A Leap of Faith – But Not Really

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.

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7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Emily on August 29, 2012 at 7:30 am

    I think it sounds like the perfect situation for Ro! Can’t wait to hear more updates throughout the year.

    Reply

  2. Posted by karen on August 29, 2012 at 8:23 am

    As I read this, all I could think is that it will Ro teaching so much to everyone else.

    Reply

  3. That’s wonderful! Congratulations! I balked at the idea of a Montessori school for Samantha because I have always felt she needs more *structure,* and the child-led activities would lead to more transition melt-downs. But that’s *Samantha.* I’ll be interested to see how Rowenna does there! Our kids certainly *don’t* need specialized special education teachers. They need peer models and good teachers. Period. (Oh, and therapists, of course, at least for a time.) Samantha’s experience in a typical preschool environment for a year was invaluable. 🙂

    Reply

  4. That sounds awesome. I can’t wrap my head around how it would be controversial since it sounds so great. I hope we can find something similar for Cora next year.

    Reply

  5. I think you’ve made an excellent choice and I can’t wait to see how she does!!

    Reply

  6. I love that you made this decision. We’ve sent all three of our children to Montessori over the course of the last 6 years. My son was first because he was inquisitive beyond his years and Montessori allowed him to explore beyond the day care Centres of sand and water. He did so well, we didn’t hesitate to send our daughter Amiera when she turned three. Amiera has Down syndrome and the small class size and the individualized focus our Montessori teacher provides each child made the decision a perfect fit. Sending our youngest a year and a half later was just continued proof the school has been a wonderful experience for all our children.
    I wish Rowenna all the best in her new school and I hope she finds as much success as all our kids have!

    Reply

  7. Posted by Elisa on August 30, 2012 at 9:51 am

    I’m beyond words excited for all 3 of you! Rowenna will blossom and have everyone wrapped around her finger (although I’m sure she has several people wrapped already!) I can’t wait to hear about all her adventures.

    Reply

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