First off, I would like to apologize for my recent absence on here. I am working on my alternative certification to allow me to teach secondary school in Texas and as a result, I’ve been pretty busy with online course and field training.
He has brown sparkling eyes, russet hair and creamy skin, and a smile that is both delighted and mischievous in a way that only sweet but playful four year olds can be. When my braid falls in his face he looks up at me and giggles as though I were tickling him. I have lost my heart. Our birthdays are only four days apart and he is about to turn five. But he’s already reading. On the playground no one can stop him. He scrambles up the steps to the playscape, makes his way across the swinging bridge and down the slide. Then, he crawls back from the slide’s lip, through the wood mulch, to the steps and starts again.
Yes, I said crawls. This little boy wears braces on his lower legs, which bend sharply inward at the knees, and uses a walker. When he has something to balance himself against he can edge his way around, like a toddler who isn’t quite walking on his own. Or he crawls quickly from place to place if the distance isn’t great and the walker a hindrance. On the mulch it is. While it’s pretty rugged and he wields it with practice the mulch clumps up under the wheels and he can’t always push through. But he rarely seems to need some intervention and for the couple of days that I’ve known him I see the other teachers mostly hanging back and letting him do it on his own.
Once I catch him crying foul on the playscape because another little boy took his toy but I help the other boy to find his own and they go back to playing together, everything forgotten. This other little boy has some special needs too, though he is perfectly able-bodied. But the two of them play together in a beautiful example of inclusive behavior that is a model of this school. I can’t help but wonder what their experiences would be if they weren’t so fortunate as to attend this inclusive preschool that caters to special needs children. Among the students are children with Down Syndrome, Autistic children across the spectrum, children with wheelchairs or walkers and children without any physical or developmental problems. All of them play together happily unaware of how isolated they could be from each other in different schools.
The executive director is a friendly, easy-going woman who recognized the need for such a preschool and daycare when the parents of her special needs children asked her if she knew of any such place for after school care. All of the daycare centers they knew about weren’t equipped to work with their children’s needs, or weren’t interested. So she started the child development center four years ago with her partner. Now they sit in a sunny office with a golden-hearted golden retriever and welcome parents, babies and children when they enter. They also have goats with kids, small horses and a vegetable garden where the chickens live. I’m in love with the whole place.
I’ve only just started substitute teaching with them and spent two days with their 4 to 5 year olds, the big kids of the bunch, loud, rambunctious and goofy. Their teacher wrangles them with the deftness of a seasoned cat wrangler. She is equal parts playmate, coach, bemused or annoyed teacher and high overlord in charge of deciding who gets the treasure chest or lollipop for good behavior. I hang around, cleaning up spills, opening box drinks and mandarin orange containers at lunch (have you ever stopped to consider how many lunch boxes are full of hard to open packaging?), running out to get the snacks, breaking up fights, getting them to stop being distracted by their classmate, overseeing play-doh time and pushing children on swings while telling them to stop pouting and wait their turn. I am equally exasperated at the wilfulness of four year olds, surprised by their short memory lapses (“We just told you you can’t get up while eating the lollipops. Now sit back down”) and admiring of their ability to turn from pouting over a turn on the swing to giving their turn away to another more gracefully than I can at times.
And I am always amused. One little boy was told he couldn’t do the same show and tell from last week and he told his teacher “I am mad at you.” When she asked why he said, “Because I don’t have anything for show and tell.” I had to clap my hand over my mouth and later I told her that I sound like that sometimes too. It was quite an amusing wake up call. But really, I’m impressed by the dedication of the team, their casual but serious approach to child development and the way they include all kids in their world of baby goats, squash and loving learning. For their focus on creating an inclusive world where children with special needs are children first, I’m calling this a Mighty Idea.