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.
Recently I had the opportunity of speaking at a holiday camp for school learners from one of the schools for visually impaired children. The camp is an annual event organized by the Rainbow Dreams Trust that focuses on building confidence and the awareness of possibilities for the learners. It was the second time I was invited to speak at the event.
I told the group a little about myself and my story, focusing on some of the things I’ve done and the way I use assistive technology to help me do the things I want to. Then I invited them to ask questions. As always, I was amazed at the range of topics they wanted to know about – ranging from my books, working with Fiji, and my process of managing uncertainty when doing something new. Craig also got drawn into the Q&A, with several of the questions being about what it was like for him meeting, and marrying a blind woman and the reactions of his family and friends to that decision. Craig isn’t usually able to attend when I’m speaking so this was an unexpected topic for us both!
I was inspired by the energy and curiosity of the learners and, in turn, hope I managed to inspire them to seize the opportunities that come their way as they transition from school into the next phase of their lives, be it the working world or tertiary education.
I came away from the time spent with the group with a profound understanding that at their best, inspiration and energy are two-way streams and are best when being both given and received in turn.
And let me tell you, seldom has a standing ovation meant so much to me!