• Stacey Smiler

Special & Mainstream Settings

As most of you know we recently moved back to Tokyo from New Zealand. We have been living between the two for the past few years. One of the main reasons for this was so Keanu could attend a specialised school.


Having become a teacher when Keanu was 1 followed by beginning my masters in Special & Inclusive Education when he was 3, there was no doubt in my mind that this was the correct choice. From both an educational stance and maternal instinct based on his level of needs.

Enjoying Tokyo's Autumn leaves. Credit @evachristie.photography (Instagram)

Where is the child going to learn best?

Before I proceed, it’s important to note deciding between mainstream or special schooling is very much dependent on the individual child and the preferences of the family. What matters most is where the child is going to learn best. Where the child is going to be safest. Where the family is most confident their child can best access the curriculum in a high quality setting. Where their child can feel the most included. Where educators strive to understand the individual’s unique needs and promote success.


Whether that is via mainstream schooling, a satellite unit within a mainstream school, or a specialised school, is for the parents/caregivers to decide and if the child can provide their input even better for the decision making process. For some, the decision may also be to home-school their child or children. What matters most is what works for the whole family unit and the child's development.

How will the child best access the curriculum?

For us, we felt Keanu would be safest and learn best in a special school where the focus is on independence, self-help/life skills and for him, gaining and maintaining attention and so forth. He has an Individual Education Plan which outlines his learning targets and we review them with his class teacher, principal, speech therapist and occupational therapist each term. These therapists are also available to visit him in class and work with his teachers, learning support assistants and us at home.

Keanu is now 6 and a half and what is important is that he is happy and comfortable in his daily routine, that he learns schedules and the way life works. What is not important right now is sitting down learning times tables or learning to count etc as he would be doing at a mainstream school. I do not feel we are holding him back through attending a special school because I know for sure developmentally it is not appropriate for him currently. He benefits immensely from one-to-one attention and care at his school. With this, his needs are met, we do not worry about him and he looks forward to going to school everyday.

The Special School Vs. Mainstream Debate

As parents, there is no one who knows their child better. I have researched and written about the debate surrounding if children from special schools attended mainstream they would learn from the other children around them and that this practice is more inclusive (however, ironically no one can agree on the exact definition of INCLUSION!!). I do agree this is true for some children, however the correct supports and resources are vital in order to make this a working reality.

For Keanu I know his attention span, his strengths and challenges and often defiance to what he’s not interested in. Through accessing an adapted curriculum this is a more realistic expectation of him. Additionally, a large majority of research on the topic does not lean towards either side of the debate, which revisits my previous point that neither is right or wrong.

Additionally, we are very grateful that in New Zealand he qualified for a high level of resource funding due to his condition being genetic and requiring a high level of support. This funding will be in place until he is 21 which is the age of graduation at his school. To me as a parent that continuity is really an amazing blessing and takes pressure off us knowing that side of things is cared for.

Specialised Schooling in Tokyo

We are maintaining an open-mind and are excited for Keanu’s next journey which will be to attend a special needs school here in Tokyo. We know it will be different to school in NZ but do consume energy on comparisons, change is natural as we are talking about two vastly contrasting countries and cultures! He should be able to begin in several weeks and actually was due to start school here last April however due to Covid we went back to NZ.

I visited the school back in January and it looked great for what he needs, classes were small, a ratio of 1 teacher:3 children or 2:6, they had a set schedule of morning PE everyday, used visuals and signs for non-verbal communication, have a team of therapists and most importantly and what I always look out for, the children were HAPPY! Contented children are the best learners.


Saying Goodbye to NZ!

On Keanu’s last day of school in NZ his teachers put on a leaving party for him, he had so much fun dancing, eating chocolate Freddos and listening to his favourite songs. “Any excuse for a party!” Keanu’s teacher told us, a few classes came together and Keanu’s friends absolutely loved doing their thing to the music. Such beautiful and carefree spirits they all have!


We can learn so much from children in general, though from children with diverse needs we can discover tremendously about ourselves and for us Keanu has been our most valuable teacher and I’m absolutely sure he will be in this lifetime.

Thank you for taking the time to read..how has this changed your thinking or which points reiterated what you already knew?

If you know a family who may need to read this please share it with them.

Love Stacey ❤️


 

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