Thursday, June 18, 2009

Interaction among special-needs kids

SOFTIN’s crew of experienced at-sea educators uses every observational tactic available to assess the effectiveness of an educational adventure on each and every passenger as we work through our curriculum. We’ve learned some really useful techniques and tactics.

One valuable assessment tool is observing interaction between children. Here is what we’ve learned and the approach we’ve developed… special-needs kids typically have an emotional shell they have carefully built up. We recognize it when they come aboard withdrawn, quiet and with little eye-contact. These kids often remain in this mode while we cruise the harbor and give informative talks about the various vessels, structures, points of interest and how the waterfront functions as a community. This works out very well because they quietly soak up all of this information, as evidenced by how they recite some of what they have learned as we cruise back into the harbor at the end of the trip.

Once we begin introducing them to the critters of the sea, things change rapidly. These critters… seals, sea lions, dolphins, cormorants, loons, seagulls and pelicans (including our greatest friend, Bentwing the disabled brown pelican) help us break through the emotional shells. When the youngsters begin interacting with the critters (making sea lion sounds, cheering the dolphins, feeding the birds and other fun stuff), the truly magic moment occurs. They come busting out of their shells and become emotionally normal; happy, fully-engaged, laughing, sharing with the other kids.

This is one of the key things we watch for… how well the kids interact with one another. We’ve learned that once the kids share and play, they are having an exceptionally rare (for them) opportunity to forget their issues. We call it, “living large outside the shell”. Caregivers accompanying the children recognize it to, and they visibly relax and celebrate.

The education and adventure our program provides is wonderfully beneficial, but the carefully-crafted opportunity to “live large outside the shell” is precious.

Capt. David Bacon
Executive Director

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