A career planning and employment resource for people who are blind or partially sighted

Pre-school Knowledge and Skills

Preschool competencies

When children who are blind or partially sighted are toddlers, they are often enrolled in preschool programs or activities. In order to be well-prepared for full participation in these programs, whether in formal educational settings or at home (for those not enrolled in preschool), children are expected to demonstrate six major areas of functional knowledge and skills. They are each described in detail below. For further information and useful external links, visit the Learning and Education Resources section.

Learning to listen

It seems learning to listen comes naturally to children who are blind or partially sighted. If their hearing is intact, moreover, they seem to pick up on auditory cues easily. It will be important to follow their developmental process to ensure they are learning to differentiate between the voices of their family members and strangers, can track sounds (follow a noise-making toy or the voice of a parent or sibling), and are able to react to specific sound cues (batting at a musical mobile or pushing a button or key to make a sound, for example).

However, children who are blind or partially sighted may have to be encouraged to learn the cues that sighted people (e.g. parents, siblings, teachers, classmates) will look for to determine whether they are listening to them. 

There are specific cues that children need to be taught to convey their interest and attentiveness: to face or orient toward someone speaking to them; to keep their eyes open, smile, nod, or shake their heads to indicate pleasure, agreement, or confusion; and to respond to or ask questions about what’s been said when there is a pause in a conversation. They may need to be told, “I like how you’re looking at me when I speak to you“, “Your smile makes me think you’re happy today.”, “Smile for Grandma so that she can see how pleased you are with your new toy!”

Learning to follow directions

Parents often start the process of teaching children to follow directions with games and songs, such as, “Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake baker’s man; bake me a cake as fast as you can; roll it and pat it, mark it with B; and put it in the oven for baby and me.” 

While these activities don’t teach children to follow directions per se, they set the stage by getting children to attend to the adult, anticipate what will happen, and engage in a routine—the very things that will help them understand the concept of following directions. The adult typically proceeds in this learning pattern by asking the child to follow a simple direction such as “Point to your nose.” or “Touch your tummy.”

In daycare or preschool settings, children learn to follow the caregiver or instructor’s directions on how to operate toys and playground equipment, how to use simple craft tools and the like. The teacher may use hand-under-hand or hand-over-hand techniques to demonstrate how to perform so that children without sight can follow directions and participate in class or group activities. 

Whether at school or in the home, children usually progress from following one-word directions (for example “Sit”, “No”, “Come”) to more complex directions (for example “Get your coat,” “Get your backpack,” or “Pick up your toys!”).

Learning to be responsible

Children learn to be responsible as preschoolers when their parents or caregivers ask them to pick up their toys, clothes and other things and to put them where they belong. Initially, the caregiver will want to demonstrate for the child how to search tactually to find the dropped item, pick it up, and put it where it needs to go. This may require hand-under-hand demonstration and/or verbal cues for children with vision loss. 

Another way that young children learn to be responsible is when they are encouraged to wait their turn when playing with others or to share their toys. This development of responsible behaviour will carry-over to school where they will be expected to take turns at play, raise their hands before speaking out, and wait in line for activities or movement in groups.

Finally, learning to be responsible at school will require children to follow class rules, such as not running, not hitting, and not leaving the classroom without permission. Children may need to be taught these rules through verbal instruction and be helped to follow rules and expectations with tactual cues. 

These cues can take the form of marking an assigned spot for queuing or lining up to go to the playground or cafeteria; or using a raised symbol for the location of a child’s storage area for books and materials or clothes.

At home and at school, adults need to ask children to do what they can for themselves. They must also give them responsibilities that are age appropriate. Young children can help with simple chores and will benefit from doing them by learning to be responsible and recognizing they are part of a family and that, as such, are expected to contribute like other family members. This helps build self-esteem while providing valuable pre-vocational experience.

