Archive for the ‘play’ Category

How Do the Blind See a Tree?

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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.

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(I apologize, it has been a busy summer and this is a repost from 2 years ago.) For more stories about children who are blind, please, read my book. Here is a link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-apple-tree/id538572206?mt=11 The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

“It Smells Like Flowers and Sunshine”

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Working this summer running an educational/recreational program for kiddos with disabilities, I have been giving my good ole, 12 passenger van with a wheelchair lift a run for its money.  Surprisingly, despite numerous past mechanical difficulties, it has become a war horse for transporting us throughout the state to many wonderful adventures!  Because it is an industrial type van, it supplies the children with a lot of extra bounces, creaking, twists and turns.  (It is good thing they are all snapped down into booster seats and seat belts or by now I would have many little dents in the ceiling from their bouncing heads.)  They laugh and screech and go “weeeeeeeeee” as though they are on a ride at an amusement park. (I dare say, some of the children have never experienced such excitement…)

Over the weeks, I have become somewhat lax in van cleanliness…food wrappers, discarded art projects, broken recreational items (such as water guns and deflated balls,) and, EWWWWWW, old clothing left by the children, litter the floor.  I KNOW it is not proper, but, somehow, I am so busy with the program arrangements, supervising the children and driving them back and forth from their homes that at the end of my 12 hour day, that I am too pooped to do anything but sit in my lounge chair at home and watch Judge Judy.  I did the only thing I could do under the circumstances…purchased a couple of cute, little, purple, sweet smelling air fresheners for the van.

The day after this ingenious addition, the children filed on one by one for a trip to the aquarium.  Many of them commented on the smell, including one little girl who is blind who remarked “Do you have flowers in the van?  It smells beautiful, like flowers and sunshine!”  Thus proving to me that those Febreeze commercials where people are put into smelly, messy enclosures really DO smell only the Febreeze!

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s my Brother

I led a very untraditional lifestyle when I was growing up.  My father, whom I later realized was schizophrenic, had the wanderlust to travel, which our family did for about 6 months of the year. He would remove me out of school and we would take off for various areas of the country, living in our Volkswagen van. ( Although I am sure that today’s public education system would not allow it, somehow I think my father would have taken me out anyway.)

It was quite an adventure for a child like me.  I have a vivid memory of cracking eggs in a big, black, iron frying pan over a campfire in the Badlands in South Dakota.  The rocks the pan was on were not sturdy, and the pan fell sideways with the eggs slowly leaking out onto the pine needles on the ground.  (Clumsy then…still clumsy.) I remember traveling in southern Georgia, driving for miles watching red clay cover everything…the houses, the cars, and even the clothes hanging on the lines.  It was at the beginning of the civil rights movement, and I was uneducated in this area, (probably because I didn’t go to school!) The whole concept of a bathroom for “whites only” was a shock to me.  Did that mean that only people wearing white clothes could use it?  (I’m picturing nurses, dentists, pharmacists…)  I couldn’t use it because I had on my only pair of pants, jeans, and a multi-colored t-shirt. But I had to go to the bathroom baaaaad, where would I go?  Behind the bushes? How degrading!  My misunderstanding of this concept is now a slight reminder of what it felt like be African American in the 60’s. I also have the memory of  a bear at Yellowstone Park coming onto our campsite to eat our dinner as we all huddled in the car. My brother, Curtis, was upset because he had left a package of Cracker Jacks on the picnic table.  We had to restrain him from leaping out of the car to get it.  Afterwards, I was not so keen to sit by the campfire…

But most of all, I remember my constant companion; Curtis.  He was four years younger than I was, and he had been born with Rubella Syndrome; developmentally delayed, cleft palate, legally blind, and severely hearing impaired.  He was my buddy.  Because my dad was extremely frugal, (ie obsessive compulsive disorder frugal,) I did not have many toys to play with.  So, in addition to reading a lot, I played in our surroundings with my brother.  I have a memory of  sitting by a stream, sun shining down on the water through the leaves on the trees. Curtis was happily splashing about in the shallow water.  I was looking for rocks that somewhat resembled people.  (They were no Barbie dolls, but some kind of looked like Alfred Hitchcock and Potato Head.) All of a sudden I heard a whoooooosh!  Curtis had ventured too far into the water and the current started to carry him downstream!  Fortunately, I had long, slim legs (in those days,) and with a few strides, I picked him up by the back of his pants. He was laughing heartily.  To him it was a real adventure.  Like the poor person’s substitute for a ride at Disneyland!

