Thursday, January 31, 2013

First Birthday

The baby at our house was born at 10:30pm on January 31, 2012, according to the hospital records I checked in our files yesterday.  If he was "my" baby I might be posting Facebook status updates right now saying things like one year ago at this time my water broke!  But I don't do that... I can't.  I was completely unaware of his existence.

Checking my calendar, I see that it was "cluster" night, so I would have gone to our monthly foster parent meeting.  It's a chance to catch up with other foster parents, hear what's up with the society, get announcements about policy changes, and often hear from a speaker.   I would probably have talked to our worker about the fact that I'd called the placement department the day before and had our name put "up on the board", as they call it.  (We got to see "the board" as part of our tour on the day we were approved as foster parents.  It's a literal whiteboard on the wall, with age ranges on the left and family names hand-written on the right.)

I had just flown back from Florida a few days before, where my husband and I had taken a relaxing two-week vacation visiting friends and family.  He wanted to take a more leisurely way home and visit with some old friends in Pennsylvania, so he was still on the road.  He would have been in a hotel that night, and I would have read a book and gone to sleep early to be up with my 15-year-old in the morning, make him a wintry breakfast, and see him off to school.

Somewhere, though, a woman I didn't know was in labour.

Fast forward to today... the big birthday bash is planned for Saturday, but it felt like today, his actual birthday, should be special too.  I had a bittersweet feeling all day glad that he's still with us, but sad for his forever family who are missing this milestone.  My husband went out and bought some gifts last night, and picked up a small piece of cake (incidentally the same special peach cake we had at our wedding, from a local German place). 

Baby was cranky today though, and wouldn't nap.  When my teen cake home from school he was in a bad mood too.  We decided that it was going to have to be an early bedtime, and the little guy would have to miss the grilled cheese supper that my son was making.  We had cake - he ate only a few crumbs - and tried to get him to open presents.  His nose kept running and I didn't want snot in all the pictures for his Life Book,  but every time I wiped his nose he cried and his eyes got redder and redder.  After we played with the toys for a bit I took him up for bed, and it wasn't until I was putting lotion on the eczema that keeps getting worse that I realized he was burning up.  I took his temperature and sure enough; between 100 and 101F.  He wasn't cranky, he's sick!  And on his birthday too.  And I didn't even notice. 

Bad auntie...  no cake for you. 

Today in Toddlerexia

The toddler keeps changing her mind about food, and I swear it's just to make me run around trying to cook all day.  She's turning into a bigger and bigger anti-food toddler stereotype.  She's been narrowing her acceptable-foods list for a while now, but lately it's gotten ridiculous.  For the last two days the only things she'll eat have been:
  • miso soup (I'm lucky we have a T&T grocery in town)
  • chicken nuggets & fries (because DUH, that's why)
  • banana/chocolate chip muffin (but not *actual* bananas, not today)
  • chocolate pudding (she's just discovered this magic, as she was sick and it was on sale)
  • pita bread with nothing on it (she's odd)
I fooled her into eating some cheese by hiding it in the pita bread, but I think she's still angry with me...though she used to love cheese with an unholy toddlerian passion. 
Lately I feel like I should just throw most foods directly into the trash - I've recently thrown out more uneaten-but-manhandled-so-I-don't-want-it cereal, oatmeal, toast, yogurt, ravioli and pasta than I care to remember. 
I'm supplementing with flintstone vitamins and milk and presenting her with a lot of food options and hoping she doesn't need any of the nutrients she's shunning right at this particular stage of development.

Do your children eat more than 5 different foods during a given week?  Is it just my crazy little girl?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A letter re: Kindergarten class sizes.

Dear Mr. Allison, Mr. Hoskins, Ms. Laskin, and Ms. Broten,

I'm writing to you today to express my concern over the current number of students in the kindergarten classrooms at Maurice Cody Junior Public School and in classrooms across the province, and to petition you on behalf of my three-year-old son and all incoming students in the full-day kindergarten program:  please amend the terrible overcrowding situation that we have seen in kindergarten classrooms this academic year.

