A day in the life of . . . .
My usual working day is as a recruitment consultant for SEN schools and SEN staff in the South East London areas but on the 23rd August I was on my way to be a volunteer working in a SEN secondary school holiday club in Greenwich, something I had never done before.
On the journey I was full of anticipation and excitement. Would I be good enough to support the students? Would I be able to emotionally handle their needs? Would I make a difference today? Having arrived I took a deep breath and walked through the doors.
After filling out paperwork and meeting Barbara (who runs the holiday club) and a few of the other teaching assistants I felt a lot calmer. They made me feel very welcome and part of the team. Something I would come to realise being part of would be important later on. In the morning I would be supporting two lads with Cerebral Palsy and PMLD and in the afternoon a class of ASD and Complex Needs children. I admit at this stage I was a little nervous but there really was no need.
Thomas (Tom) and Harry, both 12 years old, with Cerebral Palsy and wheelchair bound greeted me with big smiles and their teaching assistants, Kay and Kerry made me feel very welcome and part of the team. Both lads were not verbal but they both knew exactly what they wanted and made sure we all knew as well. Harry would blow a raspberry for yes and poke his tongue out for no and although he had a picture recognition screen, he didn’t like to use it. Tom would place his index finger on his cheek if he meant yes. We decided it was time to do some arts and crafts. Painting, Clay play and then bake some cakes. Harry had taken to me so I stayed working with him.
Having got the paints out, Harry decided which colour he wanted to use and we set to painting a picture of Kerry. I had to assist him to hold the paintbrush and we set to work. Harry found it most amusing when he made Kerry with green hair. Something he laughed about most of the day when reminded. We painted each others fingers and made hand prints on the paper. Harry loves to make a mess however clay was not so well received. He did not like the feel of it on his fingers so we decided not to do that activity.
Tom however loved clay. He had put most of it on his glasses and over the table but he is known for this and finds it very amusing. He made a lovely fish thou. When Tom got excited he would bang the table with his legs but even when we took the table away he would wheel himself over to it and carry on. It became clear this was a game Tom liked but when he was told to stop he did and a gorgeous big cheeky smile would appear. Tom and Harry bounced off each other throughout the morning, making each other giggle and smile.
Cake making! Tom and Harry both stirred , mixed and poured the mixture with some help. The idea is not to do it for them but for them to do as much as possible. Most of it made it into the cup cake tins but Harry was caught a few times dipping his fingers into the mixture. Harry then decided he was going to eat 3 caked and Tom only 1, to which Harry got called a “piggy wiggy”. This amused him no end and he set about calling everyone a “piggy Wiggy”. I would ask him Harry if Tom was one and he would blow a big raspberry and laugh. Tom would bang the table back.
Lunch time meant me having to feed Tom. I had not feed a child since my own was a baby so this was a bit of an odd experience at first but Tom made it easy. I just held the food close to his mouth and he took bites when he wanted to. I soon knew when he had enough as he would turn his head away. Laughter broke out between Harry and Tom, when Harry burped. Some things don’t change no matter who the children are.
After lunch I was moved into the ASD and Complex Needs room and instantly found myself a new friend called Megan. She loved to colour and we spent some time talking about cartoon characters and colouring Winnie the Pooh and Minnie Mouse which she gave me as a present later on. She also took my hand and introduced me to each child in the room. It struck me just how more capable these students were on computers than I was. They were phenomenal to watch. Megan then left the class and I found another new friend, Katarina. Katarina has ASD and is not so verbal as Megan. She likes to sit quietly and is a bit nervous around new people but showing her a photo of my dog made her eyes light up. She blew me away later on when a karaoke song was put onto the whiteboard, she stood up and sung her heart out. The confidence she showed was beautiful and made me have to hold back a few tears. I was so proud of her. Once the song finished we then dance to a few chart songs and were joined by a few other children and teaching assistants. A nice way to end the day.
I am sure I got out more from this day than the children and having started the day a bit nervous and scared, it ended feeling very humbled and a new found respect for all those amazing teachers and teaching assistants who do this every day. The one thing I will take away from this experience is that the smallest of actions can make someone smile and enjoy their day. These children have their needs but they sure know how to have a good time and I was extremely privileged to be allowed into their world. Something I would recommend anyone given the opportunity do.
Finally a massive thank you to all those at the holiday club held at Charlton Special School. To Barbara, Kerry, Kay and a special mention to Harry, Tom, Megan and Katarina, my new friends.
South West London