When I was about six or seven a local lady visited our school with her guide dog. I was enthralled. Her visit to our class meant so much to me. Hopefully I can bring some of the same enjoyment to children when I visit schools with my own guide dog.
I change the format of my presentations in classrooms depending on the children. Four and five year olds are too young to understand how puppies become guide dogs and how they are trained. Instead they laugh hysterically at the big shake OJ always does when his harness comes off, and when he tries to sniff the floor if their lunches are nearby. They love telling me about their pets and all the animals they know, and some of them who have Labradors insist that they also have a guide dog! I always ask OJ to give his paw if he thinks they have been good. Of course he just focuses on the words “give me your paw” and gives it every time. The children are always very pleased with themselves.
Older children are fascinated by how the process of getting a guide dog works. I sometimes give them copies of a quarterly magazine that Irish guide dogs produce, and a guide dog quiz that I have made. I also talk about what its like to be blind, and show them some gadgets that people with a visual impairment might use. If the children have learned about Louis Braille in their curriculum, I show them the Braille alphabet, and give them a Dymo gun to Braille their names on some sticky labels. Children with special needs have enjoyed participating in the fun, by grooming OJ while having their photographs taken.
Educating children about guide dogs is a pleasure, and you can never predict what they will ask next. What would OJ do if someone tried to hurt me? Can he distinguish between different colours? How does he know not to go to the toilet inside? One visually impaired child even told his teacher that he was “going to completely blind himself so that he could get a guide dog!”
The highlight of the visit, for pupils of all ages, is when they are allowed to stroke OJ at the end of the talk. Teachers are often concerned that he will be nervous with so many people around him, but they are quickly reassured when they see how gentle he is with the children. The only problem I have then is getting him to leave the school!