Monday, May 10, 2010

FO Report: Willow House Veggies (and a Long Story)

Yarn: Knit Picks Wool of the Andes and Paton's Classic Wool
Tomato, Garlic, Cucumber and Peas in a Pod from Amigurumi Knits by Hansi Singh

real-life vegetable size!
April 2010
April 2010

Jackson's former preschool, Willow House, was such an important relationship for our family during this past school year. There were many ups and downs for Jackson during the school year--including a very sad 6-week adjustment period back in the fall which seemed normal at the time but now is looking more clear through the lens of Asperger's--and we are so grateful for the time that he spent there.

But it turns out that he was in the wrong school. (Wrong for Jackson, not wrong overall.) Willow House is a Waldorf-based preschool which incorporates a lot of free-play time and encourages imaginative play. They focus on oral storytelling and do lots of singing. These are all wonderful things, of course, and some of the reasons we were drawn to the school in the first place. But for a concrete thinker like Jackson who relies on patterns/routines, rigidity and words (even though he can't read yet*) to guide his day, he simply didn't know what to do there.

He did excel in some areas at Willow House and did indeed have a lot of fun at times. But I think he was continually confused about why I was bringing him there when he knew that it wasn't the right kind of place for him. Part of me wishes that we had known his learning style more deeply before enrollment so we would have made a better match for him school-wise, but at the same time I'm happy that he was there because the contrasting styles made the concerns about him stand out all the more, which allowed us to pursue assistance immediately. (If he had been in a more typical preschool, it's quite possible that he would have blended in more but been pegged as a naughty kid vs. a kid who needed some special help.)

They noticed the differences between Jackson and the other kids pretty early on and worked very hard to accommodate Jackson's learning style within the Waldorf program. We had a number of parent-teacher conferences and quick conversations/email exchanges to check-in on certain behaviors he was displaying and they were very much in tune to Jackson not being in tune throughout his time there.

It was one of these parent-teacher conferences that made us rethink the initial Kindergarten screening that Jackson had had back in the winter of '09 and wonder if maybe the evaluators were on to something when they passed him but noted a "social/emotional concern possibly requiring further evaluation." The Willow House teachers were enthusiastic about our restart of the evaluation process with the public school system and worked with us to assess, manage and guide Jackson throughout the next couple of months while we waited in line for our turn at the Early Childhood Special Education table.

Yet I felt incredibly helpless during this time. Things weren't going well for Jackson at school, his teachers had tried every tip and technique at their disposal, Jackson was noticeably unhappy and the situation wasn't much better at home. It was very hard to wait for the evaluations to begin.

It was the beginning of March when Dan and I realized that we didn't have to keep sending Jackson to preschool while we waited for his evaluation to formally begin if it wasn't going well. Preschool is not required schooling and we weren't using it as childcare since I'm home with the kids anyway. We loved his school and wanted to keep sending him there because we wanted it to work, but it just wasn't going to happen. Jackson didn't match the school's philosophy and the school didn't match Jackson's needs.

So we pulled him out of school. It was a decision that felt very rebellious and rogue in a way (Dan and I are not rule-breakers) but also was clearly the right decision because things started getting easier all around after that. Willow House itself was not the problem, but the process of continually sending Jackson to a school that didn't work for him was stressful for everyone involved: the teachers, the parents and most importantly, Jackson.

Jackson started coming to my Early Childhood Family Education class with Amelia and me and he loved it immediately and started to feel comfortable there. ECFE is a great stand-in for the remainder of this school year,  and now we've got his evaluation completed with a plan of action for next year, so all's well that end's well.

Except we had a great relationship with Willow House that we didn't want to just cut off because our kid didn't match the style there! Happily, the teachers agreed and have maintained contact and even came to our home for an extended goodbye visit so Jackson could spend some time with them again and we could talk about our process, where it's all headed and thank them for bringing so many details to the light for us.

Willow House is a very "crunchy" school, which is a huge reason why we felt comfortable there. There isn't one piece of plastic in the place, the kids eat whole food snacks that they help cook there and their art projects regularly involve materials like wool, found objects from nature and paper-mâché. When I was trying to think of a simple thank you gift for a school that had done so much for us as a family, I knew that hand-knit toys would be a perfect match.

So, to make a very long story short, I knit these vegetables for our friends at Willow House (except the cucumber, which was knit for Jackson with a promise that I would make more of the other veggies for him too) to say thank you for the help with our son. Just a simple gesture of gratitude, but I know that Ann and Kristin feel it deeply like we do.

(These are fantastic little patterns and the book is filled with adorable little creations. Incredibly fidgety knits, but they go fast and are addicting. Highly recommended for knitters with small people in their lives!)

*Jackson was asked by one of his evaluators to rearrange four story cards in the right order and tell the story of what was going on in the photos. He replied, "Well, let me tell you something about stories. Stories have words and these pictures don't have words so I can't tell you their story." The boy can't read on his own yet, but his rigid way of thinking about stories is clearly already set. Indeed, his dad is upstairs reading The Hobbit to him for the third time right now...


sellgen said...

Hey Catherine!
I'm so glad to hear this followup - thanks for sharing! Sounds like there was a nice resolution on all sides. What a nice gesture with the knit vegetables! :) Sarah

Avisia W said...

Congrats on weaving and bobbing to a better place! We've worked with St. Paul ECSE and found it to be a wonderful experience.

I've also worked a bit with PACER - another great organization.

Let me know if you ever want to brainstorm.