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Category Archives: Preschool

Learning How to Play

I recently came across this article, which explains how therapists teach young children how to play and what the benefits of that training can be. Before the Bean came along, it never dawned on me that kids would need to be taught how to play. It just seemed to come naturally for any child I had ever known.  But for the Bean, playing with toys was not a skill that came naturally.  She loved to look at faces and interact socially, but had no idea what to do with the brightly coloured plastic and wooden objects we placed in front of her.  She just ignored them completely.

In the article, Penina Ryback defines play as, “the way children practice and internalize both the rules and roles they see around them. Play helps children make sense of how their world works.” If a child is developmentally delayed or has a condition such as autism that makes it difficult for them to notice the rules and roles they are supposed to be practicing, they need some prodding to play like other kids play.

I notice this when we play with typical kids.  When presented with a new toy or concept, they explore it using what they know, and then quickly branch out into other ideas as they observe others also interacting with the same thing.  But for the Bean, it’s not as smooth or effortless a process.

The Bean is more interested in sucking on her fingers than all the new toys at her birthday party, but her friends are happy to take over.

The Bean is more interested in sucking on her fingers than all the new toys at her birthday party, but her friends are happy to take over.

When other kids the Bean’s age were engaging in parallel play (age one or so), she was still just learning how to sit, so she couldn’t interact with the toys like other kids did.  It didn’t even seem like she was watching them play – she was engaged with me and any other adults who would interact with her and make eye contact.  During this time, we were getting services from Easter Seals.  The wonderful woman who came to our home for an hour each week was teaching the Bean how to interact with toys, and measuring her progress based on whether she could actually grasp a toy and pick it up, or switch a toy from hand to hand.

For her 2nd birthday, I made sure the activities were at her level, and luckily her typical friends thought it was fun too.

For her 2nd birthday, I made sure the activities were at her level, and luckily her typical friends thought it was fun too.

A year later, she was finally engaging with the toys that her friends were playing with a year previous, but they had moved on to more sophisticated activities.  So once again, she was sitting with the adults playing with the toys while the other kids were starting to actually play with each other.  Our Easter Seals therapy was focused on teaching the Bean how to stack blocks, turn the pages of board books, squeeze play doh, and matching wooden puzzle pieces to the right space on the board. She had some success, and was evaluated at about 6 months behind her peers.

At 3 years old, she was able to get around on her own with a walker.  She was thrilled to be able to move around on her feet, but she still couldn't keep up with her friends.

At 3 years old, she was able to get around on her own with a walker. She was thrilled to be able to move around on her feet, but she still couldn’t keep up with her friends.

When she turned three we were still working on stacking, nesting, colouring and wood puzzles, and had also added some imaginitive play, recognizing and matching colours, shapes, and knowing the difference between big and little.  The Bean was finally stacking one block on top of another, recognizing colours with some consistency, and could scribble a little with a crayon, but her speech capabilities were way behind, and her ability to focus on a task for very long was minimal.  Many 3 year olds are happily reciting the alphabet, counting to 10, drawing/colouring with some precision,can write their name, and are totally ready for preschool.  The Bean was being prepared for preschool as well, but it was clear that she was far from ready for integration into a regular preschool, so we enrolled her at Marindale, our County’s special needs preschool.  It was the best thing that had ever happened to our Bean.

At 4.5 years old, the Bean uses her imagination to play.  It's so much fun.

At 4.5 years old, the Bean uses her imagination to play. It’s so much fun.

Without the play therapy we received from Easter Seals, I wouldn’t have had a clue what to expect from the Bean or how to encourage the development of these skills that, in my experience, usually came naturally.  During her two years at preschool so far, she has made huge strides: now stacking large lego blocks into towers, drawing with more variety, playing with her imagination, constructing parts of more complicated puzzles, and imitating others with abandon.  She has gotten to the point where she wants to be able to do what other kids are doing, which shows that she’s paying attention and learning a lot from those kids.  Her speech is still very far behind other kids her age, but that is progressing as well.

We are nearing the time when we have to decide what Kindergarten will look like for our Bean.  We are trying to be realistic and choose the options that will ensure her continued development success without overwhelming her.  Our team of teachers, therapists and administrators are so totally on the Bean’s side, that I have no doubt we’ll make the right decision together.

