This week amidst the tumultuous changing of the guard for Mini Mini-out with the old (breast), in with the new (bottle), there were also changes for her big sister. Mini started a trial at a nearby Steiner preschool. Our hope is that she will be going there for five mornings a week starting this September.I’ve always loved the Steiner method of education, which to me has an almost organic feel to to it. Children sing and dance, they go on a lot of walks, learning about the world around them through feeling it and experiencing it, rather than just reading about it in books. There is baking, cooking and long nature walks for the kids who attend the preschool or kindergarten. The Frenchman calls it a place full of hippies but he likes the idea of getting Mini into cooking so he’s happy to send her there. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays the children go on a walk and I was asked to go on the walk with Mini on her first day so as, well I’m not really sure why, so as to make sure she didnt run away,to make sure she fell in line?I enquired as to the reasoning behind it but it wasn’t very well explained to me, or perhaps it was but my sleep deprived synapses misfired and failed to process the information.
It turns out I was there to ensure that my daughter held hands for the duration of the part of the walk that was conducted in the estate, until we arrived at the nearby fields and to make sure she waited for the other children. Patience and hand holding-not exactly two of Mini’s strong suits but she coped well I think, only having one melt down near the end of the walk and insisting I carry her, which is fair enough. It was probably the longest she had gone on foot without being picked up or put back into her buggy.
It was all so lovely, getting back to nature and that but I couldn’t help but wonder as I looked around that it was lacking in something. And then as I watched all the able bodied children laugh and play and run and jump, it struck me-the diversity which I thought would be a foregone conclusion in a place like this wasn’t quite as diverse as I had imagined it to be. I was more aware of Mini having Down syndrome and being different than I have been at any other gathering of children she has been to. What would the school do I wondered, if a child in a wheelchair wished to enrol?Would they modify their nature walks? Would a parent have to carry their child for the walk three times a week?Perhaps I’m being unfair. It’s not the school’s responsibility to ensure there are services in place to assist children who require extra help. That falls at the feet of the government. A government who seem intent on slashing vital services for school going children who are not so able bodied in order to promote the well being of our rotten financial system.
When I went to pick Mini up at lunchtime today, I discovered the reason for the trial. There is a rhythm to the Steiner kindergartens-each day proceeds the same way. It starts with songs in the garden, then a walk, then a snack, then either baking or cooking with the children doing the wash up afterwards. There is an allotted time for free play but not a huge amount. It seems on closer inspection, to be quite a strict routine and not so hippy dippy after all. Mini responds well to routines but of course it takes her longer to adapt than other children. The teacher told me today she does not think that Mini will be able for the rhythm. I really wasn’t expecting this to be honest. I was expecting Mini to be welcomed into any pre-school. She’s a fantastic kid and I’m not just saying this because she’s my daughter. I’m hurt because this feels like rejection due to her inability to fit in after a very short space of time. Surely it takes time for any child to adapt to new and unfamiliar surroundings? Perhaps my personal perceptions issues weren’t all that wrong.
Currently we are waiting to see if we have been successful in our application to the HSE for funding for an assistant for Mini. The maximum we will receive is 3 hours a week. It will just about cover the walks and nothing else. Not enough to guide her through the rhythm. This marks the start of our battles with the education system. I don’t want to fight but it seems that that is the norm for parents of kids with special needs, who don’t fit neatly into little boxes, who don’t move easily with the rhythm. We must fight for every available opportunity and where none exists, we must create them ourselves. Some schools seem receptive to our energy and are willing to adapt, some sadly are not. Mini has 7 more days left in her trial and we wait to see if our first choice for her pre-school is one that falls into the first category. I hope that it will but if not, we will brush the tears away, regroup and fight another day.