18 December 2013

Preschool: A Decision

This post is going to be all about the p-word. If you're really sick and tired of me talking about this seemingly endless topic, I do apologize and will attempt to smooth things over with a normal post on Friday. If you're new to this discussion, you can review Parts One and Two of this topic in the enclosed links.

Back when I was in high school or college, I was dating this really cute guy named Matt and I wanted to impress him. He like Star Wars and I'd never seen it, so we decide we'd watch all six movies over the course of a few weeks. Now, to say I knew nothing about Star Wars is a bit of an understatement. I knew four things about Star Wars:

1. The guy in the black get up is Darth Vader and
2. He is the one who says, "Luke, I am your father."
3. Yoda sucks at sentence structure.
4. Princess Leia is the girl with the gigantic buns on the sides of her head.

That's it. The big, brown, hairy creature? You coulda told me he was in Star Trek and I wouldn't have known the difference. The robot? I coulda picked out that he was in one of those sci-fy movies with the huge cult following, but that's about as close as I would have made it. We decide not to watch the movies according to their release dates (4, 5, 6, 1, 2, 3), but in sequential order (1-6). Everything was new for me. When Anakin Skywalker turned to the dark side, I was devastated. I seriously had no idea - it came outta left field.

For those .5% of Americans who are like I was and have no idea what I'm talking about, it's like reading Romeo and Juliet with someone who doesn't know they both die in the end. Finding out someone doesn't want to try cheesecake because they can't think of cheese and cake as being two foods that go together. Talking to someone who doesn't understand that car oil needs to be changed.

To this day, Matt has a good chuckle whenever the topic of Star Wars comes up.

That is how I feel with this whole preschool debate: like young, innocent, dating Jacqueline who was sitting down with no spoiler alerts. I can't imagine Abigail at three. I didn't babysit as a teenager, I come from a very small family where I am close in age to my sister, and I didn't have friends and neighbors from large families with lots of young kids running around. About the closest I can get is to figure out which one of my nieces and nephews are three and try to remember what skills I observed at our last get-together. And to top it all off, my kid won't even necessarily be like most three-year-olds when preschool enrollment time comes around. So even if I was well-versed in three-year-olds, it could only ever serve as a guideline.

Everything she does comes out of left field for me. When she'll pick up a new skill is practically impossible to predict.

This was Abigail a mere six months ago.

She was just taking her first un-aided steps. In therapy, we were working on using the pointer finger and standing without pulling up on something. She had maybe a handful of signs and she rarely used them without prompting.

This was Abigail yesterday.

(She's not a big fan of the dress). Six month is huge for us right now. To try to figure if she'll be ready for preschool in another eight months? I'm dizzy already. But everyone, including me, is putting on mega pressure on me to make a decision.

I said earlier that I needed to do three things in order to make up my mind:

1. Tour the preschool. I need to know exactly what I need to make a decision about.
2. Get my hands on a homeschool preschool curriculum. I need to know if I'm capable enough to teach her the things she needs to learn next year.
3. Find out exactly how her therapy will be effected based on which decision I make.

I've now done all those things. I imagined that preschool was a place where kids go and trace letters, match shapes, learn to color in the lines. And I can't homeschool that. She's not ready. I might as well give her an algebra test as ask her to find the red square. She's not there yet. I don't say that as a "poor me, look at my sad, little child" pity-plea, but as a fact. So when I researched homeschool preschool curriculum, browsed supplement books at teachers' stores, and previewed downloadable worksheets online, I knew it was hopeless.

And maybe that's what typically developing preschools do. But first-year special education preschools don't. They focus on written name recognition, independently taking off coats, and impulse control. They don't just head to art corner to express their creativity, they do occupational therapy and learn to use scissors. Snack time isn't about quieting hungry stomaches, it's a chance to encourage kids to communicate their needs and to use their words.

It's really hard for me to explain this well. Abigail doesn't do those things naturally. She doesn't express her needs. It's a very new thing for her to tell me when she's hungry. She doesn't come to me when she gets hurt. Before I toured the school, I thought it would just be 2.5 hours a day of daycare. But now I realize that it's 2.5 hours a day of therapy. Therapy under the supervision of a very competent teacher with vast experience in special needs kids. And as hard as it is for a parent to admit, it's done in ways and in a setting that I can't replicate nearly as well at home.

