It’s difficult to keep typically developing children from becoming bored and literally losing their minds on a wild, windy and wet day. Though when you have a SEN child with a visual impairment, you have to think outside the box to come up with appropriate activities that are suitable for their level of sight loss, yet aren’t too easy that they’ll get bored quickly but rather helps them build on a skill, all the while and most importantly being FUN!
My eldest daughter Abbie is 5 and she was born with a genetic degenerative eye condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa (or RP). It has been a challenging journey trying to figure out what she can and cannot see as she has never had ‘normal’ vision, how and what she sees, she thinks everyone sees. It’s her ‘normal’. With help of her Opthalmologist who specialises in RP, specialist optician and Visual Impairment Teacher we’ve established that Abbie’s current level of vision loss is;
- Night blindness (no vision in dimly lit/otherwise dark environments)
- Tunnel vision
- Nystagmus – involuntary shaking of the eyes aka ‘dancing eyes’
- Difficulties with depth perception
- Difficulty distinguishing lighter colours
So please keep in mind these activities are based on my own daughters level of vision loss so some activities e.g #5 wouldn’t be appropriate for a child who is totally blind. More so for children who are considered partially sighted, with blindness in 1 eye only or generalised ‘low vision’.
1. The most obvious, Play-Doh…
This one’s pretty self explanatory! We introduced Play-Doh at around age 2 (did earlier in therapy sessions but she kept trying to eat it) and she still very much enjoys it even though she’s primary age. The bold, bright primary colours make them most easily distinguishable from one another given her issues with light colours. There’s absolutely no limit to the imagination with this one. It took up until this age for Abbie to manage to shape basic animals and pretend foods that even remotely resemble what they’re meant to be, mostly because she’s learning through touch on how to join pieces together good enough to the point they don’t fall off. So this is definitely one that’s still got alot of growing room with her.
2. Pretend washing up with bowl and bubbles!
I like to give her her own washing up bowl with warm water and a bit of washing up liquid in when I’m trying to get the dishes done myself and she’s craving some one-to-one time. Abbie loves to move the cloud of bubbles all up her arms, feeling the sensation of the suds slowly crackling against her skin. It’s such a great sensory activity and keeps her occupied for a good half an hour. Sometimes she’ll wash her toy dishes or her baby doll while she’s at it.
3. Day time bath with various pouring devices
Abbie will often ask to get in the bath just to play. Really quite the water baby, well girl. She’s not my baby anymore *sob.* She takes her glasses off to bathe so her vision is even more restricted than the little help her glasses assist with the long-sightedness. I give her different size pouring cups with different holes and pouring methods, funnels and different body washing thingy-ma-bobs such as a body brush, poof, loofah, nail brush and wash mits. Those magic wash cloths with characters on are a big hit too! All are varying textures for her to explore and while she plays her testing them out on marker pen or bits of whatever all over her gives her a wash down at the same time so definitely a win, win..
4. Orbeez! Orbeez! Everywhere!
Now I have a love/hate relation with these little buggers. Don’t get me wrong, they are AMAZING to feel and play with but there’s no stopping them getting Everywhere the minute you slide your fingers into their soft jelly-gooyness. Definitely do this in a big tray and have a hoover on standby! I buy them in £1.50 packs from eBay and one little pack can overfill the size of your kitchen sink easily as they expand once they hit water. I’ve never felt anything like them if I’m telling the truth and there’s something incredibly relaxing, yet satisfying about wiggling your fingers in a bowl of these bad boys. I know some SEN parents put them in the bath tub, I’ve not been that brave yet but I can definitely see how that’d be appealing. Abbie gets mesmerised by the texture and the ‘rainbow’ colours the balls of jelly give off once they’ve sucked up all the water.
5. Painting with Usborne Magic Water Paint books
Abbie has somewhat always struggled with staying in the lines and due to her low vision can’t draw as good as her classmates. She notices this and often asks why she finds it so difficult. Explaining why doesn’t stop her from wanting to be like her peers. So when I saw these Usborne Magic Water Paint books at a one-off Usborne stall in Bolton, and the lady explained how they worked I instantly grabbed a few. They’re books full of beautiful drawings similar to a colouring book, but the special paper they’re drawn on, when you go over it with just water on a paintbrush, magically makes all the correct colours appear all over, in the correct places! Abbie ADORES this and feels she’s painting even better than her friends with these magic books. She hasn’t grasped yet that she doesn’t have to stay in the lines, it’ll automatically do the right colour in the right place for you. So she still really concentrates, trying to be precise with her masterpieces, which is good for her fine motor skills. These books built up her confidence and self-esteem. Wish they weren’t so expensive mind you, but you’re paying for quality with Usborne so you can’t complain. It’s so worth it to make her feel better about herself!