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Adapting Play
by Angelo Montagnino

Enhance the play environment for a visually impaired or blind child by structuring play activities that encourage exploring and learning about the world through touching, listening, tasting, smelling, and seeing. Size, color, and distance of objects are extremely important for the child who has very limited vision. The amount and direction of light can be vital.

Use sound cues, voice, or musical toys to help orient the child during play. Provide a variety of objects and toys with interesting textures, sounds, and odors. Balls, rattles, musical toys, toys that make noise, nesting toys, stacking toys, snap together toys, large piece puzzles, brightly colored, shiny, textured toys, and toys of varied textures and colors can be super for blind children.

Try to present toys at or above chest level to encourage good posture.

Help the child learn that a toy or object exists even when out of reach or out of sight. Encourage the child to search and find a dropped or lost toy. Teach the child to listen and "look" with hands in the direction of the last sound and to examine an area.

Add color, add sound, tie small bells or other sound producers to a mobile and guide the child's hand or foot to demonstrate how to find the mobile and how to produce a sound.

Tie a string to a sound-making toy or a toy with a bell attached. Place it on the floor or at a table near the child and help the child pull the toy nearer.

Same as Pull the Toy but pull in front of and slowly away. Encourage the child to reach for the toy. The toy can be held and slowly moved at head level or above.

Using a rattle or visible toy, move the toy to the left, right, or all over. Encourage the child to reach for it, grasp it, and play with it. This can be done with two toys. Move or shake one, then repeat with another in a different spot. Ask, "Where is the...?" End with "Here it is!" The game can be played with people—"Where is Joey?" "Here I am!"

Point to or touch and name various body parts of the child's body. Say the names, as they are touched and have the child touch the part also. Ask the child to touch body parts as they are said or ask to point to or touch your nose, ear, etc. Have the child choose and identify body parts.

Play Say or Show Which Body Part...hears, eats, sees, walks, etc. Play Move Your...foot, hand, arm, fingers, head, etc.

Hide toys or objects very near to the child. They can be on a table under a cloth, in an open box or open paper sack, in or under your hand, under the table, or behind an object. If hiding a person, let part of the person be showing. Have the child hide an object or him/herself. Hide an item that makes noise such as a small radio, kitchen timer, music box, metronome, etc., or easy to see colored items or shapes that stand out.

Children love to roll down, across and over things. Wedge mats, small grassy hills, a rug, a created slope such as a mat or large piece of cardboard with objects under one end can be used. Rolling up and over or climbing on and rolling down a folded carpet or cylinder mat can be fun and a good learning experience.

If the child needs help, start him on his back, tuck chin to chest, stretch right arm over his head, bend left knee, and give a little push at the hip and roll him. Try another roll with less help. Reverse the process and roll in the opposite direction. Roll from one side of the room or mat to the other. Roll under tables and over different items and textures. Roll to a sound.

Create a ramp by slanting a mattress off the side of a bed, low table, couch, etc. You may need extra support under the mattress to keep it from sagging. Other materials such as empty boxes, folded rugs, foam scraps, cushions, etc. can be used to build up this mountain or whatever you want it to be.

Help the child examine the mountain, including the very top and the area at the bottom. Crawl up and down, climb down backwards or feet first in a sitting position, or carefully roll down. If needed, keep hands on the child. Later, this mountain concept can become part of a fun obstacle course.

Place cartons, plastic pins, or other soft lightweight targets near the bottom of a hill, your created slope, or on the floor. Make targets visible or tap on them or provide a sound over or behind them. The child can roll down or across and knock down the targets.

Build houses, forts, towers, castles, bridges, etc. Invent/put in take out games. Reinforce by encouraging tactile (touching) exploration and if needed, assist by guiding his hands over the objects available for play. Colorful objects with a variety of shapes should be provided.

Balls with rattling beads or bells inside are ideal for early exploration of what a ball is and what it does. This can begin with mobile play. Squeeze one or more bells into a whiffle ball or attach a bell to a soft ball or to the string that suspends the whiffle ball, sturdy balloon or mini beach ball and encourage or show how to push it, open hand strike it, or kick it.

A "bell ball" could be rolled around the tray of a high chair or a tabletop. The child can learn to push it, pick it up, drop it, see or hear it fall to the table or floor. An easy-to-see ball could be used with a child who has vision.

A child can learn to play "catch" by rolling a large ball back and forth with an adult. It may be necessary to have someone behind the child to show how to push the ball away and how to receive it. This can be done on the floor or at a table. When the child can receive the ball by himself, try adding one or more soft bounces as the ball is gently tossed or rolled. Show how to drop and catch the ball on a bounce or just bounce the ball with two hands or if possible one hand.

Eventually, this will become stand up and catch on a bounce or catch the ball tossed onto the palms.

The basket could be a box, wastepaper basket, etc. and the ball could be large or small or any object. It could be a beanbag. Show how to drop the ball into the basket. Keeping the basket near to the child, move it from in front of him to his left and right. Encourage him to have his arm cross midline (right arm crosses over to left side and vice versa) to drop the ball in. Gradually move the basket away from the child so the ball will have to be tossed into the basket. Eventually the basket will be placed higher.

