I haven’t written a lot on here about how E.’s transition to JK has gone.
It’s been very difficult. Very very difficult, for him, for us, for his teachers.
The fundamental problem is E. is not ready to be at school six hours a day, five days a week, with twenty-nine other children in his classroom.
He’s highly introverted, very noise sensitive and asynchronous in his development (in that intellectually he’s much older than four-and-a-half, but emotionally/socially he’s quite a lot younger).
He hasn’t been able to make friends in the classroom (which would help with his comfort levels) because he’s not really ready to make friends. He still prefers to spend as much time as possible with his imagination. His teacher said to me once that, “E. doesn’t play with the other children at recess. He tends to run around in circles.” When I asked E. about it, he told me that he uses recess to tell his stories, because he’s not allowed to tell his stories in the classroom (and telling lengthy, elaborate stories involving his favourite model train and most of his stuffed animals is one of his preferred activities). He always runs around the house when he tells stories at home. I have a theory it’s because he has so much going on in his brain he needs the physical activity to streamline his thinking so that a coherent story can emerge.
In the classroom, E. gets overwhelmed and overstimulated. The resulting behaviour looks to his teachers like a boy being intentionally naughty, so it’s taken a long time for them to understand that if E’s running around laughing manically and dumping things on the floor, his brain is no longer in control of his body and he needs help to calm down.
His teachers are supportive and open to suggestions, but there’s also only so much they can do when they have thirty kids (one teacher, one ECE). At home, when E. gets manic, we can calm him down in less than five minutes. At school, he’s made quite a few visits to the office just because they can’t get him to settle unless he’s removed from the classroom (and he’s too little to just chill out in the hall with a book for a few minutes).
That said, this week has shown that maybe, just maybe there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. E.’s had four good days in a row at school thus far, something which hasn’t happened since September (if ever). Something is working (finally). It’s probably a combination of the strategies we’ve implemented, but I also suspect there’s been one key change.
Our strategies include:
- A photo album with family photos, which E. can look at whenever he feels anxious or misses me (he has complained since the beginning that the day is too long and he misses me too much).
- A ‘quiet box’ filled with fun things that E. can sit down with in the quiet corner and use as a focus to help him calm down when he starts to get overstimulated and silly (includes a “Can You See What I See” book all about a train, a Spot the Dinosaurs book, a book of hidden picture puzzles, two books of mazes, and a book with easy connect the dots)- we’d been using the quiet corner as a place to calm down for weeks, but we found E. needed something more concrete than just going there and taking his deep breaths. He needed something that his brain could engage with.
- A piece of carpet from home that E. can sit on when the class is sitting at the big carpet (so that he knows where to put his bum and doesn’t lie down or sit on other children if he gets bored).
- Noise-reducing headphones (these only arrived this week, but they’ve been working well now that the other children have stopped trying to pull them off his head).
- His teachers are also keeping a closer eye on a couple of children who think it is funny to egg E. on and encourage him to do things that get him in trouble.
Interventions at Home:
- Stickers on the calendar if he has a good day (he is using train stickers this week and is excited to watch his train get longer).
- The promise of an afternoon off with me if he has five good days in a row (he’s picked riding on the new streetcar and going to the train museum).
- The threat of losing his trains for a week if he has three bad days in a week (he already loses television privileges if he has a bad day but that didn’t seem to be effective, so we raised the stakes. I wanted to determine just how much of the problematic behaviour was involuntary and how much stemmed from him getting into a bad pattern).
I think all of these things are helping, but I also think the most fundamental change is this: E. was enrolled in a hot lunch program that runs three days a week at the school. He brings the leftovers home every day, so I could see how much (or little) he was eating. Q. and I had also both noticed that E. regularly had days where he didn’t eat either his morning or his afternoon snack. When we asked E. about it, he told us that he is “too busy” to eat snack or that he finds it “too stressful” to eat snack because you have to watch the table and see when there is a free chair (unlike lunch where everyone sits down at the same time, it seems snack is on a bit of a rotation). E. would come home from school STARVING and would immediately unpack his lunch bag and eat all his snacks (and then request more snacks).
It’s really obvious when E. is hungry. He’s like me: he gets hangry and irrational.
So we asked E. if he wanted to stop hot lunch, and he said he did. We’re still technically registered, as you have to give two weeks’ notice, but this week we’ve packed him a full lunch with one of two main options (nut-free pesto pizza or a cheese quesadilla) every day.
And presto. Four good days in a row. Two days E. didn’t even want a snack after school when it was offered. He’s still skipping snacks at school, but at lunch he is sitting down and eating his pizza or his quesadilla and (at minimum) a piece of fruit and one other item from his lunch bag.
It’s still early, but I honestly think this might be the magic bullet we’ve been looking for.