Orientation and Mobility Activities for Families of Children Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

By Marjorie Wood

Here is a list of fun activities that you can do with your young child, and as a bonus, reinforce their orientation and mobility training. Feel free to include their siblings, cousins, or friends! Use this list as a start and then create your own as you get a feel for what your child enjoys.

These activities can be used with kids of all ages but, in particular, will be good for those aged six and up.

Games: Your child may already have a favorite that she plays with her classmates at school. Find ways to play games that incorporate beeping balls or balls with bells. For further suggestions, read "Choosing Toys for Children with Vision Loss" by Tara Annis, AFB AccessWorld or check out the FamilyConnect Holiday Gift Guide.

Picnics: Ask your child to help prepare for the picnic by

  • helping to make a list and retrieve the food at the grocery store in the process learning about different sizes and prices of items,
  • getting the different items out of the refrigerator or cupboards and returning them once they’re done, and
  • helping make the sandwiches while learning to mix ingredients.

Parents of older kids, consider giving your child the opportunity to shop on his own. Split your list in half, and encourage your child to ask for assistance from a clerk at the store and then meet you at a designated area either prior to checking out or after.

Traveling in the car or riding a bus: For children with low vision, playing "I Spy" is a great way to practice using a monocular to locate such things as different colored cars or traffic signs when stopped at a lighted intersection, determining when it’s time to "go," or locating the traffic light and businesses such as fast food restaurants by their logos or specific colors. The colors of red and yellow bring to mind a specific restaurant as well as orange and white. For those children who cannot see colors, they can still participate by being a scorekeeper or coming up with a list of items for others to look for.

Smartphone apps and GPS: Encourage your child to use these in the car to predict turns and follow the car’s progress along the route. Some apps will even mention landmarks that you’re passing by.

Theme parks and zoos: Giving information about them ahead of time often creates excitement, and children forget that it’s new and scary. Even though there may be animals and objects that one cannot touch or possibly see, children can still experience the changes in terrain from rough to smooth, uphill to downhill, sunny to shady as well as changes in temperature and smells.

A quick way to make a tactile map is to use Elmer’s glue, and let it dry to give an outline of where you are and where you’re going. Again, asking for help from your child’s orientation and mobility specialist, teacher of the students with visual impairments, braillist, or caseworker can often reap great benefits. There are tactile map-making kits that you might be able to borrow for the summer. Students often find those kits a lot of fun.

Shopping: This everyday activity involves a lot of important orientation and mobility skills such as:

  • Being able to determine where the store/mall is in relationship to the car by listening or looking around
  • Establishing the location of the row the car is parked in by using a monocular or finding a specific landmark at the end of the row or on the store-side
  • Listening for traffic—can they tell you when it’s time to cross from the parking lot to the store?
  • Establishing landmarks or clues at the door where you entered. If your child has learned to do this in her O&M lessons, it’s a wonderful job or role to give her. Ask her to be in charge of remembering what door you came in, for example, or where the car is parked.
  • Listening for cash registers when you’re ready to check out—try having the child identify the location (initially, be close enough that the child can actually hear it if she is using her hearing only)
  • Identifying a new fruit or vegetable in a grocery store's produce section and if there's time, trying it a home or asking for a sample from the store personnel
  • Using the mall maps or asking assistance from store personnel to get specific information (cashiers are often easier to locate and identify than other store personnel). In the early stages, plan an easy question such as, "What time is it," or if they really want something, remind them to ask for the aisle number.

Having friends over/going to friends’ homes: Have your child help you plan activities to whatever extent she can for her age. If she’s spending the night at another friend’s house, plan ahead on learning the layout of the guest’s home. Ask the host if you and your child can look around, starting at the door that you normally enter and using that as a reference point to locate the sleeping area, bathroom, and kitchen.

Restaurants and cafeterias: Explain the rules before entering and talk about the different smells and noises involved. Children who are blind or have low vision often have difficulty in areas with a lot of noise. It is very disorienting to them, and they gain little information about what is going on, so prepare them by telling them ahead of time the "what’s" and "why’s" and check in with them periodically to give them feedback.

For example, our children often don’t understand why another child is crying. Explaining that the child is hungry or tired, or whatever you read the situation to be will help your child learn to tune out certain sounds. This is vitally important when they start traveling outdoors and have to tune out such sounds as weed eaters, lawnmowers, conversations, etc., and tune into the traffic noises to be safe when crossing the street.

Getting together with friends and family: This might mean traveling or having guests at one’s house. If you find you’re the host, coming up with games that everyone can be involved in might be a bit challenging, but it can be done. Sometimes incorporating blindfolds will work.

Even everyday activities like taking your children grocery shopping can be fun. Having your child listen for the registers and push the grocery cart while you pull from the front will give your child the sense of being a part of this family activity. These simple acts of allowing your children to be a part of the experience tells them that you trust them to start learning to explore the world independently.

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