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

Thursday, March 31, 2011

arguing semantics

A few weeks ago, Max decided that he was too Big for board books. He took it upon himself to raid the various bookshelves and book baskets and book bins (we have a lot of books) around the house to fill his own Bedtime Books basket in his room. We've found a few favorites from the lot...Raffi's sing-to-me books The Wheels on the Bus and Down by the Bay were instant hits. Another good one to sing is Moo Moo Brown Cow. But the new, hands-down, favorite is Mommy Mine by Tim Warnes, illustrated by one of my favorite illustrators of all time, Jane Chapman. (Yes. I have favorite illustrators. I used to teach kindergarten. These things are very important.) If you don't know this book, you should. If you don't OWN this book, here's a little time-saver for you.

You're welcome.

There isn't a plot to the story; it's a series of animal Mommy and Baby illustrations accompanied by text that is repetitive, rhythmic, and in rhyme. The first few pages read like this: "Mommy huge. Mommy hairy. Mommy spiny. Mommy scary. Mommy flutter. Mommy chatter. Mommy tiny...pitter patter." It's really a lovely book.

There's just one problem.

Max INSISTS that the "Mommy" animal in each picture is a "Daddy." He'll listen patiently to the story but, every once in awhile, he'll remove the binky from his mouth, point to the larger of the two animals in the picture and say, "Da Da." When I say, "Mommy, honey. It's a MOMMY alligator," he shakes his head "no" emphatically and says, "Da-DEE."

It doesn't matter what the title of the book is. It doesn't matter what Every Other Word in the story is. It doesn't matter what I say about it. There is just no changing his mind--Mommy Mine is a wonderful children's book about baby animals and their dads.

Lesson Learned:
So how far do I push the I'm-Right-You're-Wrong stand-off between me and my 17-month old? Well, maybe if he would just once say the word "Mommy" I'd give in on the Daddy Mine Issue. It's not like I'm terribly offended that his first word was "fish" or that he can say "duck" and "pop the bubble" but not "mama."

[sniff]

Honestly.

[wiping the tears]

It doesn't bother me at all....because he gives the world's best Open Mouth Baby Kisses and Arms Around The Neck Tightest Hugs, which are even better than words.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

m. night

It was just like in The Sixth Sense....
Only not so scary because I watched him do it.

Max and I didn't quite know what to make of it...
especially when he announced:
"Welcome to The Laser Show!"


Lesson Learned:
Yes. I'm aware of the fact that the contents and state of my junk drawer(s) have now been exposed to the internet public. I'm. Okay. With. That.

Monday, March 28, 2011

finding evan

I suppose this all started last summer, almost a year ago, when we brought Evan into the pediatrician with concerns about his tantrums and sleeplessness. After much reassurance, the pediatrician gave us a game plan and some Been-There-Done-That support that would carry us through the next four or five months. She also gave us the name and phone number of a Child Psychologist. I immediately scoffed at the referral. "A child psychologist?!" I thought to myself, "Evan does NOT need THERAPY. He's emotional and sensitive, but he does NOT need a CHILD PSYCHOLOGIST." But....the idea of reaching out for some help for Evan (and for Max, and for Sam, and for me) stayed with me and during every tantrum that followed, and though every bout of school and social anxiety, I thought about calling. I never did....it never felt Just Right....but I did give it some thought.

We muddled through the end of the summer and the beginning of the school year with some successes but also some difficulty (potty training was a smashing success, school was a roller coaster of positives and negatives, sleep continued to be an issue). A few months ago, I realized how Evan's internal sensitivities (anxiety, emotion-regulation) were bleeding over into the outside world....Evan was becoming more and more sensitive to external stimulation. It seemed as though, all of a sudden, he was extraordinarily bothered by sudden noises, background noise, textures, etc. We were changing/readjusting his socks LITERALLY dozens of times each morning because "something's not right!"  Bathtime became a shriekfest every time water was poured over his head. He suddenly hated drying his hands on a towel but was equally bothered by the fact that his hands remained damp after insufficient drying. The wind was painful for him...he would flip out if we tried to roll a window down in the car and don't EVEN get me started on the torture of being on a windy beach in Florida in February. And it wasn't just the wasted time that made this new sensitivity bothersome....Evan was having Horrendous Meltdowns each time he felt the seam in his sock, wind in his hair, water on his hands. Meltdowns that could not be Ignored. Meltdowns that were threatening to make our house a loud and scary place for Max.

