A 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 are they in?
- Are they frightened or anxious?
- How did they 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)?
- Have they had a GA or been fasting or do they have a cannulation coming up?
Assessing their learning needs:
- Listen to their parents when they explain what their needs are.
For example; Don’t assume that just because they are 8 years old he will engage with the maths module which “goes” with the 8-yr old age-group. Actually, they love maths but there is nothing guaranteed to turn them off faster than maths worksheets which is too easy for them, whether they're in hospital or not. Their home school will tell you that too, if you ask.
- Make the learning relevant to their interests. If video games are what they're 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 them work that reflects the work their mates are doing. It will mean conferring with their home school, which brings its own set of logistical problems. But it will mean they’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.
- Make sure you can schedule FaceTime or Skype or any kind of connection with their school-friends. The lure of talking to a mate would have dragged them away from anything. But it would have to be “real” talking, or online chat at least, not just email.
A kid in hospital is probably doing it tough. They probably know what their life depends on, and it’s not maths worksheets. They have already been severed from whatever school or community they came from, and so they have got nothing to lose by refusing to cooperate with the Hospital School. Any program developed for them is going to need to target their interests pretty carefully to make it worth their 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?