Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Pre. School.

We’re going through the preschool selection process right now.  It's a complex, daunting task filled with equal levels of opportunity for joy and challenge.  

Of course, it can't be just any old preschool  ~ we want to find the right sense of home away from home.  We want it to be an amazing experience for him, opening up the world in ways that we can't do just by ourselves as parents:  playing with other children, touching soft and prickly things, hearing sounds that we don't make at home, looking at books and shapes and toys we would never think to offer him.  Shauna of Gluten-Free Girl recently posted a beautiful entry about children's play at preschool.  It really resonated with me. Play, compassion, joy ~ all so important. vital.

What an adventure it will be!  I bristle with excitement for him. 

But at the same time, I shudder with concern over his food allergies.  What if he's nowhere near us and suddenly has a major reaction to something left out, or given to him accidentally? What if the staff are not as diligent as we are?  What if a well-meaning kid doesn't understand he can't share his cheese stick with our son?  What if he needs an epi-pen administered to him ~ do we trust the school to know what to do, and trust their judgement in doing so?  

So often it seems to come down to the see-saw of safety vs. playfulness. I ache to imagine that we have to permanently shield him from the world. But then again, we don’t let him play in traffic. We teach him to look both ways and prepare him for the time when we can't cross the street with him.  It's called parenting.  Yet, he's still so little. 

We’ve been deciding between a wonderful warm school that is play-based and child-centered vs. a school that is nice, but mainly considered good preparation for kindergarten. A no-brainer it seems… until we consider his food allergies: soy, gluten, dairy and nuts.

The warm, inviting place has a wide open snack area with pretzels, milk, muffins, fruit, cheese and crackers ~ all great, but not for him. And when we asked the director about accommodating allergies, we were met with a vague “well, when we have those, we just ask the parents not to bring peanuts into the school.” A subsequent conversation with them resulted in the same level of vague willingness to help out. 

The other school has a fantastic attitude toward re-framing allergies in non-disparaging ways… calling one child’s rice milk “Sophies special milk” for example and ensuring safe eating practices.  But it's a competitive school to get into (I heard tell that one child was accepted after their parents providing nine letters of recommendation!)  We are currently on the waiting list for next Fall. 

So what to do?

Stepping out into the world
Well, I should be honest that this blog post sat in the hopper for a while.  I was so conflicted about the balance between the safety issues vs. the learning experience that I couldn't finish this post for a couple months.   However, after additional conversations about dietary restrictions with the director of the "warm, inviting place" ... and the thrilling developments that our son is now able to eat wheat ... and dairy if it's baked (!!!), we decided to go with our gut on the best educational experience we could help him have.  Heavy sigh of relief.  

The happy epilogue to this process came when we got a chance to take him to the school for an hour while it was in session.  He was more than excited, choosing several play areas in succession.  One in particular that he loved was the music table.  He not only jumped right in, but the other children welcomed him by sharing their instruments ... and letting him get in on a parade they were having all through the classroom!  Watching his little legs fly to catch up - and the sheer joy on his face - was the best confirmation for me that we'd done the right thing!

This could have gone so differently.  If anyone out there would like to share their experience, I'd love to hear it!  How did you choose your child's school, and how much did their food allergies play into the decision making process?

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