8.31.2011

Pre-K - a Success & a How-To Start School

Will woke up so excited to be 4, to try bubblegum for the first time, & to go to pre-K!  It was a big day in our family yesterday!!!

Before his breakfast date with Mommy, he tried bubblegum.  He had requested "black" gum so I found a black cherry blowpop.  


He wasn't crazy about it so we tried some race car gum and monkey gum.

Turns out, gum actually wasn't a big hit with him!  All three pieces were chewed halfway and placed on a napkin on the counter!  
Oh well... at least he will chew it a little so maybe it will make his ears hurt less on airplanes. 

He did some morning reading of a fun new book from his Honey & G-Dad.

I made his lunch for school...
I covered his lunch thing in cars stickers and made a ninja sandwich - which I even bothered to draw a happy face & curly blonde hair on it with my food markers.
And when he got home, it appeared that he never even bothered to touch it.  Oh well!
All grown up and ready for Pre-K....
with his new batman backpack & a "birthday hero" batman ribbon!

This is the same flag my mom always hung on our first day of school growing up.  Admittedly, I was torn - do I keep the birthday flag up or do the school one?  
I'm worn out with birthdays this month so up went the school flag!
after a mommy date to breakfast, we met daddy at school.  (Ellie was in her first two therapies of the day with her Lovie)
Walking in...
I'm barely holding it together behind him.  R is telling me that is enough pictures of the back of Will walking into school.
Meeting new friends...

I was so thankful I was there to read the book I wrote and answer questions about Will's body... here I caught him answering questions from some naturally curious cute little four year olds.  He did great but I was glad I would soon be able to answer all their questions.

 Above- showing a zanco & below - explaining that he does have 3 fingers
 When I saw that this was the first activity, I got nervous.  We had not worked on this at home before.
Thankfully, he figured it out & was able to do it all by himself.  I was so proud!

Will with Mrs. S.  
It's going to be a great year!
Showing off his work to a new friend.  The boy does love words of affirmation!

 Circle Time (& almost my time to read)
And then I read this book, "Meet Will!"
I wrote it in the middle of the night last week, used a coupon to have it made into a book at shutterfly, & shipped it asap.
I wanted something to hold in my hands if I was nervous and I knew kids would react well to a story.  Mostly, I wanted something that would show pictures and explain the terms we use (like "zancos" and "hand and feet differences") to the children while somehow focusing on how they are more similar than they are different.
Here's the book:



(It is very important to Will that kids realize he does have hands - they are different but they function as his hands.  So I made it a point to explain that in the book.)
I attempted to have lots of pages just showing that he is a kid - playing pretend...
fishing & eating popcorn...
running...

being a wild and crazy kid... 
just like other kids.
I've also learned that when kids ask us questions about Will, I can simply answer their questions and if I turn it back to them, they engage in conversation and notice that he is really a lot like them.  I've found that people like to talk about themselves so turning a question back to kids works well for us and distracts them from focusing on Will's differences.  (ie:  when asked about Will's hands, I'll say that he has three fingers... and then ask, "how many do you have?"  You'd be amazed at how many children really have a hard time getting this answer correct!)  
In the story book, I tried to pose a question on nearly every page spread - the children loved calling out answers to me...
and I loved that it took the focus off of Will's differences & helped to reinforce their similarities! 
(Except for my question about eating fish - apparently no other child in his class likes fish... and they felt strongly about it.  Will was proud to claim that he loves fish!)
While doing his little homework activity last night, the page said to have the child describe their favorite part of the first day of school and to illustrate it.
Will's answer?
"Meet Will!"
I'm so thankful he isn't ashamed of his body or fearful of answering questions.  Sometimes, he gets annoyed when kids won't leave him alone with their questions or move on - I hope that this is a good way to answer their questions so that they can move on to being his friend and playing.

I loved doing this for my boy and am glad he is at an age where he wants me to introduce him to his friends and help him answer their questions.  I know there will be an age when he won't want me in his classroom on his first day of school.
I should confess, however, that as much as I love doing this for him... 
a little piece of me wished I didn't have to.  I sat in my car and cried pretty hard- cried because my baby is growing up and because he has to deal with challenging situations and questions about his body everytime he meets new kids, and cried because all the other moms brought their child to class, took a picture, and left... while I sat in the background and waited my turn to read a story explaining my child's differences to his classmates and the other pre-K class.  
I wouldn't change him at all... I just struggled with the reality a bit, I guess.

