A Different Way to See - Part 1

The Importance of Concept Development for Young children Who Are Visually Impaired

Author: Kathleen M. Cleaver
Published: 2023/06/29 - Updated: 2023/09/10
Publication Type: Opinion Piece / Editorial
Contents: Summary - Introduction - Main - Related

Synopsis: There are many fun, easy and creative ways to help your children interact with their environment. What I offer in this article are a few examples of concept development. When teaching concepts to children who are visually impaired, we need to teach the child to approach their environment actively and make the activities we are presenting interesting and meaningful from their viewpoint. There are times when concepts cannot be taught using real objects. Sometimes an object is too delicate, too big, or too dangerous to be explored tactually. The use of models is appropriate in these situations as long as the child is made aware that what he is exploring is representation of the real thing.

Introduction

A Different Way to See

The Importance of Concept Development for Young children Who Are Visually Impaired

Main Digest

What is Concept Development?

Concept development is understanding the characteristics, qualities, and functionality of people, places and objects. As information is gathered, concepts become clearer. These structures are formed from social interactions, language development, and experiences. Children who are visually impaired often miss out on experiencing concepts that sighted children learn through incidental observation and experience. (Linda Gerra, EdD, Director of Children's Vision Programs at Lighthouse Guild) As the vision of a young baby develops, they begin to reach out for objects to explore. As their vision and motor skills develop, they begin to move to retrieve and explore objects. They begin to compare objects and explore their environment. They learn to see the whole object and the parts that complete it. They see and imitate the actions of others. Children who are visually impaired "need the world brought to them" and need stimulation and encouragement to explore the world around them.

Connecting Words and Concepts

One of the hardest concepts I found when teaching children with visual impairments is teaching polysemous words. There was a description and a picture of a field filled with ears of corn in a story I was reading to my kindergarten class. One child who had never held an ear of corn thought it was a field filled with ears made of corn. If he had vision I could have shown him the picture. Instead, I made a trip to the grocery store and bought ears of corn and brought them to class. The children held and examined the corn while learning and talking about its shape and texture. They learned the word husk as they peeled away husks that covered the corn. They felt and smelled the hard kernels. They learned about numbers and amounts as they tried to count all the kernels on their ear of corn. They compared their corn with their classmates' corn. Finally, we cooked the corn and tasted it, exploring the corn cob when all the kernels had been eaten. So many concepts can be taught with one ordinary object.

I was told a story about a blind woman preparing for her first trip on an airplane. She was very concerned about the wings on the airplane. She knew that birds flapped their wings to fly since having the experience of holding a bird and hearing and feeling its wings flutter. Never having the experience of holding a model of an airplane or given the explanation of how airplanes fly, she assumed that airplanes had to flap their wings to fly too! They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. Without pictures, children who are visually impaired may not understand the meaning of those one- thousand words. We need to make sure we provide them with experiences through their remaining senses to fully understand the concept being taught.

Teaching Concepts

When teaching concepts to children who are visually impaired, we need to teach the child to approach their environment actively and make the activities we are presenting interesting and meaningful from their viewpoint. We need to develop a systematic approach when presenting concepts. Finally we need to give the child time to explore activities and explore objects. (Concept development with Children with a (Severe) Visual Impairment: Irma Uijen de Keijn & Fenne van den Bos) Concept development should not be an isolated activity. It is most effective when incorporated into play and daily activities. Some examples might include the following:

Exploring the furniture in your home - When making beds explore the parts of the beds. Name the parts and the materials from which the bed is constructed. Talk about the textures of the sheets and covers. Compare the sizes of the different beds in your home. Count how many chairs are in a room. Look and compare the parts of each chair.

A trip to the grocery store - Take one section at a time to explore. One day explore the fruits when shopping, while on another day, open the door to a freezer section to pick out bags of vegetables and try to guess what is inside before putting them into the cart.

Play games that involve different types of movement and direction making sure to use the appropriate descriptive words.

Nature has a wealth of activities and objects to explore. Go on a tree hunt in the neighborhood. Walk on the grass barefoot before and after it has been cut or Smell the different fragrances of the flowers. Make sure to give the child the language that describes the concept you are exploring.

Using Models

There are times when concepts cannot be taught using real objects. Sometimes an object is too delicate, too big, or too dangerous to be explored tactually. The use of models is appropriate in these situations as long as the child is made aware that what he is exploring is representation of the real thing. Otherwise, the child may interpret the object incorrectly. For example: A young child asked to identify a plastic apple without being told it was a model of something. The child was familiar with a real apple, but had never held a model of one. To the child, it had the characteristics of a funny-shaped ball. It reminds me of the time I was given a plate of purple mashed potatoes. I had never seen a purple potato. I thought it was some kind of mashed berry dish. I couldn't identify what I was eating until someone told me it was mashed potatoes. Then it did actually taste like potatoes!

Representing Size

Representing the size of something that cannot be seen or touched is difficult but not impossible. A young child can see and compare the height of a tall building by seeing it in person or by comparing its picture with other pictures of buildings. I have found that movement is one way of showing height or the size of something that is too large to be represented by a model.

Count the floors as you ride and elevator.

Walk the perimeter of a room to show its size.

Carefully using a ladder or stool to reach a ceiling.

Count flights of stairs or number of stairs as you ascend to the upper floors of a building.

Comparing the size of large animals that cannot be touched to other objects that can be touched. Ex. Using a hose to explain the length of an elephant's trunk, a long pole to show the height of a giraffe's neck or a large pick-up truck to explain the size of a hippo.

Conclusion

Concept development is not a specific course to be taught in isolation. Sometimes it will be an organized activity. Other times will be incidental as children interact with their environment. It is imperative for us as parents and educators to look for every opportunity to open the world to our children who cannot see. It means teaching our children to use their remaining senses while providing them with the appropriate language to learn about the world they live in. What I have offered in this blog are just a few examples of concept development. There are many fun, easy and creative ways to help your children interact with their environment. Sometimes you might need to close your eyes to help your children to see!

Series continued in Part 2: "A Different Way to See: The Importance of Exploring Braille for Young Children Who Are Visually Impaired".

Author Credentials:

Kathleen M. Cleaver holds a Bachelor’s degree in elementary education and the education of children whose primary disability is a visual impairment (TVI). During her thirty-year career as a teacher, Kathleen received the Penn-Del AER Elinor Long Award and the AER Membership Award for her service and contributions to the education of children with visual impairments. She also received the Elizabeth Nolan O’Donnell Achievement Award for years of dedicated service to St. Lucy Day School for Children with Visual Impairments. Explore Kathleen's complete biography for comprehensive insights into her background, expertise, and accomplishments.

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Cite This Page (APA): Cleaver, K. M. (2023, June 29 - Last revised: 2023, September 10). A Different Way to See - Part 1. Disabled World. Retrieved June 14, 2024 from www.disabled-world.com/disability/blogs/concept-development.php

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