Future Reflections January/February 1983, Vol. 2 No. 1
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by Ruth Schroeder
Fixing cereal and milk for breakfast. Fixing a peanut butter sandwich for an after-school snack. Fixing a cup of hot chocolate before bed. Are these things sighted children normally do for themselves? Of course they are. Can your blind child do these things for himself? If not, it's time for you to consider the consequences of not allowing him to help in the kitchen.
I believe without question that a blind person should have as many experiences as humanly possible, and that this is especially true for blind children. Whether your child is at home, or whether he's attending a residential facility, it is vital to his future independence that he be provided with adequate training in the kitchen. Such experiences should begin at a very early age.
My own experience has provided me with a clear understanding of how often well-meaning parents and teachers keep blind children from participating in the day-to-day kitchen routine. I am blind and grew up in a residential school. Nothing was expected of me. I went to the dining room, ate my meals, shook the crumbs from my skirts, and dashed upstairs to practice the piano or read a book.
At home a busy time schedule did not permit the opportunity for me to learn to cook, but Mother did expect me to help with other kitchen chores.
After completing my education and becoming a successful homemaker (with much trial and error), I was afforded the opportunity of teaching home economics to blind students at the Adult Orientation and Adjustment Center at the Iowa Commission for the Blind. Many of the young people I worked with while teaching at the Iowa Commission for the Blind were high school graduates. Most of them knew very little about the kitchen. They had taken home economics, but most had never really cooked anything. Especially men.
I had a young man who, when asked to bring me the coffee pot, brought me the blender instead. He actually did not know what a coffee pot looked like. He really enjoyed the privilege of getting into the refrigerator and finding things for his lunch. Making a sandwich was something he had never been allowed to do.
I found that some of my students thought they knew how to make doughnuts, but when the actual project was undertaken, I discovered that they had only been allowed to sugar them. They had been cheated out of a "real" experience. This illustrates but one example of numerous misconceptions held by many blind students.
Many of my students were ashamed to admit they were so short-changed in kitchen experiences, and would say they knew how to do something, when they really had no idea of where to begin. One girl insisted she knew how to whip cream for a fruit salad. However, she proceeded to pour the whipping cream over the fruit, turned on the electric mixer, and ended up with shredded cream-covered fruit all over the kitchen.
Some students had trouble serving themselves and cleaning up after a meal, not to mention cooking one. All of this is to say that down the line, they have been denied many experiences. When allowed the privelege of proper training and opportunity, they quickly learned these common day-to-day tasks. They eagerly tried to "catch up" to those students who took these skills for granted.
I feel it is wrong not to expect every child in a family to contrivute to the running and maintenance of a home. One of my better students, the daughter of a blind mother, has not only been allowed in the kitchen, but had been expected to do her fair share.She was at home in the kitchen, had sufficient background experience, and possessed the confidence to succeed in any culinary endeavor.
The blind child MUST share in things of the kitchen. Show him and teach him the great happenings of the kitchen from the fun things to the drudgeries. He must not be spared any more than the sighted child. Don't let your child grow up thinking bread is done baking when it touches the roof of the oven; not being able to identify and use small kitchen tools; not knowing what a quart of milk looks like; or not knowing how to spread butter on his bread. The time you spend teaching these skills is an investment in your child's future.
Ruth Schroeder and Doris Willoughby have written a booklet called, "Suggestions for the Blind Cook." The booklet covers such topics as equipment; marketing; measuring ingredients; cutting, grating, and peeling; dials and controls; and others.
Very often, we parents would be willing to let our child in the kitchen, but we often can't think what techniques our child would use for say measuring, or plugging in an appliance. We may fear we do not have, or cannot afford, the "special" equipment he/she may need. This booklet will help set your mind at ease. Even if your child is now quite young, it is good to have some idea of the techniques they can use in order to be successful in the kitchen.
Below are some excerpts from the booklet, and an form for the booklet. There is no charge for copies.