It didn't take long before it occurred to me that Something's Not Right. And so I thought back to that phone number I had stashed away. Before I mustered up the courage to make the call, however, I read an article about Sensory Processing Disorder. I felt like I had written it about Evan. Now that I had figured out my son's "disorder," [gulp] it was time to figure out how to help him. And here's where I became a firm believer that There Are No Accidents. At exactly the right time, I ran into a friend of mine at the Barnes and Noble train table. The same friend whose neighbor was dealing with The Exact Same Thing with her son. The same neighbor whose son attends Evan's preschool and who called me to question everything I THOUGHT I knew about the preschool education of my kid.

So we sorted through the preschool conundrum, but were left with that nagging issue of Sensory Processing Disorder. You know what you should never do when you're worried about your kid? Google. Guess what I did? As it turns out, SPD is hugely co-occurant with other disorders of the social and emotional development of preschoolers....disorders such as Attention Deficit Disorder and disorders along the Autism Spectrum, particularly Asperger's Syndrome, which is often characterized by exceptionally high intelligence and language skills, but poor social skills, awkward behaviors, and poor emotion regulation. Sound familiar?

I could walk into a Child Psychologist's office today, armed with the online checklists I have completed, and make a case that Evan fits pretty nicely into any one (or more) of these categories. I could have Evan evaluated and he'd probably end up with some sort of label. Instead, I set up an appointment with the Child Study Team at our neighborhood elementary school. I was looking to, as my mom put it, "Spread the Blame." IF, at some point in Evan's education, it is decided that he does fall into some sort of category that does require special attention, I don't want it ever said, "Well, if only we'd known about this sooner..." or "How did they miss THIS?" I wanted a professional to hear our story and help us to determine what should happen next.

The Assistant Principal listened to my description of Evan and my concerns about his experience in school this year (or lack of experience...) and what I can do to bolster the social confidence and enjoyment of school in the future. She agreed that Evan is probably a "quirky" kid, and she was careful to dance around the word "Asperger's," though we both knew what she was alluding to. She was very supportive and understanding of my concerns and didn't diminish them, but didn't sound the alarms, either. She recommended a rescreening of his language skills by the Speech Therapist (with whom we met in October), but suggested a Wait and See approach for the rest of his social and emotional....stuff. Through talking with her, it struck me just how common "quirky" kids are....kids that kind of stand out from the crowd--and not in the Star Athlete sense--kids who may need a little extra time to figure out how to fit in, kids who may always prefer to hang with a smaller social group, kids who have nerves and worries and anxieties bigger than their little bodies can handle, kids who are a little quieter in public...but who have a lot to say on paper.

Kids....like me.

Lesson Learned:
Before meeting with the Assistant Principal, I felt this overwhelming responsibility to Define Evan. I felt like I could never truly help him to be comfortable and to achieve his own degree of success if I didn't Get Him. Turns out, I had been looking too far into the internet and not closely enough at myself. I DO get him....I WAS him. I was a wacky, emotional, stressed-out kid until I hit my stride in third grade. It was in third grade that my parents switched me to a Center Based Program for gifted kids at a different elementary school. I was, for the first time, truly surrounded by my peers. Kids who were just as far outside the box as I was...kids who carried the weight of the world on their tiny shoulders as much as I did. As much as Evan does. I don't know yet, of course, if he would even be eligible to attend a program like that, or if he was, if it would even be the right fit for him.

My point is....he doesn't need a label. Whether he is "Evan" or "Evan With Sensory Processing Disorder," it doesn't make a difference in WHO he is, or what our jobs as his parents are. We are learning about SPD and other disorders so that we can help Evan to handle his social anxieties and sensory issues. For example, we are working really hard to maintain our patience with him and his socks. We remind him that he can try to fix it himself first, and if that doesn't work then, if he asks us in a nice voice, we will help him. We're finding that if we meet him halfway like that, a lot of major meltdowns can be avoided. We may be gritting our teeth through the 17th sock change of the morning, but we can do that for him. If we ever find ourselves in a position where we believe he could benefit from some sort of therapy or intervention beyond what we can provide at home, we may need a label to get him the professional services he needs. Until then, labels are just words. Loaded words.

