Thursday, June 28, 2018

Teach the ECC at a Cowboy Dude Ranch!

 Yeehaw!! Howdy partners, let's teach the Expanded Core Curriculum out on the range!  We spent four days at the Rocking R Dude Ranch and got country strong on our ECC skills. Many programs look to do a variety of programs for our students. Going to a dude ranch was a first (but definitely not a last) for me! First, let me tell you that this was not designed to be any kind of luxury country getaway for students. I wanted students to dig in their boots to cowboy life with the ECC. It was a hit! Each day we did real chores (emphasis on the word "real"), spent time developing true global concept development and we had some serious fun! Students had to brush and prepare their horses, lead them to the arena and then learn how to ride. They got up early to watch and be part of the early morning care with the horses (watching them with the wranglers was awesome!!).

Student brushes a horse in the early morning.
Student brushes a horse in the early morning. 
As usual, I did receive a slightly panicked phone call from the owner when he saw that I was bringing a large group of students with vision impairments (everyone is always a little concerned...) but after our discussion, we knew that this was a good idea! Once we got there, I definitely knew it was a good idea!! I spent time reviewing activities and working accessibility needs prior to us arriving. My awesome staff spent the first day on pre-teaching alongside of the ranch staff. 
Female student sits on her horse listening to instruction from a dude ranch staff.
Female student sits on her horse listening to instruction from a dude ranch staff. 
Always remember to request (or bring) multiples of items so everyone gets lots of hands on to help with concept development. We had a ton of lassos, access to all the saddles, brushes, etc. so that true concept development could happen. Students didn't just touch one part of the animal. They learned about the food, its shelter, its weight, leisure activities, etc. Each group traded trivia questions that they came up with. 

Female student has roped a practice bull with her lasso while another student gets up close to a lasso with a staff member.
Female student has roped a practice bull with her lasso while another student gets up close to a lasso with a staff member. 
My FAVORITE thing to do is to help students see how the ECC is EVERYWHERE in their lives! Repeatedly throughout the day I worked with every group about how and why their activities were ECC skills. We have definitely gone past the easy point of simply stating "this is independent living skills because I am eating," (that's just our starting point...). We really dig in to why the cafeteria is a place for ILS skills, what about what they are doing, we dig into every single aspect so that they can see how it is SOOOO much more than independent living skills because we are eating. In fact, we always discover how so many areas of the ECC can be tied to one activity. It always opens their eyes to seeing how the ECC is truly all day, everyday. 
Students are in a circle for lawn games playing a game.
Students are in a circle for lawn games playing a game. 
Female student walks her horse into the arena while an adult staff leads on the other side.
Female student walks her horse into the arena while an adult staff leads on the other side.
I loved being at the dude ranch because it allowed all of my students to connect to the world in ways many of them don't get to experience. They had to problem solve while riding their horses. They had to work their teamwork skills as they were tubing down the river. They saw how important it is to care for an animal in real time. Of course many students have had animal interactions before. But this  opportunity allowed them to go bigger and bolder. They had plenty of time as no one was rushed through anything. We even had a real rodeo where all the students (and a very slow riding teacher named Robbin) did barrel racing and pole bending. 
Female student is hands on with goats with an adult staff member
I always love doing programs in the community for a variety of reasons. One, it helps the community see ability instead of disability with our students. They learn so much about accessibility and ability of people with vision impairments. I always offer to do free trainings, leave tactile maps, etc. so I leave the facility more accessible for the next blind person.  Two, the more I do things in the community, the more my students learn about what's available in the community. Three, I hope that it creates the opportunity for my students to return to the location with their family and friends outside of a program/camp. 

a female student is on a barrel to simulate riding a bull while other students pull attached cords at the corners of the barrel for the simulation
a female student is on a barrel to simulate riding a bull while other students pull attached cords at the corners of the barrel for the simulation
I could go on and on about our daily activities and how fun (and so educational) they were. Our evening activities matched the day with ECC fun! We had campfires (who doesn't love a good fire and camp songs?!) as well as learning how to line dance with a live country band! I secretly love line dancing because it is such a fun way to teach so many orientation and mobility skills! 
A group of female and male teenagers stand together with their life jackets on before going tubing in the river.
A group of female and male teenagers stand together with their life jackets on before going tubing in the river. 
The magic of camp can continue as long as we work hard to connect skills from camp to the real world at home. This is the part that often is a negative for camps and programs for our students: it's not in the student's real world. How do they keep their skills going? Where are they going to get a horse again? Well, the horse I can't help with but the skills part I can. Even though we were at a dude ranch, I kept focusing on the take away lessons and skills. We do this every camp and program. How can you take home what you are learning at camp? How can I empower parents to help keep the magic going? We have to close the loop and help students learn to generalize their skills to other environments. First I focus on the immediate environment but then I start leading to master in many environments. It's an important part of all our programs!
Get your cowboy boots on, grab your hat and head to a dude ranch for down on the range ECC instruction!!

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