Most people can look up and see a tree. To a child who is blind or visually impaired, their concept of a tree is the bark they can feel. Their concept of a tree is that it is” rough”. If they have some vision, they can tell that a tree is brown at its trunk, but “a blob of green” above the trunk. They could grow up and their whole lives not know what a tree “looks” like. Expanding such basic knowledge of their world is called expanding the core curriculum. It consists of concepts that are not taught in school, but are still important lessons for that child to learn in order to grow up as an educated adult who is blind.
One topic covered by the nine students, ages six through thirteen, at an April vacation program, was the concept of trees and their differences. During a nature walk, students found that some trees were so small they could fit their hand around the trunk. Some trees were so large that it took all nine students holding hands to encircle the trunk. Some trunks were very rough, with deep groves, and some were smooth, with little lines barely traceable by their little fingers.
They learned that evergreen trees stay green all year, and they giggled as they carefully touched the sharp needles. They never knew that trees could be so prickly! Under the tree, they found the pinecones from which a new tree may grow.
They learned that oak trees, in the spring, have no leaves. They closely examined the branches of an oak with a few dead leaves still attached, carefully feeling them and making the connection with the leaves they see on the ground in the autumn. Acorns which were still attached to the tree branch were felt with much enthusiasm. They had collected acorns from the ground underneath the tree, but to actually see it attached seemed to be a surprise. They felt the new buds on the ends of the small branches, buds which would soon bloom into leaves.
Students learned about flowering trees, in full bloom during their springtime visit. Most students were amazed that a tree could have flowers. In their minds, trees and flowers were two entirely different things. But there they were; pink blossoms on the end of a cherry blossom tree branch, gentle, sweet smelling little flowers.
As they were feeling and looking at the trees up close, students were in awe. So many different types of trees! And they would not describe a single one of them as “rough” because they were finally able to look beyond the bark.