As I said to a friend of mine who is also parenting an emotional, sensitive child:

When Evan is in the middle of one of his meltdowns about something so ridiculous like having damp sleeves after washing his hands or not wanting his plate turned THAT WAY on his placemat, I try to remind myself that this is just part of his process. I don't have to like it, and I don't have to put up with EVERYthing, but it helps me to stay patient with him.

I know that, if given the choice, I wouldn't change one little bit about Evan...because that would change HIM. I'll take the "bad," the frustrating, the exhausting, the aggravating, the just plain weird...because of all the "good," the sweet, the curious, the funny, the loving, the SMART.
 
He's Evan. Evan who may be a little quirky. Evan who may need a little more time and experience before he hits his stride. But just Evan. And that's more than good enough for me.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

soccer success! ....and then....

Evan is halfway through Season Two of Soccer. Soccer, for the under-4 crowd around here consists of one coach, five or six high-school-aged assistant coaches, and about 40 kids (with 40 soccer balls) running around a soccer fields "practicing" soccer "skills." It's a Parent Participation As Needed League, which for most kids means that, after the first five "gettting acquainted" minutes of the first practice, the parents retreat to the sidelines, cheering wildly and videotaping every second of their child's budding soccer genius in development. Not for Evan. For Evan, this meant that for Every Single Minute of Every Single Practice during Season One, I was out on the field with him, encouraging him, prodding him to participate, and for the first few sessions, literally holding his hand. By the end of Season One, Evan was running up and down the field, scoring goals, playing the games, and generally enjoying himself. And I was Right There with him.

Season Two began right where Season One ended. Evan was happy to be back on the soccer field and thrilled beyond belief to be in the midst of the celebrity Coach John once more. (Coach John, who, by the way, may very well be the nicest, most patient man on the planet. And who, I'm projecting here but I think I'm right, has a special place in his heart for My Evan....with whom he spoke many times during the practices about trucks and hawks and whatever else happened to be on Evan's mind at the moment.) But I never left his side...

We missed last weekend's practice due to the fever virus that reared its ugly head once again in our house, but were back today, bundled against the cold and looking forward to another Mommy and Evan Soccer Practice. Only this time....after the first five minutes or so....while Evan was participating in the Red Light/Green Light game....I quietly retreated back a few steps. Evan kept looking back to me to make sure I was there, but after a reassuring wave from me, he went back to the game with the rest of the team. After a few minutes, I took a few more steps back...and then a few more, until I, too, was On The Sidelines! I kept my eyes glued on my little boy, not wanting to risk him catching me paying attention to anything other than him. And he was doing great!! Running when the kids were running....freezing when the kids were freezing....sitting in the Magic Circle at midfield when the rest of the kids were sitting in the Magic Circle....running back to the sidelines to get water when the others did the same!

And then....BAM!!

Five feet from the water bottle on the sideline, and while running with a Huge Proud Smile on his face, Evan got totally bulldozed by another kid. He got pummeled to the ground and landed in a little heap. It was a complete accident, and he was completely fine, but he was Embarrassed. Really humiliated. Parents were "Aww"-ing and asking if he was okay and I could tell he just wanted to disappear. I scooped him up and checked to see if he was hurt, and he just melted into my arms, his face hidden beneath his hooded sweatshirt. As the tears just streamed down his face, he clung to me saying, "I just can't go back out there. I just won't."

And so he didn't. He spent the rest of the practice curled up in my lap, sharing strawberries with Max. He lit up a bit when Coach John came over to see if he was alright, and he did join the team to run through the "tunnel" that the parents form at the end of the practice, so I'm optimistic that he'll be brave again next week. I hope so.

Lesson Learned:
One step forward, two steps back. Or rather, one step forward, one faceplant into the grass back. Poor baby.

