Future Reflections April 1982, Vol. 1 No. 3

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By: Susan Ford and Bob Burmood

There are times in every mothers life when all she wants is to find something to entertain the kids while she does the things around the house which have collected and which just must be done. We speak here especially about the children who are too young to go to school or are in the very early grades. They still need a lot of help to read or write and they are not yet able to cross streets alone, so you can't send them off to the playground. In this article, we want to suggest some ways you can keep your sanity by helping your child find interesting and exciting things to do for and by himself.

Bob's first comment when asked to help write this article was something like this: "Parents of disabled children should spend lots of time with them. If they only knew how much value it is to spend time with children early, parents would do nothing else. It is far more important than getting the dishes done or talking on the phone to a friend."

That's O.K but dishes do_ have to get done and meals do not cook themselves. So, how can I give my child something to do while I dedicate myself to the other children or to the rest of the household?

First, by the time a child is four or so, she should be able to sit and listen for short periods of time. Some things are available for young children on talking book disc or on cassette tape from your Regional Library for the Blind. You can also purchase story book records and tapes commercially, and they are great. We have found the Disney collection of record and book combinations most exciting. The sighted children have a book to follow or look at pictures in and the blind child has the record to listen to. This gives two children close in age the opportunity to read together even though neither can read by himself. We have also enjoyed the Sesame Street materials. There are other childrens listening materials available, too, so look around. If you have a cassette machine which also has a record function, you can make
tapes for use at home which your children can read over and over again. Remember, copyright laws limit you to using such tapes for anything other than your own personal use.

Next, try to find a place in your house for play centers. For instance, make clay or Play-doh available in one place; a take-apart toy in another; a music box somewhere else; and a See-and-Say toy in still another place. Let your child know where they will be and let her choose from these few things rather than turning her loose on a boxful of toys. For example, my child, if he is faced with too many toys at once, has more fun just throwing them than playing with any one item.

There are other kinds of play activities which at first take a bit of planning, but which are most valuable in your child's development. Water play is interesting and exciting. In the bathtub, children can learn about full and empty, heavy and light. Lots of new concepts can be developed here or in the dishwater while you are busy with something else. Just a straw and a glass partly filled with water and dishwashing liquid makes a special plaything. This kind of play requires some supervision, but if you are in the kitchen, your table can remain the center of interest for the children while you clean the stove or do other work close by. We also suggest that you allow your blind child to help in the kitchen or with other household tasks. Even very young children can pour a cup of sugar into the cookie batter or use a stick of margarine to grease a pan. The best way for your child to learn is by doing, and you can help him learn by giving him such little chores to do from an early age. Such chores not only assist in developing concepts but help to lengthen attention span, and you will be glad you helped your child in this way when he gets to school.

Summertime is outside time for kids and we would encourage every parent of a blind child to make their yard a place where the children want to be. We fenced our yard completely and it didn't take our blind child long to know his way all over it. If you are concerned that your child will not feel comfortable if he loses his bearings, you can mount a wind chime somewhere so that he has an audible reference point. Remember, too, that a child will find other audible cues: the cars on the street; the neighbor's radio; the rattling dishes inside the kitchen door; the kids playing across the street. You probably won't have to mention such things to your child, he will notice them all by himself. However, if he doesn't, then you ought to take some time to listen and point out things to him so that he gets the idea that
sounds can be valuable to him as reference points. Last summer, both of our children enjoyed taking a tape recorder outside and recording whatever was to be heard. Our blind child particularly enjoyed this activity. The rooster across the alley was his favorite sound, of course.

Playground apparatus is very nice to have, but we suggest that you buy selectively. So much depends on the age of the children, their performance levels, and how able they are to play on such equipment without getting hurt. Blind children learn quickly how to play safely on such equipment though, so don't let that stop you, We have also found a small wading pool invaluable, and trees to climb are special.

The sandbox is another real entertainment for children. If you do not have one, perhaps a corner of the garden can be set aside just for play. The business of digging, piling, and building is tremendous for a child. Sandbox play gives your child a specific environment to play in, it helps develop both small and large muscle coordination, and it is also helpful in the development of concepts of both weights and measures.

Your children will probably have some riding toys for outside. We suggest that you try to buy things without pedals for your young blind child. When you guide a toy with your feet and hands instead of your eyes, it is more comfortable to have your feet on the ground. Tricycles and bicycles will come sooner or later, but let the child continue with other things, if he feels more secure that way.

The time comes for a blind child, just as it does for other children, when he must go outside that fence you so carefully built. Don't try to keep him home. Yes, it is hard, but he too must learn about responsibility and playing with other children. We found our child wanted to touch those moving cars, so at first you must be careful about supervision. Also, you may find yourself puzzled by your child's "bad behavior" until you so stop to think. Our child was throwing rocks out into the street; not thinking about the cars he might hit and damage, or the glass windows he might break, or that he might hit someone with the rock. He had discovered that nice "plunk" a rock makes
as it lands on paved surfaces. But, he still must learn those things which are acceptable behavior.

There are day-camps and such available in the summer. That might be a possibility but you must check such things out very carefully. We found that educating the staff at such places can be a full-time job.

Children really do very well at entertaining themselves and each other. This is hardly an extensive list of ideas, but we hope it will help you as you think about ways that your blind child can entertain himself and begin the business of learning independence right now.

(Susan Ford is a blind mother of two children, one of whom is a blind first grader. She has degrees in elementary education and the education of visually impaired children. Bob Burmood has taught in the regular classroom and in special education. He currently works at a Comprehensive Development Center for children in Montana. He worked with the Ford's son for a period of time, and his attitudes toward children with disabling conditions are, according to Mrs. Ford, "gratifyingly progressive".)

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