Michael Mayhem Graduates Preschool

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Michael, with his toy guitar: “This next song is called “Starlight Can Never Destroy A Death Star So I will Use My Laser.”

I went to his end-of-year celebration at his preschool yesterday, which consisted mostly of him attacking me at frequent intervals with flying leaps and fierce hugs interspersed with little girls coming around to take pictures with him.

It floors me to see how advanced academically he is. He is actually writing messages to us–all caps, no lower case, and asking us how to spell words–but writing nonetheless. Julianna does this app on the iPad for homework. It’s called ST Math. It’s graphic math, with no instructions of any kind, which has on more than one occasion made my head want to explode, but apparently the kids do pretty well with it. She’s doing the first grade curriculum and as we were trying to show her grandparents how this worked on Mother’s Day, Michael watched upside down and then started doing it for her. I had to get pretty firm with him to back off.

In part, it floors me because he’s in a special ed preschool, one where the primary focus of the instruction is the kids with developmental disabilities. We enrolled him as a “peer model” through the school district when he was three to try to develop sensitivity and awareness toward kids with disabilities–because of all our children, only Alex, who witnessed and participated in her early childhood therapies, really has an inherent awareness of and appropriate interaction with her. To her younger brothers, she’s just their sister. They don’t tolerate her desire for hugs, and their power struggles over the iPad and books and so on look like every other sibling struggle. They don’t give her one inch.

There’s great value in having that relationship–Julianna is always trying to get away with things based on her disability, whether she’s doing it consciously or instinctively–but I still wanted Michael to at least be capable of making a distinction.

When it came time to move him to a traditional preschool for his preK year, to make sure he got the needed academic preparation, we found ourselves waffling. He seemed comfortable, and the school was right here in the neighborhood. Often, we bike to and from. The kindergarten teachers at the Catholic school said, “Ah, don’t worry about it. He’ll be fine.” And so we left him in place for a second year.

His teachers at Early Childhood Special Ed have told me repeatedly how seriously he takes his job as peer model, but I always thought that was just teachers being nurturers; I didn’t take it that seriously until one day, Michael and I went out with my friend and her son, who is a couple years younger than Michael, after Jazzercise. The boys jumped around, climbing on and under things and generally being normal little boys while we talked and tried to keep their exuberance (and potential for damage) contained to one corner of the cafe. When it was time to go, Michael’s little friend did not want to go. It was like a switch flipped in Michael. His tone of voice gentled, he helped his friend put his coat on, he held his hand and led him out the door. My jaw hit the floor.

It will be interesting to see how the experience of being a peer model shapes his future character. In the meantime I highly recommend it for anyone looking for an inexpensive and extremely enriching option for preschool. Because clearly, it didn’t harm his academic potential at all.

In any case, such is the world of my littlest guy as the school year closes. I’m having so much fun with him.

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Preschool Hassles (a 7QT post)

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Nicholas needs to go to preschool. He’s extremely precocious and determined that it’s his turn right now. He puts on Julianna’s shoes, shoulders her purse, and says, “I’m going to ‘chool now. I will see you on Wednesday.”

To keep the expense and inconvenience factor low, we planned to send him to the early childhood special ed center in our neighborhood as a peer mentor next year. A peer mentor is a typically-developing child who models appropriate behavior and skills for the kids with special needs. We had Alex screened when he was four, but eventually decided his entire toddlerhood had revolved around Julianna, and he needed something just for him. That’s not the case with Nicholas, so I called up the school district a while back to schedule the “DIAL” screening. And this week, we went. I came out with my ears smoking.

One: not family friendly.

The cover letter for the paperwork (which I didn’t get till I got there) included this: Please bring only the child to be evaluated, in order to avoid distraction. I understand that, but what are my options? Hire a babysitter? I don’t think so! This is the next in a long line of un-family-friendly policies that smack me in the face on a daily basis…such as the concert that would have made me buy a ticket for my three week old baby. If you want people to bring up a new generation of concert goers, don’t make it so hard for them to come!

