All Aboard the Kindergarten Train

March 3, 2010

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(This is a post about my older son Graham.  I have written about him before both here and here.)

The kindergarten train will be leaving the station in the fall and we are trying to figure out how best to get on.  The rules, boundaries, and schools have all changed just this year in our neighborhood of Seattle.  A year ago we could have applied Graham to at least 4 public schools close to us and, if he had been accepted at any of them, the district would have bussed him there.  Our fair city is trying to implement a new plan in which children go to their neighborhood school instead of having multiple options.  I definitely agree with this philosophy.  Why have neighborhood schools at all if the kids are going to be bussed elsewhere?  It is a waste of time, resources, and gas.  But.  What if your “neighborhood” or “reference” school doesn’t actually exist?

This is the conundrum that we face.  Our school is called McDonald and it will not actually be a school until the day after Labor Day.  It is being created as I type.  Not only that, this as yet non-existent school will be housed in a temporary location until the current location (which is a short walk from our house) has been renovated.  In two years.

If I had just a regular old kid, this situation would make me a little nervous.  Kindergarten is huge.  Going to a technically non-existent school ups the anxiety.  Where are the teachers going to come from?  Who is going to be the principal?  Add into the mix that our child has some special needs and I am consumed by thoughts of kindergarten.  Will my child really get the services that he has rights to by law?  I have become that mom.  Well, not entirely.  I’m not going to meetings or writing letters to the governor.  I’m just worrying about Graham.

So, we’ve done some homework.  We’ve looked into several private schools – none of which seemed right – and we have asked a lot of questions about the public options.  Basically, there are three. One is to just go to McDonald.  One is to apply to our “option” school which is an alternative school and if he gets in, he would get bussed there.  The third option is that he will, as a special needs student, automatically get applied to a very special place called the EEU.  This is a mixed classroom of special needs and typically developing children and it has a tremendous reputation.  Acceptance is by lottery.  Seeing as there are ten slots for over 200 children, we are not holding our breath.  Plus, the EEU is kindergarten only, so we would be facing this whole problem again in a year anyway.

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This is where it is a blessing to be a mellow person.  Given the choice between worrying and not worrying, I usually choose not.  Especially about things that are still off in the future and over which I have little control.  I do keep reminding myself that we are not locking in to a school until the end of time.  If we make a mistake, we can always correct it.  We have been on top of his issues since he was about 22 months old.  We will not let him slip through the cracks.

Some very good news that I can share is that during a teacher conference at the end of January, Graham’s developmental preschool teacher says that he is doing really well.  So well, in fact, that she without question recommends that he attend a “regular” kindergarten.  There are special programs in a few schools around the city which are known as “transitional” kindergarten classes.  They are for children who are technically old enough but not ready enough to join their peers.  At the end of a year, they either go on to first grade or they go to a regular kindergarten.  His teacher thinks that is not the place for him.  That with the services he is entitled to, he can function, and perhaps even thrive, in a regular class.

(I cannot tell you how amazing it is to sit before your child’s teacher and his speech therapist and to have them tell you, several different times, what a nice kid – what a great kid – you have.  To hear the hope and certainty in their voices.  To know that there are two more people rooting for him.)

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More good news is that Graham learned to ski.  I wondered about this.  He is kind a timid kid and his biggest challenge is with receptive language.  His hearing is fine but he doesn’t process language the same way you and I do.  He does best if someone is right on his level talking to him.  So, I wasn’t sure how ski lessons were going to go.  We considered doing private lessons for him but they were prohibitively expensive.  Thankfully, the week we were in Sun Valley things were very quiet.  We signed him up for group lessons for two days and he had the teacher all to himself.  He went on the chairlift and was full on going down the mountain in snow-plow form in 2½ days.

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Before the holidays, a teacher in Graham’s other preschool pulled me aside.  She brought out this drawing that Graham had done.  She told me she was looking at a ruler with him and that he wanted to draw it.  Graham has always been fascinated by letters and has known his alphabet for a long time.  He has been able to write his name for over a year.  But, while he knows his numbers, I’ve never seen him write them.  She told me she watched as he traced the ruler and then carefully copied down what he saw.

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If you have read my earlier posts about Graham, I probably don’t have to tell you that tears came to my eyes when I saw this ruler.  Only some of the numbers are backwards and he fit them all on.  Sometimes I wonder what is going on in that little head of his.  I wonder what is going in and what is sticking.  I wonder why he can’t seem to grasp very simple concepts and yet can write numbers from one to twelve (and beyond) on his first shot.  I think about all the millions of things that he needs to learn before he is launched out into the world.  I worry how he can go to college if he can’t learn to tie his shoes.  Or he can never make sense of the concept of brother and sister and he calls most women “him”.

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But this ruler.  He just looked at it and it all clicked.  I was reminded that, during his testing, he was able to identify numbers that he had never seen before.  They asked him to find “84″ and I watched his face as he scanned his choices and mouthed “eight four” and chose correctly.  I never taught him that.  At that point, he couldn’t count past 20.  These amazing things he does from time to time give me so much hope.  We drove by a small museum in Seattle the other day and he said, “Remember – we got pictures there.”  Yes, we did some family photos with a friend who is a photographer and we parked right in front of that museum.  We did those photos for Spencer’s first birthday.  That was two years ago.  He not only remembered something that happened when he was barely three years old – he knew exactly where it happened and recognized it.

