Further Thoughts and Observations about the Opportunities that TTEAM Offers to School Children
TTEAM News International April, 1988 Vol 8 No 2 Pp. 1-6
When I began offering Animal Ambassadors International® educational programs in the schools, I had no idea what to expect. I knew that TTEAM was great for animals. Robyn's files burst with case histories of horses and other animals from all over the world that have been helped through TTEAM & TTouch. I also knew that many of these case histories had been submitted by people who had relatively little experience with TTEAM before they were called upon to use their skills on behalf of some animal in trouble. But these people were mature adults; often they were professionals in some field involving animals. The subtleties of TTEAM would not escape them.
It was different with children. I was confident that hands-on experience with live animals would provide motivation and self-esteem, and I hoped it would be a bridge to right-brain learning. But I was totally unprepared for what was to happen.
"Andy would carry the cat around upside down by the tail. I didn't like it, but I didn't know what to do about it. Then this week I noticed a big change in his attitude. He's more considerate. I'm very pleased."
This comment from Andy's father at an elementary school "Parents Night," after I had been doing a TTEAM-Animal Ambassadors International® educational program that had already run four days of a week-long unit, was one of the first hints I had that TTEAM for children is a two-way street. The benefits flow both ways. The feeling for animals that can come with actually doing the TTouch on a live animal opens up doors for some children. They begin to think in a new way that is more responsive and more caring. Many children have this natural ability within themselves, and it is wonderful to see it awakened in a child.
The key is that it happens without fuss, without preaching. The child just has a new awareness, an added element that changes the way in which he perceives the world. In some children, that is going to make a difference, as it did for Andy.
The first educational programs that I was invited to do were with children in Special Educations. As I understand it, these are children who are considered educable, but they do not learn up to their potential. Emotional and/or physical problems may be holding them back. They may be hyperactive and disruptive. Some are gifted, artistic and imaginative, but unresponsive to the left-brain learning approach favored in most schools. Some Special Ed children score high in I.Q. tests and some don't; but they are all lumped together bottom percentile and an enormous amount of effort is expended in trying to solve their problems.
If I'd had a choice, I probably would have chosen to work with mainstream classrooms or children in the Gifted and Talented programs in preference to Special Ed. However, as it turned out, that probably would have been a mistake. Each child in Special Ed is there because he or she has some kind of a problem - a problem that is considered solvable or the child wouldn't be there. So, working with 40 kids, you are going to have at least 40 problems to deal with, each one different. What an incredible laboratory for TTEAM.
Following are some examples. They are not pretentious enough to be called "Case histories" because teachers do not readily disclose a child's background unless something happens, and then they tell you as little as possible, i.e.. "He's hyperactive. He probably didn't get his pill today." The names have been changed in these examples, and anything else that might identify a particular child, as in Andy's case above. But everything else is real.
I would like to begin with an experiment in poetry writing that we did in one class. This came the day after we did an Introduction to TTEAM (with stuffed toy animals) and an imaginative journey throughout animal habitats looking for a special animal that each child could choose to befriend and protect.
Animals are now used as part of the treatment protocol in a growing number of programs, according to Carolyn Reuben, health editor of the "L.A. Weekly." She cites animals as therapy for abused children, delinquents, women in prison and the elderly. For example, animals helped abused children to relax and talk about their fears.
The last thing we were thinking about in our poetry writing class was therapy. I had read a program Mann Lowenfels does to teach creativity to gifted children and thought it would adapt well to our animal program. Simplified from Lowenfels' program, its objective was to enhance creative writing skills by giving children a simple. formula to produce a poem.
We began this lesson by asking the children if any of them had tried the TTEAM circles they had learned yesterday on their pets at home. Most of them had, and a lively discussion ensued as the children reported different reactions of their pets to the circles. The teacher then used this springboard to introduce the concept of "Feelings". She wrote several different feelings on the chalkboard: happiness, sadness, etc. Then we thought of colors, places and actions that were happy, sad, etc. You put them all together with your chosen animal and you had a poem.
And what poems did we get -- from these children who don't usually give?
an orange cat
In a pumpkin patch
This is from a child who was, right then, the subject of a bitter custody fight "with many tears." Within a couple days her mother, with whom the child wanted to be, would lose the battle.
Another child from a troubled home wrote:
a brown gorilla
Who is furious
On a volcano top.
A third child who was feared in his neighborhood because he carried a tremendous chip on his shoulder. Yet this child comes from a wonderfully supportive family. He wrote:
A gray wolf
In a den
With her puppies.
I think it might have been an eye-opener to some of the teachers that this child could write such a "peaceful" poem. He was showing a new side of his character, but he as also telling that his home life is okay.
Obviously the kids were projecting their own feelings into the animals that they wrote about. It was a safe way to tell us something about themselves. That may be very important for this group.
