Over the past few months we have been a little trepidatious about Little Bear entering full-time education. I think my biggest concern was over his behaviour. It’s pretty much a given that you have to do what you’re told at school. You can’t really growl at your teacher or tell her to “shut up” if you don’t like the sound of what she’s telling you. You definitely can’t scratch, bite or hit her. Or anyone else for that matter. It’s better if you don’t scream the place down. You shouldn’t try to climb over the fence to get out. All of this could be, well, challenging for Little Bear.
Secondly I was worried about how he would cope academically. The combination of plenty of early neglect and significant speech and language delay has led to him being significantly behind typical expectations for his age. I didn’t want him to be out of his depth at school. I didn’t want him to feel as though the teacher was speaking a foreign language or that nothing around him was making sense.
However, at the same time, Little Bear was showing us he WAS ready for school. Throughout the past year of dropping Big Bear off every day Little Bear has been asking if he can go too. His transition went really well and he was pretty angry with the summer holidays for impeding him from getting to where he wanted to go: school. He was very excited about shopping for his school shoes and about the arrival of his school uniform.
When Big Bear started school I knew they would be prising him from my leg for weeks to come. He’s the youngest in his class and although I didn’t have academic concerns about him, he wasn’t emotionally ready for school. It felt like a huge wrench to me that my first born (and at the time, only) child was leaving me and I was very weepy for the first few days. Then I discovered my freedom and realised there is definitely a positive in having your child in school!
When it came to it this time, my earlier concerns were mainly on the backburner and taking Little Bear to school for the first time was a happy and positive experience. He was super excited and went in confidently from day one. I do think these milestones are easier for children with older siblings as they have a much better idea of what it’s all about and they know what to expect.
I did feel the need to check in with his teacher at the end of the day but she said he had had “a brilliant first day” and there had been no behaviour incidents.
So far so good.
The Bears’ school doesn’t have a staggered start – it is full days right from the beginning. I figured that towards the end of the week, as Little Bear got tired, more behaviours would appear. But they didn’t.
We are now over 2 weeks in and his teacher recently described his behaviour as “impeccable”. I am genuinely astonished by this as his behaviour at pre-school would never have been described that way, nor his behaviour at home.
However, I have to say that his behaviour at home has settled too. Obviously we have had our moments – not least weeing on everything in sight on Saturday, including the swimming pool changing room floor and up the wall in McDonalds’ toilet! We have had countless wet pants and weekend mealtimes were characterised by hysteria and hyperactivity.
Despite that, Little Bear’s compliance has been good and we have not seen a regression in any of his skills (apart from the wetting) like we did at the start of the summer holidays.
We have tried to make things easier for him as starting school is a huge step. The dummy is having greater use as he can’t really relax properly without it yet and Little Bear is often found lying on the sofa with it after school. I have relaxed the “try to feed yourself” rule as he’s visibly too exhausted and I’d rather he gets a good meal into him. His appetite seems to have improved considerably and so does the speed of his chewing (which has always been painfully slow) but I have absolutely no idea why that should be.
The teachers have taken on board that Little Bear needs truckloads of praise and that the green/red card behaviour system won’t work for him. Consequently he is trying his very hardest to please them and is succeeding every day. I’m sure this is in turn a welcome boost to his self-confidence.
I’m so very proud of how hard he is trying and how significantly he is confounding expectations (mine and everyone else’s).
Earlier in the week I attended a parent’s talk about literacy and numeracy in Reception class and momentarily felt the stuffing knocked out of me. He has done so brilliantly that I happily trotted to the meeting not really thinking about its content.
As I sat on the unyielding plastic chair in Little Bear’s classroom, my eyes naturally scanned the vista. Beside the teacher was a wall display consisting of a photo of each child in the class and their hand drawn self-portrait. I quickly sought out Little Bears’. Aw, cute, I thought. Two very long legs not actually attached to anything, a dot then a scribble that was probably intended as a head. Then I scanned the rest. They may as well have been produced by Van Gogh the difference was so stark. Surely someone else’s would be at a similar level to his? No.. Seemingly not. Well, never mind, he’ll be better at other things I consoled myself.
The talk began and the National Curriculum expectations for Reception were laid out: “in stage 2 your child will learn 6 sounds, in stage 3, 25 more… They will come home telling you about graphemes and phonemes and what a split digraph is… They will be able to identify the first sound in words and blend sounds together…Counting is easy, all children start school being able to do that. It is understanding quantity that’s more difficult… Great games to help them at home are Snap and Snakes and Ladders… Your children will need to count forwards, backwards, count on and do number bonds to 20… We know you all do lots with them and have been doing for the past 4 years…”
It went on. I felt a grey mist descend on me and knot tighten in my stomach. I felt tears threaten to fill my eyes. Shit. Little Bear is so far behind. He has SO much to try to do this year. The task feels colossal and fairly impossible. We haven’t had him for 4 years I want to shout – nobody helped him for the first 3. We’ve only had him a year and it is not enough. It isn’t fair to expect this of him. Counting is evidently not as easy as you think it is, unless it goes “1, 4, 18” as Little Bear thinks it does. We can’t play those games you are suggesting: Little Bear couldn’t concentrate on them, understand the rules or follow any of the number bits. I’m pretty sure he isn’t going to come home telling me about split digraphs as he’d have a devil of a time getting those words through his speech processing system let alone trying to say them. Shit.
I shouldn’t really have reacted like that (as Grizzly helpfully pointed out when I got home) because it is not so long ago that Big Bear was in Reception so I clearly did know the expectations. I also quite clearly know that Little Bear is delayed in his development and that he is bound to be behind his peers who’ve had better starts in life. I think it’s just that I have re-set to Little Bear Scales and against those he is flying. Hearing the Actual Scales brought me back down to earth with a nasty bump. Also, knowing something and hearing it from someone else is quite different e.g. I know I have a prominent nose but I don’t want anyone else to tell me that!
I swallowed back the tears and tried to be a grownup about it. I went to have a chat with his teacher. It was a good chat because she was honest. She acknowledged that he does have a lot of ground to make up and that he isn’t at the same level as his peers. She was also positive and reassuring. She said we would go at his pace. We would give him more time to settle then consider what support he might need that could be funded through his Pupil Premium money. She can see the intelligent boy trapped by his speech and language difficulties that I can see and I know she will do everything she can to help him. I can tell she is already very fond of him. She can see the progress he has made since she visited him in pre-school. She can see progress in his play skills, in his ability to now play collaboratively with others instead of alongside them and in his ability to listen and to follow instructions. This is huge progress in a short time by anyone’s standards.
She told me that on the baseline assessments they have been carrying out that most of her ticks are in the 40 to 60 month range. Now, that nearly brought the tears back as on Little Bear’s last assessment at pre-school, in July, he had just gone into the 30 to 50 month bracket. His teacher is just as surprised by the speed of his progress as I am but she said she double and triple checked her assessment to ensure she wasn’t over-estimating his abilities and she is confident it’s right.
Almost exactly 1 year ago when Little Bear started pre-school, he was assessed as emerging at the 16 to 26 month level across all his skills. I don’t think anybody would expect a child to progress from a 16 month level to a 40 month level in one year. It makes me cross because clearly Little Bear was always able to achieve, he was just never taught or nurtured. We haven’t done anything magic, we have just parented him.
The chat also restored my calm and allowed me to hope once again. Realistically I don’t expect Little Bear to meet National Curriculum expectations at the end of Reception. The ask is nigh-on impossible. However, I’m sure he will continue to progress and astound us with what he CAN do. Who cares about Actual Scales? I’m going back to Little Bear Scales. He’s doing better than fabulously on those and I’m super proud of my little dude.
So far our communication with school has been good and I feel as though they “get him” and know how to manage him. I can’t ask for more at this stage.
Though I do wonder what a split digraph is…