Maria Corby finds accepting public donations involves a bit of juggling

5th March 2004 at 00:00
"Balls!" I said triumphantly. The Pig and Trumpet had a collection jar full of money for us and wanted to know what we would like. There wasn't enough for a vibrating chair or a water bed (two items often used for profoundly disabled children) and there was too much for headphones, which we could also do with.

But balls came to me and I knew this would be a perfect present that all the children would use. Footballs, for Jeremy to practise his drop kick; balls with jingles that visually impaired pupils could track; Koosh balls that autistic children like; vibrating balls that keep Harry distracted when he is distressed; tennis balls for Damien to post through the fence; inflatable balls; physio balls; sparkly, twinkling, colourful, and scented balls. The range is extensive and could cost from a few pence to hundreds of pounds.

I remember when a popular question for teachers at interview was something like: "If you only had one piece of equipment in your classroom, what would it be?" I can't remember what I said, probably "a kettle", but now I think it would have to be a ball. Useful for playing turn-taking games; encouraging children with communication skills and recognising that there are other people around; good for posting - fine manipulation and hand-eye co-ordination; great for balance and control in games; fun combined with a parachute at playtime; essential for science - "will it float?" - and important to teach team skills and working with others.

We get through them quickly, what with Damien posting them through the fence and Jeremy kicking them on to the roof. So "new balls please", I told the pub landlord. He didn't seem to like the idea. His customers would rather buy one item, he said, so they could say that's what they bought.

And could he come round with the local paper to present us with the money and have his photo taken, and bring his wife, and look round the school?

Well, people have many reasons for giving, and we like to be welcoming and develop an interest from the community. I do wonder about people's motives, though. If they want the kids to have something they appreciate, why not give them what we asked for? As I said. Balls.

Maria Corby is deputy head of a special school for pupils with severe and multiple learning difficulties. She writes under a pseudonym

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