Matt said it very well when he pointed out how parent-friendly the school is. We can drop in any time to observe or help out (there is even a two-way mirror so we could observe Abigail without her knowing), we bring her own diapers, we determine how they'd do things when we start potty training, and we can bring her to school, she can ride the bus, or we can do a combination of whatever we want. The teacher is fluent in sign language, she send kids home on Fridays with a list of the new signs they learned (so I can keep up!), and they have very strong routines in place that get kids from where Abigail is (throwing blocks and grabbing the computer) to playing in a respectful manner with one another. Matt said it perfectly when he said, "They approach it knowing she's only three."

I tried to have an open mind, but in my heart, I walked through those doors ready to write off preschool completely. But I walked away realizing that Abigail would thrive in preschool.

Matt and I walked away both in agreement as to what we think we will do.

One of our most important jobs as her parents is to protect her. When she's away from us, everything in her life is a black hole for us. When I pick her up from a babysitter, I don't know what she did or how she felt or if she ate or had a diaper change. It's all a black hole. Of course I can always ask my sister-in-law how thing went, but I can't find out from the teacher every day every thing Abigail did. And not even she knows how Abigail felt or necessarily saw if another kid hit her. I can't send a young, vulnerable, non-verbal child away from me for 12.5 hours a week. After much time spent in thought, discussion with Matt, and prayer, I couldn't look Abigail in the eyes if I did that. If this is the route we take, it has been made very clear to me how each of her therapies would change.

BUT, if she's verbal, if she can tell me what she did, how she feels, and if something went wrong, I do honestly think it would be to her strong advantage to go to special education preschool.

I don't know what all this means for her second year of preschool or kindergarten and beyond, we're just going to take it one day at a time. But I feel so relieved to have completed all the steps and come to a conclusion. It also feels good to have organized and typed out all my thoughts, so if you're still reading, thanks for listening.

Now I guess it's back to making Christmas presents for me.


Anonymous said...

I'm still not sure if she's going to preschool or not...I I think you're saying "not this year because she's not verbal yet, but maybe next year" but I'm not 100% certain.

What an excellent analysis of pros and cons. I've had the kindergarten-at-an-excellent-private-Catholic-school or homeschool debate for my eldest (who turns five next summer) many times over the last year.

We've come full circle and will homeschool, largely because of that black hole. F is verbal, but I cannot imagine sending him to a different environment where I will have no clue what enters into his senses and imagination via his fellow students -at the end if the day there's no way to go back, rewind, recount, and put everything into the proper context for him. -and this ISN'T "helicopter parenting." It's simply recognizing that I have a responsibility before God to educate my child's mind, body, and soul, which includes providing a healthy environment in which to develop virtue.

On the grand scale, I truly believe that, since the family is the basic building block of society, then all of the daily tasks, virtues, disciplines, and skills that can be learned only within the home, in the context of daily family life, will provide my children with the tools they need to function within society as adults and, more importantly, they will learn the virtues, self-discipline and compassion necessary to promote and secure a truly free society.

Please don't take me to task for run on sentences -I majored in philosophy, not English Grammar!

Happy Almost-Christmas,

Jacqueline said...


Good to hear from you! Sorry I wasn't clear - we decided that if she's verbal by fall 2014, she will go to special ed preschool. If she is not verbal, she'll stay home (not to be homeschooled, just to grow another year), and we'll put her in special ed preschool in the fall of 2015 (she'll be 4.5 by then). Our therapists are so much fun, they are pushing for us to decide about this *next* school year *now*! I desperately wish I could make education decisions independent of therapy decisions, but that is not how our system is designed : (

I very much agree that it's my responsibility "before God to educate my child's mind, body, and soul," and do sincerely hope that I can homeschool our kids at least during elementary school for the reasons you listed (well-worded, by the way!) about the questionable influences. It is so amazing to me how much time, love, prayer, and effort we put into making all these decisions about/for our kids that seemed so simple when they were born! I have such a respect for parents when I see their teenager acting mature and responsible, I can only pray I do so well!

I won't take you to task for your run on sentences if you'll pardon my typos ; )

God Bless,