Last year when Finn was in TK, I went into his classroom one morning and gave a little presentation to his class. I’ve been looking forward to giving the same presentation (updated somewhat) to his kindergarten class this year. Today was the big day. Funny how nervous I was to speak in front of a roomful of five- and six-year olds!
Let me just say first that we are utterly thrilled with how the school year is going for Finn thus far. You know what? The teacher matters – maybe more than any other factor. A teacher can make or break a kid’s school year. And when you are talking about a kid with special needs, a kid with an IEP, as parents you can fight until you’re bloody and exhausted to get your kid a placement in an inclusive setting, but if the teacher your kid ends up with isn’t really a fan of inclusion, if his or her heart really isn’t in it – the benefits of the inclusive setting will likely not be reaped anyway. It is therefore imperative not just to get the placement, but to get a teacher who believes in the placement, who welcomes your child and believes that your child belongs.
Finn’s kindergarten teacher is all that and more. She is pretty legendary at our school, and she is passionate about teaching kindergarten. She believes that every child, above all else, deserves to be loved and respected. I knew that she had a little girl in her class several years ago who had Down syndrome, and that along with all the accolades that I’ve heard about her over the years was what prompted me to seek her out to be Finn’s kindergarten teacher. She has welcomed Finn with open arms, and she genuinely believes that he is a valuable little boy who belongs in that classroom as much as any other kid. She communicates with me daily about how Finn’s days at school go. She’s not put off by his quirks. She emphasizes the positive. We hit the jackpot.
So, Finn is having a really good school year so far.
Anyway, so today I went in to talk to the class about Down syndrome and about Finn. I read My Friend Isabelle to the class, and then this:
I asked the kids if they had noticed anything different about Finn – the way he talks, that he needs extra help sometimes, etc., and nobody raised their hand. The truth is, probably at this age kids are still so self-involved that they truly don’t notice subtle differences in other kids. To that end, it may seem silly or counterproductive for me to be going in there and drawing attention to Finn’s differences. I know that there is one school of thought among parents of kids with Ds that feels that way – why bring attention to it? But I guess I feel that, like promoting “color blindness,” in the end, it really serves nobody. The fact is, even if these kids don’t notice anything different about Finn now, they will in the years to come – and not just about Finn, but about other kids, too. So by my going into the classroom and talking to them about difference when they’re five and six, a seed has been planted that will hopefully encourage them to be broad-minded and big hearted as they grow older.
I had these handouts for the parents last year, which I updated this year:
And that was it!