Fun and games for children with vision impairment
Karen Hirst discusses various ways in which children with vision impairments can stay active at home and learn through play.
As families everywhere come to terms with the varied demands of home schooling during coronavirus, it’s worth remembering the role that play has in helping children grow and develop. For parents of children with vision impairment, finding play-based activities that support development and learning whilst at home during lockdown doesn’t have to be a challenge. Inspiration can often be found in everyday items.
Learning in the home
At home the right environment is key to a happy playtime. If you have space, set up a well-lit corner that is your child’s to explore. Incorporate good lighting, perhaps near a window, with space for movement and a range of stimulating activities. Rotate toys so there is always something new to explore and keep them within easy reach so that your child’s movements can create an effect. For example, suspend toys above children lying down, or use a container to keep objects together on a tabletop. If toys roll out of reach, try to take your child to the toy, rather than bringing the toy back to your child.
If your child has a thirst for adventure, let them explore the house using touch, taste, sound, smells and any useful vision. A wooden spoon and an upturned saucepan becomes a drum, a cardboard box can be a car, house or rocket. Create a treasure basket of interesting shapes and textures. Place a range of objects, such as keys, an orange, a piece of ribbon into a basket or container and let your children explore.
You can also adapt and create your own accessible toys with a little imagination. If your child’s favourite book doesn’t come in tactile form, consider adapting the pages yourself to enhance the sensory experience and bring the story to life. Add scraps of fabric to create tactile features to illustrations or put string around the outline of an image. Try using puffy markers to create tactile markings or braille on number jigsaws or toy clock faces.
Your home can be full of potential for making low cost toys using recycled objects. Try gluing two empty yogurt pots together filled with rice to create a shaker. Create several using different grains or pasta shapes inside to experiment with different types of sounds. Bubble-wrap is a lovely material for children to fiddle with or walk around on.
Messy play allows children to discover what different objects and materials feel, smell and look like. It also takes the emphasis away from being ‘good’ at something. There’s no right or wrong with messy art and crafts; it’s just about having a go and letting the imagination run wild.
Choose the colours of your materials carefully and try to introduce contrast so that a child with vision impairment can pick out individual items. For example, choose bright coloured buttons and place them against a black background and avoid pastel shades on light coloured backgrounds when picking paints and other arts materials.
Introduce elements that appeal to different senses, such as bells, rice or pasta for sound or materials with a tactile quality.
Remember that messy doesn’t have to mean wet. Some children may be in the process of becoming comfortable with wet or sticky materials and may enjoy dry textures first.
In the garden
Outdoor play is important for all children and, particularly in the case of children with vision impairment, can provide real life, concrete experiences from which they learn about the world around them.
Eating outdoors can be great fun and offers the chance to practise knife and fork skills without worrying too much about spills and mess. Even young children can start to learn independent living skills by helping to prepare simple picnic food. Talk about weight, measurement and number: How many sandwiches shall we make? Have we enough plates for everybody? Which apple is bigger – how can you tell?
Collect leaves, stones, twigs and other natural materials and use these in craft activities such as collage-making. You could set up a sensory path outside using plastic trays with different outdoor materials inside – sand, leaves, water, stones and soil all work well for this. Create a story to go with it, e.g. going on a bear hunt. All these activities encourage imaginative play whilst helping your child develop tactile awareness.
Messy play outdoors
Some children may have sensitivity to different textures so introducing activities and ideas using a hand under hand method (where your hands perform the activity while your child’s hands rest on top of yours) will enable to them to develop their fine motor skills and have fun at their own pace. Try:
Mud finger painting – add water until you reach finger paint consistency. Encourage your child to use hands and fingers to make marks on paper.
Mud Pies – using thicker mud. Set out different kitchen items (metal spoons, baking tins etc. are easier to wash afterwards) within reach of your child. Fill containers with mud and decorate with stones, leaves, twigs and other found items.
Mud Kitchen – having a designated, structured area to work in helps a child with vision impairment feel in control of their space. Many retailers supply purpose-built kitchens but an old table and second-hand pots and pans will do just as well.
Water play in the garden
- Fill buckets with water and encourage children to ‘paint’ the fence, shed, outside walls of the house using a range of clean paint brushes and sponges.
- Collect together a range of plastic toys and set up a car wash. Adding a different tactile element such as foam will make this activity even more fun.
- On warmer days, splashing in a paddling pool can be a great way to cool down. Throw in a range of toys and enjoy watching your child play and learn.
Never leave your child unsupervised when playing near water.
Ball games and exercise
All children enjoy throwing, catching and kicking a ball and, for children with vision impairment, these vary in size, colour, sound and texture. Choose a ball according to the age and needs of your child but do try to have a variety to offer a range of experiences. Skipping ropes are great for encouraging coordination and developing strength as well as a child’s awareness of their own body and how it moves. Trampolines are a fantastic way to burn off excess energy and really get the pulse racing.
Ask for help
Your child’s school and QTVI (Qualified Teacher of children with Vision Impairment) will be on hand to support you and your child whilst at home. They can provide access to appropriate educational and play resources, such as RNIB’s Bookshare – an online platform that includes accessible versions of books for learners and includes titles about play and exercise. It is worth talking to them about play and leisure activities too. Finding the right balance between academic study and time to play and have fun will go a long way towards maintaining the wellbeing of children- and home schooling parents! – during lockdown.
- Let’s play! A guide with toy and play ideas for children with vision impairment www.rnib.org.uk/play
Parties and Playdates – including a child with vision impairment in social activities www.rnib.org.uk/parties
- Messy and Muddy – a guide to outdoor play for children with vision impairment www.rnib.org.uk/messy
Information and advice for parents during coronavirus: https://www. sightadvicefaq.org.uk/coronavirus-information/Covid-19-CYPF- SAFAQ
- RNIB Bookshare: www.rnibbookshare.org
About the author
Karen Hirst, Early Support, Education and Training Manager at the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB).