Living Life

Jesus, Me, and the Kitchen Table

Learning Through Play

My friend and colleague Kristie Smith, who is an accomplished teacher of the visually impaired in Mesquite, TX also writes for the Dallas Morning News’ Special Needs Blog.  One of her recent articles emphasizes the role of play in infants who are blind or have visual impairments.  Having worked with a number of infants and toddlers who are blind myself, I have seen first-hand the truths outlined in this article.

Please take a moment and read this post. You can find it at:

Or read it below:

Playing is crucial for infants who are blind or visually impaired

Many people are often interested in my profession as a teacher for the blind and visually impaired- especially when I tell them I work with infants through age twenty-two.“How do you work with a baby who is blind?” People often ask.

When I explain, you can see the look of amusement on their faces and often times, they want to know more.

I describe how 85 percent of what we learn is visual, so babies who or blind or visually impaired need to learn to play as play is the curriculum for infants; it is their algebra, English, writing, Language Arts, math, social studies and science because when they play- they learn.

The activities are fun, but most importantly, the skills for infants who are blind or visually impaired (most are visually impaired- very few are completely blind) are crucial for them to learn how to walk, talk, interact with others, play and learn about their world and concepts. As one brilliant professor for the blind told her class, “If you can’t bring the child to the world, you must bring the world to the child.”

It is important to note when I work with infants I must stay on a strict routine schedule as the brain is trying to make connections, so repetition is important for neurons to build upon neurons forming bridges for long-lasting learning. I sing the same song and do the same activities for several weeks. It is important to ask the infant if I may see their hands, so we can begin to sing finger plays together. I ask to “see” their hands because it allows them to maintain control over their environment. If someone grabs the hands of a child who is visually impaired, their environment becomes hostile and learning shuts down. They often cry, scream, hit or fall down to escape the unknown. Asking to see their hands after they hear a familiar voice, assures the child they are going to be safe while they play.

The most common goal is teaching a child with a visual impairment is to explore their environment using their other senses. I always vocalize the area, the objects and the surroundings. For example, I will say, “Here’s Ms. Kristie’s watch. It is round like a circle,” as I take the infant’s hand to feel around the watch. I explain when we are walking toward a ball and describe the soft carpet underneath. It is also important to discuss landmarks when we walk such as, “Hear the clock ticking? Let’s walk past the clock to the window and to the big red soft ball.”

I have been known to ask family members to wear jingle bell socks as it encourages the child to move around the room and explore. Most infants with a visual impairment are underdeveloped with large and fine motor skills, language, feeding and socialization simply because they are not enticed by vision to move and interact with the world.

My book, Wee Can, Too! is an activity book I self-published after my Wee Play Wee Learn book from FlagHouse was retired. It incorporates songs, simple recipes, movement activities and finger plays to encourage children without vision to move, laugh and play.

As we know, when we play, we really do learn.

Fun Facts:

  1. Distance vision objects are the first items a newborn baby sees.
  2. Children with a visual impairment must be taught to bond with others.
  3. Smell is the only sense that does not need to process chemically- it connects directly to the brain and near emotions.  If you provide a child who is visually impaired with favorite smells during instruction time, he will retain and understand the skill as the sense of smell is next to memory in the brain.
  4. The color yellow is the first color the brain processes. An example for the important use of the color yellow is road signs. The brain quickly picks up the color yellow and processes it faster than the other colors.
  5. Color red promotes creativity and appetites.
  6. Colors blue and green relax the brain while brown promotes security like the brown teddy bears.
  7. Sing all day to an infant with a disability as this will build the neurons for many daily living skills.
  8. Use songs and books that repeat like Dr. Seuss and Dr. Eric Carle.
  9. Entice the senses through wet and dry textures.
  10. The tongue and the fingers are the most sensitive body parts for exploration.
  11. Endorphins are created from a happy environment causing creativity and long-lasting learning to happen.  Stress shuts down the brain and learning stops.
  12. Remember, when we play, we learn.

