Before the Bell Rings

Before the Bell Rings
So far I have had experience with only two Elementary Schools for my children on the Autism Spectrum. At both schools they follow similar practices. All general education children have free time on the playground once they have had breakfast in the cafeteria or have just arrived directly onto the playground.

At the school Nicholas attends, where Matthew spent three years in preschool special education and two years in a special day class – there is a smaller playground that is utilized by the preschool classes, special day class and the Kindergarten class in the afternoon.

Since most of the children in special education get bussed to school they go directly to the cafeteria for breakfast. There are aides that ride the bus with certain children and they lead the children into the classroom before school starts. There was never any outside play before their day began.

We always walked over to the school earlier so that Matthew could have some free running time on the smaller playground. I was able to observe Nicholas from afar on the main playground and make suggestions later that day or ask specific questions relating to anything I saw firsthand.

When the bell would ring we would stop in our tracks to wait for the playground attendant to blow her whistle. Then you were allowed to walk to your line in the main playground for your teacher to take you to the class. With Matthew his classroom was at the end of the small playground and we would enter the room and place his backpack in the closet and he would take a seat. Sometimes the kids were reading or playing puzzles and starting to sit on the floor for the morning circle time.

Over at Matthew’s current school there are several playgrounds, but the autism class opens out into a large playground where the general education population plays prior to the starting bell. The Kindergarten and preschool classes are not located near his area, but they also have their own playgrounds.

The cafeteria is not a close distance to his classroom. There is a smaller playground off the cafeteria where you need to climb some stairs to get to. There is a small space near those stairs where I take Matthew prior to school so he can run around a bit before school starts.

Then we make our way over to the table where the autism class and assistants are in the cafeteria. There are two classes for Down Syndrome that also are in the same area of the cafeteria, on the other side of the same large table. Sometimes the students and assistants wait for the teacher to come and get the class while other times they head over to the class on their own.

Neither of these schools has the special education children enjoying the playground like the general population. At Matthew’s school the children are continually told to sit at the table, but the rest of the student population is enjoying their morning time, letting loose their excess energy.

I really do not like how this is handled at school and would like to see a change. I do know that at both schools the teachers have taken the students out to the playground after circle time to run laps around, which is something that Matthew enjoys very much. But my issue is that he is made to sit still at the table in the cafeteria while other students are allowed to run around and play on the playgrounds prior to the start of school.

Some of the students bring notebooks and do their drawings while at the table and others bring toys, but they are not encouraged to play at the table, instead it is sit and wait. This is so unproductive and not fair to the special education children. They should be allowed to play on the playground in some section specially marked for them or with the general population and adult supervision.

When I had discussions with the school regarding Matthew taking the bus I made note that he needs some free time to run before getting inside the classroom. Luckily he will be driven to school by me and get his time to run before going to the table to sit and wait.

This is a practice that has bothered me for a long time and I am curious to know if parents in other areas of the country have noticed this at their children’s schools too. Where does your child go when they get off the bus, are you aware of the structure of their morning time and what they do at school before the bell rings? Do they prepare the students for morning assembly that might be on Mondays? Are there pecs cards showing them the daily schedule?

If you care to share your observations and experiences, please do so at the Forum.

Please note the resources in the Safe Bus article.

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