Sunday, 21 August 2016

End of an era: Lucy leaves nursery

This was our last time ever through the big blue doors...


Five years ago, I carried Ella through these doors in her car seat as a little baby, when life was still so full of worry and uncertainty.  The staff embraced Ella and all her needs, just as they do every child who comes through those blue doors.  They mastered her feeding tube, went on SEN/Down's Syndrome specific courses and learnt Makaton, which they still use throughout the nursery today (two of the nursery nurses are now Makaton tutors).  

Three years after Ella started at the nursery, Lucy followed in her big sisters footsteps. For a while, it was lovely having them in the same place and being able to drop them off and pick them up together.  They were even able to spend some time together during the nursery day, despite being in different rooms.  

It felt like the end of an era when Ella left to go to pre-school two years ago. However, this week, the blue doors have closed on us for the last time as Lucy has now also left the nursery as she gets ready to start life as a pre-schooler.


Both our girls have come out of the nursery as confident, bright and happy young girls. Leaving an amazing place where they have both learnt to fly, cared for by an amazing team of staff who we cannot thank enough. 


Goodbye Christie Nursery.  We will miss you.  


Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Summer Baking Class with Ella

We are almost half way through our summer holiday.  We've had some lovely family days out, seen family and friends. There's also been days where we've had nothing planned and just spent some much needed time at home and in the garden. 

As Lucy's nursery is a day nursery, it doesn't operate with terms or holidays and is open all year round apart from Christmas and New Year.  When I gave up work in December, I knew we wouldn't be able to afford to keep her in nursery the three days a week she was attending but I also knew how much she loves it there and how much she gets out of going.  She's made some lovely friends and it gives her the chance to spend some time on her own, to learn, socialise and gain some independence.  I didn't want to take her away from all that completely. So for the last few months she has been going for just one day a week instead of three.  She will sadly be leaving them next week as she is starting pre-school at a more local nursery in September, but more on that soon.

On the day Lucy is at nursery during school holidays, it means I get a day a week just with Ella. Quality time with her doesn't happen that often (if at all) now she is at school and with Lucy around too, it's been ages since just the two of us did something together.  

I started looking for something special for the two of us to do and came across an advert for a summer cooking class. Knowing how much Ella enjoys baking or helping in the kitchen and that she just loves learning by doing and anything creative, I booked her a place.    

We arrived armed with our apron and tupperware and were greeted by the lovely Jo, who would be teaching the class. We soon discovered that we were making chocolate chip cookies - 'yummy delicious!' piped up Ella.  There were seven children in the class with Ella and another little girl who was also 5 being the eldest. As most of the children were younger, that meant the pace was nice and gentle so Ella had no problem keeping up with what was happening and there was plenty of time to carry out each stage of the recipe. She's well practised in what to do anyway as baking is a favourite activity at home.

The children had to share utensils and ingredients between them which allowed for some conversation, sharing and taking turns.  They all enjoyed measuring, mixing, stirring, sieving, chopping the chocolate and getting their hands messy.  

We enjoyed it so much that we are going back for next weeks class.  It's a shame it runs on a Friday as I could have taken Lucy during term time but she will be in nursery.  There is a possibility of some Saturday classes starting and we can always go to the future half term sessions, with Lucy too. 


                           
(Picture courtesy of Beyond Baked Beans)


After they had made their dough, the children even enjoyed washing and drying the bowls and utensils. They helped to cleaned up whilst their cookies were in the oven (they cooked one each at the class to taste then got to take the rest of their dough away to bake at home).

Once the tidying was complete, it was time for a well earned glass of juice and most importantly, a cookie!

'Cheese!'


'Yummy Delicious' as Ella would say xx

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Learning and Growing

That's it! Reception year is finished...

School is finally out for summer...  

Wow, that year went fast. The once pristine book bag is now looking well used, the hem on her dresses are much shorter and I've been praying for a while now that the velcro on her scuffed and tattered shoes would make it to the end of term (it has...just).  

