Struggling with a childcare option for a kid with special needs?
October 11, 2019 3:42 AM   Subscribe

My three year old daughter has a speech delay (or perhaps disorder - too early to tell, it seems). I'm at a childcare crossroads and genuinely don't know what to do. Any thoughts?

My 3.5 year old daughter is great -- loving, makes friends easily, etc. But she was a very late talker, and now, if I'm being honest, is probably about 6 months behind her peers. She does speech therapy for articulation now, but for some reason, still struggles to sound as natural and fluent as other kids and doesn't seem to be as switched on. She doesn't have autism; I was more worried she might have cognitive deficits, but no one seems to think that (yet) either. She does puzzles well, knows colors, potty trained early, counts well, identifies numbers, holds a pencil well etc. She's had an OT evaluation that came back normal, though she does have strabismus in one eye as well. I think it's probably just speech delay or impairment - or maybe auditory processing.

Anyway, until recently she was at a church playgroup with a great ratio of teachers to kids. She did really well there -- it was quite sweet, lots of activities, highly rated, warm teachers, 9-3pm kind of deal. I really liked it. The playgroup also caters to 4 year olds, but many if not most of the older kids go to the local school nursery (we are in the UK) at 3.

I would have gladly stayed at the playgroup, but all of her friends were going to the school nursery -- and the speech therapist thought she should be with older kids. Fine. But I really don't like the school nursery. It's disorganized and the ratio teachers to kids is dire. Kids scream at drop off. My daughter's needs are not overwhelming, and she plays well and is well-behaved, so she will certainly get overlooked there.

So here's my question. I have to decide TODAY whether to send her back to the playgroup or keep in the nursery. As an institution, I like the playgroup better. But I wonder if the speech therapist is right that simply by being and playing with older kids she will progress more. I suppose the activities they do there might be a bit more complex -- she does come home singing, etc., songs that they do there. But otherwise, I have little/no faith in the teachers at the new nursery, though her friend group is kind, and very advanced in language skills. Is that enough?

TLDR: For a kid with some special needs, what would matter more to you? Good kid to teacher ratio? Or being with more advanced peers who genuinely seem to like her? Another idea is to do half-time at the school nursery, and I go part time to do 1:1 with her, but that would be a lot for us.

Open to any thoughts/anecdotes/research on environment for kids at this age -- stronger peers or stronger teachers?

posted by caoimhe to Education (14 answers total)
Response by poster: Sorry just updating to add if it's not clear -- the situation with the better teachers would mean she spent a huge percentage of her time with younger kids (around 2-3) -- which might be confidence boosting, but I'm not sure. There may be better options around where we live, but I haven't found one yet.
posted by caoimhe at 3:48 AM on October 11, 2019

My son also had a speech delay without cognitive deficits and strabismus. But unlike your daughter he was extremely shy and did not like to be away from home.

Given that our daughter is outgoing and likes being with her friends, I would move her up to the nursery, despite the lower ratios of teachers. It sounds like your daughter is developing fine, other than speech, and it's not clear why she needs special attention from teachers. It will help for her to be around kids who are talking more. You don't want her spending all her time with children who are speaking less -- that could normalize the lack of speech in her mind.

Of course, I don't know all the details of the problems with the nursery school, but that's my impression from what you've written. Good luck with your decision! I know it's hard but you're clearly paying close attention to your daughter's needs, which is the most important thing. It sounds like she's doing great.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 4:09 AM on October 11, 2019 [4 favorites]

It sounds like you really don’t like the nursery and don’t trust the teachers with managing the kid group. Don’t send her there if it’s that much of a mess. You can make up the older-kid socializing elsewhere.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:20 AM on October 11, 2019 [3 favorites]

Playgroup. No doubt about it. I have boys with mild special needs aged 3 and 4 and being in a small playgroup with nice kids and a caring teacher where they can have fun is my top priority. I had to learn this the hard way.
posted by catspajammies at 4:30 AM on October 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

But I really don't like the school nursery. It's disorganized and the ratio teachers to kids is dire. Kids scream at drop off.

I mean, sending your child to a daycare that fits this description sounds like a terrible idea under any circumstances. I know your focus is on her speech right now, but your daughter is not just learning about speech. She's learning about what school is like, and what teachers are like, and what she merits as a student and many other things. None of her learning needs sound like they will be well-served in the nursery you describe.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:50 AM on October 11, 2019 [16 favorites]

I’d stick with playgroup too. But to be fair and honest there’s often a kid crying and fussing during drop off at the (lovely, expensive, great ratio) Montessori school I take my kid to. A certain amount of that seems inevitable, even in the perfect childcare environment. So I wouldn’t judge too much by that, but I’d trust your gut on the other problems with the nursery school.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:38 AM on October 11, 2019 [9 favorites]

