camp | ups and downs: not just for trampolines.

Part of me has always wanted to be a camp counsellor. Two summers ago, I spent a week at camp as a one-to-one support provider. And there’s a part of me that, yes, was right before going into that: there is a lot of emotional stamina needed to invest in the kids you are leading 24-hours-a-day, and sometimes, it is hard to have that stamina all day. To be able to pour into campers in a meaningful, patient, intentional way all.day.long.

When I saw a posting for a “camp coach” position at a sports day camp for ten-to-fourteen-year-olds with autism, I didn’t hesitate much to apply. I quickly heard back, chatted with the camp director on the phone, we met to talk (remember, my interviews never really end up being interviews properly) at a Tim Horton’s, and here we are a few weeks later, the night before the last day of camp.

Day camp is way more my thing, probably, than overnight camp. I shadow-ish a camper all day, I rotate campers every day, and we have fun. Mostly. Sometimes I feel like I’ve had successes, sometimes I feel like I do not know nearly enough to do this job. I’m learning. I alternate between “it’s only a week” and “I can’t believe there’s only one day left, it’s gone so fast”. The week was packed. I think today might have been the least packed day and really not even because we went to the trampoline park this morning.

I played dodgeball on a trampoline today. I bowled with the other coaches and totally lost with a 91. With bumpers. My camper from day 1 ended up being my camper for half of day 2, and proceeded to call me a monster both days, except he also hugged me because he was so excited about how awesome the bowling alley was. My camper today resisted a lot and then suddenly became a whirlwind of engagement towards the end of the day. I’ve argued. I don’t really argue in a way that is convincing, probably. Come into the gym for two minutes and see what’s going on, just two minutes. You have another minute left to play Lego. I played laser tag for the first time (I was 28 out of 29. I’m a professional). I’ve high fived campers for giving compliments to one another unassisted. One of my Special Olympics athletes is a camper this week, and I’ve had the joy of seeing him smile as he calls “Hi Kerri!” to me whenever I walk by. I played beanbag toss with my camper today for a long time after he tried so hard to get another camper to play with him, they just weren’t interested (it’s really challenging when all the kids have all these goals they want to/should complete and yet are supposed to engage with other campers to check the stuff off their lists. I’ve watched campers practice asking one another to play, practice complimenting each other, help prepare lunch, and test themselves. I’ve watched them be happy and sad and angry and jealous. Food has been thrown and hits have been thrown—and not just in Tae Kwon Do yesterday—and toys have been thrown and things that are meant to be thrown have been thrown. My camper on Monday was surprisingly fond of Shapes (the fitness centre). Camp songs have been sung. Hello, my name is Joe, and I work in a button factory. I’ve got a wife, two kids and a dog, woof. One day my boss says “Joe, are you busy man,” I say “No, man,” He said “Push this button with your right hand. Non camp songs have been sung. Call Me Maybe?! My team got second place in a cup stacking/design tournament and we talked about good sportsmanship again. I’ve felt connected and disconnected and frustrated and elated.

And I still don’t know if it’s for me, but you know what? I’ll never know if I don’t try and I’ll never learn how to be better if I don’t try either. So, one more day, I’ll keep trying. It could be the least or most challenging day yet. And I won’t find out until I jump in there one more time, and give’r. Because hopefully this week teaches the campers a handful of the things it’s teaching me.

At least tomorrow my camper is not taller than me. Unless he grows a foot overnight, anyways—and I might not even allow myself to be surprised by that. Guess it’s called Adventure Camp for a reason. Oh, and if there’s a place to forget to take my Concerta, I guess a camp is a pretty good place—even better when your brain can switch gears as quickly as the campers’.

A camper also told me the pink space car I made out of Lego looked like it was out of Cloud Cuckoo Land from The Lego Movie.

http://i1.wp.com/farm4.staticflickr.com/3690/20132442396_c4e0f7569c.jpg?resize=375%2C500&ssl=1

I’m not sure I see it anywhere:

But hey, it seems fitting. Pink fun and all.

Also I found this kind of disturbing .gif. While I’ll leave you with. Because WTF.

dinosaur and ronald mcdonald beat up batman, lego version. underneath caption reads

book review: a different kind of cheerleader

There are a few things I have opinions on—a lot of the time I just shut up, but sometimes I get argumentative, and sometimes I get argumentative about my opinions with people on Twitter. We are usually quite civil about it, but this is the first time I ended up reviewing a book out of the scenario. I connected with author Lira Brannon last week—connected is a nice term, in retrospect, I did interrogate her a bit about the “inspirational” nature of her book A Different Kind of Cheerleader, and the type of “inspirational”-ism that was implied, as the book is both centred around disability and Christianity. As I said on Twitter, “Disability isn’t inspiration: it’s life”. Lira, however, dealt with my interrogation well, and when I asked if I could receive an electronic copy of the book for free in exchange for a review on my blog, she agreed and quickly hooked me up with a Kindle download code.