And one more thing.  When he was done carefully filling in all the numbers on the ruler, he told his teacher he thought it looked like a whale, so he filled in the fins.  Kindergarten, we’ll see you in September.



14 Comments »

  1. It sounds like he is going to do well Dana, he is a bright boy but I am sure you will worry all the same.

    I wish that we had a choice of schools here. I wouldn’t choose the local school. The only other choice is to move house really. That is a long way of for me yet, thankfully :)

    I hope it all works out well.

    Comment by Jacqueline — March 3, 2010 @ 9:50 am

  2. I am so glad Graham is doing well-what a talented son you have. He is such a cutie too! I am glad you have chosen not to worry, the right option will work out for Graham and your family. I just know it!

    Comment by Maria — March 3, 2010 @ 2:15 pm

  3. This post made my day. I saved your son’s ‘ruler whale’ as my desktop background as an inspiring reminder. My fourteen-year-old sister struggles with many of these same developmental issues (diagnosis= sensory integration disorder), my parents went through all the decisions you are having to face and consider now with school, etc., and i too, find myself wondering what goes on in her precious head all day. the things she grasps and focuses on are incredible; the things she struggles with are tough. but what she loves she REALLY loves and so I recall Yeats: “What matter so there is but fire in you, in me?” and feel hopeful. Your son is lucky to have you as a mom. Thank you for being so open with your experience- please know that you are helping others. All best wishes, Lisa Crabtree

    Comment by Lisa — March 3, 2010 @ 3:01 pm

  4. The teacher who gets to teach Graham next year is very very lucky. He seems like such a lovely boy! Let us know how it all turns out. I’m glad there are lots of options out there.

    Comment by redmenace — March 3, 2010 @ 7:14 pm

  5. One of my Seattle girlfriends has a daughte Graham’s age and she is going NUTS with the kindergarten school thing. I love his ruler. And I love the way you talk about him. I can hear the love in your voice and feel the corresponding ache of motherhood inside of me.

    Comment by Kate @ Savour Fare — March 3, 2010 @ 9:45 pm

  6. Go, Graham, Go! Thanks so much for sharing. You inspire patience in me for my own Graham.

    Comment by Jess from Hogwash — March 3, 2010 @ 9:46 pm

  7. Your posts about your son always fill my eyes with happy tears. You are such an inspiration to celebrate our children and not to worry! Go Graham!

    Comment by Kelly — March 3, 2010 @ 10:15 pm

  8. You have a very good looking and bright boy! I can tell from your writing that you are an excellent mother. I’m confident that whatever choice you make regarding your son’s education it will be correct. Remember to rely on your instincts, they won’t let you down.

    Comment by Shawnee Farnsworth — March 4, 2010 @ 12:48 am

  9. I saved your post to read tonight after everyone was in bed because I knew I would cry. My baby girl has hearing loss and some developmental delays, and lately it has been weighing heavily on my mind. She went to a program similar to the EEU, called Boyer, and it was wonderful. She goes to Listen and Talk, a preschool for kids with hearing loss, and I feel like I have a school full of teachers that are rooting for her. They have made our lives so much better, there is never enough I can say for them.

    But still, I struggle. Still, I cry sometimes at night knowing that life will always be a struggle for her. Nothing has ever come easy for her, and I don’t think that will change. In my heart I know that these challenges will make her a better and deeper person. But as a Mother, it still hurts. Its still hard. I still cry.

    Bless you and Graham. I cherish those beautiful moments when you see the hope for your little ones, I know there will be so many more “rulers” to come.

    Comment by Heather — March 4, 2010 @ 7:27 am

  10. After being abused by Dora for the last two hours during our mutual lice treatment, I can’t thank you enough for giving me reason to shed tears of joy. Yay Graham!

    Comment by Sage — March 4, 2010 @ 8:04 pm

  11. This is such great news! So glad to hear how great he is doing. Been thinking of you guys. I think it is wonderful that the teacher is recommending he go to regular kindergarten, that is a huge milestone in the right direction. Is he excited? Logan can hardly wait for big kid school.

    Comment by Katie @ goodLife {eats} — March 5, 2010 @ 4:28 pm

  12. He is very lucky to have a mum like you cheering him on. Love and support can make such a difference.

    Comment by Lynn — March 5, 2010 @ 10:06 pm

  13. This is the first I have read of Graham–I thought I would cry reading it, and I almost did, but it also sounds very heart warming and hopeful. He sounds very special.

    My eldest daughter starts kindergarten this fall and it is stressful. I cannot imagine what it would be like to have your extra concerns, but I can say without reservation that this is an overwhelming time for all of us.

    Comment by Laura — March 6, 2010 @ 5:32 pm

  14. Even though this blog is supposed to be about food, your Graham posts are probably my favourites. I love hearing about his progress – we’re all cheering him (and you!) on from wherever we are!

    And the whale ruler – LOL.

    Comment by Hilary — March 8, 2010 @ 12:38 pm



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