* Survival tip #5: Hold your horses

The following events took place in a far off galaxy, many, many years ago.  In fact, there’s no proof that it ever happened.  Any videotapes have long since been trashed.  Our world has changed. Our laws have changed.  And anything I said or did may not be used against me.

There is much good to be said about working with kids who have behavior difficulties, especially those with ADHD.  They remind me of wild ponies: spunky, high spirited, and ready to run.  As a kid-whisperer, I have learned that opening the stable doors is a way to develop trust, both in me and in themselves.  They wonder, “You mean I can go there without a warden?”  “You trust me to step outside the barn and return?”  Yes, yes, it’s a gradual process, but once you give these delightful ponies their head, they are so willing to come safely home again.

My confidence in their return was what prompted me to release a pair of these spirited ones to look for worms.  Our animal collection was in its crayfish phase.  Almost daily, new arrivals of crayfish arrived in pockets and plastic bags.  Most of them survived but these roachy little specimens refused conventional fish food.  There was nothing for it but to send a team of ponies to hunt for worms.  All of them pawed with excitement, “Let me go!  I can find a million worms!”  So I sent one team out, flying high, to a secure hill outside our room.  Those ponies certainly had a sixth sense about being observed; they managed to find a corner of the hill that was a just out of sight.  There was no way of “escape” except running past our windows.  I knew these ponies well, so I gave them a moment to reappear.  Of course, the other ponies sensed an adventure, growing frenzied in their desire to bring the original pair back to a visible location.

I sent a second spirited team to nudge the first team into place.  When they also disappeared, I sent two more teams, one quickly after the other, to nudge the whole lot into place.  Now all my wild ones were dispatched and for a few seconds, I breathed in the silence of the room.  I was about to rethink my kid-whisperer judgment (a little late, perhaps), when the entire herd returned in a stampede.   Of course they had assumed I could still see them.  But most important was their serendipitous discovery of a patch of bricks on that hill.  They lifted each brick in no time at all, finding about a million worms.  We chatted about pony safety.  I reflected on my poor judgment.  Then we settled back into our morning routine, the ponies thoroughly delighted with their success.  The kid-whisperer was delighted with their success.

The next day the principal arrived at the classroom door.  She was one of the dearest administrators I’ve known, not the least because she understood ponies and kid-whisperers.  She spoke to me quietly in the hallway.  “The PTA came to me with complaints about the hill by your room.  It seems they had placed bricks there as a counter-erosion measure and every single brick has been upturned.  Do you know any thing about that?”  She had come to the right class, of course.  Within the hour, my energetic ponies had stamped every brick (mostly) back in place.  And those crayfish?  They didn’t touch a single worm.

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