Sometime in the last two years, my next-door neighbor’s four-year-old daughter Jeanette has decided to trust me. It was a gradual process. In the beginning, she peeked from behind her mother’s knees at me. Her curious blues eyes assessing me, silently weighing my intentions.
Then she found her voice, but only at a distance. Standing in her front yard Jeanette would yell, “Jordan! Where you going?” This greeting met me at every departure for most of last summer. So often that I came to expect her cheerful little voice when I opened the garage door. At first, I felt uncomfortable announcing to the neighborhood where I was going. It felt like an open invitation for a burglar. So I would just say “out for a while” or some inane comment like “to the store.”
The icebreaker came last spring when I needed dog care and asked for help. To be honest it was not a kind thing that I did to my dog. Jeanette had never had an animal of her own, and she bonded to my miniature dachshund Abernathy almost immediately, although his feelings about the relationship are mixed at best. It could be that Jeanette liked his name, but more likely, she simply liked that he was small enough for her to lift off the ground and drag around the house. Abby is a cuddly fella so co-napping on the couch became normal during his visit. She soon discovered his love of treats and waited with her mother at the garage door with dog biscuits when we passed by on our twice-daily dog walk.
At three, Jeanette could pronounce Abby, although not Abernathy and she could call out my name fairly clearly but not my partner’s name. In fact, much of what Jeanette said during that first year was an incomprehensible blur, at least to me. I have come to learn that small children often have their own languages that their families learn to understand. And that speech patterns evolve over time to include sounds that are more complex and difficult to articulate. I remember that the letter S was difficult for me to wrap my tongue around when I started school so I thought she would eventually replace her special language with the speech patterns and sounds she heard from her siblings and parents, or at worst from television.
That has not been the case and I am concerned. Jeanette will start kindergarten in the fall and she will begin her first day with two strikes against her. The first is that she is shy and slow to warm to new people and things. The second is her lack of appropriate language skills, which I believe, will make her the target for teasing and bullying behavior from other kids. Neither of these hurdles are insurmountable or unique to Jeanette, but they do make the life of a four-year old harder.
I hope I am wrong. Maybe I am old and clueless about the ways in which children interact with each other. Maybe I do not get it. What I do get is that I want the best education for this child. Jeanette is bright, curious and interactive with the world around her, and I do not want her hobbled by poverty or inadequate resources while living in one of the worlds richest countries.
I’m asking for your help. Here’s what you can do:
Repost this blog post.
Share this story with your friends.
If you are a Speech Pathologist and can help Jeanette, please contact me.
If you are a teacher or educator specializing in child development, contact me.
If I am off-base or simply wrong, tell me your story, I’ll listen.