26/08/2014 10:11 BST | Updated 26/10/2014 05:59 GMT

Introducing Nature to Visually Impaired Kids

Visual impairment can be one of the most difficult disabilities to deal with. It can range from complete blindness to low vision--but regardless of degree, dealing with visual impairment means tackling all obstacles one might encounter when clear vision is required to learn. Given that the sense of sight is a prerequisite in the understanding of most concepts, it is often a challenge for the visually impaired to navigate complex ideas. Other aspects of learning are also affected such as mobility, recreation, and relationships with peers.


Image from Flickr, Creative Commons

In children, being visually impaired causes a number of complex developmental problems that hinder them from learning. Addressing this would often require alternative methods of teaching that would fulfill these children's special needs.

Although children with visual limitations are able to learn and do most of the things their sighted peers do, sometimes they may need direct coaching and guidance to learn many of the things their sighted peers often learn by themselves. Children who are visually challenged often develop certain talents only when they are taught to use different sensory modes. With this, a variety of teaching approaches are developed to enhance their learning abilities.

Studies about visual impairment in kids often suggest nature engagement as a helpful strategy in learning development. Here we list a few ways on how we can effectively introduce nature to visually impaired children:

1. Engage all senses during playtime.

While sense of sight is very important in learning, engaging all the other senses could prove beneficial to kids' appreciation of nature. Using other senses available to them can help visually impaired children be more resourceful and creative during the learning process. For example--a flower is distinguishable not only through its visual features; it can also be identified through its distinct fragrance, or the texture of its parts. This way, a visually impaired child can recognize a flower even without seeing it; he or she simply needs to bring other senses to play. Parents and teachers can guide children in such activities by encouraging them to examine different plants during nature-themed play.

2. Consider making a backyard playground.

It may be difficult for some families who live far from a public playground or park to regularly engage in outdoor play. So if there is extra space in your backyard where you can create a nature-themed playground for your kids, then it is highly encouraged that you do so. Not only is the location convenient, it may inspire visually impaired kids to step out of the house and engage in various types of nature play. As parents, you can make this experience even more productive by thinking of educational play ideas that can be carried out in your backyard playground. You can also invest in suitable playground equipment that can help heighten your child's learning experiences.

3. Have as much outdoor activities as possible.

Visually impaired children have the tendency to stay within their comfort zones, so as not to subject themselves to situations where their sense of sight can serve as an obstacle to carrying out certain tasks. However, this may further slow down learning development, because they are rarely challenged to overcome their visual incapacities. The importance of outdoor play is most relevant in these situations. In order to help children step out of their comfort zones, accompany them to as many outdoor activities as possible. Picnics are a good idea to in incorporate nature during mealtime. This way, they can associate a positive activity such as "snack time" with the refreshing atmosphere of a park or nature-abundant place. Keep in mind that the more children are exposed to nature, the more they will be accustomed to outdoor activities and be open to more learning experiences outside.

Why Is It Important To Encourage Outdoor Play?

To visually impaired kids, being outdoors and one with nature can open a lot of learning opportunities.

Since the outdoors is a common venue for group activities, visually impaired children are more likely to interact with their peers during outdoor play. This will allow them to develop social intelligence, and help them better adapt to certain environments and situations. It will also help them learn how to function within a group--allowing them to cultivate important social skills such as cooperation and leadership.

Parents and teachers play an important role in the learning development of visually impaired kids. This being the case, it is highly encouraged that they guide these children throughout the early years of education. This is the most crucial time in their learning development, because this is when they are still struggling to cope with their visual challenges. Encourage them, nurture them, and make them realize that their impairment is not a liability, but a challenge that will only make them stronger.