The summer holidays seem to have been a long time coming and this past week I've seen so many children and families already enjoying their time off.  As we had a two week May half term break, we have finished later for summer and get a 5 week break instead of 6.  I am sure the weeks will fly by (they will once I've planned lots of things to fill the days with them!).

The children have had a more relaxed last week at school and yesterday, their penultimate day as the youngest year group in the school, they had a party day.  They were allowed to wear their own party clothes, played party games and the day ended with all the parents coming in to see the children presented with their end of year certificates.  

We arrived to find the children all sat outside in the sun playing pass the parcel.  After their game had finished we all piled into one of the classrooms for the certificates.  It was very packed - they apparently haven't had so many parents attend before - some of us got the pleasure of sitting on the tiny plastic chairs and for others it was standing room only.  

As each child's name was read out, they were asked to stand as their certificate was awarded to them.  There were awards for being a special friend, for helping in the classroom, being happy, making their friends laugh, for improving the most during the year and for working the hardest.  A lovely way of acknowledging each child's non-academic attributes (not every child excels academically) and their uniqueness.  There was a lovely atmosphere in the room (and lots of proud tears from mums and dads) as each child was individually celebrated and their special contribution during the year recognised.  I did wonder what Ella would be awarded and when it came to it my hunch was correct...


She was given a certificate for her lovely artwork and drawings - very appropriate as that is her most favourite thing to do and is something she has definitely improved in over the course of the year.  A lovely end of year gift from the teachers to each child - something for them to be proud of and take with them into year 1.

And with the end of term, comes the giving of gifts from the class to the class teacher or, in our case, teachers.  

When there is more than one teacher to buy for (job share, long term supply, classroom assistant) or your child has had support from a Teaching Assistant (TA) or Learning Support Assistant (LSA) then it can very easily become a costly business.  

I started pondering this a while ago and trying to find a way to give meaningful and useful tokens of thanks without it becoming too expensive. For Ella, there were presents to buy for her class teacher - Mrs G, classroom assistant Mrs A, two TA's Mrs S & Miss P and Mrs L the SEN teacher. Six presents in total.  Even with a budget of £5-£10 per present that would mean spending between £30-£60.

I was also aware that Ella is only one child of 30 in the class.  I knew from consulting a good friend and reception teacher that firstly no teacher expects anything and after that, there is only so many personalised mugs/keyrings they can find use for.  Her favourite gifts over the years have been 'as dull as it sounds' (her words!) wine, plant/flowers or book/coffee shop tokens. All good starting points. 

Thankfully one of the mums in each reception class started a collection for each class teacher so I gave some money to that for Mrs G.  The collection has managed to provide a present for her, her classroom assistant plus a little gift for the TA's.  

Mrs L is a Special Educational Needs Teacher who works with the reception teachers and provides support to the 7 children in the year who have additional needs.  I thought a collection for her too would be well received and managed to collect a good amount from some of the other 6 parents.  

I liked my friends idea of a plant/flowers as a gift and the associated theme of helping the children to grow over the year. I also wanted something homemade that we could personalise and the children could add their own mark to.  After a quick search online, I found enough ideas to turn the theme into a present, which consists of:

  • A terracotta plant pot (the size I used cost me £1.50)
  • Blackboard paint (already had)
  • pack of white chalk (already had)
  • Packet of seeds £2.20
  • online printables - free - see here
  • chocolates £3
  • special teacher hanging ornament £4
  • £25 gift voucher
  • card and bag £3.50
Total: £36.20 


And this was the finished product...

                   



Following on with the plant/flower theme, I gave each child a printed flower template to colour in/write their name on/personalise and make their own for the card (unfortunately I sealed the card before I thought to take a picture but will hopefully be able to add a picture in soon).

