I hear it over and over when talking to moms about kindergarten or now 1st grade - school is a completely different thing now then when we were kids. Seriously, I went to a half day kindergarten that included a snack and nap time. We learned colors, ABC's, numbers. Cate went to kindergarten from 8:15 - 3:10, 5 days a weeks. She was expected to know colors, count to 10, say her ABC's and know basic shapes before she even started. Her kindergarten standards included reading 50 sight words, identifying coins by value and name, patterns, three dimensional shapes, and so much more. I'm not sure if I wish I had been introduced to this foreign land before Cate entered it with special needs or if I'm lucky I get some extra guidance in the process - it pretty much a toss up. As I've mentioned before we were incredibly lucky to have a special needs pre-K teacher, Ms. Beth, that not only did an amazing job of teaching Cate things way beyond our expectations but who stood up for Cate and insisted she belonged in a general ed classroom. We were lucky that kindergarten went relatively well, outside some minor behavioural issues and the necessary adjustments to make it a good situation for all involved. So before this year Cate's excellent situation included a lot of luck and pressure from me who didn't really understand how much more intense kindergarten is in today's world. First grade is a different story because now I know more, understand more and the school knows Cate so they better understand her potential. Cate's current classroom situation was not pure luck, it took several people a lot of time and care to perfect the perfect balance of a general education experience to challenge her while giving her social opportunities with typical peers and making sure she learns enough at an appropriate pace without too much frustration. I've answered the question about Cate's school situation a hundred times to both special needs parents who are looking at options themselves and typical parents who are just curious so I thought I'd detail her day here.
First a couple definitions:
.. "general education" or "gen ed" means a regular old first grade classroom with a teacher who is not certified to work with special needs (although ours happens to be by coincidence)
.. Ms B is Cate's general ed teacher so when you see this Cate is participating in a typical classroom
.. "with Ms. L" means that there is a special needs para-professional in the classroom with the teacher who can modify work for Cate as necessary, refocus her if she is having trouble staying on task, and pull her aside for special instruction if she is having issues or for testing.
.. "Small Group" means that Cate leaves the general education classroom to go to a different room where a group of 5-6 other children who are below the 1st grade norm are learning. Most of these kids have special needs of some kind but are in general education for part of their day.
.. "Specials" are the non-academic classes - Music, Art, PE and in our school Drama & Dance
.. "Guided Reading" what it sounds like, it takes place in the regular classroom but the kids are broken down into smaller groups by reading level and they work on targeted books individually and as a group
7:45 - 8:30 Breakfast, morning work (Ms. B)
8:30 - 9:20 Math (Ms. B)
9:20 - 10:10 Reading (Ms. B with Ms. L support)
10:10 - 10:55 Specials
11:05 - 11:35 Lunch
11:30 - 12:20 Small Group Math
11:50 - 12:35 Dance (Monday)
12:20 - 1:00 Writing (Ms. B with Ms. L support)
12:00 - 12:45 Computer Lab (Thursday)
1:00 - 1:45 Guided Reading (Ms. B with Ms L support)
1:45 - 2:15 Snack/Recess
2:15 - 3:00 Small Group Reading
Speech Therapy Monday, Weds, Friday for 30 minutes (out of classroom in a group of 2 or 3)
So what this basically shows is that Cate's day pretty intense. She spends almost 80% of the day in a typical classroom with her peers. We are not naive - this will not always be the case. As Cate progresses in school at a slower rate than her peers she will spend less time in a gen ed setting and more time in a small group or self contained special education class. And you know what - that is OK. If you would have asked me two years ago I would have been horrified at the idea of Cate having to be in a special education class. Now after a year plus I have seen how amazing special education teacher can be and how many options are out there. Cate is going to be fine - we are going to keep her in a balanced situation and try to provide an environment that allows her to meet academic and social goals that are appropriate for her.
The only way to close this post is - Thank God for awesome teachers!