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Leaps and Bounds

image011 (1)My Bean is growing in every way all of a sudden.  She has moved up a size in clothes, which is super exciting for me because I was getting tired of dressing her in her 12 month stuff.  For those not familiar with the Bean, she’s tiny – 3 3/4 years old and now wearing 18 – 24 month clothes.  What mom doesn’t love new clothes, even if they’re for her child and not for herself?

Walking is the Bean’s favourite hobby.  She toddles around everywhere, dancing if there is music and running (sort of) if she’s super excited.  She sure keeps me hopping when we’re in public – her curiosity knows no bounds, so she’s off the second I put her down. A whole new world has opened up to her and it is so much fun to help her explore and discover new things.

She keeps herself busy while I’m working in the kitchen by removing plastic containers from the cupboard and distributing them around the house.  She loves to “help” me wash dishes, standing on a chair at the second sink with her own bowl of sudsy water.  While it makes a huge puddle on the floor, and she keeps stealing the clean dishes from the rack and putting them back in my dishwater, it can be tremendous fun.  I still eventually get the dishes done.

Laundry is a similarly fascinating chore.  Bean likes to push the buttons on the washer and dryer, so after we load them, she closes the door and gets them started.  She recently started taking clean clothes out of the laundry basket and putting them away in her drawer. As long as I’m one step ahead of her, she manages to put the right things away in the right places and I don’t have to reorganize when she’s done.

023The challenge of communicating with the Bean is starting to get a little easier.  She attempts to copy everything we say, and it’s been a blast finally being able to teach her new words and have her respond.  With Christmas coming up in a few days, we were thrilled that she has learned to recognize and sort of say “Santa”.  We’re still working on “Baby Jesus”.  She had a Santa cupcake at her Christmas party, and since she associates cupcakes with birthdays, she wanted to blow out a candle.  I used that opportunity to remind her that it is Baby Jesus’ birthday, and we sang and pretended to blow out a birthday candle.  So cute.  However, the fact is that Santa is a much more compelling symbol for a toddler – bright colours, concrete concepts, and presents…the importance of the birth of Jesus is a little too abstract for her yet.

My favourite part of parenthood these days is playing with the Bean.  She has a great imagination and loves to make jokes and laugh.  Her jokes usually involve some sort of slap-stick comedy, and she giggles uncontrollably at her own antics.  She loves to be tickled and startled, asking for “moh” (more) over and over again.  At the playground, she enjoys climbing the structure and sliding with me down the big-kid slide.  When we get to the bottom, she pretends to be a chicken as she waddles back to the stairs again, flapping her wings and clucking, “buh, buh, buh”.

128Preschool continues to be an awesome experience for the Bean.  Her teacher is on maternity leave, but they’ve had a string of wonderful substitutes in the meantime, and the teacher’s assistants are a stable presence for the kids in their teacher’s absence.  Bean is apparently the “angel” of the class – the sweetest and least disruptive.  Of course she is – she’s her mother’s daughter!  But seriously, I feel very fortunate that her diagnosis doesn’t come with an expectation of major behavioral challenges.  She certainly gets frustrated and can be persistent about having things her way, but unlike some of the other kids in her class, she doesn’t tend to lash out physically or flop down on the ground in protest.  At her most aggressive, she’s just really loud and squirmy.  I get more resistance from her at home than they do at school, I think, but that’s pretty normal for most kids.

014Mostly, these days, she feels like a delightful 2-year-old.  It seems appropriate to me that her mental age seems to fit her physical age, even if they don’t correspond with her chronological age exactly.  She’s starting to get interested in dolls and playing dress-up.  If they didn’t make her also do other activities, she would be a permanent fixture in the play kitchen at school.  At home she loves to build with and knock down blocks, pull stickers off their sheets and stick them everywhere, have tea parties with Elmo, and get dirty in her sandbox.  When I’m digging around in the garden, she joins me, although a lot of soil still goes in her mouth.

Our biggest challenge with the Bean continues to be her sleep habits.  Currently, she mostly sleeps with us in our bed.  She won’t settle and fall asleep at night time without one of us lying beside her.  If we do put her in her own bed, she wakes up an hour later and we have to do it again.  She still takes naps but if she sleeps for more than an hour in the afternoon, she’s up until 9 or 10 pm, which means that my Sweetie and I don’t get much of an evening together.  We’re working on some strategies to get her sleeping consistently in her own bed.  She is too persistent at this point for the Cry-It-Out method, and frankly, I’m too soft-hearted to be able to stand it.  I think part of it is that she’s just a very physically affectionate child.  She needs the reassurance and comfort of a snuggle – I say there are worse things in this world than that, for sure.