Friday, March 25, 2011

this is how we do it

You only THOUGHT you knew how to eat yogurt. Turns out, you've been doing it wrong. Max has mastered how to eat it right. First, he digs in...

Each bite is to be savored.

Don't be afraid to really get in there.

When the bowl is empty, feel free to enjoy the drops straight from the placemat.

WARNING: You may experience feelings of sadness or loss of interest when you realize that the yogurt is gone.

Lesson Learned:
Life is good when you're a baby. And your bowl is full.

the last resort

Today at Quiet Time, I resorted to bribery. I told Evan that he could have Veggie Chips if he would Just Play One Game With Me. His choice: board game, card game, puzzle, whatever. But before he could eat his Favorite Snack in the Whole Wide World, he had to play a game with me that did NOT involve me flying an imaginary helicopter around our house while searching for the imaginary killer whale that needed to be rescued. Mommy's tired of flying helicopters. I'm also tired of driving make-believe work trucks to make-believe work sites and building (and demolishing) make-believe skyscrapers. And, to be perfectly honest, even the brand new Pretend We're Pirates and You're a Bad Pirate Who's Trying to Find My Hideout game isn't doing it for me. I want to play a game with game pieces and rules that I know up front (and don't change mid-game like when, for example, I find the Hideout but it turns out I was supposed to be looking for the Pirate Ship all along). 

So I "offered him an incentive" to get him to do what I wanted him to do. What? 

Candy Land was the game of choice. 



I don't know if any other parents out there are in this position, but I swear it is like pulling teeth to get this kid to play with me. It's not that he's super independent or anything. Oh, no no no no no...it's not that at all. He needs me to be right next to him all the time talking about what he's playing with or playing along as part of his imaginary scenario (but I'd better get the storyline right or there's gonna be drama). But, aside from the occasional Game Through Bribery or We're Putting This Puzzle Together First AND THEN I'll Be a Worker Man compromise, that's the extent of our interactive playtime.

That's okay. I'm not taking it personally or anything.

[sniff]

But I'm also not above bribing my kids. There. I said it.

Lesson Learned:
For what it's worth, I only had to bribe him to start the game. He enjoyed every step along that rainbow trail....even when I reached the Candy Castle first. He's such a good sport.

But he still won't look at the camera when I ask him to smile.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

shenanigans

I love St. Patrick's Day. I just do. It's fun and easy and just a little bit sneaky and it means that Spring really is right around the corner. And this year, I was able to do something that I've wanted to do for a REALLY long time, but would have felt funny doing before now....you see, you just really need a Big Enough Kid to justify building a Leprechaun Trap. 


My Big Enough Kid and I have been planning for about a week. We talked about what would attract the Leprechauns to the trap...what they love:  green and gold and cookies. Probably. We weren't sure about the cookies, but Evan assured me that "Everyone loves cookies. Even I do!"


And we talked about how to "trap" the little rascal. The box was a no-brainer. But what if the Leprechaun knows how to lift that box top once he's in there? Evan looked at our supplies and decided that glue, applied to the bottom of the box, would make the Leprechaun stick. Smart kid.

So we taped some string to the inside lid of the box and tied some Gold Coin Cookies (mini sugar cookies with altogether too many yellow sprinkles) just over the Glue Trap.


Evan borrowed a ladder from his fire house to help the Little Leprechaun up.


We picked the perfect location: right inside the front door--which we will leave unlocked, per Evan's instructions.

And then we wait!

....

Well, we waited until about 10 seconds after the kids were in bed. Then I took care of the Leprechaun bait, careful to leave some purposeful crumbs.

A trail of gold coins leads the way from the trap (which has a little hole cut out of the side, that sneaky rascal) to a little St. Patrick's Day treat for the boys.


Lesson Learned:
Our dinner conversation tonight went like this:
Evan: I'm so excited to stay home all day tomorrow.
Me: We're not staying home....it's a school day.
Evan: Oh.......After you drop me off at school tomorrow can you come back home?
Me: Um, I guess so...why?
Evan: Well, someone needs to keep an eye on the Leprechaun! We don't want him to escape!
Me: ...Oh......Well, you know, IF we DO catch a Leprechaun, we can't keep him forever.
Evan: Yeah, I know. Just until this Patrick's Day stuff is over. Then we'll let him go.

