Introducing Finn’s Kindergarten Class to Down Syndrome

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:

My Friend Isabelle p1

My Friend Isablle p2

 

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:

Meet Finn p1

Meet Finn p2

And that was it!

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15 Responses to Introducing Finn’s Kindergarten Class to Down Syndrome

  1. Deborah August 25, 2014 at 9:26 pm #

    Thanks for sharing about your classroom visit! Ben starts preschool this year, and I’ve really been questioning whether or not I should send a letter home with parents or just not bother, because they’re all so young. I’ve gone into several 2nd grade classrooms to talk about Down syndrome/bullying/etc, and that has seemed to be a good age. I like your letter, and I might adapt it, if that’s OK.

    • Lisa August 25, 2014 at 9:52 pm #

      Absolutely!

  2. Catherine August 25, 2014 at 9:42 pm #

    Hi there,

    My little guy also started K this year and I love your letter to parents in the class. Would you mind if I used some of your wording/explanation for a letter to Auggie’s class?

    • Lisa August 25, 2014 at 9:53 pm #

      I absolutely wouldn’t mind! I posted them in the hope that they might be useful to other parents 🙂

  3. Jay Iyer August 25, 2014 at 9:43 pm #

    This post has got me thinking. I love the talk you gave to the children, although I could see why some parents might choose not to call attention to it. What I definitely think is great is your letter to the parents. In general, I have found that children at the preschool / kindergarten stage are quite accepting, unless someone (an adult) calls out differences to them in a negative way. Thus, I think it is more important to inform the adults than the kids.

    So, your post got me thinking because I now am revisiting the question of whether I should talk to my son’s class about him being adopted. We have made no secret of the fact that our son is adopted, but we have not discussed with anyone how we’d like that information conveyed to their children. Most of the kids and parents haven’t brought it up (to us or to our son, anyway), but last year a couple of kids on my son’s baseball team asked him, “Where’s your real Mom and Dad?” My husband responded in a very matter-of-fact tone, “Oh, he’s got two moms and two dads” and that was that. Later, however, we did talk about how some parent(s) must have commented about the adoption in front of their kids, and we got the impression the kids were thinking of it as something negative. I’m still considering what to do, whether to say something at least to the parents. As for his classmates, I think I will let my son explain being adopted to them, if and when the occasion arises.

    Oh and Finn is so, so, darling. He reminds me of Jonathan Lipnicki – know who that is?

    • Lisa August 25, 2014 at 9:59 pm #

      Hahaha! Yes, I know who that is. I’ve been told about Finn’s resemblance to him by soooo many people 🙂

      I really have no advice on addressing the adoption issue. I guess it surprises me that it IS an issue – I had no idea, really. I guess I assumed that adoption has become so commonplace that it’s no big deal anymore. That’s what I get for assuming :/

      I guess I feel like it’s necessary to address the Down syndrome/disability issue head on because Finn really is set apart to some degree by virtue of his having an aide, being pulled out of the class for speech therapy, and so forth. And sadly, there are still plenty of parents who don’t feel that kids with special needs belong in “regular” classrooms – and at some point they will pass those negative views on to their kids.

      • Jay Iyer August 25, 2014 at 10:54 pm #

        But of course people have told you, I’m not surprised. The resemblance is striking 🙂

        Lisa, you’d be amazed at the discriminatory remarks I have received about my son. I too would have thought his adoption is no big deal, but that is SO not true in my experience. I especially get assumptions about his intellectual abilities and behavior based on his birth origins. I am told that the family of his birth can’t possibly have any redeeming qualities because he ended up in foster care, and so he’ll be up to no good as well and I need to watch out. Blanket assumptions about human beings – sound familiar?

      • Jay Iyer August 25, 2014 at 10:59 pm #

        Oh and yes, I can see why you would feel more of an incentive to talk to the kids because Finn is set apart by visible differences in how his educational experience is set up. My son had a special needs boy in his class with an aide, therapy, etc. in kindergarten, and there was never a question about it from any of them. My husband developed a close bond with this boy, but that’s another story and another reason to keep loving my husband!

  4. Deborah Mitchell August 26, 2014 at 10:56 am #

    The teacher is everything, and I hope Finn will continue to have the same sort of teachers throughout his school years.

    The introduction you gave to his class was similar to a program we had for our middle schools. Groups of students would go into middle school classrooms and discuss diversity and acceptance. People should be talking about these things. Kudos to you for being an advocate not just for Finn but for all kids who are different.

  5. Jisun August 26, 2014 at 4:02 pm #

    This makes me happy. That is all. 🙂

  6. Kathleen Flynn August 26, 2014 at 11:50 pm #

    This is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever read. Thank you for sharing it.

    • Lisa August 27, 2014 at 5:09 am #

      Thank you, Kathleen 🙂

  7. Angel The Alien August 27, 2014 at 11:08 pm #

    Definitely true that, even if they don’t notice differences now, they will in the future. If FInn gets to go to school with the same group of kids throughout elementary school, once they do start noticing those differences, they will hopefully remember what you taught them… and instead of thinking he is weird and different, they will like him for who he is!

  8. Yes August 28, 2014 at 6:27 pm #

    A very excellent behavior therapist explains that starting the dialogue gives kids permission to openly talk about any differences they might perceive (and yes, kids can be VERY precocious especially if their parents are closed minded or distriminate other areas). I saw the hmmmm and keeping their distance confused looks that my son got in class last year.

    I also understand both sides and am a bit petrified to speak — I cry when I read any references to being his friend after fighting so hard to get him the placenta he has, praying adrenaline and time resolve that! Some schools will not allow letters and have their own talks with the student outside no parents allowed. Psycho and causes the elephant to be bigger if you make it an exclusive secret big deal.

    I am so happy and excited. That you for sharing!

  9. Yes August 28, 2014 at 6:31 pm #

    Oh and I have had discussions with people who do not understand how someone could or should raise a child from another culture. Mind blogging and closed minded. I think the comment from kids is actually good as opposed to silently wondering. The answer was perfect — it takes a village!

    Yes it’s odd that it’s an issue but adoption is still more of a stigma and taboo than termination. Allowing your child to be adopted is more of a stigma than making a life for a family and providing a suitable stable source of love. Both sides should be championed and neither side is easy or all roses.

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