Parenting

Do your toddlers go to school?

Last week, Syona had her first morning at preschool… sort of.

We started our search for an appropriate early education program for Syona last winter. Before she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy I had a lot of assumptions of what our life would be like and that included her going to a Montessori program in our area. However, that idea was quickly turned on its head because of Syona’s special needs. Syona’s therapists explained to me that Montessori programs tended to have a slightly stricter curriculum and would be less flexible with Syona’s special needs than a preschool program.

A couple of calls confirmed this. One school said they would love to have her but weren’t able to accommodate special needs, which I appreciated because it was honest. A conversation with the “principal” at another program was a different story. She proceeded to tell me that they had kids that were “slow” (not appropriate language for an educator to use when you are talking about kids with intellectual disabilities or cognitive delays) and they didn’t get much out of the program. She then repeatedly asked me if my child was ready for school. I answered her question, explaining that Syona was ready for school, in fact it would be good for her development, and all her therapists were on board with it. She continued to ask the same question several more times. I ended the conversation saying that I didn’t really think their “school” was a proper fit for us. In retrospect I wish I had been a little more direct and explained why the conversation she had with me was inappropriate and offensive on several levels.

We visited a couple of other programs that would have been happy to have her but the physical space wouldn’t have been a good fit because of Syona’s gross motor challenges. A few others
suggested we get her a one-on-one aide, which wouldn’t have worked because our purpose was to have Syona socialize with other kids (if she had an adult devoted to her, that is who she would have focused on).

We found a place that was a perfect fit for us in a private preschool with a big space, less kids and an in-house resource teacher that was an extra set of hands in the classroom for any kiddos that needed some additional help. Syona would attend half-days, twice a week in her first year.

We’re still working out what kind of gear she needs for school (that will be a whole other post!) but most importantly the teachers that run the school are warm, caring, accommodating and fair.

Syona’s transition to school will be gradual on the advice of her teachers. Last week I stayed with her and participated in much of the playing, though the teacher did take her away for a part of the morning and I hid away out of sight. There were some loud tears but I think those will subside as the weeks go on. And I’m looking forward to getting to the point where I can just drop her off and head out for a couple of kid-free hours.

But I also have some anxiety. Though we’re always happy to leave Syona with any number of the ready and willing babysitters (my parents, Dilip’s parents or our siblings), this will be the first time she will be left with non-family.

However, it is time. Syona needs to be around other kids. It’s important for her development in so many ways. And she is finally at the stage where she is actually starting to notice other kids. And it’s time for me, too. Because of Syona’s special needs, my parenting style is significantly different than what I would be naturally inclined to do. I document a lot of things to share with her doctors and therapists, am constantly researching and organizing our schedule and am much more hands on than I think I would have been had Syona fallen into the “typically” developing camp. And here’s the other surprise. I really enjoy playing with Syona. It is so much fun. But it’s time for Fisher-Price Little People to take up less of my life and Syona and I to have a bit of independence from one another.

I’m really excited to see how she changes after going to school. And like I said, the teachers at this school seem so fantastic that I think Syona will benefit greatly by having them in her life.

The one thing I can’t wrap my head around is how quickly the time passes. It wasn’t that long ago that I was holding my little girl for the first time, and she’s starting preschool already. I can’t quite imagine how I will feel as each of these future milestones passes, but I can imagine that the years will only speed up (except maybe the dreaded teenage years, which I expect will feel much longer than they actually are)!

Did your children go to preschool or other early education program? What are your tips to help with the transition?