We actually had a lovely childhood together. I had to carry him everywhere because he could not walk sturdily.  Carrying him was just a natural way of life for me.  I don’t know why, but I never thought to be embarrassed by him, (although his screeching and attempt at speech WAS pretty scary).  I never ever thought of him as a burden.  He was just my buddy, Curtis.

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My parents rarely took pictures.  (The money thing again…) But I do remember ONE picture.  It was a picture of me and Curtis, standing in front of Mount Rushmore.  I was characteristically giving him a piggy back ride.  The photo shows Curtis, looking over my shoulder, eyes squinted shut by the glare of the sun.  I was wearing a stupid, treasured, red velvet derby hat, (you know, like jockeys wear.) As the dead presidents loomed behind us, I gave my characteristically stupid, toothy grin, (like all children do when their parents ask them to smile.) And on that day, I first heard the song from Neil Diamond which fit my sentiments exactly: “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”.  It was a powerful moment to think that someone had put into words what my life was like.

I was so very lucky to have been raised the way I was because it formed my personality, my temperament, and my compassion for others. I personally cannot take credit for the way I live now, fostering and adopting children. I am not selfless, nor amazing, nor wonderful, nor any of the other adjectives readers have used to describe me. I am simply living my life the way I was raised and it is a wonderful life!

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Link to my book  The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

 

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother Lyrics

The road is long

With many a winding turn

That leads us to who knows where

Who knows where

But I’m strong

Strong enough to carry him

He ain’t heavy,he’s my brother

So on we go

His welfare is of my concern

No burden is he to bear

We’ll get there

For I know

He would not encumber me

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

If I’m laden at all

I’m laden with sadness

That everyone’s heart

Isn’t filled with the gladness

Of love for one another

It’s a long, long road

From which there is no return

While we’re on the way to there

Why not share

And the load

Doesn’t weigh me down at all

He ain’t heavy he’s my brother

He’s my brother

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

written by Bobby Scott and Bob Russell

performed by Neil Diamond in 1970

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Link to the Readers Digest review of my book:  http://www.rd.com/recommends/what-to-read-after-a-hurricane/

It’s No Fun to Play Scrabble Alone

I lead a complicated life, but every evening I take time out for a nice bubble bath and frozen wine cooler.  I used to read the newspaper while in the tub, but lately my patience has been tested and I find it too big and cumbersome to read without it dipping into the water.  So, I have been playing Scrabble on my telephone. I have played Scrabble all of my life, most often with my mom who passed away a few years ago.  We were pretty evenly matched, and playing together gave us quite a bit of quality, stress free time together.  I welcomed the chance to play Scrabble in the tub, equating it to the fun, stress free times when I played with my mom.  Instead, I have found out that it is no fun to play Scrabble against the computer.  It is not that the computer always wins, as I can beat it 50% of the time. It is because it does not play fairly.  When playing with my mom, instead of choosing a small word for a lot of points, (think zip,quit, hex…) we would play a larger word (such as trainer) in order to open up the board more.  There is nothing I hate more than having a board where the words are concentrated in one area so that there are few options for play.  By playing the larger word, more options would be available.  Sure, it would be less points, but the game would be easier and more fun.  Also, my mom and I would purposefully set up an option for the other player to use a double or triple word score.  Again, not a lot of points individually, but more fun for our partner, and therefor more fun for us, who gained pleasure from the happiness of others.  I guess we played Scrabble like we lived our lives…considerately, unselfishly, with an eye towards more fun and enjoyment.  These traits have not been programmed into my Scrabble computer opponent.  It wants to win, and does not care if the words are too close together.  It also chooses to use the double and triple word scores itself, not sharing them with me!  It is not like playing with my mom, and playing it does not relieve my stress.  It is just no fun to play Scrabble alone…

 

 

 

 

 

If you are new to my blog…welcome…please check out my e-book The Apple Tree:  Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane.

A Week At Camp, the Blind Leading the Blind

I have just unpacked upteen boxes and suitcases from a week of running a summer camp for children who are blind.  Lest you think this past week was a chore, it was not. It was a week of pure joy.  A week of watching months of work come to fruition. A week of watching young souls meet new friends, try new things, and, in some cases, mature beyond belief. Children whose parents thought they would be homesick and crying to come home at night, instead spent the night playing games with other children.  Sure, the children are blind and severely visually impaired, but they are still children.  The lure of learning how to play blackjack on Braille cards, or chess on an adapted chessboard, or Connect Four, Braille Uno, or Monopoly in large print and Braille, won out over going home to their lonesome bedrooms at home.  Who can argue with fun?

