If you go down to the woods today…

Today I went on a Gruffalo Hunt in Wendover woods.  I say ‘I’ because despite being with Ellen it was pretty much a solo activity.  The famous children’s book The Gruffalo is 15 years old this year and to celebrate this anniversary, Gruffalo trails have been set up in various woods across the country  http://www.forestry.gov.uk/gruffalo.  I should have realised I was onto a loser when I brought home a copy of The Gruffalo for us to read (in preparation of doing the trail) and before I could open it Ellen grabbed it and hid it in the cupboard – read the non-verbal signs!

The beginning of the trail...

The beginning of the trail…

Sometimes I struggle to set things at the right level for Ellen.  Although she’s 17, she often enjoys things that a much younger child would enjoy, but I think today’s trail was below her dignity.  Don’t get me wrong, It was a great idea, a trail around a short woodland path with animals from the story hung up in the trees and a huge wooden carved Gruffalo at the end.  There were wooden markers along the route with ideas for woodland activities, but Ellen strolled right past them without a pause; far too grown up to ‘hop like a rabbit’ or ‘match the animal to its habitat’.

Perhaps in anticipation of the day’s events, Ellen had asked to have her face painted as Hide and Seek Woozle.  So all was not lost.  Although she ran past all the lovely Gruffalo-related material in the wood, she did play hide and seek behind A LOT of trees and the Gruffalo additions did give me extra places to ‘look’ for her.  ‘Oh I do hope Hide and Seek Woozle hasn’t been eaten by this snake’ I proclaimed theatrically whilst trying not to look at Ellen in her oh-so-obvious hiding place.  Luckily, being a school day, the trail was deserted otherwise I think I would have received some very strange looks.

Ellen/Hide & Seek Woozle 'hiding'

Ellen/Hide & Seek Woozle ‘hiding’

After a lot of hiding (including a final hide behind the back of the giant wooden Gruffalo – hurrah), we went to have lunch at the Cafe in the Woods.  Outrageous as it may seem, the cafe did not serve chips.  This was obviously a big drawback as far as Ellen was concerned.  She looked at her sausage and beans lunch with dismay, ‘urm McDonalds’ she said somewhat wistfully.  The ‘Same but Different’ RDI principle for Ellen obviously requires the ‘Same’ item to be the chips.

Another challenge for Ellen today was the fact that washing up was added to Ellen’s list of things to do at the Community shop.  The sensory aspect of the task was a particular difficulty especially since the rubber gloves which were available seemed to be made of some kind of thick immovable rubber and the only alternative hand-wear were disposable gloves which quickly became soaked.  Note to self; take our own gloves next week.  Ellen did manage to wash a couple of mugs before her hands got too wet and I scaffolded her to finish the task, first with me holding the mugs up so that she could just rub the cloth round them, then when even that became too much, we swapped roles and I washed up and she dried.  Definitely something to work on over the next few weeks.

Before the gloves became too wet.

Before the gloves became too wet.



Pecking Birds

Yesterday I went to Ellen’s college for an end of year review meeting and on the way out I was shown a display of some of the art work that she has done over the year.  I have to admit I was stunned, in a good way, as I had no idea that she was capable of such detailed work.  It was a proud parent moment, especially when the tutor said that she hoped to have Ellen in art again next year as she just loved the work that she produced 🙂


Ellen's amazing artwork

Ellen’s amazing artwork

I had already planned today’s craft activity and have to admit that having seen her college work I wondered whether I had set the bar slightly too low with pecking birds…  Possibly Ellen thought so too, because she really resisted the first couple of times I tried to get started on the activity with her.   Having learnt from the strawberry planting activity that although it is possible to ‘push through the pain’ of resistance, it is not very productive from an RDI/guiding point of view.  So instead I decided just to swop the day’s activities around. Off we went to the village shop so that Ellen could work through her list there (she’s getting very quick at that – more challenges required!) and then we came back to the pecking birds after lunch.

What a difference there was on the third attempt!  Ellen was engaged and even coordinated her movements with mine on occassion (which had been my RDI objective through the task).  Even more amazingly when the birds were finished she not only verbalised the fact that we needed to clear up, but she even helped me do it.


Happy pecking birds

Happy pecking birds

One thing which we agreed at the college meeting was that it would be useful to have more communication between us (where have I heard that before over the years!) They seemed keen to pool knowledge and resources which has only got to be a positive move.  For example, I suggested that if they sent home the recipies that Ellen cooks every week at college, we could have a go at cooking them again at home and so reinforce the activity.  It’s not rocket science, it’s more at the rocking birds level, but it seemed to set off a few lightbulbs.  Here’s hoping.




