"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~e e cummings

Sunday, March 6, 2011

preschool diaries: starting from scratch?

Have you ever received a piece of information that caused you to question everything you thought you thought about something? I did. On Thursday...during an almost-two-hour phone conversation with a Preschool Mom I had never before met. And now, everything I thought that I thought about the preschool education of my little boy has been flipped upside down and shaken.

When researching preschools over a year ago, I knew what I was looking for: a play-based, child-centered, loving and safe environment where my little boy would learn to socialize, learn to explore, learn to learn, and, most importantly...fall in love with learning. In education, there is nothing more important, in my opinion, than instilling in a young mind a love of learning. And, through my research, I had found The Perfect Place. And, to be perfectly honest, this year has been Perfect for Evan. It has introduced the concept of School...of being Away From Home....of Learning....in a safe and loving environment.

But this year has also been a year of discovery....discovery of the fact that Evan may not be, in some aspects, on par with his peers. While Evan excels in his vocabulary and knowledge base and curiosity and imagination, he struggles with his Fine Motor coordination, Self-Help skills, and Social/Emotional development. We are currently exploring the possibility that Evan may have some difficulties with Sensory Integration/Processing (again, more on that later....it deserves it's own post). And, complicating the issue even further, Evan is not a self-motivated learner...he needs a guiding hand, some gentle encouragement, structure in the way of "Okay, class, it's time for _____." During preschool this year, he wanders around the classroom watching his peers but rarely engaging in any activity. Because the school's philosophy is to allow the child to participate or not-participate in activities of their choosing, Evan is not required to do anything. And so he doesn't. We're learning that a play-based, child-centered preschool may not be the best environment to prepare him for the rigors of kindergarten, (which, a friend pointed out, is a ridiculous, yet true, combination of words in a sentence..."rigors" of "kindergarten"?! Sad, isn't it?) where participation is not optional.

And so, a mutual friend of mine and Preschool Mom's, connected us with the instructions, "You two have GOT to talk." As it turns out, Preschool Mom and I are living parallel lives...she, a year ahead of me in the game. Her little boy, C, is currently in the 4-year old program at Evan's preschool. He has been diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder and has been receiving treatment from an Occupational Therapist for over a year now. While he's made tremendous strides in his sensory/emotional development thanks to the therapy, he continues to struggle to stand on equal ground with his peers academically. And it's not just a matter of knowing letters and numbers....Kindergarten requires that children be independent, have the ability to attend to a task without being distracted, possess self-help skills, excel in problem-solving, have strong fine-motor coordination, listen to and follow multi-step directions, participate in group activities, and do all of this All Day Long, five days a week, in a classroom with 24 peers and only one teacher.

Yikes.

C's teacher has said numerous times, (and in front of C, which highlights another issue I have with the teachers at Evan's school altogether) that he is not ready for Kindergarten. C's parents have decided to enroll him in a private Kindergarten program next year. He will follow a similar curriculum to the public school, but with fewer classmates and testing, and more individualized attention. He will also be able to continue his therapy with his OT during school hours, as opposed to adding therapy AFTER an already long and arduous school day. The goal is for C to be able to make up enough ground during kindergarten to join his age-mates in first grade at his home school. If not, however, he will attend kindergarten in his home school, for two years in kindergarten without the stigma of "repeating."

Hearing C's story (which mirrors ours almost exactly in regard to the tanturms, anxiety, sensitivity, tactile/textural "quirkiness," and lack of engagement in school) made Sam and I take another look at our plans for Evan for next year. Perhaps another year in a similar environment to the one he is in this year will just be another year of aimless wandering.  Without a structured environment and a teacher that pushes him a little bit more to engage, what if Evan fails to achieve the social/academic/and emotional skills necessary for success in kindergarten?

I'm feeling very anti-me while writing all of this. Whatever happened to "let him develop in his own time" and "let them be little?" Well....I'm not trying to force him to be something he's not, but I DO want to give him the preparation and experience he needs in order to feel confident and comfortable in the Big School environment...whenever he may be ready for that. I have no doubt in Evan's academic readiness: he knows all of his letters, letter sounds, and numbers. He can add and subtract in his head up to about seven. He is sounding out words and forming words (verbally, not written) by identifying sounds. He knows more information about animals, trucks, construction, and dinosaurs than I thought possible. He has a great vocabulary and an insatiable curiosity. We want to build upon these strengths and interests and support the areas where he needs further development. The tricky part is finding the right place for that. And how can we ever be sure we've found the right one? Where's that crystal ball when I need it?

Lesson Learned:
This is just one of the many times that I have found myself (and will find myself, no doubt) questioning everything I thought I knew as a Mom. With new information comes new consideration of what's best/right/necessary. And what's best/right/necessary might change with time, or from one kid to another, or when the situation changes. Instead of forming absolute known truths, I need to adopt a more "Here's What I Think Right Now" belief system....then maybe I won't feel so off-kilter when I find myself changing course.

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