But I digress.

Two: the paperwork annoyance.

On the phone I was told I had to fill out “a couple of pages.” Which means four.

Three: none of your business.

As part of the health form, I had to tell the school district whether he rides in a car seat and whether he wears a helmet while riding a bike. While I appreciate the safety concerns (of course he rides in a car seat. Duh, it’s the law!), the answers to those questions have no bearing on the school district. It is simply none of their business. This is part of that “mission creep,” for lack of a better word, that makes medical professionals try to be developmental experts (i.e. the questions they ask at well child visits. I know I’m in the minority in this, but eh bien, that’s my opinion).

Four: not family friendly, part two

On the forms, I was required to provide names and birth dates for all other children living in the household. They left me two blanks. Imagine me hissing with (overdone, I admit it) righteous anger as I had to write Michael in the blank space beneath.

Five: the guilt complex

When it was all over, Nicholas scored in the 60th and 80th percentile on cognition and communication, but only the high 40s on physical skills. Which makes him marginal for acceptance into Title 1 preschool. Because…are you ready? He can’t cut with a scissors, and he can’t hop on one leg. I thought, Are you KIDDING me? Give this kid a scissors and he’ll learn to use it in three minutes. After he shreds my couch.

Six: the bait and switch

And after all this annoyance, it turns out that they “generally don’t accept peer mentors until age four.” I wanted to say, “Well, sure, that makes sense, but don’t you think somebody could have told me that BEFORE I waited six weeks till you decided he was old enough to make the appointment, and BEFORE we waited three more weeks for the appointment, and BEFORE we spent an hour and a half that we could have all spent doing more productive things?”

Seven: the up side

But at least now I’m looking for other preschool opportunities for him. And those are opportunities that may be better in the long run, anyway.

Have a great weekend!

7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 167)

Waving Goodbye

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There’s a moment every day that I love. It comes in the freshness of the new day, on the tail end of the morning rush, after rousing and diapering and brushing and eating, when we hear the bus lumber around the bend and we rush outside to meet it, Julianna a little ball of excitement, shrieking with glee at the sight. It comes as Nicholas sits in the open doorway watching Alex and I put her on the bus and then hop off and stand outside waving.

It comes as Julianna looks out the window and grins so wide that you can hardly believe her face can hold it, and waves back.

It comes as the bus pulls off and Alex runs beside it, waving goodbye—as I stand in the driveway, waving too, and she keeps us in her sight until the bus rounds the corner.

Ahhhhhh…life is good.

Seven Clown Circus 

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Mamarazzi Monday

7 Quick Takes, vol. 68: a busy week

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Whew! How much can you cram into a week?

1. Over the weekend, we celebrated Julianna’s third birthday:
 

2. On Monday, we spent the day visiting schools. First we went to Julianna’s new school, where we met her teachers and most of the therapy staff. Julianna looked right at home, playing coy with the instructional aide. Stinker. Then we headed over to the Catholic school, where Alex will start kindergarten in the fall, so that he could meet the teachers and see the classrooms. It was interesting to see how he views the school, which we spend a lot of time in as it’s all wrapped up in the church building; he told me it wasn’t a real school. Ah, my son, you will soon know better! (Evil laugh.)

3. And then, Tuesday (Julianna’s actual birthday)…she got on the bus…

 

…and went to school.

 

I was a little weepy. It’s different to send Julianna to school than it was to send Alex. By the time we reached Alex’s first day, it seemed like a natural outgrowth of life. Not so with Julianna, who can’t even tell us how school went, what they did—even if she enjoyed it. We rely on the notes from the teachers, which come twice a week. Christian took the morning off work so he could follow the bus over and walk her inside—just so she didn’t freak out about the transition. Then he retrieved her from the bus when she got home.

 

Poignant…but boy, I got a lot done with two at school and one down for nap!

