A visit to the zero-class at Montessori

On the 24th November 2014, parents of children in the queue for zero class at the Montessori school in our neighbour village, were invited for an information meeting. Since “Gubby” is already in a Montessori pre-school belonging to the school, he automatically had a place folded for him if we wanted it, so all parents in our situation, were also there at the meeting. We of course had to go, since habilitation had not told us anything, whether he need special needs school or must go to regular school, and we had to proceed with decisions, in order not to get burned. Montessori wanted to know by the 5th December, which children in pre-school wanted their places at the school. After that date, they would start phoning parents in the outside queue.

I can not say that I drove to the school with happy thoughts. And I had two “children” at home objecting! Both of them having attended the school at the age 7-9 and D. even till the age of 10, since he had to do third grade two years in a row, to catch up to the others. I had to tell them that things change when personnel change. But the bitterness is still there. J. getting terribly bullied at the school since he was so odd. If we had only known then what we know now. That he is with 100% likelihood autistic. He should have re-done first grade. He should have been moved in middle school so he could not sit off time for three years, like he did.

The last year, E. attended the school, I had a very difficult time with the personnel. They looked at me with contempt, they were rude and cold, and I could not wait, to take my child out of there and never return. And now I was back and who do I encounter in the zero-class classroom? Some of the judgemental people from when E. did her last year at the school. I was in shock and so were they at seeing me. But I decided that people can change. And what options do I really have? Perhaps things will not be so bad in zero-class, especially if “Gubby” gets an assistant? I decided to try to be open-minded. We both did, T. being with me for once. We sat down and saw that some other parents from our village Montessori pre-school was also in attendance and I felt that this was a little bit comforting, since “Gubby” will then recognise some of the children. Providing they actually take their slotted places.

I am not sure what I thought of the information meeting except that I got vexed at this woman from the outside queue. She brought up the topic of home language which has the formal name of Mother Tongue. That is for children who has at least one immigrant parent, who speaks the language of their home country, at home. In our case, its English of course since T. speaks English ALL the time with the children and he and I only converse in English between us. This lady, has a daughter and at her pre-school the daughter was allowed to sit in on the English lessons and she thought it was so much fun! And the parent was delighted that she got to learn some English at such an early age. It made me angry!!!! First of all, my child’s pre-school has had to cut home language lessons because it costs too much. So “Gubby” has not received his entitled home language lessons. These lessons cost the schools a lot of money so they are only meant for the children who are entitled to the lessons. They are not supposed to be something fun for Swedish children! And this cow sat there and argued with the teachers that why should her daughter not be allowed to have all this fun at their school as well, even though she has two 100% Swedish parents? I wanted to bite the woman’s head off and hoped that no place would be offered to her child, because I’d rather not “Gubby” go to school with such a stupid woman’s child! Nor do I want to meet that lady again at future parenting meetings etc. She has completely missed the point of what home language or mother tongue is all about and that it is a service the school buys in. A native teacher comes to the school, to teach his or her language. There were other stupid questions from this lady and another lady from the outside queue, but the above is the only one that I really got emotionally involved in. (The fun thing is that all places have been taken by Montessori children, so these outsiders asked their stupid questions in vain!)

After we went on a tour of the school, which has changed A LOT since E. quit, we got to talk to the teacher who will be in charge of the zero-class. I wanted to see her reaction when I asked her about a child with autism attending her class and how they could adjust things for him. I guess autism is not a foreign concept at the school like it is at the Catholic school that “Boo” attends. Some children have assistants at the school which sounded positive in my view, since that means that the headmaster is willing to exert himself on a child’s behalf and apply to LSR (School Resource Center for our council) for help. It sounded like they would try to help “Gubby” as much as they possibly can. But I guess one will not know that until one sits in the middle of it. It was decided that I come and visit the present zero-class to see how they work on that level, since none of my children ever attended zero-class. It did not even exist when J. and D. was that age.

On the 27 January 2015, after saying yes to the place at the school on the 5th December, but still feeling undecided if it is really right for “Gubby”, I went to spend the morning with the zero-class. I arrived at the school at 9:00 and was received by the special ed teacher who has been down to help both “Boo” and “Gubby” with their speech and language, at the pre-school. She walked me in to the classroom which is in the middle of the school. My first concern of course being that “Gubby” will run off to the loo and get undressed to poop and then noone will hear him, if he learns to shout that he is ready and needs to be wiped. I can see him running out naked like he does at pre-school, to get someone’s attention and this will of course not work at a school where children from age 6-12 is in attendance. I fear that he might get bullied and teased, unless they realise how sweet he is and needs help?