This was my 23rd year doing the camp. I started it when my son, Francis, was five years old.  In our state, as in most others, children who are blind or visually impaired go to their neighborhood public schools with accommodations made so they can be educated with their fully sighted peers.  It is a wonderful concept, except for the fact that the child may often feel alone.  I started this camp so the children who are blind can get together with other children with the same disability and learn that they are not alone.  There are many other children just like them!

We have been fortunate to rent a wheelchair accessible retreat center. (Some children who are blind are also mobility impaired.)  Although I call it “camp”, it has bedrooms with 4 beds, (linens and all,) each with its own bathroom (with hot water!)  There is air conditioning, carpeted floors, and a great room where all meals are cooked by a full kitchen staff.  There is also plenty of room for camp activities.  I know it does not sound like your typical “camp”, but it is as close to nature as this little old social worker cares to get.

The children range in age from six to eighteen, although theoretically the campers top age is 13.  Any camper who has shown active participation in the camp, we hire as a junior counselor when they reach the age of 14. I learned this “technique” to deal with the teenagers years ago when we found ourselves with a large group of teen campers who rebelled against the camp activities and wanted to just hang out.  They would sit back and not want to participate in the dance, the games, the swimming and so forth, effectively using the time just to socialize.  I am not saying that socializing is a bad thing; in fact it is a much needed activity for these teens, but just not the purpose of our camp. So, we hire them to work with the younger children.  Our state Department of Vocational Rehabilitation actually pays us to use this experience as a job training opportunity.  For those counselors who are totally blind, we provide a sighted guide for them, but they are expected to do the actual work.  Is there anything more valuable than seeing a fifteen year old girl, totally blind from birth, working with a six year old girl who is also totally blind? The campers learn that despite their disability, they have valuable skills, and they learn these skills from the junior counselors.  We have had many junior counselors go on to be head counselors, and also onto college into teaching and human service positions based on their initial experience at camp.  (We also have one young man who has become a certified EMT after working at our camp as our Medic for 8 years.) Because these young people are working at camp, they are learning valuable work skills and building a resume, and I have been asked to write many recommendations for these hard working, eager to learn, teenagers.

The activities at the camp itself are modified for children with vision impairments.  Besides the games mentioned previously, we have many group activities.  My favorites are our “Olympic” events.  The groups generally include one head counselor, one junior counselor and four campers, make up the “Olympic teams”.  We have many activities over the week that enhance the group dynamic, but also teach the children that winning isn’t everything.  While the teams make up the audience, one team performs the event while the others cheer them on.  It isn’t winning or losing that is the goal; it is the camaraderie, good sportsmanship, and support of others that counts.  Events this year included the ball in the basket toss.  A beeper is put in a laundry basket, and teams are asked to throw the balls in.  The team that gets the most balls in wins.  Easy enough one would think.  But to make it a little bit harder, and because some of the children have some limited vision, we blindfold everyone. Not quite so easy.  We also had a shooting event.  Water guns.  Turkey roaster pan hanging from a tree. Me banging on the pan so they can tell where the pan is located.  Lots of fun, but the most fun was seeing where on my body they would shoot me when they missed the turkey pan! Unfortunately, they did not get any extra points for shooting the camp director!  Another very humorous event was a twist on the old standby game…the dressing game.  In a laundry basket there are a pair of pants, a man’s long sleeve dress shirt, a tie and a hot.  The “athlete” is supposed to put the clothes on and race down to the person at the other end of the line, who is wildly calling their name so they can find them.  Getting to the person is the easy part, putting the clothes on, blindfolded, is the hard part, especially when the person before you has left one of the sleeves in the shirt inside out.  Or trying to put the tie on after the hat was on their head.  Or holding up the ill fitting pants while they ran. In this game, none of the audience could cheer the athlete on because they were laughing so hard.  We also had a pizza box challenge.  For this Olympic event, I put up a yellow plastic rope tied to a chair where the event started.  Using a talking caution cone which would sound an alarm when you came near it, the athletes could find their way along the rope and turn at the caution cone, heading back to the start.  Carrying a pizza box.  Then 2 pizza boxes, then 3, then 4, then 5.  The team that completed it in the shortest amount of time won the event.  There were several other events to the Olympics with the purpose of having fun and fostering a team spirit.  Of course, when the awards ceremony came, each of the teams had won at least one event, so everyone won a medal for their efforts, (a Brailled, bright, changing color medal with the name of the Olympics in large print.)

