Parenting

Positive Educational Experiences

So, thought I would share some of the positive experiences we have had with the formal education of our children. From local school, education department, and/or blind-specific educators and instructors. Not all-encompassing by any means, but a taste of some of the good stuff.

When child number one began life in formal education, the school accessed funding and attended to every recommendation of the Orientation and Mobility Instructor in regard to making sure the grounds of the school were reasonably suitable and safe (to the best of my knowledge).

When child number two began school, the teacher approached a local group and spoke to them in request of funds to make up a short-fall enabling the purchase of a particular piece of equipment; mentioning that for our children to share in one of these pieces of equipment was the equivalent of asking sighted siblings to share one pencil. Brilliant.

Child number three had a role in the last school production before heading to secondary school. The staff worked with this child to ensure that this one would be able to enter and exit the stage independently throughout the show. So well was this accomplished, that another member of the local community commented to someone that they had thought there was a blind student in the play, which one?

When child number one began secondary school and the art class were drawing around their shoes/feet, the teacher had prepared for our child to wrap wire around this one’s foot making a sculpture of it. This staff member also sought out and purchased equipment that would enable safe but more independent use of some equipment (bringing grateful tears to my eyes at my first parent/teacher interview).

A secondary school teacher sought out equipment that would make for a smoother road in the production of the curriculum in our children’s preferred format. Another secondary school teacher automatically produced comments on corrected work in a format independently accessible to our eldest (eliminating the need to rely on an aide or parent to read them), without being asked. One teacher also sought input from another teacher, who had previously taught our children, for ideas – without being instructed to.

We have had instructors and teachers from ‘blindness agencies’ go out of their way to serve our family. Working at providing time with male instructors in a female-dominated environment. Sacrificing time to, not equal but, provide somewhat more time than we had been receiving as ‘country/rural clients’. Phone instruction for our children and debriefing for me, the parent, on occasion. Time for conversation and incidental learning for me as a parent, and the validation of seeking my input into the services provided.

There is much to be thankful for, and which has been appreciated by our family. No one and no system is perfect (which may be reflected on in the near future also). But imperfections and mishaps, though they need to be addressed, do not take away from times of great provision, consideration and even excelling.

I am indeed grateful.

 

This, Too, Is Ok…

One of my children had a favourite type of toy; a series of multiple sized plastic fish, in a scoop shape so that they stacked together. These ‘fish’ went everywhere. They were the best kind of favourite or security toy as they were able to be washed regularly throughout the day – in the bath, in the sink. Whenever washing of the child took place, so did washing of the fish. Although the washing had to be taught as part of the bathing etc. process, it was not automatic. As I said, the fish went everywhere. Learning to climb the ladder of the slide was done, fish in hand. Swinging was done, fish in hand. The fish went to kindergarten, to church (and tapped out the rhythm of the songs), weddings…everywhere.

It turned out, that the ‘scoop’ shape was a large part of the attraction. As the scoops from the ground coffee made their way into the toy collection, they became favourites as well. As did the washed scoops from the laundry detergent, and eventually we moved on to egg shells. Not plastic, real out-of-the-bum-of-a-chook egg shells. Every time I/we cooked with eggs, the most complete halves of the shells were washed and left on the window sill to dry. As one shell broke, it was replaced with another from the window sill. Eventually, vegetable peelings were the go, and as this one would fall asleep in the car the peelings would collect beside and behind car seats and on the floor.

Though none of these things were a bother to me in themselves (as my son with hair clips and nail polish were not, nor my girls wearing tiaras and wings to church or weddings, and one with band-aids on clothes), I was concerned that some learning was actually hindered by the constant presence of something in the hand, about an obsessive attachment to the objects themselves (which was in the nature of the child in question) and perhaps a few other considerations. So we embarked on a progressive process of experience and detachment.

