Low vision boy and girl playing checkers

By Emily Coleman

(Editor’s Note: The Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) is specific to children with visual impairments and intended to teach the skills necessary to access the core academic curriculum and to live interdependently throughout life. In honor of the holiday season, we’re bringing back nine articles on ways to incorporate ECC skills into daily life, revised for the 2017-2018 holiday season.)

On the second day of holiday, the Expanded Core Curriculum gave to me… social interaction skills and orientation and mobility.

What Are Social Interaction Skills?

Most social skills are learned through observation. We read the faces of others; we look for eye contact; we scan a crowd searching for a friend, and we pick up on subtle gestures used to communicate. Children with visual impairments miss out on this important aspect of incidental learning. So, even during the holidays, skills such as effective verbal and nonverbal communication must be taught.

Here are some ideas to incorporate social interaction skills:

  • Visit Santa! If you celebrate Christmas, find the nearest guy in a red suit and prepare for the interaction. Talk about shaking hands, introducing yourself, and listening carefully to his questions. Then, let your child practice with the “Big Guy” himself.
  • Invite your child to write a letter or gift wish list to Santa via BrailleWorks. Your child can receive a braille note in return. While yes, this is a literacy activity, it’s important for children to understand the social skills that go into letter-writing: addressing the reader, writing “please” and “thank you,” and using kind language.
  • Encourage your child to invite a friend over for a “playdate” or other activity during the holiday break. Make sure there is a chance to take turns, be polite, and work together. Watch for areas where your child might need a little more guidance, like maybe in the “sharing” department, which most kids struggle with. You can read more about helping children develop friendships.
  • Have your child call her grandparents or close friends and wish them a “Happy Holiday!” She can practice phone etiquette and the subtle aspects of polite conversation.
  • Invite your child to volunteer with the family. Your child will be given the opportunity to focus on others, empathize with individuals in need, and communicate with unfamiliar people. While volunteering, describe the social scene to your child—such as what others are doing and the nonverbal communication you observe.
  • Encourage your child to be a greeter at a holiday event at her church, school, or another community venue. She’ll have the opportunity to greet many people, shake hands, and possibly assist with a community service project as well.
  • For the younger child, or child without language, encourage her to simply say, “hi” or wave to all the family and friends she visits during the holiday season. For those with more developed language, strive for a “Happy Holidays!”
  • Teach your child to communicate thankfulness when receiving a holiday gift. Rehearse saying “thank you” and stating one aspect of the gift the receiver appreciates.

Overall, simply help your child to be included in all holiday outings. If she prefers to sit in the corner and listen to Christmas music, encourage her to talk to others and to stay included. Social interactions can be uncomfortable for children with visual impairments, especially at a large gathering. Bribe them with a sugar cookie if you must to help ease any nervousness your child feels. Sugar cookies always make stepping out of our comfort zone worth it!

Related Resources