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Touch, Listen & Look! Engaging Babies in Multi-Sensory Play

By Amber Bobnar
Parents of young children and babies who are blind have to find creative ways to engage their kids. We all know that early childhood play is really just an opportunity for babies to learn, develop and grow, but have you ever thought about how much of that play is visual? How can you pique a baby's interest when they can't see? New parents with babies who are visually impaired may find this question daunting, but it's actually quite easy to do. Just think about the senses and how you can expand your child's experience of the world. Encourage your baby to touch, listen and, even if they have limited vision, look.

Though these activities are designed specifically for engaging a blind or visually impaired baby in developmental play, we expect they will appeal to all young children. Touch, listen and look!

Touch & Feel

One of my son's favorite toys is his set of texture squares, which we use to play many games. To make your own, first cut out twenty-four 3"x3" cardboard squares. Use thick cardboard from a packing box, not the thin cardboard from a cereal box. Next, gather textured materials: tin foil, bubble wrap, felt, silk, sand paper, corduroy, or whatever else you have available. This is the sort of project for which remnant bins at your fabric store are perfect. Wrap two squares in each texture, using a hot-glue gun to secure the fabric to the cardboard. Let the glue dry, and you will be ready to play.

We started using these by just touching and talking about how each square felt. Then I asked my son to find textures that matched and textures that were different. Of course, there are a lot of other ways you can play with these cards, too. You could play a game where all the cards are placed in a big bag and your child has to reach in and find the two that match without looking. It's a great lesson in tactile discrimination, and a perfect game whether kids are sighted or blind.

We also have a set of texture pillows. They're just like the squares, but they are stuffed with batting instead of cardboard. You can make your own or even buy them on Amazon.

Listen!

Here's another favorite game that is based almost entirely on sound. Sit your child on the floor surrounded by different surfaces. If you have hardwood floors, carpets, or tile, then try to find a spot in your house where one surface ends and another begins. You can also lay out a few cookie sheets, a wooden cutting board, a plastic serving tray, or any flat items made of different materials.

Next, collect a bunch of small toys made from different materials. Small stuffed animals, rubber balls, or wooden blocks are perfect for this. Let your child throw the toys and listen to how they sound when they land. What happens when the wood block hits the wood cutting board? Do you think it will sound different when you throw a stuffed animal? Or when the wood block hits the cookie sheet?

With a blind child you can also play a guessing game. Have your child throw a toy then guess what kind of surface they hit. Was that the cookie sheet or the carpet? You can play this with sighted kids too. Just ask them to close their eyes and guess.

Look!

It might seem counterintuitive, but playing enhanced visual games can be very exciting for children who are blind. Most kids who are blind do have some vision, and learning to use the limited vision that they have can be difficult.

Encouraging looking while playing can be a way to use that vision in a fun and non-stressful atmosphere as long as the game is fun and not frustrating.

A great game for both kids with vision and without is to play with a lightbox. You can buy a big expensive lightbox from places like APH, but they're actually pretty easy to make at home too. Just place portable fluorescent lights (like you might find for camping) inside a plastic storage bin with a clear lid. Turn the lights on and you've got a lightbox!

LightboxPlace different objects on top of your lightbox and see how they change. Can you guess ahead of time which objects will allow light to shine through and which will be opaque? What happens if we place a yellow plastic bowl inside a blue one? Or how about spreading sand on the lightbox and drawing pictures with our fingers? The possibilities are endless.


Of course you can also play with other senses, too. How about a game you can taste, like finger painting with pudding? There are even ways to play with smell, like creating a scented baby rattle or making scented play-doh.

Once you start thinking about how to make activities multi-sensory you'll realize that it's not that difficult to move beyond sight. Best of all, these games are fun for all kids, sighted and blind!

About the Author
Amber Bobnar is mother to Ivan and founder of WonderBaby.org. WonderBaby.org is dedicated to supporting parents of young children with visual impairments as well as children with multiple disabilities. The site features articles written by parents for parents, as well as links to meaningful resources and ways to connect with other families.

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