Orientation and Mobility Activities at Home for Young Blind Children

By Marjorie Wood

In the House

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 three and up.

Hide-n-seek: When the child is "it," have her tell you where she found you in relationship to furniture—for example, "behind the door," or in the bathtub." Good for knowing about the environment and understanding the relationship of us to objects. This concept is important for future traveling in school and outdoors around traffic.

Playing a guessing game: Tell your child, "I eat in the __________," and see if they can find or guess which area of the house. Give out stickers or points as a reward for guessing correctly. Have them meet you in a particular location, such as the bathtub or in front of the refrigerator, or give them two options for where to meet you. Knowing the function of each room of the house is teaching that specific functions occur in specified areas, buildings, etc. This helps to give them an understanding of how our society functions and lives.

Cleaning up the toys: We have all been there, that moment when the children have gone to bed and the house looks like a tornado hit it. Teach your children early on that, just as a room has a function, so areas within a room have a function. If you have a toy box, asking him to help you put the toys away after playing with them helps your child begin to organize his space, which is extremely important when he gets into school. Our children don’t always have the ability to notice that toys are in others’ way, or that people will have a hard time finding them if they are left on the floor. Getting into good habits will alleviate some of the frustration, and set them up to be more successful in their school years.

Having learned the hard way, I believe that being organized contributes to over 50% of being a successful adult. When successful adults with visual impairments are asked what their childhoods are like, they all will say that their parents treated them no differently than their siblings. The same expectations. Of course, we often have to provide our blind or visually impaired children with adaptations to account for that visual loss.

Having a “job” or “role” in the family: This can also be taught early on. It can be something like helping to feed the pet, picking up their clothes each day, helping to get the mail, etc. A child with a “job,” something that she is responsible for, has more of a sense of belonging in the family.

Outside Games and Activities

Once again, games should be chosen and played according to the personality, strengths, and needs of your child. Children who are sensitive to various textures may not want to walk barefoot in the grass or play in a sandbox. Learning to tolerate different textures is important because the world is so full of them and gives us so much information about it.

The sun itself can be challenging for those who are sensitive to light. Children who are visually impaired may need to wear sunglasses and hats, and wear sunscreen. Helping them to be more comfortable in an unpredictable and very often uncomfortable situation is always desirous. Trying to have a fun activity as the goal, like walking to a swing, can often help minimize your child's aversion to whatever he or she doesn't like.

Swimming lessons: Finding a swimming instructor who will work with your child is often challenging. You might be able to get a recommendation from your Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist (COMS), Teacher of the Visually Impaired (TVI), or Physical Education (PE) as to a local swimming instructor. Swimming is usually an excellent activity for our children.

Other fun activities are riding trikes and/or scooters. Going to the zoo and theme parks are always fun. Sometimes calling ahead to explain that you have a child with a visual impairment may afford you the opportunity of a personal guide or the opportunity to touch an object or animal that is normally not allowed. Giving children the opportunity for new experiences, close-up and personal, will bring a richer understanding of the world around them, giving them the concepts to interact in the class and with peers.

Hippotherapy (riding a horse): Horse riding can be therapeutic for children with disabilities. Sometimes insurance companies will pay for this therapy, or local agencies may be able to help. Again, talk to your COMS or TVI; they may have good ideas. A horse’s gait is similar to a human’s gait and gives our children the sense of rhythm and movement that is conducive to improving our children’s walking patterns.

Traveling in the car: Using a smart phone or GPS that will announce directional turns and/or landmarks along a route is invaluable for children who are blind or visually impaired. Children learn so much from watching those around them. Using an audible GPS puts our children on a more even footing when learning about the environment that's outside the car—the environment that one day they will need to conquer to be a successful adult. This is a quick and easy way to start that process!

With all activities, keep a close, watchful eye. Interacting with your child is truly invaluable to making sure your child has a wonderful and memorable time.

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