Potty training is in the concept stage right now.  She’s starting to make it known when she needs a diaper change.  We’re working on recognizing when she’s actually going so we can start to preempt it and get her to the toilet.  But she doesn’t like sitting on the potty or on her little toilet seat, so we’re trying to get her used to that first.  As with most things in the Bean’s life, it will take a lot more time than it does for most other kids.  That’s just the way it is for us.  And in the meantime we’re helping to keep Pampers and Tide in business.

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I predict that the coming year will be one of even bigger leaps and more impressive bounds.  Our Bean will be turning 4 in March – it’s surreal to think about.  I feel like I’m finally coming into my own as a mother.  The extended infant stage was not my ideal situation…as much as I love babies, having one for 3 years while all the other kids are changing rapidly was a little disheartening and quite difficult for me.  As always, though, when I look for the silver lining it’s there.  Most mothers mourn the speedy passing of the infant stage.  I got to coddle and snuggle and baby my little one a whole lot longer than most moms before she became a wriggly wild thing.  Every milestone reached tastes that much sweeter because of the struggle it took to get there.  I don’t take anything about the Bean for granted.  I marvel at how far she’s come in the last year and I feel grateful for all the help we have along the way.

What a blessed life we live!

A Bean Update

I feel like I’m not doing a very thorough job of keeping record of the Bean’s life so far.  She’s been growing in leaps and bounds lately and I can barely keep up.  So, in the interest of just getting it down so I don’t forget, here is a list.

Language

  1. She recently started using a 4 word sentence: “I wah moh ee” (I want more please).  When I try to coach her to say I want _____ please (like park or outside or down), she always says “moh” with utmost pride at being able to fill in the blank.
  2. She sings a lot, and more and more often I can recognize the tune.
  3. She can approximate most of the letters of the alphabet, and one of her favourite games is to sort through a pile of wooden letter magnets and guess what letter each is.
  4. She tries to count when she puts things in her bowl or when we’re reading books.  Usually, she starts with “nye” (nine) unless prompted to say “wuh” (one)
  5. She sometimes gets frustrated and just starts screaming and crying when she wants something.  When that happens, she’s almost always hungry or tired. It feels good to have figured that out.
  6. She understands so much of what we say to her.  I think once her mouth figures out how to do the talking, she will astound us with what she knows.

Her first big “boo boo”.

Physical Development

  1. She can climb to the top of the play structure at the elementary school by herself.   At preschool, she can climb to the top of their smaller structure and slide down the slide on her own.
  2. She can navigate almost any surface with her walker, and she’s starting to experiment with balancing on her own and taking a couple tiny fast steps with no help. She’ll start Physical Therapy again next week, so I expect this will start to explode for her.
  3. She recently fell down and scraped her face up pretty badly.  It was swollen for the first 24 hours, and the scabs looked terrible for a few days, but she was a champ and healed up really quickly.  Right after I cleaned up her fresh wound, tears still streaming down her face, she wanted to get back into her walker and go see the pigs we were  headed toward at the farm we were visiting.
  4. She loves to bop to music and she’s starting to do this standing up as well.  She’s been dancing sitting down for a while already.

General Development

  1. She’s doing a lot more independent play.   She loves to play with her doll house in the kitchen while I make dinner.
  2. She wants to help with the laundry, dishes and food prep.  She stands on a kitchen chair at the sink and plays in a bowl of cold water that I’ve placed in the second sink for her.  But her hands and the clean dishes often end up back in the hot soapy water, which means a lot of extra rinsing for me.  It’s still fun to be able to do dishes with her instead of fighting for some time on my own to do them.
  3. The Bean loved having her hair blow dried.

    We got her hair cut for the first time recently.  She did great in the hairdresser’s chair and wanted “moe” when the hairdresser blow dried her hair.

Sleeping

  1. We’re finally starting to get some sleep at night.  She resists going to bed, so I often have to take her for a walk or a drive in the car to get her to sleep.  We’ve also been giving her melatonin some nights if it seems like she’s going to be wired for sound all evening.  She wakes up in the middle of the night (the time varies greatly) at which point we just pull her into bed with us.  Then she sleeps until at least 7am, which means her parents also get to sleep.  It’s been wonderful to get more than 5 hours of sleep on a consistent basis, and while it’s not ideal to have her in our bed, it’s working for us right now.
  2. She often falls asleep in the bus on her way home from school, although lately that’s happening less often.  Recently, I started trying to have her down for her nap between 1:30 and 2pm, and only let her sleep about an hour.  This seems to be helping with the going to bed end of things.

