Future Reflections Fall 2004
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by Heather Field
Heather Field in a typical pose: on the floor playing with Discovery Toys® and a toddler.
Editor’s note: The following original craft ideas are easily adapted for other ethnic or religious holidays. The author and originator of these ideas is blind herself. Trained as a special educator in her native Australia, Miss Heather (as the children she tutors calls her) is extraordinarily creative. An award-winning songwriter, she currently resides near Nashville, Tennessee, where she makes her living in the music industry. However, she maintains her connections to the education field as a volunteer tutor, education consultant, and a Discovery Toys consultant. She may be reached at <email@example.com> or (615) 790-9765.
Christmas is a wonderful opportunity for children to be creative. However, many blind children are denied that joy simply because people can’t think of things that blind kids can do. I know. I grew up as a blind child who had to think up my own ideas for joining in the family frenzy of making things for Christmas. There is no need for blind kids to miss out; there are many things that they can do to join in the Christmas celebrations. But it is a busy time of the year; so spending hours looking for suitable craft ideas is not usually on mom’s list of urgent Christmas tasks. It can also be difficult for parents to find crafts for children who have poor motor skills—those who can’t yet draw, paint, or cut straight.
So, I’ve put together some ideas for activities and crafts that are not reliant on vision or even good motor skills. I hope these will give you a little boost in getting your blind child involved in the hands-on preparations for the season. Once you get started, I think you’ll find that the joy and self-confidence children get from making things for Christmas is worth that bit of extra thinking and preparation required. Here’s wishing you a Happy Crafty Christmas!
Sometimes just remembering to include your blind child in what you’re doing will provide lots of opportunities for them to be creative. If, for example, you are packing some little gift baskets to give as gifts, your child can crumple tissue paper to put in the bottoms of the baskets. Or, if you’re using straw or shredded paper, they can put that in. If you’re making up small bags of nuts, candy, dried fruit, etc. then your child can help fill the bags, hold the ribbon roll while you cut, hand you the scissors, or even cut the lengths of ribbon. Perhaps you made jams or jellies as gifts, if so, then your child can put the little pieces of decorative cloth and the rubber bands over the lids. Expect that in almost every project there are things that your child can do to be involved. Let them try all the activities; you’ll be surprised what they’ll be able to do that you may not have expected.
The Christmas Dish
Dig way back into the kitchen cupboard and find that dish or bowl with the raised or textured design or pattern. It might be covered with molded fruit (such as grapes) flowers, leaves, or just a pattern; whatever it is—it’s fun to touch and feels decorative. If you don’t have such a dish on hand, or it’s too fragile or expensive for a child to handle, look in your local discount or Dollar Store. It should not be hard to find an inexpensive, plastic, textured dish around the holiday season.
Next, explain to your child that she or he needs to find lots of colorful items that are interesting to touch, see, or hear to put in this dish to make it a special Christmas Dish. Have her or him collect these things from around the house and from among your Christmas supplies. Items might include: satin Christmas balls, streamers, cotton balls (for snow), shells, tinsel, marbles, gauzy fabric, pebbles, and favorite small toys. You may also have your child crumple aluminum foil or colored paper into decorative balls or twists.
Have the child arrange all of the things in the dish. Be sure to let the child do the work, giving encouragement and descriptions (colors, shininess etc.) where necessary so that the child tries lots of different ideas and makes the decisions about the final arrangement. Sit the finished dish on a low table or shelf where the child can show it off to visitors and enjoy touching it and rearranging it as often as desired.
Christmas Fun Box
A small shoebox with a lid. A tray or cookie sheet. About 20 empty matchboxes and an equal number of small fun things that will fit into the matchboxes. Items should have some connection to the Christmas season and may include such things as: different shaped nuts in the shell, pieces of wrapped candy, a tiny reindeer, a little car, some tinsel, a little teddy bear, some pine needles, a couple of sleigh bells, some cotton balls for pretend snow, some scrunched up cellophane to crackle and sound fun, some little (non-breakable) Christmas tree ornaments, pretty glass beads, a broken cinnamon stick, a cotton ball with a dab of vanilla, peppermint, or other favorite flavor extract on it.
Either collect the items to put into the matchboxes with your child, or collect five or ten more than you need. This will allow your child the fun and practice of making choices. Spread the items out on the tray. Have your child touch and talk about all the things on the tray and explore what each feels, smells, sounds like, or looks like. Discuss how each item relates to the holiday. Then, have her or him put each item into its very own matchbox. Put all the match boxes in the shoebox to be taken out and examined or shown to others during the season.
Your child can also color or decorate the matchboxes and/or shoe box with markers, crayons, stickers, etc. if desired.
