Monday, March 10, 2008

High Expectations

I didn't go to preschool. Neither did any of my siblings, and neither did John or any of his siblings. We both had stay-at-home moms, and older siblings to teach us, and we did pretty well for ourselves. Based on MY personal life experiences, the whole preschool thing is overrated. There is a lot of learning to be done, and a lot of fun to be had, at home. It IS possible to prepare your child for kindergarten at home. Or is it???

Kindergarten has certainly changed since I was there, about 26 years ago. Kids are expected to know a LOT more on their first day of school than I was. They should know their letters and sounds, how to spell their name, count, color in the lines, cut, and even write most of their letters, numbers, and name. By the end of kindergarten, they should be able to read and do simple math. If the aren't doing these things, they will be referred to me (the school psychologist) and someone will wonder if they have a learning disability.

I think it's crazy. In our district, the birthday cutoff for school entry is December 1st. That means we have a good number of kids starting kindergarten at age 4. Really? Are kids developmentally ready to read and write when they are FOUR? I don't think so. There are a lot of kids out there that we are setting up for failure with such an accelerated curriculum at such an early age. We're trying to make them grow up too fast!

Which brings me to my point. We have a meet-and-greet tomorrow night with the preschool that Holland and Eden will be attending in the fall. My babies. They are making me send them to SCHOOL!!! Can you believe that?

Quite honestly, there are some people who thought they should have been in school this year, but I chose to keep them home an extra year for a number of reasons, the most important of which was/is their health. They are sick enough without being in the cesspool of germs that is school. Getting sick is such a huge setback for us in so many ways, especially in terms of eating and physical development.

But now I get it. Okay, okay. They are turning four this summer, and it is time for school. I may still not be ready, but they are.

The decisions involved have been causing me mega stress and I have done a great deal of soul-searching. Should Eden go to a special ed preschool? Should Holland? Should I look into the hearing impaired preschool program again? Should I split them up or keep them together? Should Eden have an aide? Should they ride the bus? How will Eden get around? Where will she sit? What is the best way to make sure she is fully included? The list goes on and on.

I have made a decision, and I am finally feeling pretty good about it. I hope that tomorrow goes okay so I can let my mind rest a bit.

Both girls are going to attend a regular preschool program through our local school district for four-year-olds who are considered "at-risk." Their prematurity alone is enough to qualify them, but realistically we meet several of the criteria (low birth weight, "nutritionally deficient," chronic medical get the picture). I like this option because there will (hopefully) be a good combination of kids with and without disabilities, and I can keep them in the same class.

I really don't want to have them in separate buildings, for both social/emotional and logistical reasons. I don't see any reason to have Holland in a special education setting. Her only limitations at this point are fine and gross motor delays and small stature. Her language skills are certainly age-appropriate and she is very social. I think she will respond well to some structure and being in a classroom will help develop her ability to listen and follow directions (definitely her weaknesses). She is able to listen and follow directions now, but at times she certainly has her own agenda. She is going to love school.

With Eden, my decision gets a little more complicated. I think she can be successful in a general education setting, but her success is going to depend on how motivated the staff is to making it work and working with us. Physically, she will need an aide to help transfer between equipment (from walker and/or wheelchair to chair and potty, etc), and to make sure her cochlear implant processor is always working. Her language skills are also significantly delayed (more like a 2-3 year old than a 3-4 year old), so she needs kind and compassionate teachers who will take the time to slow down, explain, and most of all, listen. Her skills are REALLY coming along, but if there is too much going on and everything is too fast-paced, she will tend to get lost in the shuffle.

Eden learns best from watching and listening. I see her all the time watching Holland, and modeling her. I also see this in her little speech group at school. She takes cues from the other kids and will often call out answers that she hears from them. This is my number one reason for opting for the general education preschool setting. I want her to be in an environment with other children who have good language skills, because I think she will be able to learn from them just as she has from Holland and her cousins. In the hearing impaired classroom, or the ECDD (Early Childhood Developmental Delay) classroom, most of the kids are limited in their language. Add to that the fact that the ECDD placement is cross-categorical, and can also include kiddos with really significant behavioral concerns, I just don't think it's the best place for her.

In addition to that, I have decided that I want to establish high expectations from the very beginning. With my background, I have had the opportunity to observe MANY special education classrooms, and across the board they have notoriously low expectations for children with disabilities. The push for "inclusion" across the country is founded partly on this. I want everyone to know from the beginning, that I expect Eden to do great things. She is going to learn to read, she is going to learn to write, she is going to play and learn and grow just like any other child. She is going to have weaknesses, but she will also have many, many strengths. That's where I want the focus to be.

Eden is going to have an aide to help her navigate the school environment physically. She will also have speech and OT at school, and we'll consult with the county's assistive technology and hearing impaired programs. Both girls will go for school-based PT at another building (where they go currently), outside of school time. They will also continue with their private therapies.

They will be going 4 days a week, 3 hours a day. I'm still unsure about the bus. It really depends on IF and WHEN we get her power chair, and IF and WHEN she can learn to use it well enough for school. Most likely, she will use her pony walker at school most of the time, with adaptive seating for centers and floor activities. If we only have to transport the pony walker, I may just end up driving her. I'm not so sure I am ready to put them on a BUS anyway!

Aside from making the big decisions, and planning how to make it work logistically, I am just a total wreck about preschool. I wish I could just keep them here with me in our little nest of love and security forever. I know things will be tough for them, and for us, all along the way, but I hope the world will be kind to them and they will find goodness out there. And when things aren't so good, I hope the fierceness and intensity of my love for them will be enough to see us through.


Kristin said...

You write so beautifully! All emotions on the table and straight from the gut. I love to read your posts and as always I am inspired by your strength as a wonderful mother and advocate for your children. You have definitely done your homework in regards to education options, and I agree that our kids are pushed to quickly out of childhood and into the big, bad world. Keep your head up, your children are learning from a great leader on ways to survive in this world and they have already proven they can handle lots of adversity. Love will get you all through!

Emily said...

The first thing that comes to mind is DECEMBER 1st?!?! That's insane! Here the kid must be 5yrs old before September 1st to start kindergarten and most parents who have a boy with a summer birthday (june or later) will hold them back a year. We're contemplating what to do with our little guy who technically has a February birthday but wasn't due until May and is still mildly delayed.

You are entering a new stage of life with the girls. I can only imagine how scary and uncertain things seem but at the same time, they're growing up. They're becoming independent thinkers and are ready to embark on this new adventure. You've put so much careful thought and consideration into everything. I really hope the transition to preschool goes smoothly.

Billie said...

Holland and Eden were born in July, but were due middle of November. Technically, they will be age-appropriate for kindergarten next year (gasp), but I plan to wait another year and let them get two years of preschool under their belts.

Anonymous said...

The developmental pediatrician told us to wait for preschool for our child for at least a year, and then only 3 hrs 3x a week.

I was like you and decided on high expectations. After less than a year of preschool, she blew everyone away and changed/grew dramatically. Now she goes every day for 4.5 hours.

You have 2 Leos and they'll be the same way. It will be the best thing ever.

Sheila said...

I am excited for Holland and Eden! It sounds like you have made really good decisions about preschool, for all the right reasons. I hope the girls have a wonderful time in preschool - I am sure they will make many great friends, and will learn SO much. You will be even more proud of them!
best wishes,

Anonymous said...

For the 100th time I think - how lucky are those girls to have her as their mother (and of course, how lucky is she to have those girls as her daughters!)

I felt so much excitement for you and the girls reading your post. While it is intimidating and has lots of issues to consider, it is so exciting to be nearing this phase and I bet it must feel like such a weight is lifted to have made the decisions after so much thought and consideration.

And as far as being a wreck, even though you have to decide right now, they won't have to start for 5months or so, so maybe that will give you time to ease yourself into it. I bet they are going to love it and feel like such big girls!!

Nitesister said...

Congratulations on being the mother of two school-aged children!
I hope you all love it, this first step out into the world.
Sending waves if positive energy to your amazing 'big' girls!

Arce said...

Kuddos on having high expectations and good luck to all of you.


marion said...

You are right. I also think there is a lot to learn at home and that they start too early. In Spain children start school the year they become 3. The school year starts in September. Barbara was born on the 20th of December so she had to start when she was 2 years and 9 months... My son is already in highschool and from what I see he is not so different frim my friend's kids who live in other countries. What I want to say is that I don't see the point in sending kids to school too early. My kids started very young, at the age of 5 they already knew how to read and write and some maths, my friends kids started much later and my kids now are not more intelligent or qualified than theirs. Compared to some of them they are even less qualified. I think that in Spain we start so early because most families work and nobody knows what to do with their children if they cannot stay at home. It is sad.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful and moving post! I love the ending... fierceness and intensity of your love. It is the most perfect description, and since we (your readers) all feel that emanating from your posts, I can't see how your children wouldn't feel it!

Anonymous said...

What a great mom you are! I can tell you've put so much thought and love into this decision, of course they'll be successful with a mommy like you.

It's hard to let them go, but it really is good for them. I just started my 31 weekers in 3 days of daycare/week, after much, much thought on the situation (over keeping a FT nanny). They are loving it and doing so great so far, aside from the sickness!

hallegracesmama said...

What a difficult decision this must have been. I know you've been wrestling with it for a long time. I have to say that I would have chosen the same path. I love that you set high expectations for the girls. And I have a feeling you won't have to worry about either of them getting the attention and support they need - what a blessing it would be to work with your girls!

Ani said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this topic so honestly. I think its hard for any mom to send their little one to school, and it must be 1,000 times harder when there are so many other things to factor in. From what I've seen through your blog, I know both girls will flourish in pre-school!

Rebecca said...

We are going through a lot of the same emotions right now, only for us it is Kindergarten. My daughter has Rett Syndrome. We have made that choice to put her in a typical classroom. I know that she can learn, and the limitations of self-contained classrooms scare me. The next question for us is do we leave her in full day, or have her pulled out for the Extended day program...Kudos to you for make the choice that is right for your girls.

Jill said...

I am always quite grateful for your posts - they help me as I go through similar situations. I have just enrolled my son in preschool one day a week - he'll be two years old - and i'm a nervous wreck! He's a 27 weeker and developmentally behind, but I have to believe that it's going to be a good thing for him to watch and learn from other kids his age. Because he's an only child, I worry about him getting enough socialization with his peers. And I harbor the sames fears about wanting the world and other kids to be accepting and kind. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and decisions.

Anonymous said...

have you thought about home school for your girls I am the mom of 4 and we are doing homeschool. I myself never went to a private or puplic school just home school. And I want the same for our kids. As for friends we have a support group of 40 families that all do homeschool and we do things together maybe that would be something for you to consider. Just thought I would give you that idea.(maybe you've had that idea before!!!)

Anonymous said...

Hi, Billie--

Just wanted to add that some of my siblings and my best memories from childhood originate in our preschool(which also had a kindergarten).

We were all started in the fall at the age of 3(just barely qualifying with summer b-days) part time and each of us(VERY different personalities/developmental paths) ended up BEGGING our parents to allow us to go full time--- which by the time my brother was enrolled they took out a loan to do.

We went from about 8-5 or 8-4. Our dad used to come pick us up and the deal was he would hang out for half an hour while we played some more on the playground-- or tears would ensue at being DRAGGED away. :)

We remember each teacher, the morning songs and games, the recess tire swing rituals...

Wow. Reading this over we sound rather odd, LOL. However I promise we are all well-rounded individuals with many friends, different talents and professions, and great grips on reality. :)

But honestly, that beautiful place was the source of much learning and happiness.

And for whatever it's worth, your mama instincts sound right on. :)

Lina said...

I understand the feelings of sending your children off to preschool. I sent my son to the preschool for children that are at-risk in our district this past fall. He started at 3 and he was very shy, would not even play near other children, was way behind in his speech along with many other things. We have found that we could not have made a better decision. The preschool has been great and we have a wonderful teacher for him. He has changed in the past 6 1/2 months in ways we never expected. He talks in sentences, he is not nearly as shy as he once was. He will now play near other children he does not know well and he will actively play with his cousins without mom or dad being around, which he did not do before. Preschool is a scary and big world to us, but it is such a great place for the little ones to stand on their own and try something without mom and dad always being there. I'm amazed how much it has helped and changed things for him in such a positive way. The confidence level he has amazes me all of the time. I still feel a little left out of his life but everyday he does something new, it reminds me how important it is that he gets the help that he does. He also recieves OT and ST at school on top of private speech. I hope this helps because I know how scary it was for me last summer making the decision to send him to preschool. You will not regret the decision when you see your girls really come into their own and show all of their new strengths to you.

