This weekend my cousin, who also has a son with Down syndrome, posted a celebration of his first independent steps as her facebook status. And what a celebration that is! I remember vividly celebrating each of those great milestones in the first years of Mikey's life. They were each so definitive and wonderful.
Looking back this weekend I was also struck with the order of Mikey's development. Mikey crawled when he was 9 months old but did not sit up independently until he was 11 months old. This is not "typical development" but it really didn't much matter to me as he was accomplishing things and we just celebrated whatever he accomplished. I had to work with him on both crawling and sitting unassisted. With crawling we would put a towel under his tummy and just pull him a bit up so he could start to get his tummy off the floor. With sitting we padded around him and slowly pulled the padding off from different sides until he was able to sit without it. With every skill he has learned since we have used similar scaffolding methods - giving him the support he needs and then pulling it off until he no longer needs the supports.
This year, we have shifted gears with a few of the students in my classroom and are now looking at including our students more during core academic times. In the past if we did integration it was during the non-academic times. For me it has been challenging and exciting and I feel like we are finally started to look at what education should be about for the students who have traditionally been placed in my room.
For so long we have been trying to assist these students in gaining the skills they need to access and interact with the world and the people in it. We do it in isolation - one painful step at a time. We do it thinking there is a specific order that we should be developing skills. We do it for the students.
Throw these students in the middle of a "regular classroom" and the challenge before us becomes that much more real. What I've noticed though is that the students now become key players in the finding the solution. And I'm starting to thinking that finding the solution is actually the essence of what education means. What is the best way for students to be able to engage and interact in their learning. This covers it all because in this day and age you aren't learning if you aren't also interacting.
We are no longer so caught up in a sequence of skills that need to be learned in a certain order or thinking that a student will not be able to access curriculum until they have a certain set of skills. We are finding ways for the students to be a part of the class and the curriculum.
And... we are seeing some kids walk that we had been having trouble teaching to crawl in the self contained setting.
We still have much to do but I do believe I've found my new star to shoot for and I'm excited about what these next years will bring :).