Learning basic organizational skills

At home, young children need to be encouraged to explore well-organized areas such as kitchen drawers that have divided areas for utensils: different sizes of knives, forks, and spoons; or a cupboard with pots, pans, and lids in sections and sorted by size and function. They can be shown a linen cupboard where towels and washcloths are organized by size and colour or texture. 

As soon as they are old enough to move things into the spaces where they belong, they should have designated sites or items like storage cubbies or boxes that are marked tactually or with bright colours that they can see to store their personal clothing, hygiene devices, toys, school or art supplies, and tools for early reading and writing activities.

When they attend school or other community-based functions, they can be encouraged to take their lunches, supplies, spare clothes, or play items in a backpack or tote to help them keep up with their things. Placing items in zip-locked plastic bags or small plastic containers within the backpack or tote can help children keep loose items together that need to be used or accessed at the same time. 

When they are working on projects with family or instructional staff, their organizational skills can be reinforced by providing them with an appropriate workspace, such as a lipped tray or box lid, to store pieces of a project and help keep them in an easily accessible area.

Fantasizing about adult roles

Just like their sighted peers, children who are blind or partially sighted can benefit tremendously from participation in creative dramatics. Formal classes may require children to be at least three years of age and potty trained. But before participating in formal creative dramatics classes, children of younger ages can partake in informal activities, such as, make-believe or dress-up where they are pretending to be adults. 

They may choose to act out roles such as mother/father, teacher, nurse, doctor, etc. Or engage in fantasy play with other children around dollhouses or play structures (miniaturized kitchens, stores, farms, race car or train tracks etc.). These activities help children understand the roles adults play and what their jobs entail.

Children also need to be encouraged to engage their family members and other caring adults in conversations about their work. Family members can reinforce a child’s understanding of roles by verbalizing what they do and showing them the uniforms or tools of the trade they use. For example, a parent might say something like “Mommy’s home from her job as a doctor, would you like to pretend that you’re a doctor too?” Or “Let me show you how to take a pulse.” Or, “Daddy’s home from the office, here’s his briefcase with all his papers inside.”

This is also the time for exploring fantasy jobs and adults will want to help children learn about superheroes, princes and princesses, animals that talk, etc.. As they participate in Halloween activities, it will be important to tell them about the costumes that other children are wearing and how what they wear and their accoutrements tell sighted people about what they do.

Learning to play

The final area of importance in the early career education of children with visual impairments is ensuring that they know how to play – both with others and alone. Most children learn about playing board games, outdoor games, and such with others through observing their older siblings and/or other children in their neighbourhood or community.

Children without good, functional vision may need to be taught how to play with manipulatives like LEGOs, Lincoln Logs, blocks, or other building pieces – how to link them together and what one can make with them. They may need to be shown how to move pieces in games, the more tactual or colourful (for children with partial sight), the better. 

For example, a game like Connect Four, which has a bright blue rigid plastic grid and plastic rounds in red and yellow to slide into the slots, is an ideal game for children with partial sight and one that can easily be adapted with a tactual marking on one set of plastic rounds for children who are blind. Ideally, the games you teach them will also be of interest to children who are sighted, so that they can play with friends.

You will have to model for the child how to take turns, keep up with their game piece(s) and not interfere with other players’ game pieces or things. Starting with just two or three children playing together and gradually adding additional players may be a good way to start when teaching children with vision loss how to play with one another.

Learning to play alone may also require some adult support and intervention – for example showing a child how to turn on and off a music source or reading machine, or demonstrating how to put together jigsaw puzzle pieces to create a whole tactually pleasing picture (there are some wonderful 3D shape and animal puzzles made out of wood, for instance).

While learning to play, per se, may seem an odd skill to include with early career education concepts, it is a fundamental skill that children need to learn in anticipation of eventually working with others. When they enter school, they will hopefully participate in sports or academic teams – the more they understand about play and, particularly, playing with others, the better they will be prepared for work teams later on in life.​

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