.” She encourages parents to really sit down with their kids, understand where they thrive and where they may be falling short, and reacting early to help set them up for the rest of their lives. “For these kids, this kind of program can change their lives,” she said. “They can’t advocate for themselves, so parents need to do it for them.”

For more information on Kerri’s Kids Play2Learn, visit

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