Nate had a choppy transition out of Birth to Three and into the public school system. His first day of school was May 21, the day after his third birthday. There were only three school weeks left in the year, and we went to Disney World for one of them, so it was just enough time for Nate to get to know his classroom teacher Ms. Susie, the classroom’s assistants, Ms. Julianne, Ms. Mechelle, and Ms. Sandy, and his speech pathologist Ms. Mollie, and then start “summer.” Summer for Nate was a 2.5 week break, the longest period of time that Nate ever went without therapy since 18 months. He spent part of the time with me at home and the rest at his old day care, which allowed me to work.
At the end of June, Nate started extended school year, five weeks of special education schooling that allows Nate to continue his therapy and programs; without it, Nate would significantly regress during a full summer break. We were a bit nervous because Nate would have a whole new round of teachers — and change isn’t one of Nate’s strengths. (To his credit, I know a heck of a lot of people who can’t cite adaptation to change as a strength.) Turns out, we were worried for nothing. Thankfully, Nate’s extended school session was in his regular classroom and Nate instantly fell in love with his teacher Ms. Pat and her two assistants, Ms. Pat and Ms. Kathy. It also helped that his class was only five kids, including Nate and some of the kids from his academic year class. Nate also had Ms. Mollie over the summer. It didn’t take long for Nate to fall in love with his teachers — and for them to fall in love with him. Quickly, Nate started to wriggle free from my hand at the start of each school day to race and hug his teachers and he developed special teacher-and-me moments like having them hide a pretend carrot in the classroom for him to find every morning.
Due to budget cuts, the academic year curriculum of weekly art, physical education, music, and library time didn’t happen. The point of those additional classes is less about the actual lesson (though Nate does love all of these subjects) and more about getting to socialize with students outside of the four others in his room. So the teachers banded together and came up with a crafty and budget friendly solution — they bought a sprinkler for the playground and the kids got sprinkler time during recess. Nate was the sprinkler champ and loved the bucket that filled with sprinkler water, so much so that he was willing to get near other friends to play in it!
When there were poor air quality alerts, the Department of Health wouldn’t let the kids outside so recess was held in the gym and they ran around to get some energy out. There were many monitors for recess/indoor recess, including one fellow by the name of Nick. Nick’s in high school and is the son of Ms. Pat’s friend. Nate instantly took to Nick and called him by name right off the bat, the first person Nate’s *ever* done that with. Nate’s affectionate name for Nick, “Ick,” quickly stuck and soon everyone was calling him “Ick.” Nick’s quite tall and Nate loves basketball. Nate quickly put two and two together and signed to Nick “I want” and “Up.” Then he’d grab a basketball and make a slam dunk with Nick’s help. Over and over and over again. (He also did this with Ms. Pat. She had awesome arms by the end of the summer!)
Nate also went on his first field trips — on a little bus and everything! We were very nervous about the first one – a trip to go duck pin bowling, which practices being in a social setting and turn taking, both activities that are difficult for Nate and his friends. The trips had a 1:1 adult:child ratio (Nate had Ick!) and the kids all had a blast. Before the trip, I talked to Ms. Pat about Nate’s triggers in the car — he panics if you pass a flag (because he wants it) and he gets upset if you pass four specific roads because you didn’t turn down them and those roads lead to our house. But none of that happened because Nate was so excited about the new experience. (I’m sure he was singing “Wheels on the Bus” in his head the entire time!) It took Nate a while to gain the concept of rolling the ball (as opposed to throwing it) but, with Ick’s help, Nate now plans to try out for the Olympic duck pin bowling team. (One time, Nate felt the ball wasn’t going fast enough so he ran down the lane to give it an extra push!) The second trip was to a local bounce house and the third was to get ice cream at an ice cream shoppe; both outings worked on social situations and turn taking/waiting in line. Most of Nate’s friends in his class have food texture issues; Nate was the only one who ate ice cream. (His friend, Louis, did eat a cup of sprinkles.) If he had the words, Nate would have asked to eat his friends’ ice cream, too!
At the end of the school year, we got Nate’s progress report for his IEP goals. He’s mastered two of his programs (both ones that he was on the verge of mastering but we still threw a party!) and started some new ones that will be continued throughout the coming school year.
Nate’s on his second 2.5 week break, balancing time between being with me and at day care. He starts the academic year next week Wednesday and I’m sure he’ll be over the moon to see Ms. Susie and his teachers again. We’ll have new friends in his classroom – about half his class moved on to kindergarten or to a kindergarten-like developmental program. But he’ll also have some familiar friends and that will be comforting, too. We’re looking forward to Nate actually getting to experience school and not school chopped up in little chunks of time. He’s shown such a love for the whole experience so far; we hope it continues in earnest this fall!