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Sunday, February 11, 2024

Living My Dream Of An Inclusive Preschool


 

There was a time when I dreamed of becoming an astrophysicist. The inspiration was Carl Sagan and his television series ‘Cosmos: A Personal Voyage’. That dream was lost in space and gone forever when I dropped out of PUC and got married.

My dream of being an independent career woman was forgotten as I got busy trying to please people, win their appreciation and take care of my children and family. I couldn’t connect or recognize myself, as days went by.

This is when the wake-up call came in the form of Breast Cancer when I was 29. Relationships that demanded sacrifices crumbled like a house of cards when I endured the harsh treatment. I can say that I had no other option but to start a career and take care of myself financially. It was not easy but not impossible either. I had to start very small.

Throughout my life, I had enjoyed teaching. Giving tuition was a hobby, but now it became a part of my income along with making and selling soft toys, stitching clothes, and many odd jobs. I was surprised that even when going through chemo, I could pick myself up and start earning. It gave a big boost to my confidence which has never wavered since then.

As years went by, with encouragement from my son, I studied again. I completed my graduation and post-graduation and started my career seriously with all new fervor. I loved the lost and found again financial freedom.

It was at this stage that a dream was born out of the pain which can only be experienced by a mom of a special needs child. My teenage daughter with special needs was referring to the regular people, including me, as ‘YOU’ people and those with special needs as ‘WE’ people. It was very painful for me to see that my daughter was feeling that she was different from me. Her feelings were based on how we treated her.

Getting out of the blame game vicious cycle

I could blame society, our fate, or injustice and take some comfort in playing the blame game, or I could think of doing something about it. Thus was born the idea of creating a preschool where inclusivity would be a norm. I

know that it is not possible to include every child in a regular school due to the different challenges they have. For example, a child with severe ADHD in a regular environment may harm other children in the school. Autism is not well understood even by special educators, hence, it would be a challenge for regular teachers to handle a child with autism. Intellectual challenges, cerebral palsy, Downs syndrome, learning disabilities were easier for inclusivity.

Doing my homework before I undertook this

Having done my M.S. in Counseling and Psychotherapy I understand both the physical and emotional challenges everyone would face in an inclusive environment. I was not going to jump blindly into the project without doing my homework. But I knew, there was no testing this water without getting into it. I gave up my job and started an inclusive preschool. It was a huge risk for someone who started a career very late in life, but a dream was born and I couldn’t stop myself.

In the initial year, there was a rejection of the idea from parents of regular school-going preschoolers and the parents of children with special needs. One set of parents was afraid that the special children could be dangerous and that their children would pick up their behaviors. The other set of parents was worried their special child would be discriminated against, ignored, and hurt in a regular school environment. Admissions were rare, but they did happen. That was encouraging enough for me. Slowly people around me developed trust in my ability to run the school and admissions started picking up.

In 2020 when I was stepping into the profit zone, Covid19 forced me to close down the school. It was a big shock and setback for me. Being in the rental premises hurt my business more. There were people who took advantage of the situation and caused losses to me, but there were also people who stepped in to support me. I had to close down the school and sell most of my materials. It was tougher than giving up my breast when I had to fight cancer.

I restarted with my dream in 2022

In 2022, when I came across an old building and the dream was born again. I had found a good job during the lockdown and was in a comfortable place once again, but Giggle Garden had the magic of pulling me into it once again. With encouragement from a few parents, I restarted my school.

Fortunately, my struggling days were over. Admissions were not as difficult as it was in 2017 when I had opened the school for the first time. Though I was late in getting the premises ready and starting the school, there were enough admissions to almost cover the running cost every month. I am steadily moving forward with my school and daycare.

We have children with challenges and parents have learned to respect my idea of running an inclusive preschool. Many ask me why not follow the normal way of inclusive education which starts at the age of 6 years and above for children, why preschool?

As we can observe and understand, in the initial years of schooling, the needs of the special children and regular children are almost the same in school, though some extra help may be required based on their diagnosis. Inclusivity in the early years is easy compared to the years when academics take importance and special children will have different needs.



In the picture above, we can see that regular and special needs children can work side by side without any special effort from monitoring adults. Parents are being more supportive of the cause as we are growing in experience.

I may not be able to make a huge difference to many people, but I am sure I have already made a difference to a few children and parents. For me that little achievement is a dream I would die for.

I wish to own a place that I make physically accessible to all people and create an environment where every child can smile and grow. I wish to be the ‘smile farmer’ in ‘Giggle Garden’ where I could grow smiles of all children.


Published on Women's Web

Monday, January 29, 2024

Sanjeevani - Heroes of Hope

Sometimes I wonder whether I really went through all that. From the comfort zone I am in today, the struggle seems far away, but I know I wouldn't be who I am without them. 



Nurturing Children's Health During Winter

 




As winter approaches and temperatures plummet, it's essential to strike a balance between outdoor enjoyment and safeguarding the well-being of our little ones. While the cold season brings many a sense of joy, it also brings potential health risks, especially for children. Having observed children in My Giggle Garden since its inception in 2017, I have come up with few practical tips to ensure our kids stay healthy and happy during winter.


1. Limit Outdoor Travel for Toddlers

Minimize outdoor excursions with toddlers during the
winter months. The harsh cold can be challenging for their delicate systems. Opt for indoor activities and playdates to reduce exposure to the chilly weather.

2. Embrace the Warmth

Distinguish between hot and warm. Ensure your children are appropriately dressed in layers to maintain a comfortable body temperature. Dressing them warmly is crucial for their well-being in colder weather.

3. Nourish with Healthy Foods

Provide a well-balanced diet rich in nutrients to fuel your children's bodies during the winter. The cold season demands more energy, and a nutritious diet helps strengthen their immune systems.

4. Shield from the Elements

Protect your child's ears from biting winds by using hats or earmuffs. Additionally, promptly dry them after baths, avoiding exposure to fans immediately afterward.

5. Warm Soups for Comfort

Introduce a variety of soups to their diet. Not only do they keep your children warm, but they also contribute to their overall health. Homemade remedies such as tulsi leaves with honey or turmeric milk can work wonders.

6. Prioritize Sleep

Ensure your children get sufficient sleep, especially during winter. Longer sleep times contribute to a healthier immune system. Establish a consistent bedtime routine to promote good sleep habits.

7. Layer up on Socks

Keep their feet warm by adding an extra layer of socks, especially when sending them to school. Cold feet can contribute to discomfort and susceptibility to illnesses.

8. Positive Winter Vibes

Encourage a positive outlook on winter by allowing children to enjoy the season's festivities. Avoid instilling a fear of the cold by refraining from repeatedly saying, "If you do this, you'll catch a cold." Instead, focus on the fun aspects of winter.

9. Home Remedies for Wellness

Incorporate safe and time-tested home remedies into your winter routine. Tulsi leaves with honey and turmeric milk are excellent choices for bolstering your child's immune system without side effects.

10. Embrace the Season

Look forward to the wonders that winter brings. Strike a balance between safeguarding your children's health and enjoying the crisp, refreshing weather. By following these tips, you can create a winter experience that is both safe and enjoyable for your little ones.

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