Future Reflections                                                                                      Summer/Fall, 2002

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Is a Picture Really Worth a Thousand Words?

by Pauletta Feldman,
VIPS—Louisville Family Coordinator

Reprinted from the VIPS Newsletter, volume 17, number 5; the newsletter of the Visually Impaired Preschool Service of Louisville,
Kentucky.

There are so many things that are difficult for a young child to understand without sight. What is the sky? What is an airplane? What is a city? What is the ocean? The list could go on and on.

For everything we see there is a word to name it and other words to tell about it that fill in the “picture.” Without vision, your child will need you to help her build and fill in her concepts. That’s one of the most impor­tant jobs you’ll have as the parent of a blind child—to help her understand all of the things she cannot see. Concept development will provide the foundation for all of your child’s learning.

Life with your child will give you a constant chance to help her learn, if you talk, talk, and talk some more to her about all of the things you are seeing, hearing, touch­ing, smelling, tasting, and doing. Help your child use all of her senses. Word by word, sound by sound, touch by touch, smell by smell, and taste by taste, your child will begin to develop an understanding of her world.

When your child is just an infant, you will want to use simple words to tell him about things. Use the same words each time you talk about a particular thing so he doesn’t get confused. For example, “Umm. Good vegetables! Carrots are vegetables.”

As he gets older, you can explain things in more detail: “Carrots are vegetables. What other vegetables do you like?” Children raised in the city may have a very limited understanding of where foods come from. To help fill in the picture for your child, continuously add information. “Vegetables come from plants that grow in the ground on farms or in gardens. The farmer picks his vegetables and sends them to the city to gro­cery stores where we can buy them. Sometimes we buy them in cans, and sometimes we get them frozen, and sometimes we buy them fresh.”

Talking about one thing can open up many new concepts for your child. As you add detail to your de­scriptions, your work of explaining is just beginning! For instance, from a discussion of vegetables, new ques­tions arise. What is a plant? What is a farm? How do you pick vegetables? Where are farms? What does fresh mean? How do vegetables get in cans?

It can be common for a child to develop mistaken notions about things, unless you explain them to him as fully and accurately as possible. For instance, from the previous example, if you say, “the farmer sends his veg­etables to the city,” and the child’s only notion of send­ing is sending a letter through the mail, he may think that farmers put their vegetables in envelopes with a stamp and mail them to the store!

Suggestions:

1. Trips to the grocery offer a feast of learning opportu­nities. For instance, at the grocery store, look at all of the different kinds of fruits. Name them for your child, tell their colors, feel their different textures and shapes, smell them. Let your child choose a fruit to bring home.

2. Take a food and talk about all the different ways it can be prepared and how the method of cooking can change its texture and taste. For example, potatoes can be baked, mashed, boiled, or French-fried.

3. Visit a farm to see the crops and animals.

4. Plant a small backyard or window box garden with your child.

5. Go around the house with your child and see all the different things you can find that are round (or rough, or smooth, or hard, or square, etc.) Expand the exercise beyond your home.

6. Go on a neighborhood scavenger hunt; find a leaf, a rock, a twig, a flower, a bird feather, etc. Identify all the sounds and smells along your way.

7. Tour a factory with an older child, so that he can learn how raw materials become the
finished products we use.

Another reason to really explain things to your child is that without good explanations his concepts and talk may be empty—he may be able to use language, but have no real idea of what he is talking about.

Your child will need more experiences than other children. He can’t look at pictures in a book or on TV to get information. He will need to experience many things first-hand to understand them best. Give your child lots of opportunities for hands-on learning by letting him be in new situations and go to new places. Give him the freedom to explore safely to get his curiosity going.

Remember the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words?” Well there may be times that you feel that a thousand words are not enough to explain a cer­tain concept to your child. Sometimes you may feel overwhelmed with all the things you need to tell your child about. But you will get used to all that talking, and it will be so exciting to watch your child’s under­standing of the world grow through your hard work!

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