imageThe school was really quiet, everyone working hard and I was surprised at the little group in front of me. Sitting one and one, by little tables or on the floor, working on their own tasks. Hm! How will “Gubby” do in that environment, with glass windows all around the room, but that is the limit of how far he is allowed to go. If he is going to go flaxing, it will have to be in the room! Because flax he will do! No way to escape it until he grows out of it or learns that there are places where it is not completely alright to flax about. Flaxing? Have I not explained it? He looks like a bird, flaxing his wings in order to take off and he runs while doing it. The new thing though is to clap his wrists when he is flaxing and running. It can get on my nerves so sometimes I beg him to stop, but he doesn’t usually pay attention to me. The best thing is to call out to him and beg him to come. Come and look at this book with me! Come and let us build a puzzle! He does the flaxing when he is tired, happy, bored, overwhelmed or unsettled. So what the school needs to do, is try to catch his attention when he does this and suggest something for him to do. It usually works at the pre-school. I am not sure how M. will handle it at the school though. She can get irritated and I see why. She has a class of about 15 pupils who all need her help, a lot!

The first hour, they were two people in the classroom. One woman from after-day care helping out in the classroom. But the second hour she has to do her real job for some reason, even if the school day is not out for anyone yet. And that is when the real problem starts. One person trying to help all the children working on individual tasks. I saw how thinly stretched M. was and that it would be impossible for her to have “Gubby” in the classroom, without him having an assistant. He would be lost and spend all his day flaxing. He needs to have someone there for him alone. Especially when I saw how advanced these 6-year-olds were and where he is at. One boy sat on the floor and read cards matching them up with clocks. And he did them all correctly. One girl sat imageand did Math. She had to fill in the number coming after a number. Like what comes after 599, 437… Some children sat and worked on work sheets that had a picture that they had to colour and then they were supposed to write a text under it. The teacher writes the text in very thin pencil and they fill in her writing. One boy was sitting doing number exchange, which I still do not understand but then I am not a math genius! I know that “Boo” would not be able to do what that boy was able to do, and then he is two years older than all these children. As a matter of fact, it felt like all of them were way more advanced than both “Gubby” and “Boo”! It felt worrisome. I spent a lot of time looking at all the different Montessori materials and everything looked terribly advanced. I got so worried that “Gubby” will not find anything to do, that is within his scope of intelligence, that this school is too advanced for him and then we are only talking about zero-class, which is not supposed to be serious and should be mostly about play. There was no playing in that zero-class at all. It is all very serious already. ,

M. had some time for me, when most of the children had done their two tasks that day. In their planning books, she writes up two things for them to accomplish every day. Some gets them done quickly and some barely get them done at all. The girl with the math sheet for example, did not get a lot of free time, because she just sat and looked at everything going on around her, wanting help she said. But when M. sat down to help her, it was clear that she needed no help, she just wanted company. I sat down with her for a while and she said she did not know what to do, but I told her that I knew that she could do the numbers and she gave me the answers. She just wanted immediate feedback and someone to sit and chat with, while doing the paper and this, the teacher does not have time for. M. told her that she was just being lazy. At a meeting at BUP, the counselor asked me if I really want my child in a school where the teacher says that to children. The counselor doesn’t have any children! I told her that there are teachers that say far worse to the pupils and that no school is perfect. At the Catholic school I have heard teachers swear at the pupils like the worse harbour workers, so you just have to decide which level of badness you can not tolerate.

imageM. told me that they work on different time periods from the big bang and so on. (They are very anti religion at this school which is one reason I was adamant about taking my children out of there.) Those are the worksheets that she writes text on and that they have to fill in. Not all the children can read what they have just filled in. She also said that there is plenty of Montessori material to work on, depending on where you are in the development. I am sure that some things “Gubby” will recognise from his pre-school and some things she showed was actually on his level. One was these boxes with littleimage tubes in them and you listen to them by shaking them, determining which ones sound the same. It seems like if he received an assistant, that person could sit and help him use that material, if the other pupils are doing more advanced things. And he could definitely sit and colour in the worksheets, even if he does not understand at all what they are about and what she has just had a presentation on. He could even fill in letters I think! But would he learn anything? No, but he would learn to sit still for a while on a chair. For the future, that will be good.

The good thing is that the group is small, the room not too cramped up and light. He can look outside. And the noise level was very low if not completely quiet. Only when it was nearing lunch, did the volume go up. I did not stay for lunch but it is eaten in their room, so they do not intermingle with the older pupils who can get very noisy at lunch. During the lunch recess they also have someone go out and do organized play after a while, which is nice since he certainly can not come up with things to do on his own, except flaxing or running around. Well, going on slides and such, also works of course, but I did not see if they still had the slide or not. My concern is the big forest right by the school and that he will take off in there and get lost. Or children lure him in there and then abandon him for fun. But with an assistant, he would be safe. So everything hangs on a little thread called an assistant. Failure or success is dependant on such a person being available to him. Then I think, he could continue to thrive at the Montessori school, just as he has at the pre-school. There he is surrounded by understanding children. Would it be the same at the school? I wish I had a crystal ball so I could see in to the future! What should I do?

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