Future Reflections Special Issue 2004
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The Blind Child in The Regular Preschool Program
by Ruby Ryles, Ph.D.
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 are usually all it takes to integrate blind students into regular preschool programs.
To help you understand how you, too, can be successful in integrating a blind preschooler into a regular program here are some answers to common concerns expressed by preschool teachers and administrators. Remember that this is only an overview of common concerns. The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) can help you with additional literature. We can also refer you to other local and national resources.
A BLIND CHILD IN OUR PRESCHOOL PROGRAM?
BUT...I don’t have any specialized training.
Blind preschooler, Cody Greiser, (center) participates fully in his local preschool program.
None is needed. All successful preschool teachers possess 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, pre-reading 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 or manipulatives 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 children 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. Children will use many cues to find their 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...He isn’t really blind; he 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. “Legal blindness” is a term you may hear. It simply means that a child has ten percent 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. The type of eye condition, fatigue, lighting, excitement, may 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. Many partially sighted children, for example, benefit from learning to read Braille. In fact, federal law (IDEA) requires that schools provide Braille instruction to blind and visually impaired children.
Talk to the parents whenever you have questions. The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) 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 accommodations. 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 the story time and take his turn next to the teacher like everyone else.
BUT...What about movies, field trips, picture books, etc?
Adults accompanying the class on field trips should provide descriptions of “untouchables.” Short descriptions of pictures in storybooks are enjoyable for all the children. When needed, an adult may verbally describe movies or other performances quietly to the child. Many educational videos and television programs are now available with audio descriptions.
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 activities that require them to put their hands into unfamiliar substances, such as clay, finger-paints, paper mache, rice/bean/sand tables, and so forth. Usually a loving, firm, “we’ll do it together” approach—with the child’s hands on top of your hands—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 do not have any 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 activities. For example, plastic models of animals are usually 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 lack 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, you should find ways to expose your blind preschooler to Braille, just as you expose your sighted students to print. Twin Vision® books (regular print children’s books with Braille pages added) can be borrowed from the
American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults for use in the classroom with all the children. Inexpensive Braille labels can be added to print labels in the classroom. For information about how to obtain Twin Vision® books, Braille labeling materials, and other sources of Braille books and materials for blind preschoolers please contact the NOPBC.
BUT...We can’t provide an aide.
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 teaches dependency. This robs the child of confidence and the opportunity for problem solving.
Yes, he will need additional hands-on directions for many things. But this doesn’t need to be a problem. For example, finger plays and motions to songs, dances, and exercises are normally learned by watching the teacher demonstrate. Such activities are easily demonstrated by allowing the blind child to feel and follow the teacher’s motions while other children watch. This way, 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 her.
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 that 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 have lower expectations or treat the blind child with pity or condescension, then the other children will likely decide that it’s OK to ignore or belittle the child. However, if you respect his non-visual methods of learning and expect him to perform and participate just like the other children, then the children will treat him likewise.