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The View From The Pointy End Of the Cannula

The notion of “inpatient truancy” is interesting and perhaps closer to the truth than is immediately apparent. A kid who is playing truant is a kid who is escaping or avoiding being where he is supposed to be, and that’s exactly what every sick kid in his heart of hearts would like to do.

My own child in hospital had as his sole and burning ambition to escape the situation … and video games were his only way out. They took his mind away from it all. Anything which required him to be present in the moment also required him to face up to where he was and why, and he feared and hated every moment of it with a passion.

As a parent, I hated the video games with a passion, but I was no less terrified than my son was and I didn’t have the emotional reserves to insist on schooling.

I use the term “schooling” because that’s what was offered – a program of stuff to be taught and learned. “School” is different, it’s a place where kids get to be with their mates to play and learn, where they have connections and an emotional investment. The Hospital School offered schooling. What my stressed and frightened son needed, but couldn’t have, was his school.

This is all by way of putting my kid’s video game obsession into context.

What strategies might you use?

These are some strategies which might have worked, but which were not used, for my son. They’re not particular to the Hospital School setting, but their neglect in the Hospital School setting was probably critical to my son’s failure to engage.

Clear for learning. What mental or emotional state is he in? Is he frightened or anxious? How did he sleep last night (on a hospital bed with other patients pressing buzzers and the drip alarms going off and nurses coming in and out all the time)? Has he had a GA or been fasting or does he have a cannulation coming up?

Assess his learning needs. Listen to his mother when she explains what his needs are. Don’t assume that just because he is 8 years old he will engage with the maths module which “goes” with the 8-yr old age-group. Actually, he loves maths but there is nothing guaranteed to turn him off faster than maths worksheets which are too easy for him, whether he’s in hospital or not. His home school will tell you that too, if you ask.

Make the learning relevant to his interests. If video games are what he’s interested in, then build a program around the video games. When my kid was on the ward we had him designing, measuring and doing scale drawings of a new racetrack for his favourite video game – but this was a family initiative, it was completely separate from the Hospital School work. If we’d had our brains switched on, we’d probably have got him writing up what it was about and why, and maybe creating stories around it. At the least we should have talked to the fabulous HS teacher who used to come and visit, and maybe she would have run with it. It was an opportunity lost.

If possible, give him work that reflects the work his mates are doing. It will mean conferring with his home school, which brings its own set of logistical problems. But it will mean he’ll have something to talk to them about – “hey, what did you write for the paragraph for geography? did you do a spelling quiz? did you think that book was really boring? are you using LEGO for your creative response?” – and this is what “normal” kids do.

Schedule FaceTime or Skype or any kind of connection with his school-friends. The lure of talking to a mate would have dragged him away from anything. But it would have to be “real” talking, or online chat at least, not just email.

Summary

A kid in hospital is probably doing it tough. He probably knows what his life depends on, and it’s not maths worksheets. He’s already been severed from whatever school or community he came from, and so he’s got nothing to lose by refusing to cooperate with the Hospital School. Any program developed for him is going to need to target his interests pretty carefully to make it worth his while engaging.

Do you really need a particular set of strategies for inpatient truants, or is it simply that all the regular strategies of student-centred education need to be front and foremost at every instant with no margin for error?

We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Image: ‘‘. http://www.flickr.com/photos/58883622@N02/8236350764. Found on flickrcc.net

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