Orientation and Mobility Activities at Home for Young Children Who Are Blind or Low Vision
By Marjorie Wood
Here is a list of fun activities 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.
In the House
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.” This is good for understanding the environment and the relationship between people and 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 house room 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, areas within a room have a function. If you have a toy box, asking your child to help you put the toys away after playing with them helps your child organize her space, which is extremely important when she gets into school. Our children can’t always 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 make them more successful in their school years.
Having learned the hard way, I believe that being organized contributes to over 50 percent 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 they can be 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 your child’s personality, strengths, and needs. Children 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 full of them, providing us with so much information.
The sun itself can be challenging for those who are sensitive to light. Children who are blind or low vision may need to wear sunglasses, hats, and sunscreen. Helping them be more comfortable in unpredictable and often uncomfortable situations 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 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 students with visual impairments (TVI), or physical education (PE) teacher for 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 certified orientation and mobility specialist or teacher of students with visual impairments; 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 smartphone 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 outside the car—the environment 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.