One step we walked through was to leave the fish in one’s bag at kindergarten, and take them out again for the trip home. Once we got to egg shells, this particular child was part of the cleaning process (though probably only once in a while, I did most of this). We then began to use whole eggs to play with in a bowl. We would practice cracking them open into the bowl with, hopefully, two whole halves. Then my child was allowed to ‘play’ with it all, swishing hands in the raw egg, stirring etc. Once the play was completed, to end the experience the shell was crushed and stirred in as part of the fun. The shell was then known to have been destroyed and told that it could not be repaired. The shells on the sill were still available for a time while this play continued. Eventually I told this child how many shells were left on the window sill, and that once they had all been broken I would not be leaving any more up there. They were counted down as we went through them, giving fair, advanced notice of the time/day when they would no longer be available. The plastic toys were still available until the child grew out of the desire for them, as children usually do throughout their development.

This all happened over some years. It was not accomplished in a week, or a month. It was not begun because I, or someone else, was uncomfortable or embarrassed with this child’s preferred method or objects of play. It was not attended to so that this child would conform and be like any other child (or, heaven forbid, any adult). We took this child’s personality and temperament, age and interests, foreseeable future needs and potential desires into account. Then thought outside of the square, while looking into the child and our own family life.

And the result…a practically grown, independent, well-adjusted young adult – who just doesn’t happen to be able to see.

Don’t fret, be creative and imaginative… this, too, is ok.

Equality and Equity

So, my last child just completed her last NAPLAN (National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy). Whew, are we glad that’s over!

While I was on school council at one of our children’s schools (mainstream government school) I enquired as to whether there was any way of  obtaining comparative information from the NAPLAN for vision impaired students around the state and the country. The principal said that there wasn’t. My children were not obligated to complete the NAPLAN because they are blind, but that would be another difference between them and their peers; and a ‘testing’ environment experience they would not have been able to learn from. Over the years though, we have had one NAPLAN go ‘missing’ completely, one not assessed properly because some of the responses were not in the appropriate format (they were in braille, my child’s preferred format – and only possible one for mathematics, music or languages other than english, “LOTE”), and a third followed up by a very diligent teacher who recognised the assessment of my son as not reflecting what she knew to be his level of ability and achievement (again an issue with no provision for his braille submission’s appropriate assessment, I believe).

Much of what they are assessed on is visual, and the reflection on the Education Department is an implication of no interest or expectation that my children’s outcomes from being in the public system are of importance to the department or the future contribution (or lack-there-of) my children’s impact may have on society; including the contribution they may/will make to the retirement and end-of-life environment government ministers and educators will experience.

Equality and equity are both necessary. My understanding is that equality will give us all the same things; equity will make things fair, just. I realise that this is very difficult to accomplish, especially in an environment where we desire to meet the needs of all, and to do this justly and fairly for ALL is a mammoth task of time and resources.

I’m led to reflect in all of this on the differences between: public and private education, home and institutional education, integration in the mainstream and disability/health or giftedness/remedial-specific education, distance and face-to-face education. To be equitable, I believe all should be on offer, as standardising may be economically efficient but it denies individuality of person, circumstance, belief, value…and discourages the healthy social outcome of diversity and unity as opposed to conformity, and growth both personally and corporately from differences of relational interaction. Having said that, many of these growth opportunities can be frightening, time consuming, financially costly and will require a much more personal, intentional and discerning observation and assessment method. There are places where this is done, but they are few and far between and not readily accessed or publicised.

We expect to be able to choose our career, but circumstances may dictate what it will be. We expect to choose our place of habitation, but circumstances may dictate where it will be. We don’t always get what we expect, or prefer, or even require. But shouldn’t we develop the desire and willingness to try to offer equality and equity? I expect my children to live in a society that does not cater for them automatically, as is true now. They accommodate for the sighted world every day; they submit their school and university work in the teacher or lecturer’s preferred format (in primary school they produced a braille and print copy of nearly everything); they will have to expect that uncovered man-holes may not have been fenced off; they expect we sighted folk to get our left and right mixed up when directing (they do occasionally as well). I’m curious as to why those of us who comfortably live in the mainstream and rarely have to alter the way we prefer to ‘do things’, balk at the slightest suggestion that we accommodate for someone who accommodates for us every day of their lives. I’m not just talking about blindness or disability either! What about different cultures from our own, a perceived different status (I don’t like that word) from our own, someone from a different town or state, a different age group…the list could be endless.