I believe now that a TTEAM & TTouch lesson, followed by a lesson in creative writing, may help children express themselves. If something is bothering them. They may choose to express their loneliness or rage in a poem. Children who bristle at the idea of writing a poem are sometimes more willing to do so if the poem is on behalf of their chosen animal. Of course, they can also write stories for their animal, as they do after Alexandra Kurland's presentations. It is possible that the animals, imagery and art all tap the right-brain mode, making for a learning approach that can release stress as well as enhance creativity.
"Animals can be some of our best teachers," Alexandra Kurland tells her audience of school children. "Every time I do a live-animal program, I find a new reason to agree with the truth of this statement. The Tellington TTouch circles that the children do open the door."
For example, a horse must be a huge animal from the point of view of a child who may never have touched a horse before. My mare, Starlite, is actually on the small side, less than 15 hands. She is 26 years old, which means that she does not move around very much. She is very pretty, with dark glowing eyes set wide apart, and a white snip and star on her kindly face. Furthermore, she just loves having TTEAM done on her. At home she has been known to "wait in line" for her turn while I'm working on another horse.
When I take her to a school, I load a portable corral on one side of my stock trailer. Starlite goes into the other aide and Lad, a dog rides in the back of the pickup. The corral is to keep the children out rather than the horse in. Some children are fearless and eager to make contact with the horse. The corral helps teachers keep them in line by setting a boundary. It also frees Starlite's head while I am working.
The children enter the corral one at a time to work on the horse. I demonstrate a particular touch, such as Raccoon circles on the ears, first getting the horse to lower her head. Then a child is invited to come into the corral and do the same thing. Most of the children love it. Their eyes are shining and they try so hard to do the TTouch exactly right. I am usually at Starlite's neck, with my arm under her neck, and I can feel her response to the children's TTouch. It is fascinating, because she seems to feel some children's hands much more than others. She will lower her head into my arm in utmost bliss. None of the children has ever frightened her or made her unhappy. It is just that some seem to reach her more.
I think a horse is the most wonderful animal teacher. Maybe it's the size that commands respect. Perhaps it in because TTEAM was originally developed for horses. The good thing is that even if a child is a little bit afraid, using the TTEAM & TTouch the child has something definite to do rather than just pet the horse and thereby, a different type of learning situation is set up. Usually the fear soon vanishes and the child is elated, with a real sense of accomplishment. Starlite feels that she knows she has given the child that good feeling. Merely petting the horse would not get the same results.
Of course, I give the bolder children a little more challenging circles than I do the shy ones. And herein lies a tale.
Bobbie was good looking, disruptive and proud. He began my day making obscene circles on his stuffed toy animal; his next move was to beat on the kids next to him. He flatly refused to do anything I asked of him and spent his time trying to make the other kids laugh -- at my expense if he could. I felt that this was not hatred but a challenge. There is a difference. I learned that Bobbie was usually taught one-on-one (that is, by himself with no other children present) and that it was only on the occasion of my visit that it was thought he might join the others. I wanted to say, "thanks a lot."
Usually with a week-long program I try to bring the horse on the first or second day. But a snowstorm delayed the live animal presentation until Thursday. By Wednesday, Bobbie was intolerable. I went to bed that night having visions of him jumping on Starlite's back, hurtling the corral and riding off into the sunset.
Actually, the next day he was pretty good. He hung on the corral with the other kids (they were allowed to stand on the first rail), raising his hand and shouting "Me" whenever someone was chosen to enter the corral. I had not worked the inside of a horse's mouth in demonstrations before, partly because Starlite doesn't like it that much, but today I did. I played the piano on her tongue. I could bear the deafening silence behind me, no "Me! Me! Me!" for this one. I did hear Bobbie say, "I'm not gonna do that!" I drew the suspense out as long as I dared and then called, "Bobbie!"
To his credit, he walked into the corral without a word. I let him suffer a moment longer and then asked him if he would like to do "Tarantula Pulling A Plow" on Starlite's back. He never said a word, and I have never seen a more focused kid. And boy, did that tarantula pull that plow! Starlite's neck sank happily into the crook of my arm.
The next day the teacher's aide who had been working with Bobbie popped out of the room, eyes wide. "He sat still for an hour! He even did his work!
Of course this was just one day in the life of this child. And we don't know quite why he was affected in this way. For some thing permanent to happen, a much more imaginative, ongoing program would have to be tried. Actually, Marie Luise van der Sode has done a six-month residential program in Europe at a Youth Farm for troubled teenage girls. She reported that some of the girls who were unpopular on account of being aggressive became easier to get along with (and more popular) after learning TTEAM. The work with the animals had taught them an alternative way of being.
Very few children have been too frightened to touch the horse and the dog. Of more than 200 children, I think only four or perhaps five hung back. One boy, Cody (the only boy who showed apprehension), conquered his fear and did very nice circles on both Starlite and Lad.
