For a year and a half, I had the immense pleasure of working with a student who had visual impairments. He was born completely blind. Our school hosts these students in our district to provide a wrap-around service, and it has been a life-changing experience for me. It also makes me change and think about how I teach everything! Visual clues are everywhere and I really had to think of some innovative ways I could engage this student into the community and to ensure he could be engaged with the rest of the class. I felt it was my job to shed some light – pun intended.

I was the general education teacher. This student had many other teachers as well. Some of the other teachers helping our students with visual impairments were the braille instructor, his 1-1 aid, special mobility specialist, occupational therapist and much more. If you have a student with visual impairments coming into your class, here were some ideas I came up with or stole from others:

  1. Set up a Consistent Classroom

Moving furniture, area rugs and sharp table corners can be very difficult to navigate. All visually impaired students have a designated spot to hang up their belongings, their cane and a flow of traffic that is consistent from day-to-day.

  • Cooking

Cooking in the classroom was amazing! He would stand in front of me as we mixed, poured and smelled the ingredients. Instead of asking the kids what they noticed, we asked what they smelled, tasted and heard. This was by far the best investment we made. The hardest part was incorporating everyone’s dietary restrictions. Some of the things we made were: apple pie in mason jars, cookies, gingerbread houses, spaghetti, pudding, bread, trail mix, and so much more. Definitely a worthwhile experience for the entire class!

  • Sensory Bins & Texture Trays

This student didn’t like painting with his hands much, but others in our building have. I bought water beads from Amazon, added them to a bin and included other objects we were learning about for the day. I used plastic two-dimensional shapes and plastic animals. I would include two very diverse shapes, such as all hexagons and all squares for him to sort, and count. Texture trays had different raised lines on it or textures in the bottom of the tray. He could feel it, or color over it with a paper to feel the vibration and movement. Also, pouring sand through funnels and the like was also very engaging.

  • Duplo Cubes

Huge Legos are essentially what I got him. We used these to complete bar graphs, count to 10 and higher and compare numbers. He also had his own counting math rack to use to help him count higher.

  • Hole Punch Reward Cards

I made reward cards. When he was making smart choices, just like everyone else in the class, he earned a punch on his punch card. I would change the punches out, and the feeling of it between his fingers was engaging and exciting.

  • Old Kleenex Boxes

Old Kleenex boxes were perfect for hiding objects for various uses. Anything tactile was extremely helpful.

  • Stick from outside with Velcro dots and toy frogs

When we sang the song about frogs on a log, and did adding and subtracting, he could hear the frogs jumping off (ripping off the Velcro attached to the log) and could feel where to place the frog back on.

  • Pretend Sink

This was his favorite toy! We laminated a book with braille to talk about using and cleaning pretend dishes. The pretend sink turned on and off.  This was often used as a reward incentive.

  • Fidget Cube

This fidget cube was huge, and fit perfect for his needs. It was a nice sensory break between activities. The amount of energy it took to learn everything, navigate his surroundings and pay attention when mostly everything was visual required frequent breaks. The fidget cube did the trick.

  1. Craft Supplies & Play dough

Additional supplies helped with many crafts and activities in the classroom, such as pipe cleaners, foam board, buttons, pom poms, and wiki sticks.

  1. Block puzzles

Some puzzles made sounds for different barnyard animals, and others were to fit certain shapes. There was a Velcro dot attached to the bottom of the board and the pieces, so when they were put in place, they would stay.

  1. Reversible Sequin Pillows

Reversible Sequin pillows or fabric attached to a canvas helps with tactile movements for learning.

  1. YouTube is your Friend!

I found read alouds on YouTube that included background noise. This was very helpful. For example, if the book was about traffic, you could hear honking, beeping and cars driving by. This helped to make it a more engaging experience.

  1. Songs

The more music and whole-body movements, the better. As with any learning content, it is best played repeatedly.

  1. Muffin Tin Braille

I didn’t teach braille, but found that by using golf balls and a muffin tin with 6 slots, helped teach braille. He could roll his entire hand over the dots to get a feel for it and build different letters.

  1. Record Audio

Pictures only mean something to a person who is sighted. Recording audio helps a child communicate in a different way. If you have more than one visually-impaired student or other students in the building, this is a great way for them to connect. Our braille instructor consistently sent recorded audio/video to the family for them to feel a part of this student’s learning.

  1. Communicate with Kids, Family and His Supports

It’s important that kids understand that this child is just like everyone else. They are capable of everything a sight-seeing person is capable of. It just means that they have certain accommodations. This also helped my sight-seeing kids with their adjectives. I reminded them that when they were looking at something, they needed to use all their senses, and not just sight. They needed to include things like texture, etc. If you are worried about the best way to have this conversation with your class, please talk to his family and the support staff surrounding him for advice. It is a necessary conversation to prevent isolation and make sure he is included as much as possible.

I use the REMIND app. and it is absolutely amazing!

And of course, the more he could get out and have field trips, the better his experience and the greater his learning. I played such a small part, but felt it was my duty to try and help him engage in the classroom environment to the best of my ability.

I hope this won’t be my last opportunity to work with students who have visual impairments. He is one of the most delightful students I ever worked with. Do you work with students who have visual impairments? What are your ideas? I’d love to hear them!

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