Young people with life-limiting conditions are just like us
Talking at pupils is never the best way of getting a message across. Luckily for first-years at Strathaven Academy, the Children's Hospice Association Scotland had no intention of doing that when they visited the school recently.
The association owns the only two children's hospices in Scotland, and has recently introduced a school workshop to help children understand more of what it is about, and dispel the myths which surround its work.
The workshop begins with introductions from fundraiser Debbie Traynor, who explains that, despite many people thinking they cater for very young children, 70 per cent of the youngsters who attend the hospice are teenagers. She soon has the pupils in groups of five or six, miming a typical Saturday night 7pm scene for them. Amid much hilarity, a couple of groups are sitting watching X Factor, others are playing their games console. Debbie asks them how they are feeling - hungry, relaxed, mesmerised.
Next they are asked to mime what they think the young people who attend the hospice would be doing at seven on a Saturday night. Some of the girls have fun being tables and televisions, and all the activities are more sedate. "How are you feeling now?" asks Debbie. Frustrated, sad, bored come the replies.
Debbie then spends a few minutes explaining to the class what CHAS does, and helping them to relate to the young people it helps. "Do you ever argue with your parents?" she asks. "Do you storm off to your room, slamming doors as you go? Well, some of our young people would love to be able to do this."
She tells them of one boy who argued with his parents and stormed off in his wheelchair to another room. Later in the evening he had to shout on his mum to help him into bed - not quite the end to the evening he would have liked.
A six-minute DVD allows the young people who attend the hospices to speak for themselves, and the class get to see the kind of activities they get up to, as well as what CHAS means to them.
Armed with this new picture, the pupils go on to perform their third mime, demonstrating what they now believe the youngsters do on a Saturday night. The activities are noticeably livelier, with one group attending T in the Park. When asked how they are feeling, their responses are also considerably more positive.
"Without lecturing them for too long, we take them through a journey," says Debbie. "Often they think that young people with life-limiting conditions don't do much. We show them that they like the same music as them, they have the same interests, thoughts and feelings."
Fiona Leggate, a pupil support teacher at Strathaven Academy, invited CHAS because she felt it was a worthwhile charity to be involved with, and to fundraise for. "The hope is that it will increase their responsibility as citizens and their awareness that not all children are as healthy as they are."
A question-and-answer session at the end allows the pupils to find out more and gather information. "We are planning for the class to make a presentation about CHAS to the rest of the first years at assembly," says Miss Leggate.
Claire Stewart sums up what the pupils have learnt. "A lot of people think a hospice is a place ill people go to where they don't do much, but they are just like us and have the same interests."
WHAT IS CHAS
The Children's Hospice Association Scotland is a charity which runs two hospices for children and young people with life-limiting conditions. Rachel House in Kinross was opened in 1996 and Robin House in Balloch in 2005.
As part of its fundraising, in August it launched new education workshops for schools. Promising to help pupils understand what CHAS does, and how their support helps, it has been designed to fit into A Curriculum for Excellence, with a workshop available for primaries.
- I learned that children with illnesses can have dreams just like us. They can be normal, and can hang out and have fun. Lauren Straine, 12
- I loved the workshop and learned a lot. I didn't know that they did this stuff with them. Gillian Field, 11
- I thought they did mundane things, so it was really good to find out the kind of things they do. It changed my views. Lewis Strachan, 12.