We’ve all heard the saying comparing children to sponges—soaking up all the verbal and nonverbal cues from the world around them. Just as a sponge placed in the vicinity of an expanding puddle will inevitably absorb and store the contents into its many pores, so will a child, exposed to various sensory information, have access and capacity to retain and learn from those many sensory experiences. The sooner that exposure starts, the more room there is for improvement and expansion; the more time there is to learn new material.
She’s been playing piano since she could climb up on the bench.
He got a soccer ball for his third birthday, and the rest is history.
He comes from a household where Vietnamese and English were spoken regularly, so naturally, he’s bilingual.
Phrases like those above are thrown around all the time, aligning the duration of exposure to a certain skill—whether it be musical theory, athletic finesse, or linguistic fluency—to the success at reaching proficiency at that skill. We have proven, time and time again, that the odds of developing proficiency at a learned skill increases when that skill is introduced at a young age and continues to be cultivated over time.
In knowing that the human brain, between birth and three years of age, increases to 80 percent of its adult size, the reasons for laying a solid foundation in sensory efficiency skills and other elements of the expanded core curriculum or ECC, before getting to preschool or kindergarten, are apparent. As parents and teachers of visually impaired children and students, we want to be able to look at their progress and boast about their capacity to be ahead of the game, not behind.
An Early Approach to the ECC
Imagine hearing phrases like these:
She’s been exposed to visual tracking, scanning and visual attention exercises since she was a few months old, that’s why she uses her vision to read and travel with confidence.
He was introduced to auditory attention and discrimination exercises since he was just an infant, so he is a very skilled auditory learner and attentive listener.
Her parents made an extra effort to talk and develop her vocabulary, so naturally, she’s developed into a very social being.
Whether your child is blind, visually impaired, or has learning or cognitive disabilities, early exposure to the elements of the ECC can only help to increase odds of learning and becoming proficient at a particular skill. If we start to look at the ECC less as a "curriculum" and more as a gradual, continual accumulation of life skills, we might be better equipped and focused to expose our children with visual impairments to these elements earlier on.
Rather than taking each element literally, we should start to look at the way the essence of each element can apply to infants, toddlers, students, teens, and young adults alike. We can make sure they are integrated in the Individualized Family Service Plan; we can make sure they are part of our lesson plans.
Teaching independent living skills, for example, shouldn’t be put off until fifth or sixth grade. Children and toddlers with visual impairments can learn to practice safe personal hygiene and organize their clothes and personal space for efficient daily routine. Career education can be integrated from a young age by developing a sense of responsibility for one’s toys, clothes, and other belongings. Elements of this ECC pillar include learning to contribute to the family-wide list of chores, learning to respect time commitments, and follow a schedule. Rather than waiting to teach assistive technology skills in later grades, parents can download accessible applications to their iPhone so that their time spent with their child that is visually impaired can be as stimulating as possible; they can learn the keystrokes and general layout of helpful programs such as Audible and other fun, stimulating, eye muscle strengthening games. And, why wait to teach our students braille until their classmates are learning a textual alphabet? What’s the shame in starting earlier? If braille readers arrive to kindergarten with an unshakeable confidence in the braille alphabet and braille numbers, they can put themselves at a great advantage.
Infusing the daily routine with elements of the ECC from birth and onward is how we get ahead before getting behind. As teachers and parents that want nothing more than to see our children succeed and feel confident doing it, let’s rally together and make the most of those "sponge" years. Let’s place as much as possible into that puddle, so it can be absorbed.