Every year at about this time, we take our sixth-graders on an overnight camping excursion to a nearby YMCA facility. For some this is a first-time experience, and a big part of our planning is dedicated to relieving the anxiety and answering all the questions about the unknown. This is especially important for our 26 students, all of whom have some form of a learning disability, usually dyslexia and/or ADHD, which is often accompanied by anxiety.
It’s no small task putting it all together and pulling it off successfully, but the rewards are worth their weight in gold. These are some of the nuggets I came home with.
The group really struggled to line up according to their birth dates in an opening team-building exercise. One boy solemnly informed the facilitator that he was dyslexic and therefore unable to understand positional directions. The facilitator glanced somewhat desperately towards us teachers before plunging into the next task, which required that all the students line up on two long wooden blocks with one foot on each block. They were instructed to take ropes attached to the blocks in their hands, and work together to move both blocks across a field while still standing on them. The same dyslexic boy quickly took the lead position on the blocks and effectively got the team organized and moving towards their goal in no time. By the way, one of his directives involved instructing the students on the use of left and right feet!
In another team-building activity students had to take turns moving through a maze made of roped off squares on the ground. They were not allowed to talk until the whole team got through, and every time a student made a wrong move he had to go to the end of the line and start all over again. Slowly the students began to figure it out. The pay-off came in watching the quicker students gently and patiently use silent communication to coach the others to the exit.
Perhaps the greatest number of triumphs happened at the climbing wall this year. Student after student overcame various degrees of fear to meet goals they set for themselves. Some wanted to get to the edge of the first ladder, others to the top platform. One particular student who has overused the word “can’t” in the classroom delighted us with a comical and self-assurred account of how he was overcoming “dangerous conditions” all the way to the top. I’ll look forward to reminding him of his successful climb the next time I hear “can’t.”
My pockets are weighted down with golden nuggets today, each a small victory in a special student’s climb to success.