First attempts at kicking may be best done from a sitting position. Use a low chair and a large ball. Have the child kick to a person. Gradually, the person will back up and ask the child to "Kick it all the way to me." The child may need help with the kicking action. If so, hold his foot and lower leg and guide the leg swing and kick. For a standing kick or a walk up kick, the child may need to hold hands or hold a chair for balance.

Stand and kick to a person. Then have the person or target move back or to the left or right. Gradually increase distance. Try kicking a ball that is being rolled to you from the front, from the side. Try to kick as far as you can. The child may have to lean on a sturdy object or hold hands.

Create a ramp with a large piece of cardboard, plywood, old shelf board, etc. Have fun placing a ball at the top of this slanted board and letting it roll down. Stand up milk cartons, shoeboxes, plastic pins at the bottom and aim the ball at them. Have the child help place the targets.

Create an alley or lane by placing boards, broomsticks, boxes on the floor or a table making two straight lines. The lane can be as wide or narrow as needed. Arrange plastic pins or milk cartons, etc., as the targets on one end of the lane. Roll a ball down the lane to knock down as many pins as possible. Make "pins" visible or help with sound.

Can be played sitting or standing. Tie or attach a balloon, small beach ball, or lightweight ball to a string or cord and suspend it in front of the child about chin level. Show how to push or strike the ball back and forth to each other.

Possibly use lightweight plastic mesh paddles, cardboard flaps, or tubes from wrapping paper to bat the tetherball back and forth.

A small four- to six-foot parachute would be great but an old blanket or sheet will do. All players make a circle around the "chute" and hold the edges. For only three or so players, use a very small blanket or large towel. Place one or more foam balls, balloons, small beach balls, etc., on the chute, lift the chute up and down at the same time and have fun bouncing the ball or balls up and down. See how long the balls stay on. Try to bounce them as high as possible and keep them on.

All players sit or stand in a circle. The object of the game is to pass the ball around the circle, carefully handing the ball to the next person. A large lightweight, colorful, perhaps jingling ball should be used. A timer could be used to determine how many times the ball was passed around the entire circle. Try again to surpass the original total. Try passing the ball clockwise, then counter clockwise.

Pass the ball to music and have someone control the radio or tape deck. When the music stops, the person holding the ball has to stop. Begin passing when the music starts. Perhaps see who got "caught" the most or who never got "caught".

Stand the child on a piece of rug, pad, mat, etc. Have him feel the edge then stand and if help is needed, help the child jump forward, jumping off the surface. Start with feet on the edge or half off, if needed. The child may need hand support. Stand the child on a low obstacle, a phone book, block, or bottom step of a stairway and jump off.

Hold hands with the child and encourage jumping up and down on both feet trying to jump higher and higher. Try hopping on one foot several times, then the other. Have one or two people hold a broomstick or small piece of rope. Have the child face the support, hold on with two hands and hop.

Demonstrate how various animals hop, such as a frog, rabbit, kangaroo, and try to imitate. Have the "animals" hop to music.

Place very low items such as horizontal milk cartons and hop over them. Give the child support if necessary. Tap the object or provide good color contrast.

Play follow the leader and travel around obstacles: go under; climb over; go to a wall and turn left or right; step onto and off objects; jump over; go into and out of objects such as a big box; or go through a tunnel made of a long box or a blanket draped over two benches, etc. Be careful, help guide, if needed. Show where objects are or give sound cues, if needed. Use a wide variety of obstacles, such as old tires, tables, benches, boxes, a ladder on its side, etc.

Almost everything can be used in a way to facilitate safe, enjoyable, beneficial play. Large blocks of styrofoam can be slabs of rock, building blocks, or part of a mountain. An old card table can be a crawl under obstacle or, with an old blanket, rug, etc., draped over it, a tunnel, cave, or wigwam is created. A small cardboard box can be a car, bus, or train. A huge box can be a clubhouse. Carpet sections, or a length of carpet can be a base, stepping-stones across a stream, or a "balance beam." A laundry basket or medium-sized cardboard box can be used to step in, sit on, toss objects in, or get in and be pushed. An old, even bent hula-hoop can be an obstacle to walk around, step in, or jump into and out of, or be passed over the entire body, head to feet, or feet to head, or person to person while holding hands.

A row of benches can be step or climb over hurdles. Old tires and inflated inner tubes can be walked on, stepped into, rolled, stacked, climbed on or through, and of course, jumped on or off.

Beach balls can be kickballs or volleyballs. Large whiffle balls can be table tennis balls. Balloons can be badminton shuttlecocks or tether balls.

A rolled-up blanket can be climbed on or rolled over. Pieces of foam used for filling cushions and sofas can be cut into Frisbee saucers of all sizes or be shoved into sacks or old pillowcases to be used as jump on or jump into pads.

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