Christmas Toy Touch-Diorama
A large, low-sided cardboard box (such as a gift box) with a lid. Play dough or modeling clay. A variety of selected small toys such as match-box cars, tiny toy buses, trucks, trains, boats, soldiers, dolls, balls, teddy bears, and plastic dogs, cats, birds, or other animals, and so forth. It will be extra fun if some of the little toys are new.
Explain to your child that he or she gets to make a special picture box. The toys will be the pictures. This is a picture box of all the toys that the children all over the world want Santa to bring them. Begin by having your child roll a lot of little balls of modeling clay each about half as big as a marble. Next, have your child select one toy at a time, place a little ball of modeling clay on the bottom of it, and then place it into the box, squashing down the ball of clay to stick the toy in place. (Your child might find it easier to place the ball of clay in first and then place the chosen toy onto it—whatever works best for him or her is fine.)
Your child will have lots of fun putting the lid on the picture box and then taking it off again and touching all the toys in it. It’s like reading a picture book. This is a fun box to take in the car. Your child can play with it, telling stories about each toy or talking about who might want each toy and so forth.
Buy an inexpensive nativity scene and let your child set it up in a diorama box, using modeling clay to firmly anchor the pieces so that they can be touched. Take time and encourage your child to thoroughly touch (with both hands, all fingers), hold, and examine each of the pieces. Also, you might want to get some hay for your child to put in the box, or allow your child to add some of their own toy animals if they wish.
Cover the floor of the box with cotton wool snow bits and place little Christmas toys or unbreakable ornaments in the box, anchoring them with the modeling clay. Items may include little pine trees from the scenery of a model train set; small, inexpensive plastic or wooden toys; tree ornaments in the shapes of Santa, angels, elves, snowmen, children playing instruments, whistles, and so forth. Let your child decide if she or he wants to make a specific scene, maybe a Santa’s workshop, or simply select items at random.
Your child can also attach tinsel around the outside of the box, make a pretty path inside the box, or do any other number of things to decorate the box or add interest to the scene. Remember, however, it is all about allowing your child to be creative and to do the work of creating it themselves, so don’t be concerned about the appearance. This is NOT about what looks “nice” to you or to others. It’s about what is fun and feels good to your child. It will be beautiful to your child if he or she has made it.
Touch and Smell Christmas Bowl
Materials and Preparation:
Choose a medium-sized bowl, preferably ceramic, glass, or metal—one that will make a nice sound when dried items are swished around in it. Into a low-sided container, such as a cake tin, pour out enough plain, uncooked pasta to half-fill your chosen noise-making bowl. Use medium to large-size shaped pasta, such as bow-ties, shells, ziti, or macaroni.
Next, put out some shakers of kitchen spices such as cinnamon, all spice, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. Choose two small, different shaped containers, such as a square take-out box and a round cereal bowl, and mix up some green and red water-based paint in them. (The purpose of different shaped containers is, of course, so that your child can independently find the color they want—red is in the round bowl and green is in the square one.) If you don’t have any paint, you can use a few drops of food coloring in water if you don’t mind your child’s hands being colorful for a day or two until it wears off.
Finally, put a tray for drying, such as a large cookie sheet covered with wax or foil, to one side of where your child will be sitting. Let your child help in as much of these preparations as possible; this is half the fun and is an important part of making Christmas memories.
Be sure that the work surface can be wiped clean or that you have covered it with a disposable paper or plastic. Ditto for your child—old clothes or a paint smock are in order. Your child should also help with the wiping and putting away.
Have your child dip the different pieces of pasta into a bowl of red or green paint (or colored water) and then set it on the tray to dry. If your child can only pick up a handful at a time and drop it in the bowl and then pull it out and drop it on the tray, that’s fine. Be sure, however, that the pasta is only one layer high on the tray so that it will dry. Remove the paints and wash hands. Then, have your child smell all the spices, discuss them, and ask him or her to decide which ones to sprinkle on to the tray of wet pasta. Most children will sprinkle them all, and that’s just fine.
If your child is ready to try this, you may even grate a little lemon or orange zest to sprinkle on, too. Clean up while the pasta is drying. Drying time will vary depending on the amount of dipping it got.
When the painted and scented pasta is dry have your child pick it up and put it into the bowl. If some pieces are stuck together he or she can break them apart. Your child will think it fun to watch, smell, listen, and feel as he or she puts his or her hands into the Christmas Bowl and swishes the decorated and scented pasta all around.
You can add additional fun things to the mix. Some bells for a Christmas sleigh sound, some nuts and/or wrapped candy to find and talk about and then eat on Christmas morning, some cinnamon sticks to find and sniff, and so forth. Place the bowl where your child can show it to visitors and enjoy touching, smelling, and talking about it.
The Christmas Rope
Cardboard inner rolls from plastic wrap, Christmas wrapping paper, toilet rolls, paper towels, etc.; a ball of string; and at least two different drawing/coloring media—such as crayons, glitter pens, colored pencils, water-based markers, or water-color paints.
