cinnamon sticks, nutmeg, cloves, and star anise

By Emily Coleman

(Editorial 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 eighth day of holiday, the Expanded Core gave to me… sensory efficiency skills, technology, career education, recreation and leisure skills, independent living skills, compensatory or functional academic skills, social interaction skills, and orientation and mobility.

What Are Sensory Efficiency Skills?

Sensory efficiency is about teaching children who are blind or visually impaired to optimally use the senses they have. For example, if they do have some remaining vision, help them get the most use out of it. Sensory efficiency is also about learning how to combine all the other senses to get information about the world around them. The holidays are certainly filled with opportunities for sensory efficiency.

Here are a few ideas to expand on those opportunities:

  • When baking, have your child be in charge of handing you spices and seasoning. She can practice identifying each jar by the smell. If your child isn’t ready to be in charge, simply give her a chance to smell each jar as you use it, and label it for her.
  • If she has an optical device (like a monocular), take her to a local holiday play or concert to practice using it. Sheer curiosity may motivate her to use it even more.
  • Practice listening for holiday music wherever you go and locate the sound source when possible.
  • When your child asks questions, ask her even more questions in return. For example, if she says, “What’s cooking in the kitchen?” Ask, “What do you think it smells like,” or “What did you hear while it was being cooked?” If still stumped, she can even taste-test to try to identify.
  • If grocery shopping, see if she can identify which part of the store you’re in by the smells (ex. bakery) or air temperature (ex. freezers). Give her the words if she doesn’t yet have the language. (ex. “It’s cold in this part of the store. This is where the freezers are.” Then, let her touch the actual freezer.)
  • Practice tactile recognition skills by making a holiday mix with something she doesn’t like. If the treat has cereal and pretzels, and she doesn’t like pretzels, she’ll work hard to identify each pretzel by touch and leave it in the bowl.
  • When decorating your home with mistletoe and other decorations (including a tree and its adornments), use as many live or natural artifacts as possible. The objects will be more interesting for a visually impaired child to touch and smell. Additionally, have your child assist in making and hanging decorations and ornaments. (Consider making peppermint star ornaments with your child.)
  • Invite your child to place holiday lights on low-lying shrubs, giving her a hands-on experience with the size of lights as well as the feel, placement, and size difference of your yard’s bushes or trees.

Sensory efficiency can be incorporated into every activity. Your child will need to learn how to identify items, people, and places without vision or with minimal vision. Help her during the holidays by encouraging the other senses. It’s the perfect time of year to make it fun and to help your child enjoy all aspects of the season.

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