Active Learning for Children with Visual Impairments

By Sarit Levy, Certified Vision Therapist Organizational Vision Instructor, Eliya

Based on the work of Dr.Lilli Nielsen

Active Learning is a system that was developed by Dr. Lilli Nielsen. Its aim is to give very young children with vision impairment and other disabilities an opportunity to learn through active and independent exploration, using a process of natural curiosity, exploration and comparison of the many varied objects in their environment.

There are simple ways to adapt the environment so that the child becomes an Active Learner.

Active Learning takes place when:

  • a wide range and choice of stimulating objects are available
  • children are given unlimited and undisturbed time
  • activities are suited to the developmental level and interests of the children
  • children are allowed to repeat each activity multiple times

This process leads to a greater understanding of the surroundings and allows for the development of a wider range of skills with which children learn to decipher what they have experienced. Prior assessment of each child’s functional skills and preferences is the first stage that must take place before designing a suitable space for Active Learning. It is important to first observe the children in order to better understand their capabilities, the challenges they face, which activities they most enjoy and which objects most attract each child’s curiosity and enjoyment.

Examples of the principle of Active Learning:

The Treasure Box

This is a large box filled with various objects each with a different texture and sound (some of which might already be familiar to the child). It can be suitable for very young children just beginning to sit.

A Low Table

This table is suitable for children who can sit independently or need minimum support (such as a corner chair). The table should reach the child’s waist and have a raised edge around it to prevent objects falling off.

A Stander with a raised Mobile?

It is very important that while standing the children should also be actively engaged. Create and construct a mobile from suitable objects that are well known to them from their daily routine – using different colors, textures and objects that make a variety of sounds.

Little Room

The purpose of the Little Room is to help children to develop object conceptualization and spatial-orientation skills. This room minimizes sounds coming from the outside, allowing the children to listen and learn from the sounds and vibrations they themselves are creating. In this way, children learn that they can make these sounds by touching and using the objects in the room.

It is very important that there be a wide range of objects in the room, of various sizes, materials, colours, and sounds. In this way the effect and the sounds and tones that the child will absorb will be diverse and wide ranging. We advise that there be 9-10 objects hanging from above and 3-4 attached to the walls of the Little Room to encourage the child to keep searching and returning to them time and time again.

Resonance Board

This large, thin, wooden board is used as a sound amplifier. It is made from sandwich board measuring 1.50 x 1.50 or 1.20 x 1.20 and is 4 mm thick, with a 2 cm wooden frame. (If we use thicker wood or a supportive plank on the corners or along the length of the board, the board will be too hard, with none of the desired amplification capabilities.)

The Resonance Board amplifies each sound the child makes, whether lying down or sitting. It can be helpful to hang objects directly on the board or to place it in the Small Room where it can amplify the sounds of the objects in the room.

Always Remember

  • Wherever your child is, always make sure that you have made available a toy, game, or other object to encourage investigation and play.
  • When organizing a suitable environment or space for Active Learning, allow each child to use the space independently – even sometimes to be left alone there.
  • Active Learning involves all the senses – individually and all together.

Additional Reading / Literature

    1. http://www.pathstoliteracy.org/blog/remembering-lilli-nielsen-and-her-legacy-active-learning
    2. https://www.lilliworks.org/
    3. https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/fr/fr31/4/fr310416.htm
    4. http://www.activelearningspace.org/
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