Future Reflections         Winter 2011

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How to Make an O&M Snowman

by Merry-Noel Chamberlain, NOMCT

This snowman wears sleepshades and holds his long white cane against his shoulder to get his photo taken.From the Editor: Nearly any situation can provide an opportunity for teaching and learning.  Merry-Noel Chamberlain, a National Orientation Mobility Certified Trainer (NOMCT), currently of Nebraska, explains how building a snowman can become a useful lesson in orientation and mobility.

When given lemons, make lemonade. When it snows, no need to cancel the day's travel lesson. Instead, build a snowman! That's exactly what the students at Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind did in orientation and mobility (O&M) class one day in February of 2010. Orientation and mobility class is much more than teaching students to use the long white cane. It teaches them to interpret environmental cues and to move freely in all sorts of situations. Here are some ways to build "teaching moments" into an afternoon of snowman construction.

One component of combining O&M with building a snowman is showing the students what to do with their canes. After all, the student doesn't need the cane in order to bend over and push a snowball around a field. It is very important for the student to know how to retrieve the cane when the snowman is completed. If the cane is simply dropped in the snow it might be lost until spring! When not needed, the long white cane can be propped against a tree, fence post, or building. It can also be placed along the edge of a cleared sidewalk.

When students enter a snowy field, encourage them to pay attention to the nonvisual information provided by the environment. Sunshine, wind, and traffic sounds are all valuable cues. In the middle of the day the sun will be directly overhead and/or slightly to the south. As the day progresses, the sun is more in the westerly or southwesterly direction. Whether the day is sunny or cloudy, students should pay attention to traffic sounds. Perhaps a major street runs to the east. Students who note the sound of that traffic will always know where east is located. A breeze may help, too. The student can note the direction of the breeze before walking away from the cane. A distant train can also be a source of information. Knowing where the train track is can be quite handy.

Of course, students can also use a Braille compass while traveling in a snowy field. If the cane is stored along a shoveled sidewalk north of the field, the compass will point in the direction of the sidewalk from wherever the student is standing. The student can walk north, find the sidewalk, and follow the edge to retrieve the cane.

A close-up of the O&M snowman shows sleepshades, cane-tip nose, warm scarf, and long white cane. Two shorter canes provide arms to this work of winter art.Once the student is oriented and the cane is safely stored, the fun stuff begins. First, show the student how to pack a snowball as tightly as possible. Encourage him/her to add more snow and roll the ball forward (or away from the body). With each roll the student gently packs new snow against the ball.

Sometimes it is helpful to push down gently on the snowball as it is rolled forward, packing the new snow firmly. As the snowball grows bigger and heavier, it begins to pack itself. It may actually pick up all the snow on the ground, leaving a line of bare grass in its wake.

It is important for the student to plan ahead. He/she must determine where to place the snowman and roll the snowball in that direction. The first snowball is the base. Next the student must make a second and third snowball. The second snowball needs to be slightly smaller than the first. The third, which forms the head, should be smaller than the second.

Gently, the student should rub off a bit of snow from the top of the first snowball to make a somewhat flat surface. Then he or she can lift the middle-sized snowball onto the base. Gather extra snow and pack it like glue between the two snowballs. Repeat this procedure to add the smallest snowball to the top.

Students can be as creative as they wish when they decorate their snowman. Here are a few ideas to get things started. Wrap an old scarf between the middle and top snowballs. Add a hat. At VSDB we used broken cane handles as arms and a broken cane tip as a nose. Our snowman wore a pair of sleepshades and another cane was propped against his body--after all, this snowman was in O&M class!

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