Monday, August 9, 2010
I gave up on real, actual preschool somewhere around the time that I realized that my time was much better spent constructing a family learning environment rather than setting up empty crafts outlining the life cycle of a butterfly or printing out worksheets aimed at letter awareness. This was a revolutionary way of thinking for me. Up until that point, I was pretty sure that "reading readiness" and "math activities" were required of all 3 year-olds, and that by doing anything less than providing these opportunities I was proving myself a bad, bad momma.
Eh, you live and learn, right?
Instead of concocting actual plans for preschool, I have spent that time with my children reading, reading, reading--and focusing on their areas of strengths and weaknesses. So, for example, Logan's "preschool" (if you want to call it that) consisted of reading picture books until I was hoarse, sitting in on whatever reading I was doing for the older kids, working through some speech and PT exercises with me, and painting, drawing, or doing some other artistic activity daily. He also amassed quite a startling collection of workbooks, but trust me, this had less to do with any interest on my behalf in "teaching" him, and much more to do with his desire to "do school." While I worked on math with Jo or lead Atticus through a reading lesson, Logan would happily cut, paste, and stick in his Rod and Staff preschool books, or the massive sticker book that I picked up for him at Costco, which required him to match different halves of animals or give community workers their proper tools.
And that, my friends, was "preschool."
Now that I'm faced with a slightly different challenge, I find myself confronting the idea of "pre" and "school" on a new level. The truth is, Oli needs the skill-enhancing aspects of early childhood education in a way that most neuro- and cognitive-typical children do not. What's a homeschool mom to do?
Long before any diagnoses were forthcoming, I picked up on Oli's differences. His learning style follows no predictable arc I've ever heard of. His abilities are far below what one would expect of a child his chronological age. And yet ... he can learn. He most definitely has the ability to engage with and understand the world around him. Seeing this, I dug in. Step one: find his strengths, and make them stronger. Step two: find his weaknesses, and meet him there.
I started simply enough. Using the Montessori-inspired activities that I've picked up over the years, I led Oli through a series of activities on a regular basis designed to help him gain small motor skills. We worked on simple things, like matching and understanding one to one correlation. We talked about colors. And we read like crazy.
I figured out quite quickly that Oliver learns best when music is either on, or a key component of what he's learning. Easy enough. I set just about every routine to a song. Some were no-brainers (everyone knows the clean up song, right?) and others needed to be invented. But by the time I was finished, we had a song for every task ... and a little boy who was figuring out the structure of the day and the cues that signaled transition.
He graduated from birth to three and was enrolled in the local public school's special needs preschool program, and I took a step back, wondering how to redefine my role now that someone else was also trying to grapple with decoding the mystery that is Oli. I spent a few months "storing things up in my heart" and finally knew what I had to do: actual, real, concentrated learning stuff. With a preschooler.
In other words, preschool. Oli-style.
So this summer, we have kicked off a whole new push to make the most of Oli's cognitive capabilities and help his readiness along. I purchased a handful of tools to make this easier, but am also relying heavily on what I have on hand. For instance, those Montessori activities are in full force. Sandpaper to smooth rough edges on wood blocks. Clothes pins to pinch and adhere to the sides of bowls and strips of cloth. Rice to pour into different containers.
And then there are the purchases. One in particular has already been worth its weight. The BambinoLUK Special is a pricey toy/tool that sees constant use around here. Oliver and Mani both adore it, and settle in almost immediately the second they see it come out. The older kids have been trained in how to use it with them, giving this item a whole new dimension and layer of use. And then there's the actual product. So far, Oliver has worked on matching objects, identifying "same," and starting to see patterns. These are all challenging activities for him; he can last about 7 minutes at this kind of intense concentration, where Manolin can easily pull of 15. But the value for Oli has already been huge! I can see him beginning to sort as he plays (dinosaurs here, trucks here), and I can see him grasping the concept of "goes together." This is a major step.
My second purchase was the 3- to 5- year-old preschool package from My Father's World. This is the first time I've ever spent money on a preschool package. So far, I've been glad that I have. The puzzles and pegs are a perfect fit for Oli's sensory-seeking, hands-on learning style. Manipulating the crepe foam pieces and stacking the pegs have been great exercises in patience as well as critical thinking. We count the pegs, put together the puzzles, talk about the colors, and try to match the open holes with the right shapes. Again, this is not easy work for Oli. If I'm sitting at the table with both Oli and Mani in booster seats on either side of me, the bulk of my time will be spent leading Oli through how to turn the puzzle piece until it fits, while Mani gleefully counts, "One, three, four, go!" and stabs pegs into his number line. But Oli is doing it. He is concentrating, he is trying, he is delighted with himself when he gets it just so.
I am thrilled.
We read lots of books. Jo has taken on a good deal of reading duties, saying that she enjoys it, and that she likes the quiet cuddle time. This has freed me up to do more one-on-one with the older boys, but I try to make sure not to take advantage. Jo's appetite for reading to them, however, has proven a whole lot more adventurous than my own. I admit it; I have finally lost the ability to give a truly rousing read of "Going on a Bear Hunt." Jo's is still fresh, however. She even growls.
We're looking ahead at a busy fall with optimistic eyes. One of my goals is to keep Oli moving forward, to challenge him, to help him grow, and to give him the fuel he needs to make the most of his skills. So far, it's been busy ... but good. Kind of like Oli, actually!