School

  1. The Bean LOVES school!  She has so much fun playing with the other kids and doing all the activities.  I currently drop her off at school in the morning, and then she takes the bus home.  They have 5-point harnesses built into some of the bus seats, and she really enjoys taking the bus like a big girl.
  2. We signed up for summer school, and a good friend of ours is going to be one of her teacher’s assistants for a couple weeks in the summer semester.  The Bean is going to be so surprised on Monday when she sees her there.

Social

  1. She is starting to get excited to see her favourite friends.  It’s cute to see all the kids get excited to see her when she gets to school or daycare.  A couple of her classmates regularly give her a hug when she gets to school.  She’s starting to let them hug her – at first she resisted a little.
  2. We’ve been getting together with a couple of friends weekly.  The Bean is learning to share her toys and ask nicely when she wants something her friend is playing with.  This is a process, and we’re just at the beginning.

Three is a really fun age.  It’s fun to see how the Bean is keeping up with her peers, and also interesting to see where she still needs to catch up.  Right now, she feels like a 18-24 month old in many areas.  And yet she also feels like a baby a lot of the time.  We haven’t started potty training yet, and she still needs help with a lot of things, but she is so independent about other things.  She hates it when I try to help her with something that she wants to figure out for herself.  Our life is an exaggerated example of how every child develops on their own schedule, regardless of the average.  And it’s “awedome” (awesome).

Wow, where have I been?

Okay, so this is the point at which I usually beat myself up for falling behind on my blogging.  I think I predicted that this would happen at the beginning, because I know myself quite well.  BUT, I’m back and raring to go, and I’ve decided to treat myself like I would treat others and be really forgiving.

The Bean at preschool

My big girl on her first day of preschool.

We recently had a BIG change in our lives: The Bean started preschool! She turned 3-years-old two weeks ago and so was at the end of her eligibility for the Early Intervention program coordinated through our local Regional Center.  She, instead, became eligible for the Individualized Education Program coordinated through the school districts. In the US, kids with special needs are legally entitled to government-funded schooling and as much assistance as they need can be afforded by the budget to meet their needs.  What services you get can also depend on how much noise the parents make, so I’ve been told by friends and therapists to fight for whatever I think the Bean needs.

Over the past few months she has been undergoing progress tests and evaluations, both with her existing therapists and with new ones that work for the school system.  The reports were studied and recommendations were made for which class and which services the Bean would participate in.  We met with a group of people to discuss and agree on the preliminary plan, and it was decided that the Bean would be best served by the special needs school run by the County instead of the default option, which would have been the integrated preschool in our school district.

So, on Monday, March 26, I walked my baby big girl into her new classroom, kissed her goodbye and managed to refrain from giggling like a maniac as I skipped walked serenely down the hallway back to my car.

I’ve heard stories of parents who cry when they drop their kids off at school for the first time.  “She’s growing up too fast”; “I’m going to miss my baby”; “I’m getting old!”.  Not me.  As much as I adore my Bean, I’ve been joined at the hip to my little girl for three years straight, and I have been dying for some “me” time.  And it’s not even just time to sit and do things I love, like writing and getting my nails done.  I’ve been wishing for time to get my house clean, update the budget, do some weeding, groom the dog, refinish the dresser I bought at a garage sale 6 months ago…the list goes on.

Now, I’m sure some children have a lot of trouble with separation anxiety when they start preschool, and so their parents are suitably traumatized by the experience.  But my Bean is pretty cool about that.  We’ve been making sure to give her experience with other caregivers since she was tiny – my parents took care of her for an entire weekend when she was just 10 weeks old.   A few months ago we enrolled her at a daycare for a day each week: to give both of us some time to adjust to the impending preschool schedule, but also to give me a break…I was breaking down.  From the first day, the Bean was (with a few exceptions) thrilled to be there and happy to see me again when I picked her up.  It’s been the same at preschool so far.

So now I have a little more time to do the things I want and need to do.  My Sweetie is happy to see things actually getting done around the house, I’m happy to be able to hear myself think for a few hours in a row, and the Bean is happy that I am able to give her my undivided attention after her nap.  Everybody wins!