One half-term in, and the blogging has been one of many casualties. Teaching this term has turned out to be unexpected in all kinds of ways. But that’s for another day. The first half-term in a school year always brings changes and adjustments. So, where to start with this one …?
Well Katie - I don’t think I’ve written about it before - started pre-school in the summer term. Katie was born a week before her due date, which was outstandingly unlucky as it put her at the very end of August and going to school a year before she would have otherwise. (I most definitely will have mentioned that bit many times before, I am very much aware of friends’ faces visibly glazing over when I start off down this track … analysing being youngest in a school year is one of the Pillars of Parental Boringness, isn’t it?) My brother and I are summer babies too, and so are the oldest two, but Katie is about on the edge as you can get. She’s also a youngest child, and so indulged by her siblings, and has been a late talker. I put this down to her general personality and the pace at which she does things. She only just crawled the week before her first birthday, and didn’t walk until she was eighteen months. But this pace seems to make sense for her – we never got the mad rushing about and bruising heads twice a week with her, when she walked she was steady. So the combination of youngness in a school year and her extreme tallness, kind of make the talking thing stick out.
To say she’s a late talker, that’s not to say she doesn’t communicate – very far from being the case she barely stops communicating, and very adamantly! Just differently. It’s a little difficult to explain how that can be without talking very coherently. She is, without doubt, the most dominant of the three, and has great charisma, but is also shockingly stroppy. Her childminder – who she genuinely adores and has a really intuitive connection with children - has never been at all phased by this, and I hadn’t particularly seen it as something to worry about. However, pre-school picked it up after a couple of weeks of her having started and referred her for speech therapy. BANG, the worrying kicked in big time …
After speaking to not that many people, I soon realised that getting referred for speech therapy was not quite the dramatic event I assumed it was, and our childminder has been fantastic reflecting over her vast experience and perceptions of how Katie’s changed in the 2 years she’s been going to her But still. Matters weren’t really helped by the waiting list. It took about 4 months to get an appointment, which provided ample time to worry about and Google serious underlying causes. It also gave me some scope to ponder the Case History form with regard to quandaries like ‘how much television does your child watch?’ A question which we all know is deeply loaded and I’m pretty sure no person has ever answered truthfully. (I put down an hour in the end. Handheld devices don’t count, right? The speech therapist suggested I ‘switch it off when she’s not watching’. Seriously? Not watching? I concluded at this point that the speech therapist probably hadn’t had children yet, let alone tried to cook tea with three vying for attention).
I’m pretty sure that the formality of the Case History form waiting to be completed gave me the kick needed to ensure that Katie was potty trained ahead of the appointment. So it was in some sense, quite a useful stick to beat me with. On the whole potty training thing, curiously Katie ended up doing it at 3 years & 1 month, which by some freaky genetic trickery her siblings did too. I probably won’t have any more children to test out this theory, but I am convinced it is a ‘thing’ for our family. (Either that or 37 months is some key developmental marker which I would know about if I paid more attention to Gina).
Now the speech therapy appointment turned out to be fine. Scratch that, it was actually really helpful. I had pretty much prepared myself for Katie refusing to engage with a stranger at all. But the therapist was very good, and by some stroke of immense luck, gave Katie some jigsaws to do while we talked through the case history form. Little was she to know that jigsaws are actually Katie’s favourite thing ever (after possibly, Peppa Pig, and generally hogging the computer - you see what I did with the pun there? It’s nothing.). In fact if I hadn’t spent about 70% of my A-level revision time obsessively compulsively doing jigsaws myself, I might be a little bewildered at Katie’s enthusiasm for repeatedly completing a series of jigsaws in a set sequence, but to me that is totally normal, and it was a scenario she was happy to recreate in the Health Centre. So by the time we adults had finished talking, Katie was nicely relaxed & ready to engage with various comprehension tests through various games, and the therapist was able to gauge the level she was at without it being too obvious. Which, she concluded, was that Katie was ‘an emerging talker’. Phew! Gut feeling appeased.
Her recommendation was that Katie was still too young to start doing formal speech therapy, and that the important thing was not to make her feel like she was being tested at this stage, but just to expose her to lots of language, adding on extra words to sentences she comes up with herself, that kind of thing. Obvious, but probably worth repeating, and the other kids are keen to play along with this. And then if we felt she was still unclear in 6 months time, we could self-refer back into the system and we’d be able to get an appointment fairly quickly. So that was a huge relief to have it confirmed by someone who knows what they’re talking about that this is well within the spectrum of normal development, because you just become used to what’s typical for your child, and possibly with the third one you are some degree more laid back about these things ... perhaps too much. I mean of course I knew that Katie’s sentence structure was more basic than friends’ her own age, but I just assumed this would come in its own time. So when pre-school flagged it as standing out I immediately thought, 'I’ve missed something serious here.'
It’s a funny thing language though, quite how we learn it is a baffling thing. Katie quite often starts sentences with ‘I’ (usually in the context of ‘I want’!). But this is something that her older brother still sometimes gets wrong (and substitutes in ‘me’). And yet it’s not really something I’d teach them at this age, just something they must absorb in. Or not. Maybe Harry’s way of learning is more structured – I certainly think he’s learnt to read a lot more by following rules, and building them together, than his older sister who was more intuitive and probably took more risks. And things like learning the alphabet – Charlotte was like a little sponge & desperate to learn the alphabet song. In fact as soon as she got to school I realised that this may have been a mistake, since she had to relearn it all the phonics way. Harry was completely indifferent to letters until he got to school and was forced to engage with them. But now pays absolutely minute attention to the way his friends form letters in comparison to him. And Katie shouts me down when I try singing the alphabet song and writing just seems like miles off, but she is utterly obsessed with an alphabet jigsaw that the other two totally ignored, and with relating the letters to people she knows. Another thing which both girls have done (and Harry never did once) was to substitute in their own word for real words, seemingly unrelated to the original, and to do this with total consistency until out of the blue one day deciding to switch to the traditional version. Puzzling. (You see again with the puns, I can’t help myself some days. I’ll get the door on my way out).
So talking ... it’s a funny thing. I don’t particularly like talking myself, which is strange as I love writing, but the fluency just isn’t there when I talk and I end up saying stupid things which I realise two hours later and castigate myself for. I consequently take an inordinately long time to make friends. But children learning to talk, that’s a beautiful thing, and with both the older two one of the things I used to enjoy most was walking home from pre-school and listening to their surreal tirades of observations and turns of phrases that for all the world sounded like they’d come out of an 80 year old’s mouth. There’s no rush, Katie, this is one of the most interesting parts of childhood. I do wonder how the talkers they are now relate to the people they become?