Another activity we do at camp, of course, is arts and crafts.  Everyone painted frames.  EVERYONE painted frames.  You do not have to be sighted to paint.  After they were painted, we had a wide variety of doo dads with which they could decorate their frames.  Tactile, three-dimensional stickers which were easy for everyone to use.  My favorite was the young camper who painted her frame like a flower and then stuck bees all around it.  Although the children may be blind, they still like to show off the group picture that will be placed in their frames.  A picture of all of their friends.  Lots of friends.  All who have vision problems similar to theirs.

We have also always done a group art project, one that hangs in our office at work and two that we give away to important state administrators who support us in this camp endeavor.  This year, we did rainbows.  The colors of the rainbow were outlined in puffy paint so that the campers could tell where one color ended and another began.  Then, everyone put their fingerprints to fill in the colors.  Hundreds of big and little fingerprints.  After the fingerprints had dried, we then had them glue on tactile items of the same color.  For example, for the red color I had real little birds, (well, not REAL little birds, but little birds about 1/3 inch high,) apples, hearts, gemstones, (fake, of course) and so forth.  For the orange color we had plastic oranges, flowers cut from a branch of artificial flowers, glitter orange stars, and so forth. This activity not only creates a beautiful 3 dimensional rainbow, but it also helps the campers with color identification.  Many of them did not know that a heart was red or that apples could be red, green or yellow.  (I had a variety of colors of apples just to demonstrate the point.) Someone glued clouds from pillow material, and someone put down a tissue sun.  It came out incredibly awesome!

I feel very strongly that children, ALL children, should volunteer and give back to their community.  When you have a disability, often you get used to others doing things for YOU.  I need these children, as I’ve taught my own children, to know that anyone is capable of giving back, of volunteering, of doing something good for others.  As our special project this year, we used Ziploc bags.  On one side, the children decorated them with tactile stickers, ribbons, lettering and glitter. The fronts of all of their bags say “Thank You”, in print and in Braille.  On the back of their bags, they could choose the stickers of their choice…monster trucks, flowers, spiders, ice cream items, a soldier, and so forth.  Then we took the children to the local dollar store and gave them each $7 so they could buy 6 items themselves to fill the bag with toiletry items for soldiers in Iraq. From this lesson, we learned about the brave men and women who are fighting for their country.  How it is hot and sandy there and there are no Walmarts or drug stores where they can buy the basic necessities such as soap and toothpaste.  The children each made their own thoughtful list of items they wanted to buy.  They learned the $7 bought only 6 items because there is a tax we all have to pay.  One by one, the children went into the store, shopped, and spent their money.  5 toiletry items and 1 “fun” item.  The fun items included such things lollypops, playing cards, gum, yo yos, hard candy, perfume and hair gel, (for one boy who insisted the soldier who got his bag would want to spike his hair into a mow-hawk.)  The children then came back to camp and joyously filled their bags. It was a wonderful learning experience for them, they had great fun doing it, and they learned that anyone can do something for someone else.  Once completed, we had 50 bags stuffed to the brim to donate to Give2TheTroops, Inc., which sends such bags to Iraq, Not too shabby of a day!

Many other wonderful experiences happened at camp this year, and I will write more at another time.  Right now, I am pooped from all of the unpacking, and my bed is calling. I did not see much of my bed during camp for some reason…

Twenty Ways to Get Your Child to Leave a Waterpark…

I took my daughter, Marie, to a water park today.  Water parks are wonderful inventions!!!  All kinds of neat stuff to do in the water.  There is a big wave pool, which is kind of like swimming in the ocean waves except for the sand and the salt.  This is my favorite part of the water park, where she and I float in tubes holding onto the handles of each other’s tube and bobbing up and down in the water.  (I do have to say that lately I have gained so much weight I could probably bob without the tube…)  We went on water slides, in the lazy river, and I even spent some time in the hot tub.  I lay in the hot tub straight out, with the water jet aimed right at the back of my neck.  I lay there floating, eyes closed, enjoying the hot, pulsating water, feeling some of the tension release in that part of my body.  The tension release was short lived, however, as I was soon frightened out of my mind by a lifeguard who jumped into the hot tub to “save” me.  Because I was lying there floating with my eyes clothes, he thought I had passed out or something.   I was very embarrassed because by now a crowd had formed around me.  I do have to say that it might have been worth it to pretend I did need saving as the lifeguard was a very handsome young man.  But I digress…

The title of this is Twenty Ways to Leave a Waterpark which I write after my sympathy in seeing numerous young children dragged crying and screaming out of the park.  One couple near me just announced it was time to go to their young child.  They child said no.  They yelled it was time to go.  He said no.  They said they were going to leave him at the water park and go home without him.  He turned to go back in the pool. They dragged him out kicking and screaming.  After seeing this happen time and time again with all ages of children, I thought I would share my “leaving the water park”  parent wisdom…

