It feels weird to be talking about Kender going to school. We’ve been homeschoolers for so long. It’s all about what’s best for the kids, though. In Kender’s case, right now, a group learning environment seems like the best choice.
Although Kender is still making lots of progress, he still resists being directed and guided in one-on-one play and learning. This is part of what we are working on in his therapy sessions, along with other communication skills like talking about what hurts or what happened. This resistance, though, makes it very difficult for me to teach him at home right now. He doesn’t tolerate sitting down and coloring, playing games, doing calendar time, or any of the other activities I’ve usually done with my kids for preschool and kindergarten.
What Kender has shown that he can do, though, is to learn by listening. He is also beginning to show an interest in playing alongside others. These things are what make a group environment such a good idea for him right now. He can participate or not participate in class activities, as he feels comfortable, but he will still learn just by being in the room, by listening and watching what the other kids do.
Kindergarten and preschool are also a great time for inclusion. Kids in these classes have not yet learned about bullying. They haven’t learned how to be really mean. Instead, they are still curious and inquisitive, helpful and caring. I wouldn’t want Kender to have to go through elementary school. But kindergarten will be perfect. He can learn about social skills and be included without being bullied.
The trick: Finding a preschool or kindergarten willing to accept a 7-year-old and treat him like one of the 4-year-olds. Government school was right out. Quite aside from my complete lack of faith in the school district’s ability and willingness to accommodate Kender’s special needs for blindness and autism, I’m fairly certain that they would want to place him in first or second grade because of his age, then pull him out for resource room activities and special tutoring. This would completely eliminate the benefits of being in a group. My next thought was that Montessori, with their philosophy of child-led learning and multi-age classrooms, would be a great fit. I called four different schools in our area, but none of them would take Kender; they couldn’t deal with blindness and autism, and they didn’t want a 7-year-old who hadn’t already been in Montessori for many years, regardless of his developmental level. The preschool program at our therapy center didn’t want him because he was about to age out, again disregarding his developmental level.
I had given up…when I remembered the daycare at Jackson, where Brian works. Sure enough, they have programs all the way through first grade, and they had a few openings in their kindergarten classes. And they were willing to take Kender!
So today we made a visit to the classroom to see how Kender would do.
It may have looked very different to people who don’t know Kender. But to me it looked like a great success, and made me excited to see how this fall goes.
Kender spent most of the first hour lying on A’Kos. The room was close and crowded, and the other kids were constantly hovering around, wanting to pet A’Kos, asking questions about Kender. Near the end of free play inside, Kender finally got up and walked around a bit, exploring around the tables and chairs. He even helped put away a few things as the class got ready to go outside. Outside, he was again quiet for a long time, huddling on the play structure and listening. But eventually he got up and started exploring. He rode on two different trikes, carried a hockey stick around and banged on the ground, and played with an empty bucket. He interacted with one of the teachers a bit, accepted redirection and occasionally responded to questions. When outside time was over, he helped pick up a little, and he came to wait in line with A’Kos before going inside with the class.
Anybody who knows Kender knows that was a great success!
We left at that point, with the other kids sitting down to lunch. On the way out, I spoke with the director a bit. They seemed very comfortable with allowing the classroom teachers to handle A’Kos (after some training from us, of course), and also with allowing me to add Braille to the classroom and train the teachers a bit on how to teach a blind child. All-in-all, they were hugely accommodating.
Later, Kender told his dad and his sisters about his day. He said, “I went to school. I went to kindergarten at school. I played with blocks. There were bubbles.” He said he had fun.
I haven’t asked how much this is going to cost yet, but we’ll find a way to cover it. I think this is going to be great for Kender!