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What Virtual Kindergarten Has Taught Me About My Daughter With Down Syndrome

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As the final hours of winter break tick by, I find myself thrilled that school is starting tomorrow. Since Pete and I were both off from work last week, we were all able to enjoy lazy mornings and extra family time but our household definitely benefits from the structure that work and school provide. Even Hannah seemed to miss school, asking me a couple days ago, in her sweetest negotiating voice, to do sight words and math. As if I would ever say no to that.

The last four months were a humbling and empowering experience. I cried out of frustration over Hannah’s stubbornness. I cried happy tears at the look on her face when she succeeded. And we learned more than ever about Hannah’s educational strengths, weaknesses and ability to learn.

We always knew Home Hannah was quite different from School Hannah, like she turned off parts of her personality when she wasn’t home. Every report card, progress report, parent-teacher conference, and PPT had the same feedback. Academically, Hannah kept up with her preschool peers; she was a delightful student but reserved, chose solo activities, and only spoke up when she was fully comfortable. Aside from the occasional email about an exceptionally good or bad day, that was the extent of our knowledge on School Hannah. Since Hannah never communicated anything about her days and I couldn’t be a consistent volunteer in the classroom, it was difficult for me to have such a massive gap in her life.

With Hannah engaging in remote learning, we have the opportunity to witness a whole different version of our child. Now we know she learns sight words quickly because she’s a visual learner and has a great memory. We know she struggles with some math lessons because they’re too abstract unless she’s using manipulatives, but since she dislikes math in general she’ll likely try to toss everything on the floor anyway. We learned that shorter sessions are far better for Hannah’s attention span and that, depending on the look in her eyes, her quietness during a session is because she’s confused, tired or refusing to work. We know Hannah behaves differently when she’s at her grandparents’ house than when she’s home with me and which activities are best suited for each location.

Listening to Hannah interact with her teachers and service providers, seeing the unique relationships she has with each of them, even seeing how she gives them just as much stubbornness as she gives me, turns me into a real-life heart-eye-emoji every time. Grandma and I are beyond thankful for the opportunity to work closely with Hannah’s team, to understand the fundamentals of teaching reading and writing, and to learn from them how to challenge Hannah in a supportive way. Virtual kindergarten certainly isn’t fun every day, but the team’s collaborative approach has made it a lot easier than I expected.

Even though Hannah was a quiet kid in class, she really loved school and always knew the names of all her classmates within the first few days. My heart does hurt a bit during the virtual class meetings when all the other kids chat with each other and my kiddo is silent because she’s overwhelmed and doesn’t know most of the kids. But I know she’s watching them all, enjoying their company, and she’ll certainly remember their faces when she makes her glorious return to the classroom.

Originally published: March 4, 2021
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