A Farm with Few Animals

A few weeks ago Ellen announced that she would like to go to Mead Open Farm http://www.meadopenfarm.co.uk/.  Ellen seems to be going through a retro phase at the moment, as this is somewhere we used to visit occasionally when she was much younger.  Enquiries revealed that they don’t let carers in for free but that during term time the carer and disabled person get reduced price entry from £9.75 to £5.50 each.  Always galls me a bit when adults have to pay to go into these places at all still, today was a sunny day and I predicted the place would be nice and empty – wrong again!  The place was packed, with at least one coach load of primary aged children adding to the mix of toddlers and pushchairs.

Mead Open Farm these days seems less about the animals and more about entertaining the kids.  There are a few lambs, a handful of cows, pigs, chickens and goats, all looking very contented, but the main attractions are the massive indoor and outdoor play areas.  We tried to do a bit of coordinated animal feeding but none of them were particularly hungry, even the goats weren’t that bothered about about the kibble we were throwing into their pen.

Ellen waiting for the Highland cow to get up

Ellen waiting for the Highland cow to get up

We stood watching the Highland cows for a while as Ellen was waiting for one of them to get up.  It was quite relaxing standing there watching him (or her – hard to tell when they’re lying down) swishing his ears, flicking out his tongue, but when he failed to be roused by our intense scrutiny we moved on for a whistle stop tour of the other animals – scattering our feed as we went – before entering Shaggy’s Play Barn.



We spent a happy couple of hours in the barn, Eloise (lovely carer back from Uni) and I taking it in turns to don our hired socks and accompany her around the equipment.   This was great from a fitness point of view and being fairly quiet inside there weren’t too many witnesses to the fact that after Ellen had whooshed ahead without me I had to do a rather embarassing solo slide !

One of the things Ellen enjoyed the most about the day was sorting out the gift shop.  Packed with small pocket-money type gifts it had obviously been fairly comprehensively rifled and many items were out of place.  Not after our visit they weren’t.  We spent at least twenty minutes finding homes for the rubbery octopus and the mini torches with Ellen very carefully put everything back where it should be.  Having recently read the wonderfully inspiring story of Jackson West http://jacksonwest.org/jackmail and his courier service, it made me wonder whether working in a gift shop might be a future possible job opportunity for Ellen…

Ellen sorting out the gift shop

Ellen sorting out the gift shop




Keep and Go

Inspired by the brilliant Bright Side of Life blog I decided to spend some time with Ellen trying to sort through some things in her room.

Ellen is very protective of everything in her room and organises her books and DVDs into piles which to the untrained eye just look like a mess.  If I ever tidy it all away (to hoover – an occasional must) the minute Ellen gets home she takes everything back off the shelves and returns it to the piles.

Ellen finding things in her room which could tell me to 'get out' ;-)

Ellen finding things in her room which could tell me to ‘get out’ 😉

Trying to tidy and sort Ellen’s room will be a major long term task for her and so I decided to start with very simple, easy steps.

I made two signs; ‘Keep’ and ‘Go’ and placed them on the floor.  Rather than attempting to tackle anything too precious, I decided that we would sort through Ellen’s jumpers as there are several in the bottom of the drawer that have been there for years and are hardly worn nowadays.

I took all the jumpers and put them on the floor.  I then explained to Ellen that we were sorting them and that anything she wanted to keep would go in the ‘Keep’ pile and anything she didn’t want anymore could ‘Go’.

First of all this was an exercise in resistance.  Ellen didn’t want me in her room at all.  ‘Get out’ she kept saying.  But I stayed firm and repeated the fact that we were going to sort her jumpers and then I would go.  The resistance did not last long, perhaps a minute at most, this is something that has improved greatly through RDI.  I held up the first jumper.  ‘Keep’ she said and I folded it on the keep pile.  We went through the entire heap and Ellen said ‘keep’ to every single one!

Rather more 'keep' than 'go'

Rather more ‘keep’ than ‘go’

When I suggested that she could perhaps pick one of the jumpers that could go, she quickly scooped up the pile and stuffed them back into her drawer.

I felt it was important for Ellen to choose something that could go from her room; to make sure that she had really understood the excerise so I decided that I would see if she could pick something; anything; and put it on the ‘go’ pile.

For a while Ellen went around the room picking objects up and getting them to tell me to ‘get out and leave her’.  I remained firm.  After a minute or so she finally tossed a black bra on the ‘go’ pile.

‘OK’ I said, ‘great’, but before I could pick it up she whipped it back and pushed it into her underwear drawer.

‘Oh, so you want to keep that after all’ I said, ‘try and find something else then.  If it’s ‘go’ then it means I take it away’.

She cast around her room again finally choosing a home-made medal that she won at New Year and tossed it onto the ‘go’ pile with minimum grace.  I quickly picked it up before she could change her mind.

The lonely medal

The lonely medal

I ended the activity there, pleased to have got Ellen to find something that could go from her room.  I feel this is going to be a slow process but definitely a positive one!