First, close your eyes and picture doing something you really like to do  (OOHH!!!!  Wait, don’t close your eyes or you won’t be able to read this…)  Okay, just think about something you really like to do…watch a baseball game, go to a concert, eat chocolate pudding and so forth.  Then imagine that mid game, mid concert, mid bite of chocolate pudding someone in authority comes and takes it away from you and tells you it is time to go. No advance warning.  No waiting until the end of the 9th inning.  Just “it’s time to go!”  Would you go quietly or would you rebel?  Children have the same feelings.  If they are quickly taken away from something they enjoy doing, they most likely will rebel, and rebel loudly!  So, here are my ways to successfully leave a water park with a happy child.

#1  You could plan to leave the water park at closing time, which would be a natural transition for the child.  The slides and pools are closed.  It is time to go home.  This was good at the water park we were at because it closed at 6:00 pm.  It would be trickier for those parks that close at a later time.

#2  Another way to get a child to leave the water park would be: about an hour before it is time to leave, tell the child that you will be leaving in an hour.  Tell him/her again at 1/2 hour, then when only 15 minutes are left, then 10, then 5, then calmly usher the child off to the exit, as expected.  It takes time to do this, but the payoff with a hassle free exit will be worth it.

#3  Another method: if your child is the type who likes to ride on the slides, set a number of slides he/she can do before it is time to leave.  This works better with older children and does not need to be done an hour before departure, (unless the lines are VERY long….)  With my daughter today, I told her she had 5 more slides.  Then, after a few more slides I told her she had 2 more slides.  After those 2 slides, she came and got dressed to leave without complaint.

#4 For those children who need a more visual cue, there is a timer sold at Maxi-Aids called the Time Timer.  You set it at an hour, and the background is red.  The red slowly gets smaller and smaller until the time is up.  My daughter has no problem adhering to this as a reminder of when it is time to leave.  She can visually see how much time is left, and plans accordingly.  No arguments.  When the red is gone, her time is up.

#5  I was being overzealous…I only have the above 4 ways to graciously leave a waterpark.  Plus the fourth, most difficult way.  If any of the above methods do not work, one parent (or 2, depending on how large your child is,) scoops the child up in your arms and carries him/her out to the car.  The ensuing wailing and screaming will of course attract attention.Believe me when I say that other parents WILL understand.  Besides, you are at a water park far from where you live and you’ll never see them again, so what do you care what they think?  You WILL feel badly for your child, but, as a parent, you have to be brave and carry through with this.    You have to think of your child and his/her future, and what they will learn from this experience.  I guarantee, you will only have to do it once…

The Deaf Leading the Blind: “But I was just TALKING to her…”

My job is a social worker for children who are blind includes coordinating both a summer and winter program for the children with whom we work.  Last winter we went to an indoor water park during February vacation with about twenty-five children who are blind and “legally blind”.  The children had a wonderful time playing in the water park, on the slides, in the wave runner surfing area, and in the pool, as well as participate in the regular activities that we plan, such as playing bingo and dancing.  Getting together is a huge big deal for these children who are mainstreamed into regular classrooms in their neighborhood public schools where they might not ever see another student with a vision impairment.  I began this program twenty two years ago when my oldest son, who is legally blind, was six years old.

The winter program was a huge success!  Most notably for me, it was the first time my fourteen year old daughter who is profoundly deaf wanted to help out a group of younger girls who are blind.  Each girl had their own staff person who amicably allowed Marie to join their group to help with the little girls. Despite the fact that she normally communicates in American Sign Language, she somehow managed to be very sociable and get along well with everyone. Having normally been obsessed with surfing at the wave runner attraction, and being a somewhat selfish young lady, I had expected she would help for a little while, but spend most of her time surfing. However, I was pleasantly amazed that she did not choose her own activity, but spent all of her time in the water park playing with the little girls, helping them on the slides, holding their hands to guide them around the park, showing them where the food was on their plates, and so forth.  She was having a grand time, and the girls all seemed to adore her.

On the last night of this program. Marie was seated at a booth with two of the girls and their staff.  One of the girls all of a sudden started waving her hands wildly in the air. Prone to seizures, her staff person asked her if she was okay.  She said of COURSE she was okay, she was just TALKING to Marie!!  The laughter started at their table and  soon circled around the room as everyone realized what she had said…she was signing to her, of course!!!!

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