Portage is a home-based educational service for families with pre-school children with special educational needs. The services gained its name fortuitously as Portage just happened to be the small town in Wisconsin, U.S.A., where the project was first developed. The town is a crossover, or ‘portage’, between two rivers and as such symbolises the essence of the service: a ‘bridge’, transferring knowledge and expertise from professionals to parents; closing the gap between deficits exhibited by young children and skills needed for success in school and later life.
The Portage Scheme was developed in 1969 as one of hundreds of projects in the Head Start Programme in the U.S.A. aiming to provide early education for children with special needs. Children living in rural communities were the focus of this particular project. The originators David & Marsha Shearer (1972) felt it inappropriate for these children to travel long distances into a centre. Instead they broke with the traditions of their day and developed a service that was taken to the children in the familiar environment of their homes where their own parents were helped to become their teachers. The decision to do this was based on a conviction that parents are potentially the child's best teachers, particularly in the early years.