by Dottie Neely
(Editor's Note: The National Federation of the Blind, nationally and locally, has sponsored over fifty (50) seminars for parents of blind children in the past three years. Some of them have been directly sponsored by the NFB Parents of Blind Children Division, all have been possible because of the emphasis the Division has brought to the needs and concerns of blind children and their parents.
We are now seeing a new twist on the parents seminar, a seminar for blind children. We had a report on a child rens seminar sponsored by the NFB of Minnesota in the Winter 1986 issue of Future Reflections, We are pleased to report on yet another childrens seminar. This one was sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri. As the title indicates the seminar was called, "Focus on Success...Focus on Learning". And a success it most surely was. Here is the report.)
At about 4:00 P.M. as the "Focus on Learning" was about at its end, the twelve children who had participated in the day long seminar got together and talked with some of their teachers about what they liked best during the day. They told us what they liked best, what they really learned, and what they would do with their new knowledge. If the success of a workshop could be measured in any other way than having children reflect and getting remarks from them, these comments tell it all.
Mike told us, "I learned a lot... I liked the talking computer station best. I even got a chance to use the keyboard myself." This sort of remark was most common but also high on the list were comments like these:
"I liked having the opportunity to try the sleepshades (blindfolds) and to learn that I can travel by myself without having to see everything."
"I liked using the slate and stylus and I wish my father would let me use his at home."
"Using the Braille method to read is not as hard as I thought and my teacher sure was able to help me find the treasure at the end of my map."
"I liked being able to talk with other kids who have my same problem. I feel so alone most of the time because I am the only one who is blind in my school. It helps to know another kid has my problems and it also helps to talk to adults who are blind. I don't want the day to end. Can we have another day like this?"
"I am going to learn to read Braille real good and in one year I can come back and read to some small children like I was read to today."
These twelve children were from the St. Louis area and from across Missouri. They actively participated in one of three seminars sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri on Saturday, March 1, 1986 at the Clarion Hotel in St. Louis. A total of one hundred and seventy sat down to lunch that warm Saturday afternoon. The other two seminars that were all part of the "Focus on Success" theme were also packed full of interesting speakers and events. The parent seminar, "Focus on the Family" and the Job Opportunities for the Blind (JOB) seminar, "Focus on Employment" were held concurrently with the chilren's seminar. A fourth activity, "Focus on Fun" was designed as a day-care center for children of speakers, siblings of blind children, and children of job seekers. And what did the children do to reflect so?
Ten activity stations were set up for the children to work at. Each activity was designed to stimulate the child in a non-competitive setting. The activities were each designed to promote good self image and concepts and to promote the use of alternative techniques such as Braille and listening. Besides the Talking Computer station, children took part in a treasure hunt where all the clues were written in Braille. If a child could not read Braille he/she was encouraged to ask someone (the teacher or someone else) to read the clue. At another station children were able to use canes of appropriate length to travel by themselves up and down escalators, to try sleepshades should they desire, to ask questions about any problem they faced in their home environment, and to have direct instruction. Two children have asked for, and have been started on, cane travel instruction since the seminar.
Another station was set up for the introduction of the Braille system. A child with no Braille experience was paired with a child with some experience so that peer teaching could take place. The adult teacher used a large pegboard to form Braille letters and to have children practice making letters of their name. By the end of the half-hour session some children could actually form all letters of their name.
Yet another station had listening activities. Children were encouraged to listen to environmental sounds and identify their source. They were further encouraged to use listening in the present environment and to use sound identification clues as landmarks when traveling in their communities.
Another station had various activities that active fingers could touch and identify. The sense of touch was also related to travel situations and the feel of going up or down hills, finding cracks, and other situations.
At another station, children were asked to identify smells that they found in their homes. They were asked to choose which of two scents they would put on a hamburger, to relate smell to taste and also to relate smell to their travel pattern. All the children liked this series of innovative activities and were pleased to identify the " scratchandsniff" sticker given them at the close of this activity.
The station where Braille reading was demonstrated was the favorite of some children because they got to listen to the teacher read a story of appropriate age level. If a child could read Braille well enough to entertain a younger child, the child read the story. Much interaction and fun was had at this station. The child who said he liked slate and stylus writing was kept busy at that station as children were encouraged to use this tool at age and experience appropriate levels.
The last of the ten activity sations and the most encumbered with equipment, was a station where children could have a hands-on experience with equipment such as a tape recorder, an abacus, a Brailler, a typewriter, a talking calculator, Braille games and Braille clocks. Here they were even able to receive some instruction in the use of these tools should they desire. It was also a good time to ask questions of people who actually made use of this equipment as tools in their workplace.
After the twelve children had reflected with us teachers, we went together into the parent seminar. Here the blind teachers and seminar facilitators were introduced to the parents and they got to see what occupations the teachers really do during the work week. The children were introduced and certificates written in both Braille and print were given. Children were also given some interesting items for working hard at the ten activities all day. They included Braille cards, instructions for the parent for teaching simple table games, and toy "Gro-Bugs" that each child could feel "grow" when they were put into water.
Perhaps the most wonderful things that happened during the day were these two. A four-year-old was able to take the cane and run for the first time. His mother wept because, "He has never been able to run before because he was so afraid."
Then there was the comment that Mike made during the television interview with Channel 2, KTVI, St. Louis, which was on both of the evening newscasts. "Well, I just decided to become a doctor. It might be hard, but that won't stop me."
Plans are already being formulated for another seminar like this next year. I believe all the ten teachers and the twelve children would be ready for one today should it happen.
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