Does a Blind Child Play?
from A Resource Guide for Parents and Educators of
tiny baby discovers his hands, his toes, the bars of
his crib. He reaches for a jingling mobile. He shakes
a rattle and enjoys the sound. All of this, and much
more, is the same for the blind baby and the sighted.
can we keep the world interesting and ever-expanding
for the blind baby as he grows? We need to provide situations
and objects which are interesting to the child and within
five-month-old Janie, a typical sighted baby. Much of
the day she is placed on the floor, where she watches
the family in their daily activities. She grabs the
legs of the furniture and looks up at the walls and
ceiling. If she sees a toy a few inches from her hand,
she reaches for it and tries to crawl.
Kim, who is blind, may find her world quite different.
Her mother, fearing that Kim will bump her head painfully,
never lets her out of the playpen unless someone is
holding her. The toys in the playpen are all the same
smooth plastic texture. Kim hears various sounds, but
has not learned the meaning of most of them. She cannot,
of course, see the world outside the playpen. During
the long periods alone, Kim is relying more and more
on habitual stereotyped motions: shaking her head, rocking
back and forth, batting at the side of the playpen.
She is not trying to crawl.
problem is not blindness in itself. It is boredom.
us begin by letting Kim out of the playpen much of the
may bump her head occasionally, but what child does
not? If a serious danger exists, such as a steep stairway,
we can bar it with a gate or other barrier. We might
decide not to allow her into certain areas, and we might
pad a few sharp edges and remove some fragile objects.
All of this is simply "childproofing" the house as we
would for any baby. Certainly an adult will be keeping
track of her carefully, but she is in no more danger
than any other baby. And now she will be in contact
with various objects and areas, as she is placed on
the floor in different rooms.
let us provide Kim with more varied toys. In a sense
we have already done so as we allow her to explore the
rugs and the legs of the furniture. But let us also
offer her fuzzy toys, and toys with other interesting
textures and shapes. If some of her playthings make
sounds, they provide an important bonus: a motivation
to reach for a toy which she has not yet touched. Remember
that Janie tried to creep toward a toy slightly out
of reach. Kim will learn, of course, to feel around
and hunt for what might be there; but it is also helpful
to provide her with a definite goal. Jiggle a rattle
and encourage her to reach for it. Set a tinkling music
box near her hand and see if she can move toward it.
us begin to teach Kim the meanings of various household
sounds. She has probably already learned to recognize
the voices of family members, and it is very important
to continue to talk with her. We will also show her
the source of other sounds so that she can make associations.
We will let her touch the vacuum cleaner just before
we begin to clean. We will hold her hands under the
faucet when we turn on the bath water.
us also seek a balance between playing with Kim and
expecting her to amuse herself. On the one hand, she
should not expect to be held and played with every moment.
On the other hand, she does need companionship and stimulation.
Every child should be rocked, held, bounced on the knee,
we will support Kim in a sitting position for short
periods and encourage her to learn to sit alone.
chapter on Travel discusses learning to walk. After
a child begins to walk, it is vital that she or he continue
active play and exploration. Avoid allowing patterns
of passivity or stereotyped motions to develop. One
child, for example, may want to rock on the rocking
horse for hours on end. Another child might walk endlessly
around a circle of furniture, long after he has passed
the stage of needing support for his first steps. Provide
a variety of locations and activities for your child's
play, and encourage him to be active. If you observe
a clearly undesirable pattern, you may need to limit
firmly the amount of time spent on the rocking horse
the child grows older, continue to select toys thoughtfully.
For example, avoid construction sets consisting of small
pieces which do not interlock firmly: the construction
will fall apart each time the child touches it. For
the preschooler, an especially suitable set is the kind
where all pieces are completely covered with little
plastic bristles, so that any two pieces stick together
with any contact. Blocks which are large and sturdy
enough to stay in place are very suitable also. The
slightly older child will enjoy construction sets where
specific pegs must be fitted into specific holes - this
can usually be done very well by touch.
table games may be purchased in a form which is adapted
for the blind and suitable also for the sighted. Furthermore,
games can often be altered at home for little or no
money. For a very young child's card game with, say,
five different pictures, you might glue on five different
textures. If you learn Braille, or find a Braillist
nearby, games for school-aged youngsters can quickly
be adapted. You will find it helpful to talk with someone
who has experience in planning easily used adaptations.
Many games, of course, require no modification, as in
the case of commercial dominoes which already have raised
or recessed dots.
If your child has some sight, he will probably like
bright or contrasting colors.
let these suggestions, or your concern about your child's
disability, cause you to deluge him with enormous quantities
of playthings. Too many possessions can confuse a child.
Do not assume that all of your child's toys must be
made especially for him; many toys on the regular market
are entirely suitable for blind children. On the other
hand, homemade and hand-me-down toys can be as good
as or better than fancy new ones.
showing your boy or girl a physical skill, such as skipping
or riding a tricycle, explain carefully according to
his age. Take hold of the child as you move him through
the motion, and/or have him touch someone else's arms
and legs as the motion is performed. He may need to
be taught how to run, with someone holding onto him
at first. Below are some ideas which may help your young
child to enjoy practicing activities such as these without
Provide an open area with nothing in the way.