4. On Day Two of school, I had to take a picture again b/c she was just so cute!

 

5. It was a big week for advocacy efforts, too. PEP-C met on Saturday to mobilize the forces. In the chaos of starting Julianna at school, I was a couple of days late writing the email I was supposed to send, but on Wednesday I sent out the call for people to call the speaker’s office, asking that our bill be assigned to committee. (Incremental steps, y’know.) All day, people kept responding, telling me they’d called and had forwarded the email on to everyone they knew in the state of Missouri. Late that afternoon I was delighted when one of those emails read: “I just called the speaker’s office and she told me, ‘I’ve been getting slammed with these calls today!’” Yesssssss.

6. In the same vein, I was on the news last night! Unfortunately, the video doesn’t seem to have been chosen for inclusion on the web site, but they did do this writeup.

7. Speaking of Julianna’s communication notebook…how do you like this?

 

 What kind of day are YOU having? 🙂

7 Quick Takes Friday–TRANSITION

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My apologies to anyone who tried to look at the pictures yesterday. I didn’t know they weren’t working until dinnertime.

It’s 7 Quick Takes Friday, and today I’m focusing Transition—the process of moving out early intervention and into Early Childhood Special Ed.

1. Yesterday we had Julianna’s very first IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting. In the baby/toddler years, everyone comes to you, and it’s called an IFSP (Individualized Family Service Plan).

2. At that meeting, for the first time in her life, we got some numbers on Julianna. At the age of three, her

  • communication skills land between 13-18 months;
  • cognition (what her little brain processes) is akin to a typically-developing 16-18 month-old;
  • motor skills (a combination of gross motor, which is walking & strength, and fine motor, which is manipulation of objects: puzzles, utensils, etc.) are at 21 ½ months;
  • adaptive skills (how she puts it all together in interacting with her world) are at 23 months;
  • And finally, she has some “Emerging skills” at the 24-month level.

3. One of the things that all our therapists have had in common is an unwillingness to give us these kinds of numbers. They don’t like labeling. They don’t think it’s useful; they’d rather focus on reaching the next milestone than pigeonholing her at a particular developmental level. But I do find it refreshing to have this snapshot—to know exactly how far behind she is.

4. Julianna’s educational diagnosis—for the moment—is “Young Child with a Developmental Disability.” Strange though it may seem, Down syndrome does not qualify as an educational diagnosis. She also has a secondary diagnosis of “Vision Impairment.” That was news: her vision is more an issue in her development than we had realized.

5. It was my first lesson in the way the education system works. The law doesn’t allow them to simply say, “Your daughter has Down syndrome; therefore let’s make a plan for her.” First they had to detail every area of development, tell us how far she had to be delayed to qualify for special ed (uh…duh?), show us every number. Not until thirty minutes into the meeting were they allowed to say, “Okay, her number is ___, which clearly qualifies her.” Part of me wanted to shake my head and say, C’mon, did we REALLY have to go through all that to get to this point?

6. It was an emotional day. We had our very last PT with Gerti, which ended in a big rush to get out the door so I could get the kids to the family who was watching them while Christian & I had the IEP meeting. The service coordinator who has shadowed us for the first three years is also being replaced, so we had that goodbye yesterday, too. Today we have our last OT and Speech therapies.

7. What you may not understand if you haven’t been through it is how close we have become to these women. They are resources and teachers to us, and they work more closely with our children than any teacher in the regular education world ever will. And I say that without exception. It’s not just because it’s one-on-one. They are closer to my daughter than I will ever be to a flute or voice student. There’s a great deal of touch involved in the therapies—especially PT and OT—hand over hand contact, manipulation of limbs, support of muscles. Touch binds people together.

Well, I could go on, but that’s seven, and this is not a particularly organized set of thoughts. I’m recording and processing as I write. Hope you’ll forgive the meandering. Happy Friday, all.

