On Friday, we completed reading Follow My Leader, another read aloud from our Sonlight Core program: Core 1. It’s a story of an 11 year old boy who is blinded in an accident involving a fire cracker. It lets the reader walk alongside the main character, Jimmy, as he adjusts to his new life: learning to read Braille, figure out his world around him and deal with his emotions. In the story, Jimmy has the opportunity to get a guide dog. It is unusual for a child so young, even today, to get a guide dog, but somehow, he does. We get to journey along his learning curve with him as he establishes a wonderful new relationship with his four legged eyes, Leader. It’s a beautiful story: another Sonlight gem that I would never have chosen myself. It ended up being one of those "oh, please, just one more chapter!" books.
This book is just another example of why I love literature based learning. We could have studied the subject of blindness in a more traditional manner. I could have gone the text book route – setting aside time for social studies to look at textbooks that diagram pictures of guide dogs and their harness; lists of commands; the history of Braille and so on. That wouldn’t have been a bad choice, and the kids would have learnt a lot in a more formal setting.
Instead, however, we got to curl up on the couch or cuddle by the fireplace and listen to the life of a blind boy. We learnt everything and more that a textbook would have told us. Yet, it wasn’t formalised memorisation or fact learning. The kids imbibed so much knowledge just by becoming familiar with a character who was blind and walking his journey towards independence alongside him. And… they got to exercise their imaginations as their little minds formed pictures of what they perceived Jimmy’s life to be; they got to engage on an emotional level, developing a sense of empathy for blind people that a text book would never produce; and they had no idea that this was something we call "school". In fact, it was only recently when Kiera realised that our "read alouds" were actually also "school". She had thought that our more formal seatwork was school and that our reading time was just fun!
Then, today, we were leaving a assisted living facility in Diepriver, where Craig’s granny is recuperating after an op. As we left, we saw an elderly woman walking a dog. A guide dog!
Katie wanted to go say hello to her, and so we did. How wonderful for our kids to feel completely at ease talking with a blind woman about her dog, the book they had read and what they knew about guide dogs. While the kids made friends with the dog (he was off his harness so he could be touched by strangers) I got to talk with this wonderfully insightful woman. Having been blind enough to need a guide dog since the 1970s, she had a wealth of wisdom to share. She has had 5 dogs since then and has loved them all to bits. Dianna was chatty and enjoyed sharing her experiences and opinion – a genteel and refined woman. I left after our few minutes’ chat feeling a great sense of respect for this woman who so confidently carried on down the road with her beautiful black Labrador, Jet.
Had we not read Follow My Leader so recently, we would not have felt the confidence to approach her. I may have pointed out the dog from afar and explained a bit about what a guide dog does, but it would not have carried the same sense of fascination and respect that we experienced.
Once again, real life and the kids’ schooling has dove-tailed so beautifully.
And, I get to be a part of it… a blessing indeed.