Call him and have him come toward you.
Watch him and tell him whenever he is near an obstacle.
Put up a rope that he may follow with one hand. (Note:
This idea may also help the child who is slow to walk,
or who walks with an unnatural posture. Place the height
of the rope carefully.)
Place a tactual reminder near the end of the area, so
that he may slow down at the appropriate time. A piece
of tape might be placed near each end of the rope. Natural
warnings, such as the slope near the end of the driveway,
may be pointed out to the child.
Let him practice with a partner.
may seem hard to teach the young blind child where the
yard ends. Although a fence solves this problem, it
is not the only possible solution. Other tactual boundaries
include a row of decorative rocks, the edge of the lawn,
the side of the driveway, the curb, etc. If there is
something on the house that makes a noise, such as wind
chimes, it may help the very young child remember how
to get back to the house. (For an older child or adult,
however, setting up such a noisemaker is unnecessary
activities generally require no adaptations for the
blind. However, climbing tends to frighten those who
may watch and underestimate the child's ability, and
thus you may need to do a concentrated job of educating
the neighbors. In this, as in all physical activity,
remember that blindness as such has no effect on health
or strength. The child who gets plenty of exercise will
generally be healthier. It is the overprotected child
who is likely to have more health troubles.
children enjoy art and craft activities. Although the
child with no sight cannot sketch with a pencil or enjoy
standard coloring books, he may like to scribble with
a crayon, and he may enjoy various kinds of raised-line
drawing arrangements. For the young child, however,
it is usually most successful to provide him with a
medium which is naturally tactualclay, finger
paint, collage, etc. ("Collage" means making a design
or picture by pasting down such things as buttons and
yarn.) The older child will also enjoy more sophisticated
media such as macramè, soap carving, string art,
and metal sculpture. The school-age child may bring
home ideas from art class or from clubs, and the teachers
of such groups will be glad to furnish you with more
your child becomes interested in bicycles or skateboards,
there may be some difficult decisions to make in weighing
safety against fun and exercise. For the child with
considerable useful sight, it is often possible to select
an area where it is safe for him to ride alone. The
same may be true of the totally blind child, with emphasis
on tactual boundaries such as the driveway. Following
another rider, or otherwise being assisted by another
person, is sometimes the only safe arrangement. A tandem
bike may be ideal. Imagination combined with care can
provide valuable fun and exercise.
activities such as swimming, no particular adaptations
are needed, other than explaining things in a non-visual
manner and providing a way for the youngster to keep
track of where he is. (Example: "Realize that the
loudspeaker is at the deep end of the pool.")
ideas for certain types of games appear below. These
are examples, only, and your own ingenuity will provide
many more ideas.
ball games, and target games:
Have the blind child run with a partner, or right behind
someone. Alternatively, the runner may hold onto a large
ring, which slides along a rope.
Provide tactual indications (or bright, obvious markings
for those with useful sight) for sidelines, tracks,
etc. If the borderline between the grass and the driveway
coincides with the sideline in a game, the blind player
will recognize it easily.
Assign the blind player to a particular appropriate
position and allow him to stay there longer than usual.
Examples include the server in volleyball, and the shortstop
or an extra infield position in softball.
Modify the rules slightly to give the blind player a
fair chance. Example: He need not catch a fly ball to
put a batter out, but need only touch it before the
batter reaches base.
An informal game for young children is as follows: Clothespins
are to be tossed into a metal bucket or tub. The blind
child stands at the bucket and then takes a couple of
steps backward (clothespins in hand). When he tosses
each clothespin, he can hear whether it has landed in
the bucket, grazed it, or missed altogether. The blind
child can easily collect the clothespins, since they
will not roll far. (Note: walking backward from the
goal does not provide enough accuracy for a more advanced
target game. Taking hold of the child and facing him
toward the goal is not very accurate either. It is best
to provide a sound at the goal during the blind child's
turn, as described below.)
Kickball is often easier for the blind player than is
baseball or softball.
Pitching to a blind batter is often impractical. Instead,
a batting tee may be used (a tall plastic cone or other
device to support the ball stationary at batting height).
Alternatively, the batter may throw the ball straight
up for himself and bat it as it comes down, or simply
hold the ball in one hand and the bat in the other.
A fairly large ball may just be placed on the ground.
A larger than usual ball may be used, or a ball which
contains a noisemaker.
Provide a sound at the target or goal. This may be a
mechanical noisemaker, person's voice, someone tapping
on the target, etc. The child can then run toward the
sound, or throw a ball toward it, as the case may be.
For actual bowling at a bowling alley, a special device
called a "bowling rail" may be purchased. The blind
player lightly follows this guide with his free hand
while stepping forward. (A wall or other guide may be
used in the same manner as a rail.) Someone then tells
the player which pins remain standing.
For toy bowling games, the players usually merely stand
behind a line, and do not step forward in the manner
of real bowlers. Provide a sound directly behind the
a very low, toy trampoline, no adaptations may be needed.
With a large trampoline, "spotters" should be standing
around the edge anyway, and these people may call out
directions. A bell pinned or sewn under the center of
the canvas may be helpful also.