So - a few weeks ago, I attempted to start a "how to" series for dealing with certain issues unique to parenting a child with a medical condition or a difference.
Today - I'll focus on starting school.
When Will was a baby, I researched school and admit that I was scared about the first day of school - knowing there would be questions and I would be leaving him in the hands of someone who wasn't used to answering the questions and who had to watch other children at the same time.  
So, I researched and a common theme I found on various websites and blogs was to read a story about differences to the class on the first day of school.  This sounded great to me so I ordered the books they recommended... and didn't care for them.  One, about a sea animal with an extra arm, focuses on so much that the animal can't do and everyone trying to get rid of him... until the end when a crisis occurs and the animal saves the day.  Frankly, I don't want to compare my child to an animal and I didn't like all the negativity - the "can't."  Most of the books only focused on one limb difference - not 4 like our world.    One was all about a little girl and her arm prosthetic - fine but not really anything like our world (hand prosthetics are often very different even from feet ones.)  
Then, I decided I would write my own and began researching animals with differences (it was later I realized I wasn't comfortable with comparing my child to an animal.)  I once chased a duck around the duck pond near our old house while pushing a stroller and holding my camera because I thought it had a limb difference.  Apparently, ducks just stand on one leg sometimes.
It was during this time that I learned about Winter the dolphin - the star of a movie coming out in September that I can not wait to take Will to see.
But, life happened (aka - crisis in pregnancy with Ellie) and publishing overwhelmed me and seemed unrealistic and I never actually put anything together.
When he started 3 year old preschool last year, I just went to his class and introduced him and answered the kids' questions.
This year, I wanted to be more prepared and then I remembered the story idea.  I remembered several things that a child psychologist I've met with told me about dealing with kids' curiosity and I remembered seeing on Jen's blog that she had printed out some pictures with captions on pages and bound them together to teach her child's kindergarten class about her limb difference... and  in the middle of the night, I realized rather than try to write a book about someone else or an animal with differences and expect kids to make the connection between the characters and Will, I should just write about Will - I had plenty of pictures and he would love seeing himself in a book... 
so I  whipped up a book on shutterfly!
R was asleep and I had to get it printed and shipped asap so I didn't even have someone edit it - which is not like me and made me very nervous.

When it arrived, Will had me read it over and over.  Egocentric? Yes.  Typical four year old boy?  Definitely.

Each parent has to do what their child is comfortable with  - for us, Will loves being the center of attention so a book all about him works.  I'm sure in a few years, I'll be exploring new options.
Will has even asked me to read it to his sunday school class.

I do recommend, however, talking to the other kids - I wanted them to know the terms we use and to know that Will's differences are not a secret.  (If he had a hidden disease or internal condition that wasn't so obvious, I don't know how I would handle it - probably do nothing unless the disease would affect his behavior or health at school... this is what works for me with something that is very obvious.)
I wanted the kids to know it is not a secret and they can ask him or me questions - I want to educate.  
Mostly, I want them to know that he can do everything they can - he is an equal member of the class.

The other thing I recommend is going to talk to the teachers and principals before school starts.  As I've researched schools in both cities we've lived in, I've gone to the principal for a consultation - usually without my child but with pictures to explain.  I've explained that we want Will held to the same standards as everyone else - but we want teachers and staff that recognize and give him grace to get to those standards/ master those skills differently.  Same standards of mastery and excellence, different methods of getting there.  ie:  if a school told me that using his own scissors would not be acceptable and that he would have to cut like everyone else, they would be out.  One school once told me that I could not come to the school to introduce him or teach the kids about differences...needless to say, that school didn't make our final cut.  (Can you imagine being the poor teacher forced to answer questions about limb differences if you've never dealt with them in your life and you couldn't depend on the parent for help?!?!)  I feel like this is my responsibility as Will's mom - at least I've got 4 years of experience in answering every question imaginable!  This helps me figure out if a school will be open to working with us to give Will the best education possible.  I've found that our favorite schools get excited about having Will in their school because they believe that not only will he benefit from them but that all the students will be better for learning about differences. 

Also, I don't want to overwhelm or surprise a teacher on the first day of school so we made an appointment last week to take Will to school to meet his teacher  all by himself.  I showed her how his zancos work and we talked about how we would handle questions and the first day of school.  I was a teacher once upon a time and I would have wanted the opportunity to get to know a child with differences and ask questions to figure out how to best meet his needs without the chaos of the first day of school and lots of other kids.  
Because we did this last week, however, Will was insistent that that was his first day of school and yesterday was his second day.  Oh well.  Semantics.

So, these are my tips for choosing a school and handling the first day.
Any other great ideas out there?
Or questions?
If you are a parent of a child with differences or a medical condition, how have you handled the school situation?

7 thoughts:

Mrs. Jenk said...

Your book is amazing! You are amazing! Will is amazing and of course, the Creator of it all is amazing!

Elizabeth said...

Your book is amazing! I loved it. I'm also proud to say I'm signed up for the Dallas White Rock and was going to see how I go about getting on Will's Team.

I'm so proud to be on the team and truly Will is my inspiration to hit the pavement in the first place. For that, I will always be grateful.

Elizabeth

Mama Bear said...

So proud of you. Your children will soar because of you...

Laura said...

Katie, what an amazing book. I love that last comment and completely agree... your children will soar because of you. I'm honored to call you my friend! Also, I laughed at two things in this post. First, Caroline doesn't like gum either because "it never goes away" (she didn't get that from me, uh??) Second, Matt always tells me I've taken enough pictures. Reagan and Matt...such similar guys!! Love you friend!!!!

gtown1 said...

Your book is awesome Katie---you inspire me to be a better Mommy!
Love you sister...EJ

Kate in Austin said...

Katie. I love, love, love the book you made. It is wonderful! what a treasure you are to your children.

Miggy said...

Hey.

Wow. We have a lot in common. I have a baby girl with limb differences on, that's right, all 4 limbs. I don't know many (any?) other people in this position. I'm just sitting here typing with tears in my eyes from reading this post and finding you to begin with! I was actually sent here by a friend of yours named Kate.

Anyway, I LOVE the book idea. Just tonight my husband and I discussed (again) what it will be like when our little one enters school in a few short years. I just wanted to say hi. Feel free to stop by my blog and check out our family, and particularly Lamp--that's our daughter's blog name. We also have a 4 year old daughter who would probably be pretty easy going with Will seeing how she's pretty used to limb differences.

It was lovely "meeting" you.

--Miggy

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