Preschools, post #1

For the last couple of weeks, Biffle and I have been touring preschools in the Lowcountry.  Starting this fall, Maybelle will be going to preschool, and we want to find the absolute best place for her.  This process has been revealing to me.  I've had a lot of thoughts, so I suspect I'll have more things to say than just in this post.

ReadingBiffle and I have discovered we are big into the Montessori vibe.  This isn't much of a surprise, really--we're the ideal Montessori family.  We love free-form education, geared toward the strengths and needs of each individual child, following children's lead in becoming independent people of their own, and this seems to be what Montessori schools are based on.  The school we toured last week was our third Montessori.  The staff seemed great, the school was wonderful, the kids were happy.  But being the parent of a kid with a cognitive disability has made me aware of a lot of things that probably wouldn't have even crossed my mind to investigate before Maybelle came along.

While the staff at this school said that they were fine with a child with Down syndrome becoming a student at their school, they didn't have any other students with Down syndrome.  The administrative person who gave us our tour wasn't completely sure that Maybelle would be a good fit for the toddler class, since Maybelle doesn't walk and all the typical kids in the toddler class--18 months to three years old--do.*  This woman suggested that it might be best for Maybelle to start in the infant class when she starts preschool in August, so she showed us the infant classroom.

This was an adorable room, and just as in the toddler rooms, the kids there seemed happy.  But it was immediately clear to me on looking at their faces that these are babies, and Maybelle is not.  They had sweet, vacuous baby smiles--their facial expressions were different than Maybelle's.  They had stuff to play with, but it was mostly squishy, simple stuff.  This was what I recognized at once:  although many of the folks in the infant room are at the same level of physical development as Maybelle--sitting up, beginning to learn to pull up and walk--she is cognitively in a different place than they are.  We know that Maybelle is and will be both cognitively and physically delayed, but her cognitive development is really rolling along quickly.  She's communicative, through sign language and vocal speaking.  She is incredibly curious.  She is doing what her occupational therapist calls "impressive emergent reading."  She needs to be in a classroom that will encourage her intellectual and physical development, not in a classroom that is geared toward where she's most delayed.  She needs to be with the toddlers.

We met the person who runs the school.  He seemed...nervous.  Uneasy.  To my great relief, he went ahead and voiced these feelings rather than just pretending that he was fine, because he gave us the opportunity to talk.  We told him what Maybelle is like as a person--how social she is, how hard she works, how much attention she pays to the world around her.  I told him how strongly I felt about Maybelle being in the toddler classroom.  We told him why the Montessori model is a good fit for us.  He asked us questions:  is Maybelle learning to walk?  Does she crawl or just sit passively on the floor?  Can she play by herself?  His questions made me think that he doesn't know a lot about kids with ds, so I was glad that he went ahead and asked them.

And the thing that meant the most to me about this school visit was that he listened, and he believed what we told him.  Although the administrative person who gave us the tour had suggested that Maybelle (unlike the other toddlers at the school) might have to come in and be assessed**, by the time we left the meeting with the head of the school, he said he didn't need to meet Maybelle, that if we wanted to enroll her, we could.  He seemed much more relaxed, and I felt a little bit of an activist rush, like there is room in this school for Maybelle to help folks to understand and appreciate a different kind of diversity than they currently have.

We still haven't made our decision about the fall.

*I will have more to say about this whole walking prerequisite in a later post.
**Notice the potential double standard.  This wasn't the only place where we ran into this.  I will have more to say about this later, too.


Jims said...

The walking requirement is really odd. What would these schools do in the event that they have prospective students who will never walk or whose walking ability will always be limited?

Anonymous said...

Hey Alison,

I worked in two different Charleston Montessori schools for a few years before we moved to Michigan. If you ever have any questions about specific schools and/or Montessori pedagogy, I'd be happy to chat about it. My e-mail and phone number are listed on my facebook page.

I love your blog!

All good things,
Jax Lee Gardner

Alison said...

Jims, you are sensing exactly the issues my next post on this will take up.

And Jax, thanks for that info! I will probably send you an email.

Carrie said...

Hey Alison! Sarah is signed up to attend a church preschool in the fall. She will be 18 months then. They also said they would like her to be walking, but that it will be ok either way..hope they meant it! She is not crawling now so I don't think she will be walking. This is the same school where Isabel has attended for 3 years. They also have never had a child with DS attend. I guess our girls are going to educate these schools and others..parents, peers. Why hasn't this happened before at these schools though?? Do all kids with DS go to the same school? Hope all is well! Thanks for introducing me to your blog! Carrie

Amanda Hollinger said...

Hey Allison, glad I found your blog. Hugh is starting Trinity Montessori next month (he'll be 18 months old then). We visited a few other programs as well and this one ended up being the best fit, even though it's a Christian school, and we don't identify that way (and needed to ensure that Hugh having two mommies did not pose an issue). Best of luck with your decision, and for selfish reasons, I'd love it if Hugh & Maybelle ended up in the same class!

Christie said...

So ironic since Montessori first developed her method to meet the needs of developmentally challenged youngsters!

Alison said...

Amanda, Trinity is our #1 choice! We're waiting to see if they'll have space.

And Chris, I knew this about Montessori--and it is truly ironic.