I am a volunteer instructor with the anti-bullying program Roots of Empathy (, and as such spend an hour every week in my daughter's kindergarten classroom.  This year, the class I'm instructing is 31 children.  The program encourages students to talk about their feelings and aims to make every child feel included, but in a 30-minute class, there just isn't enough time to allow all 31 children to tell the stories that they feel important.  Physically too, there is barely enough room to seat all of the children around the big green blanket that is both an emblem for the program and a safe place for the other "teacher" (a neighbourhood baby) to sit and play while the students observe his non-verbal communication.  At 4 and 5 years old, these children are already easily distracted, and sitting so close to their classmates inevitably leads to jostling, arguing and complaining instead of learning.

The classroom I'm in is used for before and after care.  Before and after school, it falls under the guidelines of the Day Nurseries Act (, which states that the room is large enough for no more than 24 children. Why is it then, that once the bell rings, it's acceptable to add another 7 children to the room, plus two or three adults?  I know for a fact that several children have repeatedly experienced bathroom accidents during school hours because there is only one washroom in the classroom and it is frequently occupied.  Imagine how embarrassing it must be for these children - if they have a change of clothes with them, it is outside in the hallway in backpacks (no room for backpacks inside the classroom!), so they need to parade across the classroom TWICE in wet clothing before they can change.  Sirs and madams, please try to remember that children at this age can be unintentionally cruel, and the mockery that often accompanies accidents like these can colour a child's entire public school experience.

More troubling is that I have personally witnessed a 5-year-old child being unintentionally left behind in the playground at the end of the day and locked out of the school with no expectation of an adult to pick her up.  With one hundred and eighty kindergarten students milling about at the end of the school day and 12 staff members to oversee them, she was lost in the shuffle.  I found her on the sidewalk near the school, crying and utterly terrified. That incident ended well, as I was able to help her find her way back into the school and into her daycare program, but it could just as easily have ended in tragedy.

Life in a classroom of 31 kindergarten students is chaotic to say the least.  At ages 4, 5 and 6, the children are boisterous and the noise level when they are at activity is intense.  Research on temperament traits by child psychiatrists Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess identified that children who are sensitive to their environment may experience problems with focus and concentration in a such situations, and with so much going on in the room, students who are easily distracted can be drawn away from their tasks and have difficulty returning to them.

I firmly believe that our teachers are making the most of this situation, but I have no doubt that the children's learning potential is also being affected. There is a disproportionate amount of time being spent on the logistics of having 30+ kids under one's care—getting them in and out of line, getting them in and out of footwear/outerwear, setting up for snack and lunch breaks, supervising the bathroom and hand washing, handling transitions between activities, etc.—rather than on the real business of learning.   Further, with larger class sizes come more students with behavioural challenges who require more than the usual amount of attention.  In a class of 20, one or two children will require extra help, and that's manageable.  When you bump the class sizes though, that number more than doubles, as children who might have borderline behavioural challenges don't get the basic attention they need and begin to act out.  All of this is time during the day that the teacher and EA are NOT spending teaching our children. 

The Canadian Education Association, The American Educational Research Association, the Journal of Educational Psychology, The American Journal of Public Health, the Scottish Council for Research In Education and many other reputable organizations have all produced documents extolling the many virtues of small class sizes, and it's an intuitively good idea:  teachers get to spend more time with each student, students are able to make better use of the resources available to them, problems (whether behavioural or academic) can be apprehended and addressed early, and the classroom is a calm place where children can learn and grow.  

I recognize that the primary motivation behind such large classes is financial, but ultimately I do not believe that the money saved is worth what we're losing.  I do not know what the solution is to this problem -  I don't have access to the financial and enrolment data that you do, and wouldn't have the expertise to use it if I did. What I DO know is that the status quo is not really serving anyone.  It's generating a cohort of students who have learned that in order to attract attention in class they need to act out, a group of teachers who are exhausted by and frustrated at not being able to give their students the education that they deserve, and a large number of parents who are disappointed and disillusioned with the system put in place to foster the development of our most precious resource.

Studies have shown that a child's academic career is defined and strongly influenced by the quality of their early education.  Please, please don't short-change my son, the other children in his cohort and those to come.  They deserve better from us.  Please consider reducing class sizes in the kindergarten program so that all of our children have the opportunity to develop to their full potential.

Thank you,

Jaimie Cowles