Trigger warning: The later aspects of this review mention self-harm and suicide.

Three-sentence summary: 
The main character, Tansy, is a thirteen-year-old with a spinal cord injury [SCI] from a skateboarding accident in her childhood. Now a paraplegic, Tansy has all but abandoned the dream she and her best friend share of successfully qualifying for their junior-high cheerleading squad. As she starts junior high, she is introduced to a variety of new people who change her perceptions about what she believes she is capable of—and what she thinks about God, and who she was created to be, and to become.

Target age:
I’d throw this one in the 10 to 15 age-range—but, I personally enjoy teen fiction, so go with what works for you/the kid you’re trying to buy a book for.

Thoughts:
Overall, while the core aspects of the plot were fairly predictable, there were enough twists in the core of it to keep me interested and guessing—I started reading the book late Thursday evening, kept going until 1:30 AM, and finished it off the next morning [and people, my Concerta would have worn off at 11:30 or so—it was the book keeping me going].

While the core aspects of the book include Tansy’s desire to become a cheerleader independent of her disability, the author paints a very clear picture of the rest of Tansy’s life: starting at a new school and dealing with how her teachers respond to a student using a wheelchair (i.e. the typical ‘I can’t walk, but I can hear’); Tansy’s feelings towards her disability (anger, resentment, and eventually acceptance); responding to how her friends perceive her disability; relationships with her mother, brother, friends, physical therapist; and how her SCI and using a wheelchair pose additional contemplations within the already complicated life of an adolescent trying to figure out her place in the world.

Though I slated the book for younger ages, there are some themes including self-injury, attempted suicide, and suicidal ideation present in the book that may be more suitable for slightly older readers. The mentions of these aspects are brief, however, they were a source of confusion for me as I didn’t think there was enough detail preceding or explaining the circumstances in which Tansy’s acquaintance from rehab, Meg, was hospitalized following a suicide attempt (this may require a re-read on my part). While not comorbid, I appreciated that the author intentionally mentioned the mental health aspects associated with living with a disability and/or following a traumatic injury.

The storyline brings Tansy to interact with a variety of people who become a part of the bigger story unfolding—pressures from different people lead her different directions: some into finding the confidence to try out for cheer, others who cross her path in unexpected ways that help teach her about God—and through these conversations, more about the people around her. While some characters seemed slightly out-of-place [i.e. I don’t care if he’s the coach’s son, why the heck is the youth pastor hanging out in the middle school gym and at cheer tryouts all the time?], for the most part, the interaction of the themes surrounding Tansy’s daily life learning to more fully coexist with her disability, and the journey towards believing in God, was well structured.

I thought, despite all the #inspiration[al] tags, that overall the author did a decent job at not sensationalizing Tansy’s accomplishments, and allowing her to both succeed and screw up as much as a character without a disability would have, with a few exceptions of circumstances that wouldn’t have arisen if not for Tansy’s disability […which obviously is realistic]. In terms of the realism of integrating Tansy into the cheer team, I [being an adapted physical activity nerd] felt that Lira addressed the types of “wheelchair tricks” Tansy was able to learn well, but would have enjoyed reading more about how she became a true team member and not just a possible story of oh you’re in a wheelchair, we’ll let you on the team even though you blah blah blah through more concrete examples of how she used her chair as an asset and not an inspiration–such as how she would be integrated into team and more gymnastic-type and how existing routines were adapted. But, like I said, I’m a nerd that way.

Reading Guide:
A question guide is provided in the back of the book, which prompts the reader [or an educator or youth leader, etc.] to reflect on what they’ve read. The questions are evenly distributed between faith, friends, family, and Tansy’s disability. Though I never use reading guides on my own [because, what is this, school?], it’s definitely a nice bonus feature.

Recommendation:
A Different Kind of Cheerleader is geared towards older-school aged kids and younger-teens—an easily approachable read, with enough plot twists and serious/more mature themes to keep older readers engaged Cheerleader would be a great way to approach the topic of disability in a variety of settings. As both faith and disability are core-topics [and often very confusing], I’d recommend younger kids (under 12) be supported through reading this book, by a parent, mentor or educator, to best facilitate learning and enabling kids to ask questions and form a better understanding of their own thoughts on both core themes.

