Primary Nursery School

I went to Primary today.

It was pretty disruptive.  I have a baby who really wants to talk, the same baby who is really fussy while not feeling well, the same baby who likes to crawl and stand and pull on people’s clothes to make that happen, the same baby with a loud breathing machine, and the same baby who really likes to poop.  If there is anything that can make primary more exciting, it’s me and my kids visiting primary, that’s for sure.

I went because I was in primary class last week to substitute for another class, and was shocked and mortified and appalled by how terrible my kids were during sharing time.

It was bad.

So I prayed about it all week, and pondered it during scripture study all week, and fasted about it today for fast day.

This morning I felt to ask Nathan for a council, because learning about family councils has saved our family as much as Family Home Evening and regular prayers and scripture study, like at a temple-attendance-miracle-level.

Nathan, as the priesthood leader for our family, had the insight to do individual councils with each child… like personal priesthood interviews, except the three of us instead of only them.

PPI’s, by the way, if you aren’t doing them, let me promise you that they are right up there with miracle blessings on the list of FHE, regular scripture study and prayer, and temple attendance, I am not kidding.

We called in Anber first, because she is the most dramatic.  I told her I was concerned because I had assumed she loved primary, but when I was in sharing time she would not sit with her class or smile or participate.  Her teachers say she still does not talk.  I told her I saw her look sad, even though Papa leads the music, and that she didn’t even smile when he was in front of the class being funny.  I told her these were the things I saw and felt and wondered about, and Nathan shared some of his observations, and we asked her to tell us her side of the story – what she was thinking and feeling, and what we could do to help her feel more comfortable.

Know what she said?  She said it isn’t primary sharing time that scares her, but her “nursery class” after during third hour.  Specifically, she is in a very large class with other three year olds, and there are “too many kids for me” and “they don’t know as much as me, not how to read or math or talking about Scriptures”.  It was brilliant!  It was incredible insight for her to have, and certainly a challenge she is always going to have in life.  She known all her preschool “stuff” since she was eighteen months old, and has been reading for a year, and can write and do math and talk about serious things many grown-ups don’t even consider.

But she doesn’t know how to play.

She doesn’t know how to socialize.

She doesn’t know how to color.

She doesn’t know how to accept a snack without being afraid someone is going to take it away from her.

This leaves her in a tricky place emotionally, where mentally she feels like her “big girl class” is just the same nursery class in a new room (which it kind of is), but emotionally and socially she is way behind.

I went to her class for the first part of third hour today, and watched.  Her teachers were brilliant with that rowdy group.  It is a big class, and I was impressed with the boundaries they set and the structure they set.  But I also loved how nurturing they were, how animated and on their level they were, and how active and quick-paced the class was, plus so much interaction.  It was perfect.

That’s what I talked about with Anber after class, how good for her it was, but also how I could certainly see how the experience challenges her.  We talked about how no matter what class she goes to, there will never be a room full of people who see life the very same way she does.  We talked about using her words, and saying things like “so many kids in this class makes me really uncomfortable” or “when that girl stands on the table it bothers me and makes me scared and mad and sad” or “I will take my turn at holding the doll, but I do not want to talk out loud to say what I did this week”.  She did all of this brilliantly.  I wanted to encourage her voice, and acknowledge her concerns, and comfort her fears, but also let her develop and grow in the exact ways she needs.

Today I got a testimony that her sunday school teachers are the very exact right ones for her.

It was an incredible experience.

We also talked with Alex before church.  I told him I was concerned because the Alex I know was not even at primary last week.  We talked about how some of this is autism, so things like hand flapping and tip toeing and falling out of chairs happens more when he is in a big group class like for sharing time… but that it’s still his hard work of learning to regulate all this.  We talked about ways we can work together to help improve his functioning during sharing time class, but also that as he grows up it is his job to advocate for himself and communicate about what he needs to be successful, rather than only acting out.  We talked about how behaving like a four year old is not cute when you are almost eight, and how shouting out random things or raising your hand and then not saying anything makes you look stupid or foolish instead of clever and smart.  We talked about how he has worked so hard to be a fluent reader, and how he naturally excels at math (he is already adding four digit numbers with carrying, and working now on subtraction with borrowing), and how his thoughts and ideas are unique and creative and different than what anyone else is going to think of – which means he needs to share them in a way that presents himself well, so that what he wants to share is communicated effectively in a way that people get to see the same Alex we know at home.

When I went to his sunday school class, I was half hoping he would be behaving when I got there.  I really, really wanted to catch him being good.  I peeked through the window, and he was doubled over in his chair, sliding his scriptures under his seat the way he races cars, and kept going until he actually fell out of his chair onto his head with a sommersault to follow.  Sigh.  That boy.