Cut any large rolls into manageable lengths—the size of the toilet paper roll is nice. Put cardboard rolls into an accessible container such as a low-sided tray or box.
Cut a piece of string at least five feet in length to allow for tying at each end. Thread the string through one toilet roll and tie the end you threaded through onto the string so that the toilet roll forms a stopper to prevent the other cylinders from sliding off the string. Encourage your child to do as much of the tasks above as possible; this is an important part of the fun and makes memories. Then, talk about the various coloring/drawing media with your child. Discuss how they work and how each kind makes a different look when used. You might also want to talk about the traditional Christmas colors—red and green—and other colors or color schemes that your family uses for holiday decorations in your home.
You are now ready to decorate the cardboard cylinders with any of the coloring media. Show your child the correct grip for pencils/pens and talk to her or him about what colors look nice together; but, be sure to let your child make the decisions about what colors and which drawing media will be used on which cylinder. It’s no fun if someone else gets to make the decisions. When all the cylinders have been decorated, thread them all onto the string. When the string is almost full tie it off with a roll as a stopper, as you did at the other end. You can then hang your pretty Christmas Rope from one end or string it across between two objects. You can also fasten the two ends together and make it into a circle to hang.
Be sure to hang it where the child can find it, show it to visitors, and touch it.
Thread small strips of crepe paper, tinsel, yarn, ribbon, colored fabric, etc. through each cylinder on the string and tie them up so that the ends hang down to make a fun, tactile fringe.
The Stick Christmas Tree
Sticky tape or quick drying glue. A flowerpot or similar container that has a broad base and is large enough to hold your tree in place and stay stable if bumped. A long cardboard roll for the Christmas tree trunk such as the inner cardboard roll from wrapping paper or two cardboard cylinders from plastic wrap taped together. You can also roll your own tube from cardboard cut from a cereal box. Rocks, pebbles, gravel—even marbles will do—enough to hold your tree firm in its pot. Popsicle sticks or similar sized sticks collected from outdoors to make the branches. Small Christmas tree balls and other ornaments assembled onto a shallow tray where they can’t roll away when your child pokes and sorts through them. Assemble more than you will need for the tree so your child can have choices. Hooks for the ornaments. Tinsel or other streamers.
Using a pointed object, such as the end of scissors, poke small holes in the cardboard-roll(s) at irregular intervals. If you are using two short rolls to make a longer roll, push the end of one into the other, then tape or glue it into place.
Help your child center the cardboard trunk of the tree in the container, and then have your child put in the rocks or pebbles to hold it firmly in place. Show your child how to find the holes in the trunk by touch (this is good practice in learning how to develop a good search pattern using a light touch and fingers on both hands). Then, show your child how to push the stick branches into the holes as far as they will go. Next, let your child select from among the little Christmas ornaments you collected, attach the hook, then hang on a branch of the tree. You might want to place a little tape over the top of each hook after the ornament is hung so that it will not slide about. Place a big star or Christmas ball over the top of the tree and keep it in place with a little glue or tape. Another decoration option is to dot cotton balls on the tree like bits of snow. After all ornaments are hung, the last step is for your child to wind or drape streamers and/or tinsel all over the tree. Place the Stick Christmas Tree where your child can reach it, touch it, and show it off to guests during the season. Don’t worry if it starts to fall apart—you can mend it, add new ornaments, or simply let it disintegrate until you are ready to dismantle after the season is over.
A Christmas Touch-Book
Sheets of cardboard cut into standard 8-1/2 x 11 size sheets and punched to be made into a book (any cardboard will do). Ribbon or yarn to tie the book together. Double-sided tape. A collection of small Christmas items placed on a shallow tray or cookie sheet, for example: tinsel, streamers, flat Christmas tree ornaments like stars or bells, pine needles, tiny pine cones, scraps of Christmas wrapping paper, small scented candles, candy canes, cotton balls (to represent snow), stick-on bows, old Christmas cards (preferably with tactile embossings), and so forth. Collect more items than your child will need for the book so he or she can make choices.
Have your child choose what he or she would like to put into the Christmas book. Using small pieces of double-sided tape he or she can affix them on to the pages of the not yet assembled book. For those things which will not easily stick (or stay stuck) or which may be better picked up and felt, punch two little holes in the page with a sharp object such as a small nail, and thread some yarn through the holes. Then, tie the object onto the end of the yarn. After the pages are completed, tie them into a book with the yarn or ribbon. Encourage your child to show the book and talk about the objects to a family member (dad, grandparents) or even a younger sibling or child. They might even want to make up a story to go with their Christmas book.
You may also wish to make each page smell differently by rubbing various scented candles all over the cardboard before beginning.
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