Sophia started pre-school today. Fiona and another Physiotherapist took photos of her in her various physical positions to help the school staff work with her in a manner most appropriate for her development. We’d actually had a very productive meeting the previous Friday to discuss all Sophia’s needs in great detail with the Head, the School Nurse, the Administrator, the Head of Key Stage 1, Sophia’s Teacher, the school based Occupational Therapist plus Fiona who gave an excellent summary of Sophia’s physical abilities to help with notifying what equipment will be required for her on the premises etc. and Dee has arranged two ‘settling in’ school-based Portage sessions over the coming weeks as well to ensure the Teacher is fully up to date with her capabilities.
The meeting covered everything including nappy changing, toilet training, feeding, health, physical abilities, likes, dislikes and targets. They asked when I wanted her to start and I responded with a – as soon as possible as I really think the additional stimulation / new environment will be good for her. So they agreed the following Tuesday. Holy moly, I was expecting them to say after the Christmas holidays! It’s all happened so quickly now that the interminable wait for educational administration to catch up is over. My baby girl is starting school, one session a week for the first six weeks. I’m going to be going in with her for the first couple of sessions. I’ll probably be hands on the first session and then a bit more hands off on the second session and then just stay for 15 minutes on the third and then have to leave her in their capable hands thereafter as sadly, it isn’t protocol for parents to help out in their children’s classes. GULP.
It’s a 2 to 1 ratio at the Spring School, children to teaching/care staff, but bearing in mind that many of the children need two people to lift them or move them from one activity to another, some have to take time out for meetings (as they did for Sophia’s meeting the previous Friday), two staff are dedicated to toileting and suddenly the 2 to 1 ratio can be 7 or 8 children to only 2 teaching staff. This is not a criticism, the staff are absolutely brilliant, it’s simply an observation due to Government funding for such establishments but this staffing level results in children sometimes being left alone for 5 to 10 minutes at a time. On average, I would say that each child is directly worked with for a maximum of 15 minutes every half an hour, because of course the majority of these children are not able to be left to work on their own, they need someone to be working with them. This is a concern to me. Sophia has 5 minutes off every hour at home, so her down time will significantly increase. However, some of the downtime includes lying on a sound board, or under a stimulation tent of some sort, or, because Sophia can now explore and play with objects she’s interested in on her own, she can occupy herself with musical instruments and light up toys etc., so she will be able to keep herself busy, hopefully. Interestingly, they have circle time every morning with a ‘hello’ song followed by a stimulatory touchy feely item for the day. Today’s touchy feely item was a pan scrub and it occurred to me that Sophia has been having a pan-scrub gently rubbed and pressed over her whole body to help stimulate her, since she was 10 weeks old and I wondered just how much more advanced the children in her class would be if they had had such constant stimulation.
The Spring School is definitely the right level for her cognitively and it is a truly loving and supportive environment, but when I was there, I couldn’t help but remember Fiona and Katherine’s words about considering a mainstream nursery for her for the additional stimulus and I definitely think, judging from today’s experience, that it is something I will want to pursue in future months. She will have a 1 to 1 at a mainstream nursery and therefore will have greater attention and stimulation and she will be able to see more physically active children from which she can learn, especially if I can get her in with development age appropriate children so she doesn’t have big 3, 4 and 5 year olds running around her. I think, once we’ve got her through the next few winter months of sickness and bugs I’ll start looking around at mainstream places to support her school time.
I’m pretty sure I didn’t make a good impression as a new parent though. I think I might be that nightmare Mum who expects too much. At playtime break, halfway through the morning, the children were put into their respective wheelchairs and taken outside for fresh air. The Teaching Assistants (TAs) raced them around for a few minutes and it looked like great fun. I was playing with Sophia on the covered veranda having her stand and play at the sand pit and then putting her hands in the bitterly cold water tub, which she loved. Then I held her up to the shiny dingly dangly decorations hanging down from the veranda roof frame so she could play with them and touch them etc.. One of the Teaching Assistants asked why I didn’t take her out into the playground in her chair to which I responded that she wouldn’t be doing much if that was the case and it would therefore be downtime for her and just having fresh air wasn’t stimulating enough. The TA was a little surprised by my response and after a moment or so, she said that I could bring her walker in so that at break times she could use that and would therefore be doing something during that period. It was an excellent suggestion for when Sophia is more able with her walker. I sensed, however, that she was slightly put out by my attitude although I was simply stating fact for Sophia.
Additionally, I finally met with Kay, the Speech and Language Therapist who’d written to me to introduce herself two months previously, promising a home visit the following month and whom I’ve chased several times as no home visit materialised. Her words were “I thought that seeing as how you were going to be bringing Sophia here, I’d wait to meet her on the premises.” My response: “It’s very difficult to have a 1 to 1 session in a busy classroom and the promised home visit would have been far more preferable for Sophia.” I explained that we were working on eye contact to instigate verbal communication, but that that had come from Portage and not any previous Speech and Language Therapist (SLT) which was very disappointing as we’d only learnt about it a couple of months ago when my Portage Home Visitor just happened to be visiting another child at the same time as that child’s SLT. No SLT had ever mentioned the significance of this beginning form of communication to us and yet we could have been working on this for the whole of the previous year and therefore had lost months of speech and language development time, especially frustrating as speech and language is Sophia’s weakest area of development. Kay agreed that it was highly important, explained why and completely ignored my frustration at not having been told it previously. Grrrrr. I’ll have to ask Dee to get her involved in a home visit to properly assess Sophia – but I’m not holding my breath that it will happen any time soon.
I wish there was a private nursery that didn’t cost the earth and that had only a handful of young children, I think Sophia would thrive in that environment, but standard mainstream places are simply too manic for her needs at the moment. I know they’ll be fantastic with her at school, they are incredibly caring and loving with all the children, their cognitive aim is perfect for her and they will take into account her physical requirements as well, plus the new environment will provide all manner of stimulatory opportunities. I know all that, I really do, it’s just that I want more for my darling girl. Oh I so am the pushy parent about whom eyes roll in exasperation!