I sat next to him, and watched as his teacher kept her structure regardless of his disruptions.  She was patient in enduring through her lesson, ignoring his attention seeking behaviors and redirecting his misbehaviors.  I really appreciated she could tell the difference between the two.  She also encouraged positive behaviors, inviting him to participate at different times with the other children, giving him his turn to read, and assigning him tasks of responsibility – even things like finding his own place in the scripture reading, which we are also working on at home.  When he had something relevant to share but it was the wrong time, she excused him as she should have, but then was delighted to respond to him after class when there was time.

Again, it was perfect.  I know that she is the exact right teacher for Alex right now.

Mary is in that class, too, by the way, and I was delighted to see her sitting right in the very middle where she could read the lips of the teachers, see the visual aids that went with every aspect of what they were discussing, and follow prompts for where the class was reading.

Perfect.

When it was Mary’s turn for council after church, we mostly talked about her preparation for going to Deaf school.  She calls it “Deaf Oklahoma School” – which I love and have not corrected.  She is not scared or anxious, as yet, and mostly excited.  We keep repeating that it isn’t foster care, promising her over and over again that she will be home with us on long weekends, and that she is still adopted and sealed to us, and that we are still her family.  She, like Anber, knows she is way ahead on her school work, but we talked very seriously about how she must go to learn sign language, no matter what else she learns.  This is her very most important time in her life for an immersion experience in sign language, and its a critical experience she must have and soak in.  It will only be eight weeks, with her home three days a week, and it is the best chance she has at beginning to grasp that part of her identity.  I cannot write, or explain to her enough, how critical an experience this is for her Deaf culture or how much depends on it, even these eight weeks left of this school year.

  
Kirk’s council was very easy, because – like Mary – he is very good and rarely in trouble.  His challenge is not behavioral, so much as staying on task.  He is so quick to be helpful that he is easily distracted.  He gets overwhelmed by details until he gets stuck.  For example, I will tell him it’s his turn to go shower and get dressed, and he will notice the trash full of diapers so leave the bathroom to go get a big sack to take the trash out, and then on the way to the kitchen notice that the dishwasher needs unloading, and then start to unload the dishwasher but find the pitcher we use to fill the dog water up and go try to do that, but get in the back bathroom to fill up the pitcher and notice a headband there, so he picks that up to take it to the girls’ room for him, and then he is in trouble for being in the girls’ room instead of the shower.  It would be really funny if it weren’t exhausting.  It’s not an attention issue, though it looks like it on the surface, but a big heart issue.  We talked with him about priorities, and focusing on finishing one thing at a time before moving on to the next thing.

Barrett’s council was very tender, which is tricksy because he continues tantrums even as Anber has finally slowed hers further in between incidents.  Most of his exposure to domestic violence was pre-verbal, and then he was taken into state custody pretty quickly after that and placed with family who spoiled him.  This has left him with a lot of rages that happen either when he is sad (triggered by infantile things: needing to go to the bathroom, being hungry, being tired, wanting to play) or when he doesn’t get his way (like he was spoiled before).  Verbally he is very advanced, but emotionally he is stuck younger than Kyrie, and until we figured that out it just looked like he was angry and violent much of the time.  Now that we understand, we are able to use his strength of logic to help him figure out what is happening and self-express to self-correct.  It’s incredible.  We can go from “I hate you so much I want to cut your head off” to “I am really hungry so it makes me feel angry because what if I am scared and I never get food again?”  Because he is finally connecting words to the pre-verbal emotions, he is able to use big kid words to express himself more directly and the tantrums subside.  Whew.

It was a very powerful day, with revelation poured out upon all of us, even the kids, and a powerful experience for all of us.  The kids had revelation for themselves, and realized it, and we had revelation for them, and we shared insights, and brought peace to our family through struggles that are real and difficult and exhausting.  I will not forget it, and needed to write it down so they won’t, either.

Also, that’s our testimony of family councils, and I had to share that because we have similar results when big family contentions or dramas happen, and we are able to meet and talk it out and there is every time an outpouring of the spirit over us as we figure things out and make changes and repent together and start afresh.  It’s very healing and empowering!

About Emily

I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 2009. I serve as a Chaplain, and work as a counselor. I got bilateral cochlear implants in 2010, but will always love sign language. I choose books over television, and organics over processed. Nothing is as close to flying as ballroom dancing - except maybe running, when in the solo mood. I would rather be outside than anywhere else, especially at the river riding my bike or kayaking. PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy, and currently doing a post-doc in Jewish Studies and an MDiv in Pastoral Counseling. The best thing about Emily World is that it's always an adventure, even if (not so) grammatically precise. The only thing better than writing is being married to a writer. Nathan Christensen and I were married in the Oklahoma City temple on 13 October 2012, and have since fostered more than eighty-five children. We have adopted the six who stayed, and are totally and completely and helplessly in love with our family. Nathan writes musical theater, including "Broadcast" (a musical history of the radio) and an adaption of Lois Lowry's "The Giver". He served his mission in South Korea, has taught song-writing in New York City public schools, and worked as a theater critic for a Tucson newspaper. This is not an official Web site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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