I also wanted to get a little something just from Ella for the 2 TA's who have worked so closely with her over the course of the year.  I loved how well the plant pot had come out that I went and got 2 more and added in the seeds, chalk and bags of chocolate.  Ella has written her name on the note for them.  Theirs worked out at £4.70 per present.  Can't argue with that. Hopefully they will like them and find them useful and meaningful gifts.


We will be back, before we know it, for another year of learning and growing in September...

                        September 2015

                             July 2016

School Is Out!!

Friday, 15 July 2016

Our Little Butterfly In The Wind...

I can't believe that Ella only has two more weeks left in her reception year at school. This time last year I was so full of anticipation, hope and worry at the thought of sending her to school... 


Anticipation of her happiness and achievements, hope for the friends she would make and the things she would learn. And worry that she was slowly making her way into the big wide world, less protected by me, experiencing her day to day life on her own and learning where she fits in and belongs.  

I mostly and above all else, just wanted for her to be happy and settled in her new school. Everything else would just be a bonus.

In the last couple of weeks, we've had her review meeting and her first sports day, shes met her new teacher and spent time in her new classroom. In the next couple of weeks we will be saying goodbye to some of the staff who have made her first year at school a happy one full of fun, friends, learning and achievements.  

At home time today, the children streamed out of school, each proudly carrying a large white envelope containing their first ever school report.  

I've had mixed feelings about getting her report.  I knew it would be hard to see in black and white what Ella's current level of achievement is for each part of the curriculum.  There are no ticks in the 'expected' or 'exceeding' columns, just a consistent 'emerging' throughout. And even though it's exactly what I was expecting, it's still difficult to have to accept that the gap between her and her peers is there, represented by the ticks on the page.  I know if there was a section on overcoming challenges, producing the most volume of art work or working harder than her peers to achieve similar outcomes she would 'exceed' in all of them. 

However, I am just as proud as any parent who opened their child's report this evening to find ticks in every 'exceeding' box.  

Ella has made huge leaps this year, in her speech, in making friends, in knowing her letters and phonics and in her understanding.  Yes, her progress isn't at the same level as a typical 5 year old but that's all that matters - PROGRESS.  No matter how big or small it may seem, she is still moving forward, learning and consolidating.  She's loved her time in reception and I am just as excited about what she will achieve and the progress she will make in the next school year.  

For what it's worth, I do like the word 'emerging'.  It promises that there is more to come, we haven't seen the best yet and to keep our expectations high. The growing, learning caterpillars are emerging into each individuals butterfly of potential. For some, being able to fly in each area of the curriculum comes easily but for others it takes them longer to get there. 

As I read Ella's report, I was reminded of this quote...


The best part of the report wasn't the comments from the teacher and headteacher or suggested next steps, it was this self report page that Ella has filled in herself. It speaks volumes...


As Ella's first term in reception came to an end, I wrote this post featuring Ella attempting to write 'mummy'.  And then she came home from Rainbows one Tuesday evening having done this, all by herself...


And there will always be moments like today when I am reminded that life for Ella is different and more challenging.  And as a mum, it's hard to accept that. But from day one she has taught me that she will get there in her own way and in her own time. 

And as always, her achievements, no matter how small, mean the world.


Our little butterfly in the wind, Ella bean xx

Thursday, 30 June 2016

I See...

I look at these photographs and see so many things... 



I see my little artist drawing - one of her favourite things to do. 

I see her concentration and focus on the task at hand. 

I see a lovely three point pen grip, fine motor skills in action. 

I see a story being told and ideas coming to life. The picture she is drawing has meaning to Ella and she can tell me what it is - she now knows what she will draw before she starts and is no longer just making marks or shapes on the paper. 

I see a picture that is also recognisable to others - figures with faces and bodies with arms and legs. 

I see a pirate and a treasure map (if you were wondering!) - complete with an 'x marks the spot'. Pirates are the theme this half term at school and she's definitely enjoying the experience - an added 'aaaarrrr' as she draws the pirate (complete with hat). 