Final thoughts:
A Different Kind of Cheerleader is an approachable and engaging book for readers in their younger teens [and, if you’re me, early twenties], presenting a variety of opportunities for critical thought on faith and disability. With multiple quick unexpected turns in the plot, Cheerleader is easy to get lost in for a few hours, and would be a suitable way to begin a discussion on teens’ thoughts on what it means to live with a disability—and hopefully, one that can help realistically assist them in contemplating how to restructure their thoughts on a variety of different topics.

A Different Kind of Cheerleader can be found on Amazon. You can learn more about Lira on her website, and through connecting with her on Twitter and Facebook.

Disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of the book, A Different Kind of Cheerleader, from the author, Lira Brannon, which I offered to review prior to finalizing the agreement. I was under no obligation to provide a favourable review.

“revealing the champion in all of us”: find me at the special olympics manitoba blog!

Awhile ago, Steven from Special Olympics Manitoba asked if I wanted to guest post on my thoughts going into my first season coaching with Special Olympics! Of course, I jumped on the opportunity. If you’re interested, check out my post . . .

Good Things Happen to People Who Try!

school is about ability – lakay roberts

If you believe that school is about fostering ability, stick around.

A five-year-old girl with Cerebral Palsy and her mother are in a battle with the New Caney Independent School District in Texas to allow LaKay to use her walker in school instead of her wheelchair.

Read a full article here, and then make your way back here.

I have sent the following e-mail to both Kenn Franklin and Angie Lee of the New Caney ISD regarding LaKay’s battle to be allowed to use her walker while at school.

Good morning, Mr. Franklin

At this point, I believe the e-mails should be about pouring in in response to the discrimination towards five-year-old LaKay Roberts whose walker is being deemed “dangerous” to her safety.  Here is another to add to the folder.

My name is Kerri. I am a Kinesiology and Applied Health student from Canada.  A great deal of what I learn in school is about making school and ALL components of education accessible to ALL children, regardless of ability level. To make all components of education accessible to all children, modifications have to be made. And play is pivotal to the learning process and the socialization process. Please reference Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk on the subject if you are not familiar with the view that formal education kills creativity. As an educator, I am sure you can agree that creativity is crucial to the experiential learning process that is so important, especially for young children.

By forcing LaKay to use her wheelchair at all times during school, you are binding her creativity into tighter spaces. You are not allowing her to interact with her world in the most fundamental way possible: through movement and play.

Mr. Franklin, the young woman writing to you right now has spent time in a wheelchair herself. I am now in school learning how to make recreation and play accessible to ALL individuals regardless of their skill level, functional ability, or motor skills. Because the time I spent in a wheelchair and using a walker was enough. It was enough to make me realize that it is easier to be able to move around with a walker even if my movements were awkward or clumsy, than it was to make my wheelchair flow gracefully into small spaces. It was easier to pick objects up from the ground when using my walker than it was to even try to reach the floor when using my wheelchair.  It was considerably easier to explore my environment using the walker, but the wheelchair was available for when distances were too long or when I got too tired . . . as is LaKay’s option.

To force LaKay to use her wheelchair at all times is depriving her of that choice. To children, we both know how important it is in giving them choice in dealing with all life situations. This may be an inconvenience to you as an educator for the years LaKay spends in your school or school district, but LaKay is in this for life. LaKay will recollect this experience for years to come, even though she is only five years old, just as I remember all of the kids asking me why I was wearing “two different shoes”.  Furthermore, LaKay is in a crucial learning period for development of fundamental movement skills. And for her, learning how to most effectively walk, run, jump and hop while using mobility aides like her walker is crucial to her desire and interest in living an active healthy life and being integrated as fully as possible into physical education classes further down the road.  Exploration of movement, such as recess time, is crucial to this skill development. And as an educator, you cannot deprive a child of a chance to learn.

Mr. Franklin, it’s your call. Restrict a child’s access to her mobility aide that she is competent in using with minimal assistance and leave her “safer”, but more dependent. Or, allow the child and her parent to make the choice–who better to know their child’s abilities and limitations, and care more for his or her child than her parent?–and grow, flourish, and thrive.  All children get scrapes and bruises.  All children fall. And all children make choices.  Let LaKay and Kristi make this one.

With respect,

Kerri [last name withheld]

Riled up yet? Please send your own letter to the hotshots at the NC ISD who believe that they are NOT restricting LaKay’s development with their choices to decrease her ability to move while she’s at school. Join the fight to allow LaKay and her mother Kristi make the choice to allow LaKay to experience her equivalent of increased freedom in mobility as the other children in her community.