Metal measuring cups and spoons sold on the regular market are very convenient for the blind cook. Using measuring spoons with dry indredients is no different for the blind cook than for the sighted. For liquids, however, we suggest that you bend the spoon so that the bowl is at right angles to the handle; keep each liquid ingredient in a wide-mouthed jar, so that the bent spoon may simply be lowered into it and then lifted out full. A popular convention is to bend the one-half-teaspoon and one-tablespoon measures in each set, so that half of the spoons are adapted for liquids, and so that the spoons can be told apart by touch very quickly and easily. Steel spoons such as those manufactured by the Foley Company can be easily bent without damage.
USING THE STOVE, OVEN OR ELECTRIC FRYING PAN
The beginner frying an egg, and the experienced cook frying several eggs separately in one pan, may use an egg ring for each egg. Remove both the top and bottom of a small tuna or pineapple can, leaving a metal ring about one and one-half inches high and three inches in diameter. This ring is placed in the pan, and the egg is broken into it. When the egg becomes firm enough to keep its shape, the ring is removed.
Often the need for cleaning or washing can be felt tactually. It is important however, to anticipate dirt which may not be so readily noticed, and to do routine general cleaning such as wiping off the entire counter after mixing on it. In cleaning a surface such as the counter or floor, a planned approach is very important: clean in strips rather than random strokes here and there.
A positive attitude is essential to success. If you really believe that the blind cook necessarily takes many safety risks, needs a great deal of special equipment, has only a limited repertoire, and produces questionable products -- then you will do a poor job. If you really believe that the blind cook may choose among many methods to work with all kinds of food and produce high-quality products . . . then you will find a way to succeed.
FEEDING TIME . . LEARNING TIME
The following is reprinted with permission from the VIP Newsletter, July 1982. The VIP Newsletter is a publication of the International Institute for Visually Impaired, 0-7, Inc., 1975 Rutgers, East Lansing, MI 48823
At about the same time your child begins to feed herself, even more learning experiences become possible. If you stop and think for a minute, you will be able to think of many opportunities for learning in the kitchen.
Because of the time many families spend in the kitchen, the kitchen is a natural classroom for any child. In most families, one or more family members spend time in the kitchen preparing and serving meals. Sharing this time with a young visually handicapped child presents another learning experience for the child and provides more adult child opportunities.
HOT/COLD: Begin to identify hot and cold foods to your child to help her associate the tactual sensation with the label. Contrast the cold air of the refrigerator with the heat of the oven door. Frozen vegetables are cold and crunchy, but you usually eat them hot.
SMELLS/TASTES: Introduce her to a variety of different smells associated with the kitchen -- or -- odors of spices, of uncooked, cooking, and cooked foods. Help her begin to link a smell with a name, a taste, a tactual sensation. How does an orange smell before it is peeled? How does it feel? Does the orange change after it is needed? What about an egg? An onion?
PUTTING AWAY/STACKING: Provide her with an area in the kitchen where she has access to an assortment of bowls, pans, plastic kitchen utensils. When playtime is over, help her put the objects away. As she becomes older, she can help stack and store the clean dishes.
LEARNING ABOUT SPACE: A fine game for the high-chair set is to drop objects to the floor. This can be distressing to the parents -- expecially when it's a cup of milk that hits the floor. However, dropping objects is one way your child learns about the space around her, (How far down is the floor? How do different objects sound when they are dropped? Where do they go?) She'll need to learn that some things (balls) can be thrown and that others (food) stay on the tray. Some parents tie a piece of long elastic to the toy and tie the other end on to the highchair to eliminate the perpetual picking up. If you try this, be sure that an adult is nearby to prevent accidents.
EXPERIMENTATION: When she's sitting in her high-chair waiting for dinner, place interesting objects or bits of food near her hands, and encourage her to search for what might be there. For example, an ice cube in a cup, small pieces of uncooked food, a set of plastic measuring spoons, a strangely shaped plastic utensil, several pan lids.
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