If only we could all embrace the attitude of teachability, being malleable and willingly conscientious to consider another as I go about my day. It is possible, I see it happen. But not as often as I’d like, I guess. Offering a choice is a good start, instead of demand or guilt-ridden compliance.

Just a few thoughts.

Ability, Intelligence, Education, Parenting

I have just watched a TED talk by Ken Robinson, Bring On The Learning Revolution.

I have heard many teachers say that they and parents are in partnership in educating our children. I’ve witnessed a much smaller number of them actually modelling their belief in and value of that statement. Another often-stated but not-as-often modelled belief or value is that we all (including each child) are individuals, and diverse.

Ken’s talk resonated with me for a number of reasons, as have many other groups and movements that are modelling the knowledge and understanding of whole-person and whole-community development; Mainly Music Men’s Shed’s and Kid’s Hope to name a few.

Observing what someone is interested in and then engaging with them where they are, and taking them further in their experiences (and consequently ourselves) is the best way to teach and to learn. Children learn this way in their early years at home so why do we change that method of learning, unless it is to achieve conformity or make the life of the educator easier. I am fully aware that educators are so busy already as are families, but could it be that this seems too difficult or time consuming because we view it as adding to our current method of formal education rather than a whole new way of thinking, educating and interacting; or perhaps a return to a less “intellectualised” but more holistically productive learning experience. As I’ve observed some families, and many of the educators of my children, I’ve witnessed their seeming astonishment that the children they wish to “educate” are inattentive, disengaged, even hostile.

What is it we value as productive? Achieving a particular person or groups goals for all, or encouraging each member of our families and communities to reach their own potential, within their own unique design, in the time it takes rather than in the time I’m willing to contribute to said potential? Guided learning is necessary, I learn from those who have been where I’m heading or fulfilled what I’m seeking to achieve. Although I will learn these things in relation to my unique design, experience, passion, age, culture, and…relationship to my educator.

I think that relationship also has a huge role to play in our learning. The best communicators develop a rapport with their audience, a positive relationship. I think that too many educators are fulfilling a task, achieving a goal, advancing a career; we learn from people we have a relationship with. Not necessarily the most intimate, but positive or rewarding in some way. The teachers that were the most engaging for me were the ones I felt connected to in some way, sometimes through humour, sometimes a connection outside of school, similar interests…The best teachers I have seen in my children’s classrooms are the ones who seem to understand or see into the personality of the child. This has included their tastes and family, fears and ease or difficulty with the school system – and they have adjusted, accommodated accordingly. This is possible, I have seen it happen spontaneously by some and I believe it can be taught and modelled and encouraged for others. But it will take quite a shift in thinking and a fairly large dose of empathy.

Ken Robinson mentioned the comment of a friend, “You know, a three year old is not half a six year old!” I would venture to say that a three year old is not another three year old known to you either. Nor is one boy or girl another boy or girl. Each sibling in a family is not the same as the others. And for those with a diagnosis of some kind, each is not the same as another…and each has their own potential to realise, as themselves. I will be advanced along my journey to reaching full potential too, as I walk alongside those I can encourage along their own journey. How fulfilling, holistic!

I’ll finish with a quote from Ken Robinson on TED:

 Human communities depend upon a diversity of talent, not a singular conception of ability. At the heart of our challenge is to reconstitute our understanding of ability and of intelligence.

