It’s no secret that I’m nervous when speaking to groups of young children. For one thing, I know I’m going to have to work hard to get them to focus on what I’m saying when all they really want to do is meet my guide dog, Fiji. But it’s also hard to know how well the youngsters grasp the concept of blindness and what it means in my life.
This nervousness probably explains why I actively seek the opportunity to talk to learners. After all, don’t they say the best way to work through your fears is to confront them? In reality, getting to spend some time explaining what life is like for me as a blind person always gives rise to a fascinating conversation between myself and the youngsters concerned. And a recent visit to the Adventure Kids Club in Cape Town was no exception.
My audience was a group of fifty youngsters and a few adult coordinators, who sat patiently as I spoke about my life and then asked a flood of questions, ranging from how I eat, right the way through to what techniques I use to ensure I’m not excluded when it comes to social activities with sighted friends. The Adventure Kids Club is a community organisation set up by Maria Strachan in Ysterplaat in Cape Town. Maria started the group as a way of inspiring and encouraging youngsters from the community, many of them coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. And, in case you’re wondering about the coincidence that Maria and I have the same surname, yes, our respective husbands are cousins.
As often happens when Fiji comes with me to speak at a children’s event, the youngsters had most fun when they got to come and say hello to her, and she loved the attention. It’s always so cute to see Fiji surrounded by a group of youngsters who want nothing more than to give her love and play with her. Only, maybe this time I gave my dog a run for her money on how to hold the kid’s attention – Maria asked me to bring my guitar and play a few songs for the group. Which I did – to an enthusiastic reception. Here’s a short clip of one of the songs I played:
Ultimately, I think both Fiji and I were lucky that we’d finished talking to the youngsters before the ice-cream arrived – I’m not sure that even a guide dog can capture a child’s attention when facing competition like that!
If anyone were to ask me who my most intimidating audience is, I’d have no hesitation in telling them – children between the ages of 4 and 6 years old!
Now I know this may seem like an easy group to speak to, but just think about it for a moment: you need to grab and hold their attention, talk to them in words and concepts they will both understand and be enthralled by… and deal with the reality that ultimately all they really want to do is play with your guide dog. And since I don’t have children… apart from my dogs, who are treated much like children… relating to children is somewhat outside my usual day to day experience.
Yet, when I was offered the opportunity to speak to 5 groups of children in 4 schools I jumped at the chance. Not only to gain experience of engaging with my most intimidating audience so I can learn to do so better, but also because young children say the most incredible things.
Like the 6 year old who told me with complete confidence that, as a blind person, I couldn’t possibly have written my Missy Mouse children’s books… that I must have got them from the shop or the library.
Or the little girl who told me that she wished she could take her fish for a walk like I do with Fiji… A guide fish???
Or the very scientifically-minded 5 year old who kept moving around the room and asking if I could see him now… and who was absolutely convinced that I had “got blind” (his words, not mine!) because I had been looking at the sun through a telescope and the sun had leapt into the telescope and burned my eyes out…
But I think the prize for the most unexpected comment came from another little one who told me he also had a dog, and that it was a Toy Dog. When I asked what kind of dog he had, expecting him to say he had a Toy Pomeranian, or perhaps a Maltese Poodle, he told me in all seriousness that he didn’t know what kind of dog it was but that when you put batteries into it, it barks and wags its tail!
And, at the end of the class, when the children went to collect stickers from the life-skills teacher who had arranged for us to speak at the schools, the delightful children insisted that Fiji also had to have a sticker… which Fiji proceeded to try and eat, of course!
So, while I may not have totally overcome being intimidated by young children, I’m now sure we can handle pretty much any comment or question that they can throw at us.
I’d even go so far as to say I’d be happy to come and speak at other schools… just drop me a comment or contact me if you’d like to arrange it.