At the end of the week, the children spoke of their chosen animals in front of their classmates and other classes, and were awarded with Animal Ambassador certificates. Cody decided he couldn't do this. Cody was part of a group of mixed Special Ed and Gifted-and-Talented. The purpose of putting these two groups together was to raise the prestige and self-esteem of the slower group, to make it easier for them to leave their classrooms each day for Special Ed. Another purpose was to teach the advanced kids to share and care.
Cody agreed to let one of the advanced children read his speech for him while he stood next to the other child, holding a picture of his animal. So the advanced child practiced two speeches. Just as everyone got up to leave the room, Cody said, "I think I can do my own."
The teacher asked, "What do the rest of you kids think? Do you think Cody can do it?"
One of the advanced children started a cheer, and every child in the room took it up: "Go, Cody, Go!
Cody did give his speech, and he didn't do it too badly. As we left the other classroom, I told him, "You were brave."
He grinned one of those tooth-gaped eight-year-old grins. "Yeah, but I liked it a whole lot better being brave with the horse."
These speeches that the kids gave when they received their AAI Certificates were an exciting part of the program. One parent made the trip down to the school twice for her son's five-minute program. It was great that she was a devoted mother to do that for her son, and it also gives an indication of how much this program meant to the children. Non-readers started asking for more animal books to read. One gifted boy elected to memorize his speech, when he could have read it. Then others wanted to memorize. Another child (in Special Ed) elected to redo her project the week after I left. So there were just lots of indications that we were motivating these children.
I've found that dogs have different reasons to teach than horses. For example, Lad, Starlite's ambassador, treats each child as an individual. He'll offer a paw to one, try to lick another's face (just one lick per child), touch another's hand with his nose (one touch). Eddie, a smart, aggressive boy, was determined to make Lad shake hands with him. Before I could stop him he reached out and pumped Lad's paw. Immediately the magic left. Lad didn't exactly turn into a pumpkin, but he lost confidence for a little bit. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn myself and to explain to the children that one big part of communicating with animals is to watch and listen for the signals they give you. Of course this can be a step toward learning how to communicate more sensitively with people.
Incidentally, when I began these programs, I felt that learning care and consideration for animals could be a step toward learning care and consideration for other people. A psychologist pointed out that such was not always the case. Some people who relate well to animals do not always relate well to human beings. The animal in this type of situation are a social crutch.
Frank was a child like that. He had a brilliant mind, four pets at home, and he knew more about some kinds of wild animals than I did. He did a super job with the horse. He was wonderful with Lad. But his teacher said that be was verbally abusive to other children, with sexual connotations.
We tried to provide Frank with an alternative way of being by encouraging him to share his tremendous fund of knowledge of animals in the classroom. Understandably, the other children weren't really crazy about Frank, but by the end of the week he was providing other children with information about the animals they had chosen, and starting some interesting discussions. So in this way the animals he loves could be a bridge rather than a crutch.
When you do TTEAM it is like dropping a pebble in a pond. There is a saying that the ripples will eventually be felt on the farthest star. Lad was a dog I borrowed from a mountain man who was not known for his kindness to dogs. Since I have been using Lad for TTEAM work this man's natural kindness has surfaced. He just had never seen dogs as feeling, hurting beings before. They were curs to be yelled at and cowed into submissive obedience. Now he talks to them.
TTEAM is fascinating because you don't know what the results will be or how far they will carry. Its therapeutic value would be somewhat different that the proven stress-reduction that comes from petting an animal. My personal feeling is that TTEAM provides an ideal whole-brain learning situation. You have much more active, focused communication than when patting an animal because you are asking a great deal more of the animal. The animal is more focused because it doesn't know exactly what will come next. Some horses in particular become quite fascinated. They are so involved and politely interested in what you are doing sometimes it is almost comical.
But while you and the animal are focused, you are also very much aware of your surroundings. You have to be aware when working with a horse. An element of personal safety in involved and a sense of where you are in space is a necessity. Thoughts and movements become more precise and clear with experience.
Experiments have suggested that babies learn beat when they are relaxed, happy and alert. I see no reason to believe that animals don't learn the same way, and human beings of whatever age. TTEAM helps to promote this state where learning can happen.
This spring I am offering a follow-up program directed toward the intentional aspect of Animal Ambassadors International®. This program takes 1-2 hours. Children are introduced to the culture of a foreign country. They write letters about themselves and their pets, or stories about a favorite any species, to be shared with children in the other country.
Regards, Ann Finley
NOTE: TTEAM is an acronym of "Tellington TTouch Equine Awareness Method." Since this article was written, Linda decided to use a brand name for all the facets of the TTouch organization. Currently, that is Tellington TTouch® Training.