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Mar 20, 2010

The problem with winter babies

Since being pregnant with my son Daniel, I knew that having a kid born in January wasn't optimal. After all, I was born in December and I experienced the typical issues of having a winter birthday: you can't celebrate your birthday outside, Christmas and birthday celebrations get merged, leaving little room to celebrate a birthday in style.
I thought that, when Daniel gets older, he would probably come to remind us that a January birthday was not fun. But, there wasn't much we could do at that point.

Little did I know that these considerations were minor compared with the other problems of having a winter baby.

The first learning came when Daniel was 6 weeks old. It was still winter and Daniel caught the flu. He lost appetite, and pretty much all the weight he had gained since birth. He was in a bad shape for several days. For us first time parents, it was a traumatic experience. As we visited the pediatrician several times during this tough week, she made a comment that pediatricians try to avoid getting babies in the winter. They know first hand that it's more risky. Why didn't anyone tell us before? Glad we applied the learning for our 2nd kid who is expected to be born in May, a much better season!
Fortunately, Daniel recovered from this episode and he has developed now into a healthy kid.

Recently, we had another reason to regret Daniel being born in January. It had to do with pre-school decisions.
Since we are trying to raise Daniel in French, German and English, it made sense for us to look for a school that could offer bilingual programs. It would help reinforce some of the languages and allow Daniel to have friends who are in the same situation.
We found a promising school called International School of the Peninsula in Palo Alto, which teaches in French and English, and we applied for Daniel to start with them in the summer.

The challenge was that the applications for this year were limited to children born in the year before Daniel. In theory, Daniel would have to wait until next year to apply and start in their young class, and we were told that there would be no exception.

However, at his current daycare, Daniel is currently in class with kids older than him, since the staff there rightly recognized that he is developing at the same level as kids 6 months older. Daniel is enjoying the challenging curriculum of the new class, and he will officially start in the preschool program along with his older friends in August. When thinking of our application for the International School of the Peninsula, we strongly believed that it wouldn't make sense for Daniel to have to wait another year to have the chance to learn the same things he will be learning this year at his current school.... especially because he only missed the cut off by 14 days!

So we applied, knowing that this might be a challenge. We sent all the documentation we had gotten from Daniel's daycare about his development since being an infant, which supported our position. We were positively surprised not to be rejected right away on this formality and to be invited to interviews. The process consisted of a parent interview and a kid interview, where the kids have to spend 1.5 hour in the classroom to be observed for their social and communication skills, maturity, etc...
It sounds like we didn't do too bad at the parent interview since we were told later on that we had the perfect profile for the community ISTP is trying to build. While I might be biased, I think Daniel did great at his interview too. I was concerned that he would still be somewhat handicapped with his age. But he behaved great: playing independently, interacting and following directions when asked to, being the only child actively involved when the teachers sang songs and danced at circle time. For sure, he didn't stand out as being behind the other kids.

So, we were a little bit surprised when, after all this, we were told that we would need to reapply next year. At the end of the day, Daniel couldn't be accepted this year, the only reason being his age. The director had made the decision that he wouldn't make an exception for him. While I understand that it's hard to set precedents like this, I am disappointed about the decision process. If, despite all the evidence about Daniel's development, the decision was made in a vacuum by someone who didn't even bother to see him or us, he could as well have rejected him right when we sent our application. Otherwise, why ask us for interviews if this won't make any difference? Why have 4 teachers and one admission manager talk to us if they have no say in the process?

It also makes me question one of the key principles ISTP claims they follow: supporting each child's development individually and paying attention to their unique needs to help them thrive. Daniel's current daycare, CPSC, also has a similar policy about when kids are accepted in which classroom. However, they were willing to be flexible for Daniel, because they recognized that this was the right thing for his development. They didn't make a big deal out of it (and I am very thankful for it!)

From what I am seeing, ISTP is not at that level. They might offer a bilingual education. But if they ignore other important information about a child's development, I am wondering if the benefit is worth it. In any case, it sounds like Daniel's current daycare might after all be just what he needs. At least, his development needs are met.

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