She's already got a friend group and they're nice and good to her. Keep her with them. Being pulled away from her friends in favor of going back to playgroup could be hard for her to handle socially. Has she complained about nursery? I'd only consider moving her if she complained or otherwise indicated a big problem.
posted by quince at 6:30 AM on October 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

You really liked the playgroup, she really liked the playgroup, she makes friends easily, and it's not like y'all couldn't see her current friends outside of childcare. The playgroup seems like it has enough adults around for them to be modeling speech for all the kids, whereas, as you say, in the nursery she might well not talk much at all and go unnoticed. My kid does not have a speech delay but is definitely very quiet, and in a mixed-age preschool class with great ratios, the main teacher still talks about having to consciously check in on them since the other kids are so much more "in your face" about their wants/needs. I'm also not convinced that being around very adept speakers always inspires one to learn to speak more fluently, since the other party can often handle both halves of the conversation (this can happen with younger siblings, where the older one just talks for them). I guess it depends on whether she feels frustrated about her limitations or is basically okay with things the way they are. (And keep in mind that words aren't the only way to communicate, though I understand completely why you're addressing the speech issue this way.)

You say the nursery currently seems to do more advanced things, but also it sounds like most everyone leaves the playgroup at three, so why would they have those kinds of offerings at this point? Presumably if your kid were there, they'd do age-appropriate activities with her, right? It seems like addressing that question in an otherwise-great setting is going to go a lot better than trying to shift the whole culture of the nursery.
posted by teremala at 7:29 AM on October 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

I will say that screaming at dropoff - esp early in the year - doesn't mean the place is bad, it could really just be like two random kids whose parents don't help them process their emotions super well or who don't eat a good breakfast or whatever. It's just as likely to be random, or a reflection of a somewhat chaotic family, as it is a reflection on that particular daycare.

Personally, I definitely think it's better for a child to be with older kids- gives them a great incentive to keep advancing.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 7:33 AM on October 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

If she does have anything even vaguely resembling a developmental slow start, she's going to do better as she progresses through the school system if she's not having to play catch-up because of it every. single. day of every. single. year.

Right now she's a tiny child who makes friends easily. If she could use another year to get ahead of the education game, as early as possible in her schooling career strikes me as the least socially disruptive time you could possibly provide that for her. I vote playgroup.
posted by flabdablet at 7:38 AM on October 11, 2019 [5 favorites]

for a child to be with older kids- gives them a great incentive to keep advancing

Incentive is all very well, but if it's not matched by ability it can easily morph into permanent grinding frustration.

Kids can't be stopped from advancing; it's basically their job description. I recommend giving her the opportunity to advance in easy mode. Adding challenges later, if such turns out to be required, is always a hell of a lot easier than removing them.
posted by flabdablet at 7:42 AM on October 11, 2019 [3 favorites]

Preschool teacher here (US though). I'd leave her in the playgroup with some caveats. I think the idea of putting kids with a speech delay into a situation with older kids isn't ideal. I have had 2 kids in my class like this. One was having a super rough time. He couldn't communicate effectively and was super frustrated. He started speech therapy and then made progress. Another kid was moved up from the toddler room barely speaking. He has not had speech therapy and has barely progressed. Other kids do the talking for him. I've observed other teachers respond to his non-verbal communication (which is fine) but don't encourage him to use his words.

Now I realize that your child is different from these two boys. Our ratio at 3 years is 1 teacher to 12 kids. The less verbal kids get less attention sadly. There are loud boisterous kids in the teachers' faces looking for attention. Even the kids who are developing normally but are quiet get less attention.

Is it possible to do play dates with her current friend group? That would give her the exposure to language with kids her age. Also, is there and "learning" at the playgroup? Our three year olds here do a lot of playing. But there are academic activities presented through play. There is also story time and art time. I don't know anything about nursery school in the UK, but at 3.5 some of those academic skills need to be worked on.

In the end, trust your gut. If you think the nursery isn't a good fit for her, then you're probably right. You're her parent. And keep looking for other options.
posted by kathrynm at 7:44 AM on October 11, 2019 [4 favorites]

We have a set up almost identical to that, where my kids were in a wonderful small private place from 0-3 and then moved to the public preschool at age 3. My kids are bilingual, speaking English at home and French at daycare and at school.

My one data point to add is that my son clearly regressed in French during his first year of public preschool. He was getting very little practice actually speaking correctly with adults— the teachers don’t have much time for one on one interaction with the kids so he was mostly just speaking with other three and four year olds. At the end of the school year he was making more grammar mistakes and had actually lost some vocabulary. It was pretty striking. He picked it back up after spending the summer with his old daycare, so didn’t end up being really problematic for us, but in your situation it makes me wonder if the school is not the best choice for your child.

We didn’t notice the same phenomenon in the second year of preschool or kindergarten. Can you leave your daughter in playgroup one more year and then give the larger school a try?
posted by ohio at 8:16 AM on October 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

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