7 Quick Takes-vol. 66

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  1. Alex and I played glow-in-the-dark miniature golf this week. I learned that fluorescent orange + fluorescent yellow + black lighting = one massive headache.
  2. That happened to be the same day that Nicholas discovered pasta. Now, my Super Baby Food book says that children are not allowed to have tomato until one year old. But this 10-month-old saw the lasagna on everyone else’s plate. He took one look at his oatmeal with veggies and said, “NO WAY! ARE YOU CRAZY, woman?” (Those very words. 😉 ) So guess what? Nicholas, like a good half-Italian baby, is eating pasta. With tomato sauce. And doing just fine.
  3. Julianna is officially in Transition. On Tuesday she had her play-based assessment, which means that a special ed teacher played with her and asked her to do things—throw a ball, kick a ball, point to such and such, group colors—while four other women: PT, OT, speech therapist, and school psychologist (now that one I don’t understand at all) took notes. At the end of next week we will have our IEP meeting, and the following Tuesday, on her third birthday, Julianna starts school. Whew!
  4. This week, I also had a rude introduction to the frustrating world of the public schools’ useless repetitive information-gathering. In November, when we scheduled these transition events, the special ed teacher spent 45 minutes on the phone with Christian and I asking questions and taking notes about Julianna’s capabilities. On Tuesday, they watched her in action, and the therapists asked me specific questions—except for the school psychologist, who had to leave ten minutes before we finished, and asked if she could call me the next day to ask a few of her own. Stupid me, I should have realized when she wanted to schedule it, down to the time, that it was going to be a long call. Silly of me, to think that “a few questions” means “a few questions.” The next morning, with Alex at preschool and the babysitter taking care of the other two, I sat down at the computer for a nice long uninterrupted stretch of working on my Advent book—and the phone rang. And it was a FORTY-FIVE MINUTE PHONE CALL. In which she asked me to detail EVERY SINGLE THING that Julianna is capable of doing. Even the ones she observed WITH HER OWN EYES THE DAY BEFORE. Even the ones that the PT, OT, and speech therapist had asked me THE DAY BEFORE. Hello! Talk to each other!
  5. I was furious by the time it was over. And then, to make matters worse, no sooner had I hung up from that one than the phone rang AGAIN—another phone call I had no choice but to take—and this person kept me on the phone for another half an hour! I was so angry by the time this was all over, I couldn’t even write.
  6. And then Christian called.
  7. Nicholas just woke up, which means I’m done writing blogs.

WFMW—Albuquerque the Turkey

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Ah, the joys of preschool humor. Sometimes they don’t even know they’re being funny… For instance, the day Alex came home from preschool singing (to the tune of “Clementine”):

 Albuquerque is a turkey
And he’s feathered and he’s fine
And he wobbles and he gobbles
And he’s absolutely mine.
He’s the best pet that you can get yet,
Better than a dog or cat.
He’s my Albuquerque turkey
And I’m awfully proud of that.
And my Albuquerque turkey
Is so happy in his bed,
‘Cause for our Thanksgiving dinner…
We had spaghetti instead!

Yesterday, Alex brought Albuquerque home. It’s such a charming craft project, I decided to share it. It requires:

  • Paper lunch bag
  • Construction paper
  • Googly eyes

It’s so simple a project, I’m not going to give instructions—I’m just going to show you a front and back shot.

Enjoy!

(This post is linked to Works for me Wednesday, hosted by wearethatfamily.com.)

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This week is a really busy one—much more than usual. I have two long meetings this week—one today and one tomorrow—and doctor appointments for the boys this afternoon (during naptime, of course; when else do you go to the doctor?)—and a Pampered Chef party to host tomorrow night—and on Monday, Christian & I sang one of our neighbors into Paradise. Plus, Nicholas has a fever, and my lungs are coated with gunk that won’t cough up. Thus my hasty and belated posting this week. Hopefully things will settle down soon…