 

For The Love Of A Child

When I said I’d love you always

When I said, no matter what

When I said I’d hold within my arms

Whoever I begot

Well, I meant all I was saying

Well, I meant every single word

Well, I meant in all sincerity

I’d adore my little bird

 

So, sing my little songbird

So, sing in your own way

So, sing with voice, or print, or hand

Sing while you are at play

You speak in different tones sometimes

You speak without a sound

You speak from deep within your soul

Like no other I have found

 

Though they see incapacity

Though they see a misfit

Though they see their life hindered

I see my life on fire; lit

New vision now have I

New vision now could they

New vision now could all embrace

Oh try, now, while you may

 

 

4/5/2014

Looking Back

As I think back over the journey of having children who happen to be blind, I see so much that I would never have known or experienced without them.

Yes, the obvious of parenting; the marvel of new life, dependance, sleeplessness, responsibility…But so much more!

How the body works; theirs, mine, other children’s and their family members we’ve met. How the body works differently when genes or brains or – whatever – don’t operate as they were designed to. How differently bodies and minds and emotions and souls and families work, for recognised and unrecognised reasons. So many varied ways to overcome obstacles – our own or culture’s; physical, emotional, attitudinal. The dreaded P word (perseverance, ugh!), patience, wonder, ‘aha’ moments, creative thinking, someone else’s creative thinking, the excitement and frustration of difference…Oh my, and so much more!

I would most like to mention just now a phrase I learned, used by some Early Childhood Educators who worked with our children, “We do a lot of sitting on our hands!” Hand-sitting. I have found that hand-sitting is a good principal to follow in many of our relationships, not just in teaching children with a vision impairment a new concept or activity. I must confess right off that this is a struggle for me also, especially when I’m weary or stressed or in unfamiliar surroundings. The desire or need to be ‘hands on’ sometimes seems overwhelming, but it is not.

If the child (or in fact adult) who is blind does not experience for themselves, they rarely if ever learn what is being taught. Once they have concrete experiential knowledge, learning in theory may take place, but there must be a foundation of experiential learning for the mind to develop new learning from. Now, this is true of everybody, but the individual who is blind (particularly a child in the company of an authority figure) often has their opportunities for  independent experience taken from them. Guided learning is necessary, important and valuable, unfortunately we too often do an activity for rather than guide through.

As I have said, I still do not do this every time. So valuable, even imperative, is it to guide through, that I am at the very least frustrated with myself whenever I have neglected to be attentive to do so. I have heard of some adults describing hand-over-hand coaction as being similar to covering the eyes of someone with sight while expecting them to see. My children have gained little to no information from something while coaction is occurring. This can be very difficult for a parent or teacher, or therapist to conceive of, especially when we consider that it is an acceptable practice when working with many other types of difference. I believe, though, that we often use this principal in other places where it would be more productive for, and less offensive to, those with whom we are seeking to be of benefit if we guided in less intrusive ways. Learning to be more descriptive is of inestimable value, just as the use of pictorial guidance has been enlightening, less intrusive and effective for many of those on the Autism Spectrum and people alongside them.

Alongside! Mick and Ruby Duncan from New Zealand live a life of serving others which they call “Alongsiders”. If we’re going to do a lot of “hand sitting”, I think we will also be doing a lot of “along siding” and both inhibit the problem of intruding. Physically, emotionally, socially, mentally; intruding is not only offensive to those we intrude upon but counterproductive to any kind of independence, interdependence, maturity, individuality or self-actualisation we are seeking to encourage. It will take some self-control. It will take some empathy. It will take some soul and attitudinal searching of ourselves. But the personal benefits are also incredible! Less pressure, on us and those we’re working or living with. Less tension in relationships. Less frustration when our own ways are not adopted. And those we love, serve, teach and care for will want us alongside them. And they will become who they were  designed to be and interact with the world as they were designed to interact with it, and us.

I am not advocating that we leave ourselves and others as we are. I believe we thrive when we grow and learn, and I believe we need to learn things that we are not familiar or comfortable with and are sometimes afraid of. But how we learn and teach is important. Understanding how someone learns is imperative for beneficial, productive teaching. Parents, families, teachers, therapists, lecturers, doctors, nurses, others…lets first understand how we learn and love, then try to understand how others learn and love…then lets learn and love together!