Friday, February 26, 2010

A heaping dose of perspective

Today I took Carver (and his 2 year old sister) to chat with the teacher of a local preschool, run by a Lutheran church in the area. The website, their blog, my emails with the coordinator had all been very impressive. I figured it was worth a shot. I needed to know if I had other options, rather than the developmental preschool he's at.

Fridays are generally hard for the 3 of us. We are all tired and we usually spend the morning at home so I can clean, which makes everyone a little cranky. We headed over there before lunchtime just to add "hungry" to the mix.

It was a typical preschool classroom and she seemed very nice. My emotions have been close to the surface all week, I've been literally losing sleep at night worrying about this. I was perhaps not in the best frame of mind to have this meeting. The kids were trying to ransack the toys while I discussed Carver and heard about their program. Within a few minutes, I realized that this was not going to be an option for him and wanted to get out of there ASAP. I wish now that I would've found a way to do just that. Instead, I chased the kids around the room and cleaned up all the stuff they got out, while trying to concentrate on the sweet preschool teacher voice telling me he seemed like a typical preschooler, excited about a new place. Her words were all kind, but the look in her eyes revealed the feeling of "he's a handful, she's crazy to consider this." But, in all fairness, I was so caught up in my own flood of emotions that this might be totally off. Less than 5 minutes into it, I realized tears were coming. I prayed and prayed that I could hold them off to the drive home. But that was not to be. She had to console me, offer me tissues, for crying out loud. That's when she told me about their routine and program and I really knew this would never work. 18 kids, 2 teachers, circle time, letter tracing, art, all good things. But she reminded him maybe 5 times that the neat little house was just a reading place and not for toys. 3 times she reminded him not to go out the back door. Twice he got himself a drink with a cup without asking. 2 seconds for me to imagine their "sensory table" of water/rice spilled all over the floor if Carver played there. She didn't say no. She said we'd have lots of communication, that we'd need a few weeks as a trial to see how he interacts with the class and that I might need to stay with him, as they'd done before with a special needs boy. Clearly not an option for me and his little sister, not to mention the hurt if it didn't work out and the challenges with that.

I cried more in the car, more at home, more on the phone to my sweet husband, more to my poor neighbor, more at home, while I tried to take a mini-nap with Carver. It's been one of those days.

It was crazy to consider a typical preschool, of course. I should've known that. It's brought to the forefront all my worries about kindergarten. Which I do NOT need right now. It also made me extremely grateful that we have a developmental preschool at all, poor parent-teacher communication and all. And that alone is probably worth all the tears.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Help wanted

When Carver’s 2 older sisters were preschool age, I developed a sense of educational self-reliance and belief that teaching is most effective at home. My feelings about preschool are complicated, but the foundation that I always return to is simple: preschool is a helpful social experience that prepares children for a classroom environment. And that’s it. Neither of my girls learned anything in preschool that they didn’t already learn at home. As they progress into elementary school, they gradually begin to be introduced to new concepts and I’m the helper instead of the main teacher. It’s worked for them. It’s worked for me.

So Carver is not fitting this mold at all. I flounder to provide all the sensory input he’d like (which is roughly as much as is humanly possible to dish out) and he isn’t hungry at ALL for preschool “curriculum,” unlike his sisters who soaked it all up. Counting, letters and shapes have come and gone with his interest level. It is incredibly discouraging to see those regressions. And baffling, too.

I have the same motherly desire to do it all, be Carver’s primary teacher and therapist. At the same time, I feel so hopelessly ill-equipped for that role. It is a sticky place to be. I know that raising and teaching a child with special needs requires a team of specialists, with me to hold all the pieces together. Where do you find all the help necessary? That is the hardest part.

We found a fabulous speech therapist who has helped Carver tremendously. I’m impressed with how she pushes him each week, building on what he can do and stretching him just enough. I hear more articles, more complete sentences and more articulation all the time. He works SO hard for her! And when I try to get him to practice at home, I get “No, no, no – Jennifer’s office.” That is clearly the place he associates with that level of effort! And it is SO MUCH WORK for him. You can’t imagine how he watches my mouth, labors with his own to try to make the same sounds that come out so naturally for the rest of us. He just has to work for every sound.

Carver’s preschool is a disappointment. Last year he THRIVED. He came home happy and it was clear that he was learning routines and academics with adults who connected with him. It’s not happening this year. I don’t know what happened. All new teachers came in and it’s just not the same. In all fairness, we do have a few excellent therapists and assistants there. And I believe that everyone is trying hard. But it’s a government funded program, required by law to provide a minimum level of “services” and I feel like we get the minimum services required and nothing more. But what are my other choices? VERY expensive preschools with waiting lists in other cities. What’s a mom to do? I come back to my foundational belief that preschool is just a great social training opportunity… and yet somehow that’s not matching up with Carver’s needs. I have to admit that I need help teaching him colors and letters and all that good stuff. Either I need to find new team members to help me in his education (but WHERE?!) or I’m left to prepare him on my own for kindergarten. And that last option feels like a huge burden indeed.