[gulp]  So.....I guess tomorrow's lesson will be, Sorry, Kid. Guess your Trap just wasn't good enough to catch a leprechaun.

Is this going to kill the holiday for him...or motivate him to come up with an even more clever Leprechaun Trap design next year? Wish I'd thought this through a bit more.....

Saturday, March 12, 2011

fine motor development kit

In our recent research into Sensory Processing Disorder, one of the components/red flags that we keep reading about again and again is a deficiency in fine motor coordination. While Evan excels at fine motor dexterity, especially when it comes to the manipulation of little things (Playmobile toys, small truck parts, etc.) his fine motor coordination in terms of hand strength could use some development.

Without developing this strength, he will be unable to master the skill of writing, WHICH, by the way, isn't acheived by most children until the age of SIX AND A HALF, despite what Kindergarten teachers would lead you to believe (remember, I'm a former kindergarten teacher. I know, too well, the sometimes unfairly high expectations we hold these little kids to.). So even though he *shouldn't* have to be able to write until he is in first grade, the reality is that he *will* need to write in Kindergarten--the FIRST DAY of Kindergarten, and before. So, in an effort to give him the tools he needs to succeed without pushing him too far, too fast, I've put together a Fine Motor Development Kit filled with activities that strengthen these fine motor skills in a fun and non-writing way.

Lacing Cards
You can buy these anywhere. I had a set in my kindergarten classroom that I found at the dollar store. I made these. I printed out half-sheet-sized images on heavy-weight cardstock (my pictures are from my collection of Sara Kate Kids designs that I already had on the computer. You can use clip-art.) and cut them out with a wide border around the image. I covered them with contact paper on both sides to give them an almost laminated quality.

Using a hole-puncher, I punched holes, about every inch or so, around the edge of the image. Doesn't have to be exact.
I loosely measured the string by stretching it around the perimeter of the image and adding five inches or so before cutting. I taped one end to the back of the card and wound tape around the loose end to prevent fraying.

Play Doh
Play Doh all by itself is great for developing fine motor skills and hand strength, but I adapted it to mimic an activity I've seen in many preschool classrooms--I added beads and tweezers (I used large, play tweezers, but regular ones would work, too).
It gives the kids a concrete task--to use the tweezers to remove the beads from the Play Doh--and gives them an additional tool to manipulate.

Beads and Pipe Cleaners
This is another lacing activity, but it requires the little hand to hold those little beads straight and steady. Pipe cleaners are a good first step to stringing beads...because they are stiff, it's easier to put the beads on pipe cleaners than it is to put beads on string. Also, the pipe cleaner holds on to the beads once they're on, so you don't have to worry about the frustration factor of beads slipping off the string.

Hole Punchers and Silly Scissors
This one is self-explanatory...it aids in proper hand formation around the tools as well as strength training.

Spray Bottles
We use spray bottles outside all the time to "paint" the driveway/lattice/deck. I thought that these travel-sized spray bottles would make cool spray art with just water and construction paper...
It worked!

Lesson Learned:
Just don't call it a Fine Motor Development Kit. That makes it totally lame.

preschool diaries: decision time

We've been Preschool Shopping....


Contestant #1: The Independent Academic-yet-Child-Centered Preschool
Pros: (There are tons. Here are the highlights.)
It's the same school ("daycare facility") that we had enrolled Evan at for infant daycare when I naively believed that I could return to work....so we were already sold on the basics like safety, teacher training requirements, school philosophy, warm/loving environment etc.

It's close....10 minutes drive time.

