Friday, 19 July 2013
Yesterday morning, we visited the Bridge nursery to meet with the Head, Gill, and to look around. I absolutely couldn't fault it, it's an amazing place...and I was also in tears in her office at least thirty seconds after saying hello, and again as we drove away from it.
Honestly, I really don't normally spend quite this much in puddles - and I certainly don't start crying shortly after meeting someone! But all it took was her kindly saying hello, introducing herself and (the key part) asking how we felt about being there. How do I feel about being here? How much time do you have?!
Thankfully, Gill is clearly very used to prospective parents bursting into tears in her office and quite calmly offered me the tissues, reassuring me even as I tried to apologise that I wasn't being critical of her nursery or disrespectful to her, considering she went out of her way to fit us in on an already jam-packed day at the end of term.
It's just that you don't visit that particular nursery because you're in awe of the amazing facilities.
You don't visit because of the high adult/child ratios.
You don't visit because you've heard about the impressive staff qualifications.
You visit that particularly nursery because your child is different to other children.
You visit because your child needs more help than other children do.
You visit because your child is struggling simply to be able to learn and develop.
You visit that particular nursery because you are sent. By doctors. By therapists. By psychologists.
It's not a nursery you choose - no matter how spectacular it may be.
It's a nursery that you need.
It's a nursery that your child needs.
That hurts and I don't think it's going to stop hurting just yet.
But I don't want to make you think it was a bad visit. It wasn't. In fact, it was the furthest thing from bad that it is possible to be. Because the nursery is amazing. And the nursery is the perfect place for Adam.
The staff ratios are much higher than commercial nurseries and average one adult per two children, but when the situation merits it, the ratio is one to one. Each "class" has a maximum of ten children in it so there is both time and physical space to meet each child's needs - whether that's space for a wheelchair or space for children who need to wander.
The curriculum follows the standard Early Years Framework so it meets national guidelines, however every single individual child has a specific learning plan, designed to accommodate their particular disabilities and to meet and help them learn and grow no matter what level they are starting from and no matter what upper ceiling may exist for them. Each child's way of learning is taken into account and the methods used for teaching and learning are geared specifically to them - not to a small group or to a presumption of "the way people with this disability should learn" but to them. How Adam learns and what he needs in order to learn will be specifically catered to.
The day follows a set routine with specific tasks at precise times in order to help those children for whom routine is all encompassingly important. Learning happens through play - as in all nurseries I suppose, but the play is intentional and interactive - so time in the sandbox includes learning to fill and pour, learning what objects are by being asked to pass a bucket or spade...etc.
The children go outside in all weathers precisely to help them understand that all experiences are worth investigating and learning about - even the ones where they might get wet if it's raining or cold if it's snowing (and of course suitable protective gear is provided).
There are multiple playgrounds separated by theme - so there's the area with climbing frames, a whole separate area with cars and a driving track, another area with soft toys...etc.
Indoors there is a 'soft play' room which is effectively a huge ball pit and squidgy climbing area. There's a 'dark room' designed to stimulate senses in relation to light - so there are glow sticks, child controlled coloured light boards, neon string lights and every other type of light you can imagine - all in a darkened room meaning it's actually like a beautiful display you might see at Christmas time.
Then there's the 'light room' which is precisely the opposite - exploring how lights look against a white background and, among other things, this one includes disco balls and child controlled spotlights to shine on different areas of the wall.
There's one whole corridor designed to be the play corridor so this means there are toys embedded into the walls all the way along it (as in things that spin or rotate or make sounds) and children are free to run up and down or stop and play with any of the toys that they wish.
There is a gymnasium for sports and large motor activities, which includes an indoor climbing frame with a small slide.
And because, once you're inside the 'complex' all of the doors are locked and only open with security passes, it means that children - like Adam - who are prone to taking off without warning or awareness of their own safety, can run freely and play without needing an adult to hover over them or hold a limb all the time. (Of course, adults are always in attendance and watching for safety, but the point is that children can be free to move and explore.)
All of the staff routinely use a huge variety of communication styles which include Makaton, Picture Exchange Cards and any other form of communication that is needed to maximise a child's ability to communicate.
I could keep going, but I think you get the point. The nursery is amazing. What they can offer is amazing.
There are, however, things I did find poignant and hard to see. Obviously, it is a nursery for disabled children. This means there are children in wheelchairs, some wearing helmets to protect their heads, others with their heads strapped up and supported as they are unable to do so themselves. There were children who cannot handle wearing clothes so who wander around wearing nothing but nappies. There are children who rock and twitch. Children who stare into space. Children who do not speak. Children who clearly have very profound disabilities.
It is difficult to see so many disabled children because I know, so very personally, that behind each one of those children is a parent who has ached over the journey even as we have ached. It is also poignant, because I know that as of January 2014, my son will join them. He will have access to the best facilities, the most qualified staff and the greatest level of support available...and all of his teachers, therapists and doctors are lining up to say this is the right place for him.
As we drove away, Chris quietly asked me what I thought of it. He was excited over the opportunities that will be available to Adam as a result of being offered a place at this nursery. I replied that it was perfect....and then I burst into tears.