Obama’s school work is stunning. This has nothing to do with sand schools, dressage, collection or self carriage. This is all about Obama working in schools.
Obama has been working regularly at one school, working with children in a grass area at the school. The children vary from those with profound physical issues and top of the range electric wheelchairs to those with complex learning difficulties and every variation in between. Obama, working with the iBex takes all those who want to, around the grass area, at walk and trot.
Some of those with complex behaviour issues want to work with Obama on a one to one basis, some want to drive on the iBex, some with friends, some with carers, some on their own. Obama accepts it all and co-operates. He has shown he is capable of working with any of the children who want to get involved and is tolerant of behaviour from the children which he won’t accept from me.
He is an all round star and total success story so I was pretty relaxed when I went for a first visit to my second school client. Here they had the same range of children with problems from profound physical disabilities to complex behaviour issues but I was arriving as an experienced professional who knows what he is doing…….. ha ha.
I offloaded Obama and the iBex, harnessed up and drove him into the school where I discovered we would be working in the school playground, starting with the children with the most complex physical issues and then working with those with complex behaviour patterns. So far no problem.
The difference was that we were in the school playground and everyone was present. School playgrounds can never be described as boring, and this one was no exception in the boring direction. In theory, no problem. I know Obama’s limitations, I know all the signs of stress and predictors of bad behaviour, and I have the instant pony release system always available on the iBex. So any problem, release the vehicle, lead Obama away. Dead simple.
But the point of Pony Access is access with the pony, access to the pony, spending the day leading the pony away may be safe, but it isn’t doing much good. I didn’t want to admit that this was probably a test too far, and that wheelchair enabled pony drawn vehicles weren’t really designed for use in the middle of a school playground, surrounded by children running and kicking balls and generally being kids in a school playground and could somebody keep the rest of the kids away…please!
But I thought that I might be able to cope with two, or maybe even three children, so we give it a whirl. After the second kid I suddenly realise that I am the stressed out individual, the kids are being kids, the teachers are seeing kids being kids, Obama is seeing kids being kids and I am seeing complex threatening behaviour patterns. So Obama is also seeing the person who in theory he trusts and respects, (I am good at kidding myself), looking progressively more stressed which he doesn’t find relaxing. Once I looked at Obama and saw how he was reading the situation, everything changed.
At the end of three hours of taking loads of different kids for a drive round the playground, all on wheelchairs because it was easier to put kids who didn’t need wheelchairs into wheelchairs, than to swap between wheelchair and non wheelchair mode on the iBex. It felt like I put thirty children on the iBex during the three hours, which means Obama stood still while I harness him and put on the iBex some thirty times, surrounded at all times by children being children in the playground.
The kids adored it, driving on cool, pony powered wheels, surrounded by friends and able to swap high fives as they whizzed round. The level of engagement was massive, with Obama, with their friends, with the vehicle, with the movement. After three hours I had to announce the end because I was starting to make small mistakes in the harnessing process. Basically I was knackered. The buzz was incredible, but the tension was still there. Working a pony drawn, wheelchair enabled vehicle in the middle of a special needs school playground full of kids, needs focus. But even after the last ride was announced, Obama still stayed cool and cooperative for three more.
I hadn’t realised the extent to which bringing the pony based activities into school life enhances the experience. Yes, as a special feature it is really effective, and for one to one work with kids and Obama, distractions are counter productive. But to generate that initial engagement, the interactions with their peers, while they are involved in pony based activities, adds a whole new level.
Next weeks visit to the first school where I had been working all term, coincided with sunshine and warmth and we had a group of kids together, all interacting with Obama and each other. This generated completely new behaviour patterns in some of the kids and opened up new possibilities for increasing engagement. Using Professor Barry Carpenter’s Engagement Profile it is possible to quantify the reactions to Pony Access work, and their relevance to educational aims.
What is the Engagement Profile & Scale?
Engagement is the single best predictor of successful learning for children with learning
disabilities (Iovannone et al., 2003). Without engagement, there is no deep learning
(Hargreaves, 2006), effective teaching, meaningful outcome, real attainment or quality
progress (Carpenter, 2010).
I must point out that I am not in any way an expert on education, or able to judge the effects of engagement on education, I leave that side to Professor Barry Carpenter, but I can judge engagement. However my opinions on engagement can be safely ignored as Obama and I work as a team with a parent or carer. My job is to ensure safety, and that Obama is happy, and to provide Pony Access which the parent, carer or teacher can direct in the way that seems most appropriate to the child concerned. Parents, carers and teachers have no problems spotting engagement and assessing it. They know the children, they know their normal reactions and behaviour and any change is instantly obvious and easy to record on Professor Carpenter’s Engagement Profile.
I will, of course, stick my oar in and make suggestions because I am me. These suggestions can be ignored for the same reason. But the engagement profiles will build up into a useful resource loaded with usable data to improve the education of those children.
I have noticed that some children are totally uninterested in the whole Pony Access activity. This is just as relevant, indeed it may produce more useful information, in that the small group who are, what I might term, “actively uninterested” may give clues to a useful diagnosis. Being interested and engaged in Pony Access is so “normal” that engagement itself can provide no useful diagnosis. The engagement profiles will provide loads of data, the existence of engagement won’t. My rough estimate is 80% actively engage in Pony Access activities and about 2% “actively disengage” but that 2% is currently only two children.
A research program based on Professor Carpenter’s Engagement Profile could generate some really useful data on the effects of Pony Access because there is no need to design the research to produce a specific result. You only have to bring a pony near a school playground, especially in an urban area, to have in instant diagnosis of “engagement”. I recommend ear plugs for the experiment as the sound of children screaming can be painful. I have taken ponies to so many school playgrounds that I know the results will be deafening.
For anyone interested in further details of Pony Access work with schools,
contact Simon Mulholland
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