This week, Bud brought home the school's Winter Sports preference sheet, with instructions that the completed form should be returned by the end of the week. I imagine that for most families, this quick turn-around was fairly easy; for us, it was a bit more challenging.
"Winter Sports" is a program at Bud's school that runs on five consecutive Fridays starting in early January. Students choose from among ten different activities and participate in the same activity each week for the entire program. In November, the school sends home a description of the activities being offered and families send back the students' top three choices. The staff uses the preference sheet to balance enrollment numbers and assign activities.
In first and second grade, Bud's Winter Sport activity was snowshoeing. I chose the activity for him based on several factors: it was close to the school and wouldn't require a long bus ride; it was something I thought he could do independently; and, it would likely be low-key and not an activity that would draw a lot of dysregulating screaming and jumping from other children. It played out exactly that way and Bud enjoyed the activity.
So, when the form came home this year, I thought about listing snowshoeing again and sending it back without discussion. As I thought about it, though, I realized that I was not being fair to Bud. The other children had options; he should have options too. And perhaps he'd be interested in trying something new. Last year, he was not doing well enough to take risks, but this year he just might be.
I approached Bud with the form in hand and showed him the description of his options. He was enthusiastic, and indicated an interest in a lot of things: bowling! wall climbing! gymnastics! SWIMMING! I asked about snowshoeing, but he said he wasn't interested.
I read the descriptions of the activities. Bowling involved a long bus ride. Wall climbing was for fourth and fifth grade only. Gymnastics, I knew, would not be what Bud expected (he would expect only trampolines; they would try to get him on parallel bars and balance beams). But swimming... Swimming is a favorite activity of Bud's. He's had lessons and he knows the basics, but he is not yet a strong swimmer. Put him in a life vest, though, and he is king of the swimming pool.
I read the activity description and saw that only students who could swim independently were eligible for it. I wondered though, if a life vest would be considered a reasonable accommodation, given the circumstances. I dashed off an e-mail to Bud's special ed coordinator before I said anything else to Bud.
As I waited for a response from her, I started playing the Winter Sports swim scenario through in my head. Bud is familiar with the pool, but not with the pool full of forty screaming children. He is confident in the water - but would he be too confident? Was he really ready to be in the water without an adult next to him, in an easily-removed life vest? And what about the whole locker-room issue? Would Bud be able to manage the clothing-off-suit-on process by himself? Would he be in the locker room surrounded by towel-snapping, wedgie-giving boys?
The very idea sent my blood pressure soaring.
So, I sat down with Bud once more to talk about Winter Sports options, and as we talked I realized quickly that he hadn't really understood the concept of "listing activities, in order of preference." Instead, he told me enthusiastically, "First I do bowling, then I do swimming, then I do gymnastics!"
I tried to explain "rank order," but fell flat. So, I told Bud, "Let's just choose one."
"Swimming," he said.
"Swimming or bowling?"
"We need to choose one, Bud."
"You like swimming AND bowling, don't you, Bud?"
"Let's put bowling on the paper."
So bowling it is. I think it's a good choice: a long but manageable bus ride, an activity he enjoys, and an opportunity for "parallel play" with peers.
And best of all? No wedgies.