Kristie Smith has been an educator for the past 32 years in the Dallas area. She has worked with children from grades K-8 in general education, English as a Second Language, and for the past 14 years, has been a teacher for the blind and visually impaired.

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Ok, so the title could be confusing… is it think (about) camp, or is a camp about thinking? Well, it’s kind of both! For the last two weeks our Education Service Center (Region 8) where I work as an eduction specialist, has been hosting our first ever THINK CAMP.   The whole idea of the camp is for students to engage in activities and learning based on their interests.  For 2 weeks we have had about 130 students from 5th to 8th grades. give or take few,  to attend camp from 9-12 each day.  

Before the camp began these students took an interest survey to tell us which kinds of things they were interested in learning about.  Some of the areas that emerged were hunting and fishing, sports, culinary arts, fashion design, photography, and technology.  Students were placed into initial groups based on their selections.  Next, we as staff members chose a group to oversee according to these areas of interests.  We have a very talented staff! And some amazing students!  

Now you would think that we had all of our activities lined out for the 2 week period, right?   Wrong!  WE actually only planned the first day.  After that it was mostly in the students’ hands as to which direction the camp went for their group. This is kind of nerve-racking for me personally because I had no idea what we were going to do with these kids, and worst of all, what if they ended up being bored? I wasn’t afraid of losing control of the “class” or anything like that, I was afraid we just didn’t have enough planned to hold their interests. I surely didn’t have any clue what to do with fashion design, but it seemed like a neat thing to learn about and help with… so here we go! 

Day one the kids divided into their groups and everyone started getting to know each other a little better and we started finding out what they wanted to do, which direction they wanted to go.  I don’t think anyone came up with a day by plan.  Rather, one thing led to another, or you could say we just took it a day at a time.  

Image   The fashion design group adopted the name First Class Fashion Design and there are mostly girls and one guy in the group.  The staff leaders are Connie Rhymes and Nancy Folsom, two of the most fashionable ladies I know!  The girls were interested in clothing and modeling, while the young man’s interest was in art.  The community stepped in and we were able to borrow some beautiful formal dresses, scarves, purses, and other clothing items such as jackets and dresses.  A retired professional model came in and worked with the girls on posing in outfits and how to walk during a fashion show.  The girls tried on different attire and practiced posing and walking.  Not only that, but they kept a journal about their experiences.  In the journals they wrote a little about themselves, their families, which kind of fashion design career they may want to pursue, and added pictures of themselves modeling the various fashions.  The beautiful Region 8 facilities really gave them a place to “strut their stuff” so to speak! 

But what about the guy in the group? Well he is an artist in the full sense of the word.  From day one he stunned us with his talent for drawing people. He has captured the faces of all the girls in our group and has also drawn a picture of an abused child. It is captivating. I think he could capture just about anything with a little paint, a brush, and a canvas, or a pencil and sheet of paper for that matter! 

The class also designed cards using designer papers, die cuts, and embellishments.  This gave them another angle from which to explore fashion.  Other avenues they explored were various vocations related to fashion such as a career as a set designer, which several of them expressed an interest in doing.  They didn’t know about these careers until they had a chance to explore a website which tells about these various careers.  

Tomorrow, the last day of the camp, the students will have a real fashion show complete with lights, cameras, and action!  We have used a wing of our building and set it up with a runway with lights.  The girls will show off their style and modeling ability.  They will change clothes several times during the fashion show.  All of their work will be on display as well for the community to see.  The young man’s artwork is hanging on the walls for all to admire.  So he is not left out at all.  A video of the groups adventures while at Think Camp will be playing during the fashion sow as well.  

Another neat aspect of the camp has been the interaction between the groups.  The photography group, known as SnapHappy, has been learning about photography from one of our own staff members who is himself a photographer. They have been taking pictures of the other groups’ activities, and along with the technology groups are making a video of the whole camp.  That’s going to be neat to see too!

 So it has been a productive and fun past couple of weeks.  It’s been neat to see how the groups have explored their interests and have put together a final showcase.  Tomorrow each group will showcase their activities for the week.  Should be awesome to see!