We’ve made a choice for Rowenna that has been controversial for some and a non-issue for others. I want to talk a little bit about our choice and how we came to this decision. Please bear in mind that these are my personal opinions, and by no means expert opinions, nor are they a judgement on what other parents choose for their children.
Two weeks from today, Rowenna will start attending a Montessori preschool. She is the only one in the entire school with a developmental disability, and the first child with Down syndrome to ever attend the school.
We’ve had some people question this decision (after all, no one there is “specially trained” to help Rowenna), but we are very excited.
During the last year, we’ve seen over and over again that Rowenna does best when she has peer models to emulate. Sometimes these peer models have Down syndrome and a more advanced skill set than she has, sometimes they are kids with typical abilities. She is a very visual learner, and requires frequent repetition when learning new skills.
Montessori is all about child-led learning. Everything in the classroom is designed for children – everything is their size, everything is their level. Even the pictures on the wall are at toddler height. (And don’t get me started about how ridiculously cute the teeny, tiny toilet is.) Their time is spent in activities of their choosing, selected from a set of toys that range from fine motor practice to life skills like sweeping or window washing. (really!) The teachers spend the majority of the day on the floor to stay at the children’s level, and the three main rules are “be kind,” “be safe,” and “be gentle.”
For us, placing Rowenna in private school is a way for her to be fully integrated with her typical peers in an environment designed exactly for her. Her teacher (Ms. T) is not a special education teacher, but she has been teaching for years and is incredibly well-versed in child development. We truly feel she sees Rowenna’s unique set of abilities and has a good handle on the areas where she needs extra support.
Ms. T is also dedicated to better understanding Down syndrome. She has read “Gross Motor Skills in Children with Down Syndrome” and “Fine Motor Skills in Children with Down Syndrome.” Seriously. (I had a great inspiration to read those books and they were still dry!) She asked for some resources when we first met her in June, and she has read both over the summer. Then she asked our team of Birth to 3 therapists to come to Rowenna’s classroom, observe her there, and offer suggestions for how Ms. T can best support Rowenna.
That’s what we did this morning. Rowenna got to explore her new classroom – the sink for hand-washing, the painting easel, the guinea pigs. She tried out a couple activities, and our team of therapists had a good discussion with Ms. T. I was completely blown away by Ms. T’s observations of Rowenna. She was spot-on in identifying her current skill set and she had lots of great ideas for Rowenna’s school year. She also asked for our therapists’ contact information so she can stay in touch about Rowenna’s progress – above and beyond anything I expected.
Of course, no trip to school could have been complete without Rowenna meeting everyone else on staff. We got there a little early, and during our wait Rowenna was encouraged to explore the school itself. So she did, waving and offering hugs to teachers as she went. Without fail, every teacher told me how excited they were to have Ro join them this year and they were looking forward to getting to know her better.
Everyone from the principal to the school secretary is invested in my girl. We have a great team at school, and a great team of therapists at home. I am so excited for the coming year!
When hubby and I made the decision to enroll Rowenna back in May, it seemed like a huge leap of faith. She’s only two, after all! And let’s not forget that it’s expensive, and that these people have never had a kid with Down syndrome at the school. But Rowenna has shown me time and again that she is capable, and her teacher has shown me just how invested she is in my sweet girl. It doesn’t feel like such a leap anymore; it feels like a next step.