Rough and Smooth

Some of the MANY things that you have to convey to a child with a visual impairment are the differences in textures. In working with their canes, they develop a lot of directional concepts like up/ down, left/ right, in/ out, etc. In learning how to read braille, they have to understand how things feel and learn how to discriminate based on touch alone.

There are some teaching tools from the American Printing House for the Blind that can be used in the classroom. During the summer, I like to find textures within the environment. A recent trip to the coast led us to some great teaching moments.

My in-laws live near the ocean, and we were in their area for a week visiting all of our family. While in town, we decided to do some “adventuring” to mix things up a bit. Our first day out of town, we found ourselves at a state park right on an inlet from the Pacific Ocean. Immediately, my daughters wanted to run out on this small metal dock (of course).

So, off they went, with Eddie and his parents trailing behind. As Eddie swept his cane across the dock, it was slightly vibrating. We talked a lot about how the dock was “rough” and “bumpy.” He laughed at the way the sensation travelled up his cane. Once he was out on the dock, his Dad simply had to hold him out over the water, so Eddie could experience what the girls were seeing.

There were multiple sea creatures hanging onto the dock, and the kids were able to touch them. Starfish are a great example of “rough.” On the beach the girls found jellyfish (which Eddie did not touch due to parental fear), and many rocks. There was also some play equipment, and we discussed “smooth” as the texture of the swing’s chain and the seat itself as Eddie swung back and forth.

The next day, we were near a National Park, and there were many trees and streams to explore. As most of us know, trees are “rough” and river rocks are typically “smooth.” Another great thing about coastal forests is the moisture and accompanying smells that Eddie was able to experience. The girls could take in much from the car, but Eddie really had to get his hands on things, which required extra time that was well worth it.

Finally, on the last day of our trip, the girls and I found the perfect addition to our home, which could provide countless texture lessons. While walking around town, we stumbled upon a pet store and purchased our very own lizard. I’m a sucker for a story, and our new pet “Mittens” was rescued from a home that didn’t care for her properly. She is missing some fingers due to poorly maintained skin, and her growth is stunted. I simply had to “save” her.

Luckily, aside from simply being cool, she has great educational potential. The girls are learning how to care for her, and simply adore holding her. Eddie is learning about lizards…how they feel (“rough”)…their environment (“warm”)…what they eat (“crickets”)…how crickets sounds (“loud”), etc. Eddie isn’t a natural animal lover, but the experience benefits him anyway.

Even though the concepts of “rough” and “smooth” can be hard to pick-up, there are endless opportunities to discuss them. The hardest part is not mixing them up with my typical usage. I tend to say, “Eddie, I had a rough day!” If I’m not careful, he’s going to think I’m scaly and eat crickets, too. Admittedly, the idea of laying under a heat lamp on a warm rock all day doesn’t sound too bad; being “rough” could have its benefits.

Do you have any great ideas for teaching textures? Aside from simply running into them in the environment…what ways do you teach tactile skills? I love hearing different tips and tricks.