Anonymous said...


Never mind what some state or district says about when your children are "age-appropriate" for kindergarten. YOU and John know them best.

It sounds like you've done your homework and have chosen the best option for Holland and Eden. I'm so glad that the girls will have both the help they need and interaction with children in a "regular" classroom.

I bet they LOVE school and amaze you every day with what they bring home!

Monique in TX

Anonymous said...

I read your blog all the time. In my district they have Pegasus classes which keep teacher's kids as role models (good speakers) along with kids with speech delays. My daughter loves it. My son is in the contained class without role models.

I do think preschool is great for them. They have learned so many things that are hard to teach at home such as working with other kids. My kids really like it but my son needed the slower paced contained classroom.

I also think it is crazy that 4 year old could go into kindergarten. Here you have to be 5 by Sept and many still hold their kids back to have better social skills.

I was a wreck also about preschool but in the end it has been great. I've also decided to sign them up for a 2x a week MDO for summer because I think they need a continuation of socialization through summer also.

Addey said...

I've never commented here before, but have been reading for a while now.

The one thing I have to say is if parents don't have high expectations of their kids, no one will.

(Although, parents who push kids so hard that they have no other life than said sport/activity/whatever need a reality check...)

It truly amazed me to see the difference between two of my nieces, one who went to daycare/preschool since she was 18 months (admittedly, a 34 weeker, so not too premie...) vs. my ful-term niece who only went a few days a week the year before kindergarten. Just purely on a social level... as they are both equally smart and ready to excell that way...
I just hope I can make the right decisions for my kiddo....

Anonymous said...

Hi Billie
I have followed your blog for quite a while but never left a comment before. I think Eden and Holland are wonderful little girls and you sound like such a terrific Mom! I live in Canada and teach in a classroom for Developmentally Delayed children. We have our own class (8 students with 5.5 staff and a nurse) and also integrate into age appropriate grade classrooms for part of each day. We have an active buddy program where kids from throughout the school join our students for recess times.Our students learn so much from their peers...but likewise their peers learn lots from our students too.I have been a Developmental Specialist for 21 years and I couldn't imagine any other career.We care deeply about our students and strive to help them learn all that they can and experience all that school has to offer.I am sure Eden and Holland's future teachers will feel the same way too! Wishing your daughters lots of fun as they venture off to preschool.

Katy said...

Mine is only nine months old and I've already started thinking about this huge step. Once he turns three, all services will come in the school setting, so he will have to go at least some of the time. I know what you mean about the germs--scary!

I think that this is a great place/time for you to find out what Eden and Holland really need. It's lower stress than real kindergarten, and it gives you the cange to see what works and what doesn't. Hopefully, by the time kindergarten arrives, you'll know exactly what you want.

Anonymous said...

New reader here...

...and yowza, there is nothing scarier than sending your baby, or in your case babies, to school-- especially after a NICU beginning and the twists and turns that we follow after discharge day.

My son Elias was born between 24 and 25 weeks and he just turned 4 in February. He has CP and visual impairment as well as a long list of other preemie related issues. He attends a special ed preschool that also has "buddy bears" or kids without any issues---do they actually exist?--and as scared as I was to send him (I thought the other kids would sit on him) he crawled into the classroom and never looked back. After a month, he followed the other kids on the way to the bus and rolled right past my car with his walker saying, "bus, bus, bus!!!!!"

So I held my breath and called the bus dispatch...

It is soooo hard--and you express all the angst, the research needed, the decision making stress, and most of all the love needed to get through it all.

winecat said...

Holland and Eden are so lucky to have you and Jon as parents. You put such thought into each and every detail.