It's "School." While I was in the classroom on the tour, the teachers in the room Evan will be in were leading Circle Time. There were world maps and globes on display around the carpet while the class was discussing The Continents. The conversation turned to Canada, then The Arctic Circle...then Polar Bears. This is right up Evan's alley. We were actually just talking about a Polar Bear named Bonnie that turned green. True story: In the 70s, there was a Polar Bear at the San Diego zoo named Bonnie. Her hair started to turn green! When put under a microscope, researchers found that algae was growing INSIDE her hollow hair shafts. Who knew Polar Bear hair was hollow? Well, Evan does. Anyway, as it turned out, Bonnie's swimming pool was filled with fresh water, which allows for the growth of algae, as opposed to salt water, which doesn't. The fresh water/algae was getting into the hair shafts and giving Bonnie the appearance of having green hair. The water was replaced with salt water and the problem of the Green Polar Bear was solved. Same thing happened, by the way, in Tokyo just a few years ago. 

While Sam and I were happy with our choice of a small, church-run, play-based preschool for Evan....we were never really sold on the "church-run" part of it. We're not church people. While Religion doesn't play a huge role in Evan's current curriculum, bible stories do make their way into Circle Time. We were okay with it (and actually, I kind of took the attitude of, "Well, at least he'll learn the story of Noah somewhere" in the Exposure to Historical Literature sense...) but I'm not sure that he's getting anything out of it. Copies of the bible stories are sent home in his communication folder, and he never even seems to remember having heard the stories before. Bible stories just may not be that interesting to Evan right now. But Polar Bears, maps and globes? Yup. He'll soak it up.

Small class size + Large classroom. 10:2 student:teacher ratio. Large, bright classroom with plenty of cozy nooks for quiet time if the class becomes too stimulating.

Lunchtime. If Evan attends this school, he will be eating lunch at school. This would be GREAT practice for eating lunch in the cafeteria in kindergarten.

Field Trips. There are field trips in Evan's current school, too, but at this place, he would Ride The Bus! Talk about great practice for that first big day of kindergarten!

Cons: (just one)
The "half-day" program runs from 9:30-3!!!! We had been considering a five-day/half-day program for Evan but if we went with this schedule I'd never see my Big boy!  However.....maybe it's not such a "Con" after all...in addition to the five-day program, the school also offers a three-day program, same hours. This would give Evan GREAT practice for the full-day kindergarten program he'll be required to attend. AND, it would still give us two mornings a week to stay home or do a fun family thing (parks, picnics, children's museum, etc.). He'll get the same amount of "school" a week, just packed into three days instead of five....and I'll still get my special Evan days before I turn him over to the school system for good.

Contestant #2: The Educational DayCare Chain
Pros:
It's Just Like Kindergarten. It'll be great practice for kindergarten because IT IS KINDERGARTEN. They just call it preschool.

Cons:
IT'S KINDERGARTEN. And Evan will be FOUR. And a YOUNG four at that. He's not ready for that. I'M not ready for that. As much as I want him to be successful in school, I'm not going to Tiger Mother him into kindergarten a year early...even if they do call it preschool.

They only offer a five-day program. But they do offer true half-days.

He would have to eat the lunch provided by the cafeteria.
He would have to wear a uniform.
I don't know about your kids, but my kid eats the Exact Same Thing for lunch every day (and Sunbutter Pinwheels are NOT on the menu. I checked). His lunch has to be prepared the same way and presented the same way on his divided plate every day. I just can't see him eating cafeteria lunch. And a uniform? My kid has issues with sock seams and underwear tags. We have seasonal meltdowns transitioning from short to long sleeves and vice versa. He approves all clothing before I buy it or he won't wear it. I can't really see him wearing a uniform. Maybe pushing these outside-of-his-comfort-zone things would be "good" for him, but really, they're just two daily meltdowns I'd like to avoid.

Contestant #3: Our Current Church-Run, Play-Based Preschool
Pros:
Evan already knows the school, would recognize the teachers, and would know most of the kids in his class.

It's a GREAT school. I love the philosophy of encouraging development on each individual child's timeline, and not pushing kids too far, too soon.

I appreciate the fact that, according to the director, preparation for kindergarten involves more than just acquisition of kindergarten "facts" (letters/numbers/etc.)...but also social and emotional development that will truly encourage school success. The director said that one of the most predictive factors in school success, yet the factor that is talked about the least, is the child's ability to make and maintain positive peer relationships. If a preschool program is all work and no play, kids don't have an opportunity to learn the skills necessary for friendship-building...teamwork, negotiation, compromise, listening, turn-taking, leadership, etc....without an adult's intervention. This is what Evan needs: time to play, time to develop friendships, time to learn the social skills necessary for school, and life, success.

