Thursday, October 25, 2012

Birthday Bash

To follow up with my visit to Antalya's classroom, Jason and I decided we needed to throw a big birthday bash for Antalya and invite all of her classmates and they other kids with Down syndrome in her school, so they could interact with Antalya in a fun, controlled-by-us, environment, and see that other people have Down syndrome too.

Her birthday fell during Fall Break, so we had to postpone the party for the week after her birthday, but I don't think Antalya minded.

I was worried we wouldn't get many people, but ended up with almost every child in her class, plus the kids from her special ed class. In total, we had about 30 little kids running around our place.

Luckily the weather was amazing and we were able to keep all the activities outside.

The goal was to create a party set up that would allow all the children to have fun, and give Antalya the flexibility to interact with them without having to participate in all the activities if she didn't want to. The last thing I wanted was for either her or me to get frustrated because it was time to play a certain game and Antalya didn't want to. So we came up with a carnival theme, and then made some changes to turn it into a Halloween party.

We had a food table that the kids could help themselves to, and different stations set up around the yard with games and prizes. My brother-in-law was kind enough to make balloon animals for all the kids. The stations were pin the face on the pumpkin, pumpkin bean bag toss, pumpkin bowling, donuts on a string, and making carmel apples. I had adults at all the stations to help the kids and give them their prizes.

When everyone was through with the games, we broke open the piƱata and had cupcakes. The Birthday Girl was on cloud 9 all evening from all the attention and presents, and all of the kids left happy. I consider the party a huge success!

It was a lot of work to plan and put on, but I have really noticed a difference just in the last week in the way her classmates treat her. One of the cutest things that happened at the party was when a little girl walked up to me and said, pointing to one of Antalya's friends with DS, "does that girl have Down syndrome too?" I think it helped her classmates to see that other kids have DS, and it's alright because they can all have fun together.

Teaching Kids About Down Syndrome

Several weeks ago, I visited Antalya's Kindergarten class to talk to her classmates about Down syndrome. This was an entirely new experience for me, and one that I thought I wouldn't have to take on until at least 1st grade, but the more Jason and I watched her with her classmates and talked about it, we decided it needed to happen. I got some great ideas from this blog.

Here's a run down of what I did; hopefully it can help out someone else.

I started by asking all the kids to look around and name all the things they saw about each other that was the same (all have noses, eyes, hair, shoes, etc). Then I asked them to look around and tell me some of the things that were different (hair color/length, size, clothes, eye color, etc). Then I told them I was going to read them a story about two little kids that were best friends. And I asked them to listen for all the things that were the same about the kids, and all the things that were different. Then I read My Friend Isabelle by Eliza Woloson (a great book about a little boy who is normal developing and a little girl with Down syndrome).

When the book was finished we talked about some of the differences between the two kids. Then I told them that like the little girl in the book, Antalya was born with something called Down syndrome. I didn't get too technical, but just mentioned that inside all of our bodies are chromosomes that tell our body what color hair we will have, what things we will be good at, what color our eyes will be, etc. Most people are born with 46 chromosomes, but Antalya was born with 47. Because she has one more, it makes some things easier for her, and some things a lot harder for her.

I talked to them about some of the things that are really easy for Antalya (she's flexible, she's really good at sharing, she's good at showing love and is a really good friend, and I threw in the fact that she is better on computers and iPhones then most adults). Then I had the class tell me some of the things they have noticed that are really hard for Antalya. Some of the things that came up were that it's hard for her to keep her shoes on :), it's hard for her to keep her hands to herself, it's hard for her to write, and that it is really hard to understand what she says. We talked about what to do if she starts playing with their hair, bugging them, or just won't keep her hands to herself (One sweet girl raised her hand and said Antalya likes to play her hair, I reminded her that she can tell the teacher if Antalya doesn't stop. But she quickly said, "no, I like when she does!").

Then I had all the kids put a big marshmallow in their mouth and try to tell me what they ate for breakfast. They thought it was hilarious that they couldn't understand each other. I explained that that is what it is like for Antalya - because her tongue is bigger, it's like she's always trying to talk with a marshmallow in her mouth.

We ended with talking about some of the things they could do to help Antalya. Then I gave all the kids a coloring book to take home so they could tell their families about Down syndrome (I didn't use all the pages; I took out the ones I thought weren't necessary). Overall, it went really good, and I was really glad that I did it.