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Baltimore, MD 21230
Blind children, if given a chance, can play and learn right alongside their sighted peers. An open mind, a positive attitude, and a little creativity is usually all it takes to integrate a blind student into a regular preschool program.
After all, blind children have been successfully attending regular preschool programs for over thirty years now.
To help you understand how you can do it too, here are some answers to common concerns expressed by preschool teachers and administrators. Remember, this is only an overview of common concerns. The National Federation of the Blind can help you with additional literature about blindness and educating a blind child. We can also refer you to other local and national resources.
BLIND CHILD IN OUR PRESCHOOL PROGRAM?
But...I Don't Have Any Specialized Training.
None is needed. All successful preschool teachers possess a knowledge of general child development and instructional techniques appropriate for this age. The blind child can learn the same concepts that are taught the other children. The only difference is the method of learning. The blind child must make more extensive use of the other senses. They also need parents and teachers who will "bring the world to them" through lots of hands-on experiences.
For example, prereading skills should parallel those of the sighted child. Concepts such as big and little, same and different, prepositions (over, under, in, out, behind), shapes, number concepts, and scores of others are easily taught with concrete objects as an alternative to pictures on paper. Raised line drawings are also useful and provide one form of readiness for tactile reading.
But...How Will He Get Around?
Parents are used to helping their child get accustomed to new places and will guide you In this respect. Usually, one or two visits to the classroom when the other children are not present will be sufficient to orient the child. The child will use many cues to find his way around. The sound of the wall clock or heat register may be a landmark. They quickly learn that the story time area is carpeted, and that the dress up area is next to the windows where they can feel the sun or hear the rain.
In moving outside the classroom a child may sometimes use the teacher or another child as a guide. More and more blind preschoolers are using white canes for independent travel. If the child in your school uses one, ask the parents about how and when it should be used, where the child should store it when not In use, and what to do if the child misuses the cane.
But...We Have So Many Rowdy Children-She'll Get Hurt.
All children get bumps and bruises. Learning to cope with groups of people is a natural and vital part of learning to live in our society. Protecting a child from the boisterous, rowdy play of other four year olds denies her a crucial stage in her development. Encourage the blind child to join in the running, wrestling, and rowdiness of her classmates. If she has been overprotected, she may need some extra encouragement and demonstrations of how to play in this manner.
Skinned knees and tears from bumps last a few moments. The negative effects of sheltering last a lifetime.
But...She Isn't Really Blind, She Can See Some.
Blindness does not mean that the child is totally without usable vision. The majority of blind children have varying amounts of residual vision which can be quite helpful. "Legal blindness" is a term you may hear. It simply means that a child has 10% or less of normal vision. Teachers need to know that many factors affect what, and how much, a child may see at any particular time. Type of eye condition, fatigue, lighting, excitment, etc. all affect a partially-sighted child's vision.
However, the child with partial vision is often placed in an unenviable position. She may be expected to perform tasks visually, even though her vision may not be the most efficient means to accomplish the particular task. Partially sighted children should be encouraged to become skilled in using their tactile, auditory, and even olfactory senses as well as vision. They should, for example, learn to read Braille.
Talk to the parents whenever you have questions. The National Federation of the Blind can also help with information and resources.
Blind children sometimes suffer from the "I'm Special" syndrome. Because their education does require some adaptations, they often come to expect and demand unnecessary "accomodations." One little boy with partial vision was always allowed to sit next to the teacher during story time so he could see the pictures. Soon he expected to be next to the teacher in every activity. This caused resentment among the other children. After a consultation with the parents, it was decided that the boy could examine the pictures in the book before or after story time and take his turn next to the teacher like every one else.
But...What About Movies, Field Trips, Picture books, Etc.
With few verbal additions, movie soundtracks are often sufficient by themselves to get the information across. You, or other adults accompanying the class on field trips, can provide descriptions of "untouchables." Short descriptions of pictures in storybooks may be enjoyable, but often not necessary to the content. Painting and coloring helps children develop fine motor skills and are a part of the preschool experience, so the blind student should participate, too.
Some blind children may resist activates which require them to put their hands into unfamiliar substances (i.e. clay, fingerpaints, paper mache, rice/bean/sand tables, etc.). Usually a loving, firm, "we'll do it together" approach will help your blind student get over this problem.
With a little imagination on your part, your blind student will easily gain as much as his sighted friends from your standard preschool curriculum.
But...We Have No Materials or Equipment For A Blind Child.
A blind youngster in your classroom requires little outside the standard preschool materials and equipment. Often well-meaning attempts to create specialized materials result in meaningless activites. For example, plastic models of animals are often confusing and meaningless to a blind child. As often as possible, use the real Item to teach concepts. Without concrete teaching, a blind child may possess the vocabulary but tack the concept.
One preschool blind child seemed to know all about birds and their habits until one visited his class. As his turn came to pet the bird, his surprised exclamation of "It can walk, too!" startled his teacher. Discussions of birds had left him with an incomplete concept. He examined the bird's legs and talons, felt it take a step and gained an understanding on which more complete concepts could be built.
But...I Don't Know Braille
You don't need to. The blind child will be taught Braille by a specially trained teacher of the blind and visually Impaired. However, it would be helpful if you could find ways to expose your blind preschooler to Braille, just as you expose your sighted students to print. Twin Vision books (regular children's books with Braille pages added) could be used in the classroom with both the blind child and the sighted children. Braille labels could be used in addition to print ones.
Contact the National Federation of the Blind for information about where to get Twin Vision Books as well as other materials and information about Braille reading readiness for preschoolers.
But...He'll Need So Much Of The Teacher's Time, And We Can't Provide An Aide In His Classroom.
Young children learn to solve problems by doing for themselves. An important part of the child's life is knowing when to do it himself and when to ask for help. The additional assistance we too often give a blind child robs him of confidence, the opportunity for problem solving, and teaches dependency.
Yes, he will need additional hands-on directions for many things. But this doesn't need to be a problem. For example, finger plays, motions to songs, dances, and exercises are normally learned by watching the teacher demonstrate. Such activities are easily demonstrated by putting the blind child's body through the motions, so everyone learns them together.
Sometimes a child may have had so few opportunities for experiences, that more individual attention is required for a time. If so, work to find creative solutions. Talk with the parents. Check into other resources. See what can be worked out.
But...I Don't Have The Heart To Discipline Him
Then prepare yourself for the worst. As with any undisciplined child, tantrums, abnormal mannerisms, poor socialization, inattention, and delays in learning will quickly follow. Like any other child, a blind child needs firm but loving discipline so he can learn how to get along in this world.
But...How Will The Other Children React To Him?
Most preschoolers are curious, but not cruel. They have not yet learned the negative attitudes about blindness which are prevalent in our society. The children will mostly take their cues from you. You must learn to be open and natural about the child's blindness. If you treat the blind child differently, then the other children will too. If you expect him to perform and participate just like the other children, then the children will treat him likewise.
For additional information about blindness, Contact the NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
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