Teaching the Best Part of the Holidays

Emily and her son, Eddie Yet again, the holidays are coming, which I know because the stores have been decked out for weeks. This is the time of year when I start my list-making and wondering what to buy my kids, including my son who is blind.

This year I find myself wondering, are my children considering what their family and friends would want for Christmas? Or, as I assume, are they more concerned about what Santa will put under the tree for them?

All children, but especially children with visual impairments, can find themselves in a world that revolves around them. As parents, we can change that by discussing what others may want for the holidays—or other gift-giving occasions like birthdays—by making a gift-giving list, and by taking them shopping with us.

First, we must identify what family and friends we’d like to shop for and what interests them. For those children old enough to write, have them create their own list while you help them brainstorm. This is an excellent time to practice braille or print depending on what method your child uses. For those who know how to use a slate and stylus, this is a great activity to master those skills.

The process of making a list will help your child truly contemplate the people in their life and what brings them joy. It can not only help them understand others better, but also will help them consider things they might have in common or topics of discussion the next time they meet.

Another step in the list-making process is determining a budget. For my son, who is five, this is more than he can take in, but older children can be taught a valuable lesson here. Uncle Ben might want to own a football team, and Aunt Liz may want a vacation home in Hawaii, but they will have to sort that out on their own. Maybe set a budget for your child so they understand their limits. Help your child realize the cost of things and even the value in a homemade gift. Crafts are always a great choice and a fun activity. Instead of shopping for gifts, you can take your child shopping for supplies at your local craft store.

Once a list is determined, why not map out a shopping day? This is a great chance to discuss local businesses and their location to each other. Find the best route and maybe even throw in some orientation and mobility instruction. Talk about different ways to get from Point A to Point B. If you have an older child seeking independence, take the bus. It might be a good opportunity for you both to explore public transportation. I do realize this may not be an option if you have a hefty list, but consider leaving the car home if you can, especially if you have a child that will not be able to drive due to their vision impairment.

Once out on the town, take time to explore the stores you enter. Many stores will provide a map at the service counter that will help you locate the items you need. You can also mention to your child that often employees are able to assist you with shopping needs.

When ready to find your gifts, let your children be as independent as possible. If they are old enough and able, let them try to locate the items, which will give them ownership in this gift-buying process. For younger kids, let them use their cane skills while you direct. Use directions to guide them, but allow them the freedom to explore the store as much as they’d like.

This won’t be a fast process, so clear the day. I like to make this trip different from my normal in-and-out military operation. In fact, grab a coffee on your way and enjoy this time teaching your child how fun it is to shop for others.

When finished, for older children, let them do the purchasing. Give them the opportunity to pay and then calculate how much change they should receive. This can be a math lesson snuck into a fun outing.

When your child has marked off every name on their list, make sure to let them do the finishing work (with help if needed). This will be great practice for gift wrapping and they can even make a label for the gift using braille or print. The receiver will enjoy the braille as much as your child.

Another fun activity is labeling every present under your tree in braille and let your child hand out the gifts. If nothing else, it will certainly encourage their siblings to learn some braille.

After time has been taken to make a list, find the gifts, make the purchases, and wrap them for giving, your child will have a greater understanding of gift-giving. When the time comes to actually give their gift, they will truly benefit from bringing joy to another.

I spend so much time during the holidays wondering what to get my children, and they spend a lot of time wondering what they’ll get. I don’t want them to think that is what the holidays are all about and without some direct experience, they won’t fully benefit from the best part of the holiday season.

If you have any suggestions for including your child in holiday shopping, please don’t keep them to yourself! Share your ideas for shopping and even ideas for homemade gifts. Your insight may be just the inspiration another parent needs.