I see how far she has come during her first year at school, what she has achieved and how hard she has worked. As reception comes to an end and we begin to prepare her for Year 1 and a more structured approach to learning, I wonder (worry) how she will cope with the transition. We have her annual EHCP (Education, Health and Care Plan) review next week and my list of things to discuss and questions to ask is already fairly long with many more flying round my head and keeping me awake at night. I know she has every reason to keep progressing, growing, learning and being happy at school. She has lovely friends and teachers and enjoys being there.

I see potential, expectations and hopes.

I see Ella xx

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Heart MOT

It's been 5 years since Ella had her heart surgery at Alder Hey. 


We celebrated her 'heart day' just a few weeks ago with a bit of quiet reflection, lots of thankfulness and of course, cake...


Today we went back for her routine cardiac follow up appointment at Manchester Children's Hospital. It's been nearly 2 years since she last had a check up or 'heart MOT'.  

Although she's very well in herself and not showing any outward signs that her heart is anything but happy, it's always the appointment that I worry about the most. You just can't take everything being well for granted until the professionals have checked what's going on on the inside. 

We worry about her heart function, whether it's coping with her growth and growing with her. We worry about her heart's electrical function and also about the pressures in her heart, arteries and vessels. We are lucky that she isn't on any heart medications at all but I guess there is again a worry that she may need to be in the future. 

Ella was a little superstar today, considering she won't have remembered the last time she was there. She made no fuss, lay herself on the bed and stayed really still while the doctor performed the ultrasound of her heart (ECHO), which was apparently 'tickly'. 

There was no requirement for dvd/phone distraction or constant supply of chocolate buttons like at the last appointment! She was equally as good during her ECG and even removed the stickers herself (ouch).

Thankfully I can report that after her tests today, all is well and we have been asked to go back again in 18months time. Our little warrior has a happy and healthy heart. 

*big sigh of relief*



Happy Wednesday everyone xx

Friday, 8 April 2016

Heart & Sold Art exhibition

We have recently spent two lovely Saturday afternoons visiting Salford Museum and Art Gallery. 

Our reason for visiting was the recent opening of the 'Heart & Sold' Art exhibition. This unique and special art collection was previewed in London and has travelled to New York before landing in Salford for its longest opening yet.  The exhibition is a platform for over 30 artists - who all have Downs Syndrome - to showcase their photographs, pictures, paintings, creativity and talent.



The art work exhibited has received critical acclaim with one of the artists original works gifted to The Duke & Duchess of Cambridge on the birth of Prince George and hangs in his nursery. Arnold Schwarznegger also owns artwork by one of the artists.

The exhibition itself is wonderful.  A real diverse collection of different mediums and expressions of creativity.  Paintings, collages, line drawings, photographs, watercolours. Pretty much anything you can think of.  The gallery space has a lovely welcoming atmosphere and although there were a lot of people there because they have a connection with the Down's Syndrome community, there were also those who had just stumbled upon the exhibition too.  Everyone there was appreciating the art work for what it was - Art.  The fact that the artists have Down's Syndrome is important, but it doesn't define the exhibition. I would say it definitely enhances the experience though, especially for visitors who don't know what the exhibition is about before they walk through the gallery. 

The afternoons we went along, we were also able to enjoy helping to create elements for a brick wall, which is an evolving part of the exhibit that will be added to for the duration of the exhibition at Salford.  We were helped by the lovely ladies from Venture Arts to make some clay flowers and some moss and also some of the clay bricks for the wall too.  Good, messy fun and Ella really enjoyed getting involved too.  Lucy managed to sleep through the hands on sessions at both of our visits but did wake up in time for a trip to the cafe on both occasions!



(Photo Credit to Suzie Moffat, Heart & Sold Director for the above photographs)

The Museum is also worth a visit - there's a Victorian street to explore, with the option of dressing up too.  Ella and Lucy both looked very fetching as Victorian street urchins!...



The exhibition is on at Salford Museum & Art Gallery until June 5th 2016 and is well worth a visit.










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