I'll bet you find that the girls will absolutely amaze you once they get into school.

CP and Me said...

I'm so glad you posted about this, Billie. You touched upon so many of the issues I struggled with as I contemplated sending my girls off to preschool next Fall (27-weekers, one with CP). In our community, the early-intervention preschool is supposed to have a mix of kids with delays/diagnoses and kids without, but because funding is so short it is only kids with special needs who are in the classroom. This doesn't sit well with me for the same reasons you mention; I crave a truly integrated classroom that will provide the right amount of support for Hannah as well as maximize her potential and also allow her to stay with her sister.

Because our girls don't turn 3 until September, we ultimately decided to wait another year, as did you. I think they have plenty of time to be in school and that in the meantime they are getting lots of stimulation, challenge and learning here at home with me and the different activities we do in the community. I also hope that by waiting a year, this will give Hannah that much more time to gain strength, coordination and better motor skills.

The reality is that I will never be truly ready to send them off, and I dread that moment when it comes. But I hope that by waiting another year, and then putting them both into a regular preschool with extra support for Hannah, they will be right where they need to be.

I'll be eager to read more about how you and your family work through all of this. Thanks so much for posting about it!

Shannon said...

I am so excited (OK a bit envious too) that you have found a place for your girls that puts you at ease. I'm still info hunting but getting closer.

Hey! Where did you get the haircut? As you know we are in the market for a new barber ; )

Anonymous said...

Billie, ... as I often do, I can completely relate to your post. We've been going through the same struggles while figuring out where and when to put Mason and Avery through school. Currently our guys are split up, but we've now decided that we really want them together at the same school and we're working to make that happen by the fall.

Thanks again for sharing your thoughtful post! Good luck with your decisions. ... Andrea

Sarah said...

Yes, it's insane, isn't it? I went to pre-k orientation today - the cutoff here is the first of the year, so chances are S will be GETTING ON A BUS at the age of not-quite-five (a year and a half down the road) to go off to kindergarten. CRAZY! She could go to pre-k in the public schools on the bus NEXT YEAR but we chose to keep her in her current school for another year - the curriculum is the same, the hours are better (she can be there from 7:30 'til 6 if need be), and she loves it.

H & E will do BRILLIANTLY in school. I think the choice to put them both in the regular class is a good one - S's class has FOUR developmentally challenged kids (out of 12 or 13) - one with Down's, one who's autistic, one who's got CP (I think) and some other challenges, and one who's got cognitive delays. None of them have the physical challenges that Eden has, but they are completely involved in the life of the classroom (up to and including swimming lessons). I THINK each of them has their own aide, but I'm not sure.

Vickie said...

Hi Billie,

Thanks for posting this. I've been struggling with this myself. My girls turn three in August, and we were asked last year where we were thinking of sending them to school. My one daughter will be attending "regular" school. I'm not sure where to send my other daughter, possibly a special needs school. She has multiple issues, so I think she would be better served in a school for children with special needs. It's always great to read your blog, as we can relate to many of the things you are going through. Yhanks.

P.S. Susan from Canada who teaches special needs children. If you're reading this how can I get in touch with you?

Bake Me A Cake! said...

I love your blog! You are a wonderful writer. Thank you so much for are in my thoughts and prayers.

Anonymous said...

I love your blog and I think you can make the decision is best for your girls. I wrote a few recent blog posts on topic of inclusive education (both positive and negative from kindergarten to university) Although my disabilies are different from those of your girls some of the experiences may apply so you may be interested in reading them. I am an advocate for inclusive education in almost all cases, especially when children have normal social and cognitive development as in the case of Holland and Eden. but I wish that instructors had more training in special education than they currently do.

Katie said...

I found your blog through Emily/Dakota's... I am also a School Psych! I'm in NY state with that awful Dec. 1st cutoff. I actually work in a preschool for children with special needs and it breaks my heart when a child with significant delays has the dreaded end of Nov. birthday. For the families I work with their only option for continued services is sending them to Kindergarten. I hope your girls love preschool. I totally agree with your hesitation regarding sending them and putting them on the bus. I would have made the same decision as you! I will be following your blog now to see how the girls like school!