Cons:
Hmmmm....this one is a bit tricky, because I truly feel as though our current school would be a perfect choice for most kids. But Evan isn't "most" kids. He's MY kid. So I'm allowed to be extra picky. I think it was the PERFECT first school experience for Evan. He needed a low-stress, high-support, warm and loving first time away from home. His teachers love and "get" him (and he loves them!). They have given him a chance to warm up to school, and are now going to start pushing him a little more to encourage engagement and participation.

HOWEVER: I presume that Evan will be going to kindergarten after next year (I have no reason to believe otherwise--he does, after all, know all of his letters, sounds, and numbers, can add and subtract to about 10, is curious, loves to be read to and to look at books, and shows a keen interest in learning) and I couldn't help but notice how, during our conversation about the 4s program, the director kept bringing up the fact that the school offers a junior kindergarten class after the 4s class. It was mentioned as the ideal transition between preschool and kindergarten for Evan. I'm not ready to hear that Evan won't be "ready" for kindergarten. It's my job, as his mom, to GET him ready for kindergarten. If we find, at the end of NEXT year, that he could use another year of maturation/confidence building, then I will agree to hold him back. But don't assume that he won't make adequate social progress in the next 18 MONTHS to get there! The director of the Independent Preschool spoke of Individualized Instructional Goals and Plans that address the particular areas of weakness that each student faces. Together with the parents, the teachers identify and teach towards the areas that the students most need to develop in order for Each Student to achieve Kindergarten Readiness. It just *feels* like a more optimistic approach to my child's education.

And, to be perfectly honest, I just can't shake the stories that I heard from Preschool Mom about her son's experience at our school. I'm finding, as I get older, that I believe that there really isn't such a thing as coincidence. The fact that I should find this mom--whose son is so similar to mine, whose concerns and hopes for her sweet little boy mirror mine so exactly--Right Now is telling me something. For some reason, I was brought to reconsider Evan's preschool education over the last two weeks. I have done sufficient research into different preschool programs and have met with three very committed directors of three very successful schools. I'm not judging the schools as better or worse places of learning, I'm judging them for Best Fit for Evan.

Lesson Learned:
It's not a bad thing, in motherhood and in life, to change course as you learn more information. Over the past six months, we've learned a lot about Evan. Over the past two weeks we've learned a lot about preschool programs. We have put the information together and have found, what we believe to be, the Best Fit for Evan. He will be attending the Independent Academic-yet-Child-Centered Preschool. And we couldn't be happier about our choice.

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.

Friday, March 4, 2011

getting our hands dirty....or not

We woke up this morning with No Plans for the day. This almost never happens. We decided to have a Jammie Morning, which means we stay in our jammies all morning, and open up that art cabinet that has been neglected of late.

Max found finger paints!

 Evan found paint brushes! (The artist did not wish to be photographed.)

Evan is not a finger paint kid. Nor is he a Play-Doh kid or a dig in the dirt kid. Evan is a Tool Man. He knows the right tool to use for the job, whether it's a paintbrush, a rolling pin, or a garden spade, so that his hands stay clean. (Sensory Processing issues? Yup. We're exploring that possibility. More on that another day.) While Max and I were finger painting (which, I admit, is slightly outside of my comfort zone, as well) I said to Evan, "You know, honey, they're called finger paints because you're allowed to use your fingers." He kind of laughed a nervous little laugh and said, "Ha, ha...but yeah, then I'd just be all messy."

"Messy is okay!" I reassured him (and myself) "It's really easy for me to clean up a finger paint mess, Ev, so it's not a big deal. You wouldn't have to be messy for long. Do you want to try it?"

[more nervous laughter] "I think I'd rather just use a paint brush, if you don't mind."

After I cleaned up Max's mess and Evan's not-a-drop-of-paint-on-the-drop-cloth area, we decided to make a different kind of mess. A hands-stay-clean kind of mess. A yummy kind of mess....


Lesson Learned:
The masterpieces of the morning: