Ryan finished his second term of preschool recently. Richard and I attended the usual Parent-Teacher Conference to discuss his progress and development with his class teachers.

Actually, I should begin this post by writing about Ryan's first term in pre-school, which he started in August last year.

In his first term, Ryan was, on the whole, rather quiet and introverted when he was in class. He enjoyed being with others but sometimes he also liked to sit quietly and do puzzles by himself. He wasn't anti-social, he was just a little on the quiet side. He did form close friendships with some of his classmates, mainly because these little ones came up to him and "adopted" him. In particular, there were two little girls who "fought" over him everyday. They kissed him and hugged him repeatedly. They bossed him around and held his hand to make sure he followed them around (and the two girls weren't always going in the same direction). It was quite amusing, actually.

Anyway, the point is that Ryan was well taken care of (by everyone!) and he was happy. He was just not talking very much, especially if he was put on the spot. When he was unsure of what was expected of him or what he thought he was supposed to do, he would clam up. But if the children were singing a song or if they were all discussing something together, he would join in wholeheartedly.

The teachers were concerned that his lack of communication would affect his ability to learn, to interact with his classmates, and to form friendships. For instance, one day, one of his gal pals put him on a tricycle and she rode off on her own, calling him to follow her. At that time, he didn't know how to ride the tricycle so he just sat there quietly. The little girl came back and asked him why wasn't he following her. Ideally, Ryan should have said something like, "I need some help with this" or "Wait for me!" (In the end, the teacher suggested that the two of them get on a tandem tricycle and the gal could cycle the both of them around, which is what they did.)

The teachers said that it was obvious that he knew what was going on, and that he obviously had lots of interesting thoughts to share with everyone. They wanted him to be able to say to his friends, "Hey, I've got an idea" or "I know this!". They wanted him to be able to share, to show off, to interact, to bounce ideas off others.

His lack of communication also affected his toilet-training. Ryan knew the routine, as in, he knew what the toilet was for and he knew how to use it. However, he did not alert the teachers when he needed to use the toilet. So he remained in diapers. This also bothered the teachers because they felt he should have been off diapers.

Although Ryan was not very verbal, he still wanted to express himself which he did by touching and nudging his friends, especially if he was very happy or excited. Sometimes he would even use his mouth to feel them. Not biting, just feeling, but still not socially acceptable. Happily, that was easily resolved within the first few days of school with the teachers' guidance.

Still, his quietness bothered the school. In the first four weeks of the term, Richard and I were summoned twice to meet the principal and his core class teacher for an on-going dialogue on his development. They said that they didn't know how to get through to Ryan, to achieve that "breakthrough". They said they were still looking for the "key" to unlock him.

The teachers asked us to get a third-party observer who would come and observe him in class for about an hour or two and then suggest some strategies for the teachers to try in order to get Ryan to communicate more. They felt that Ryan was already behind his classmates in terms of social development and, if this was not corrected as soon as possible, he would lose precious time in being able to reap the most out of the school curriculum.

Ryan's behaviour sounded right to Richard and I. He is always cautious in a new setting, he always tries to first understand how things are done before attempting to jump in, he always observes first and ventures forth only when he is absolutely sure. Going to school for the first time, there was a lot to absorb, to learn, and to assimilate, before he would feel comfortable enough to volunteer his opinion or his thoughts.

Also, Richard and I felt that it was not right to compare Ryan to the rest of his classmates. I mentioned in this post that Ryan was the only new student in his class. All his classmates were veterans, having been at this pre-school during previous terms/years. Richard and I were of the view that, being the odd one out, in an environment and in a setting which was completely new, with completely new people, without his familiar surroundings and without his familiar loved ones, well, it was perfectly normal to be reserved, especially given his nature. He was extremely chatty at home so it was not a developmental delay. To us, it was purely a situational consequence. Give him time to settle in, we said. After all, going to school is pretty life-changing.

Nevertheless, Richard and I appreciated the effort and we appreciated the interest, which we felt was more than genuine. We also wanted to put the teachers at ease. A happy teacher makes a happy student. So we acceded to their request.

The observation would be at our cost (it wasn't much at all) so I was the one who contacted the third party observer. I remember speaking to her over the phone to explain the situation and, ironically, Ryan was chattering away non-stop in the background. She heard him and was surprised that there would be any concern about him. She emailed the school but the school still insisted she do the observation. So she did it and she made her suggestions in a written report. Her suggestions mainly echoed our sentiments - Ryan's perfectly fine, just give him time, don't pressure him. Basically, the more you focus on his "problem", the more he will have a problem.

I don't know if the teachers implemented any of the suggestions. We never spoke about it again. Which, I suppose, in a way, meant that they understood the underlying message - there's nothing to be concerned about, everything will happen in its own time. And so, that was that.

Although Richard and I did not share the teachers' views, we have nothing but praise for them and I will say that the teachers are really wonderful. They are so observant, so thoughtful and so full of concern for Ryan's wellbeing. I mean, I've heard of teachers complaining of children being too noisy and disruptive, but this is certainly the first time I've ever heard of teachers being so concerned that the child is not talking enough. All things considered, I think they did the right thing because, in the end, we all ended up harmoniously on the same page.

There were no other issues - Ryan was very well-liked by everyone, he was happy to participate in the activities, he was happy to be with friends, he was very well-behaved, and he took instructions very well.

Well, there was one other issue actually. Ryan was not keen on the food that was served in school. He rarely ate and if he did, it would be very little. The teachers were very concerned and we had to constantly reassure them that he was fine and that we were fine with this. We told them that Ryan would get his lunch right after school, when he went over to his nanny's place, so no worries. It took some time before the teachers stopped worrying and accepted this. Till now, I still get (other) teachers coming up to me and telling me how little he ate during lunch.

We skipped the Parent-Teacher Conference for the first term, given that we already had so many meetings with the teachers and opportunities to discuss his development. Ryan brought his portfolio home one day (which we would otherwise have collected during the conference) and it was lovely to go through the portfolio and see what investigations and explorations Ryan did in school. The portfolio was a collection of various reports by the teachers, with their observations of his learning and his progress. It also contained lots of photos and some of his artwork. Ryan was really proud of his portfolio and showed it to anyone who gave him the chance.

One thing that really stood out in the teachers' reports was how impressed they were at his reading skills, in particular, his knowledge of letter sounds, blends and other phonetic aspects. When Ryan first started pre-school, we had an interview with his teachers during which we told them that he could read and spell. They were going, "oh, that's great" but I think they didn't seriously believe us at the time, hahaha.

So now Ryan has finished his second term. We attended the Parent-Teacher Conference at the end of the term and sat down with his teachers for a chat.

His teachers informed us that, this term, Ryan has made immense progress in his communication skills. As his Mandarin teacher put it, last term he was still in "observation mode", this term he is "veteran" enough to open up. Apparently, this term, he just won't shut up, heh heh.

I'm not going to say I told you so. Oops, I think I just did.

His teachers had nothing but praise for him. They said he is very intelligent and able to quickly grasp the concepts introduced in class. He always has "fantastic" and "creative" ideas (their words, not mine) when they have discussions and problem-solving scenarios. He is socially accepted and has good friendships. He is well behaved and poses no problems in class. The teachers did say that there is a marked difference when he comes to school well rested and when he comes to school deprived of sleep. When he is in a good mood, he starts the day by declaring, "Here I am! It's me, Ryan!" Hahaha!

The teachers also told us that he is always very happy when he brings something from home to share with the class. There is no formal "show and tell" in his pre-school - the children can bring whatever they want to class, on any day, and there will usually be a chance for the children to share their treasures with the others.

The teachers continue to be impressed with his reading skills and they also told us that his number/math skills are pretty good too.

To our surprise, his Mandarin teacher told us that he is very good in Mandarin! She says that he can and does speak in Mandarin while in class and she says his intonation is perfect! She said that his Mandarin is well within the standard expected of his peers and we have nothing to worry about. That was truly a (pleasant) shock to us!

The teachers asked us if there was anything that we wanted them to work on with Ryan. I asked them instead if there was anything we could do at home to strengthen what he did in school. Hahaha, everyone was so obliging.

There was only one issue that the teachers felt needed attention - toilet training! They told us that Ryan was aware that the other children did not use diapers. When it is "toilet-time", he will wait till everyone has finished, then he will hide his clean diaper in a bag and take his turn! Oh my!

Coincidentally, around this time, I was working with Ryan at home on his toilet training which probably added to his awareness. So it was decided that we would put him in underpants for pre-school and just let him get used to it. So far, it has worked pretty well. He had an accident the first day, then survived the rest of the week without any more accidents.

So I'm really happy for Ryan that he is doing so well! It took a little faith and understanding on our part, but all we really needed to do was to step back. He knew what he was doing all the while. Well done, my boy!


Anonymous said...

Hi, may I know which preschool is Ryan attending now? Everything looks so good!

Pinkie Pirate said...

Hi Anonymous, regarding Ryan's pre-school, you can email me at pinkiepirate@live.com . Cheers!

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