Wednesday, 30 November 2011

How to encourage your child’s social play ~ Facebook for the early years

Thank you Zoe for your contribution to this chapter: Zoe is an LSA working with a registered blind boy in a large mainstream nursery. This week we discussed the boy’s social needs and brainstormed some solutions; hopefully they might help some of the readers in similar situations. This young chap of almost three and a half is very self-focused in his play. It may be partly because he is in a new environment and partly because he cannot see other children’s faces clearly. Beyond a metre detail disappears; so he tends to be isolated in play. He finds it hard to share toys or to take turns. This is not uncommon of course. Very young children are pretty self-focused in their play. But as they grow older most children quickly learn to play with other children, to interact and to take turns. Little children enjoy the social interaction with other children and it is a very important part of growing up. The lad’s problem – we’ll call him Colin for now – is that even after nearly three months he barely knows any of the other children or their names and he does not recognise their voices to know who is there. 

Colin is not an unsociable little boy. He has older brothers and he plays with them at home and in school. In fact as soon as he hears his older brother’s voice he recognises it and wants to play with him. So the problem is not that he is by nature uninterested in other children. It is just that he takes time to get to know other children by voice, name, face or general appearance and form. And this situation is exacerbated by the size of the nursery. There are effectively two classes put together as sometimes happens, so it is about 50 children. And that is a big task for a little boy, to learn all those names and faces, especially as he is at the moment just attending part-time. Incidentally there is an unusual factor about the context that you need to know and for this reason it may well be not your average mainstream classroom. There is one other visually impaired boy in the class and they seem quite alike in interests and personality, so much so that they often clash. Let’s call this other boy Mark, for the sake of this article. Having Mark in the class is fortuitous and it should be maximised to the full. So here is the challenge and this is what we came up with. 

The right playdate
Part of the solution is finding one child to be his friend. Instead of allowing the boy to fend for himself in this slightly overwhelming environment let’s help him out a bit. We will choose a friend or ‘playdate’ for him. We happen to be lucky because Mark is in the same class. Put Colin with Mark who has similar interests and aim to make them good friends. We know Mark and Colin have a lot in common. Both have older brothers, both are strong characters, both are quite independent and they fight or compete like brothers. Both like to play with similar things. Both are cognitively able children. If you do not have a Mark in the class you can still choose a child with similar interests and personality. 

The right environment - a quiet space for them to play together
This is important because they do find the noise and general business of the nursery a serious distraction and will definitely benefit from their own quiet room to focus and concentrate on their play. This might involve some changes to the routine of the nursery but it is essential.  

The right activity
Also vital to the success of the joint play activity is choosing the right resource, the right game or activity. Find out what toys each child likes to play with. Focus on games that involve a partner, such as matching, building or construction. They must be games or activities that involve large and easily visible pieces. They should be objects that do not have to be lifted right up to the face. 

Special school versus mainstream school debate
It is worth noting that this is often what is missing from the average mainstream school class room in contrast to the special school classroom: the mutual support of peers with similar needs to you. Incidentally if you too are in a school with more than one visually impaired child try to bring them together for occasional mutual support and discussion. To me this makes obvious sense. 

Develop Colin’s knowledge of the other children
Of course Colin won’t only be playing with Mark and we do also need to empower him so that he can choose his own friends. To do this he needs to be able to recognise other children. There are two strategies that we came up with for this. So far we have not tried them out but it will be interesting to see how it goes. 

My friend
Select four to six children as his friends. With so many children in the nursery it may be quite impractical or overambitious to use this activity with every child. It might be better to select a smaller group of up to six. How to choose those six? You can of course ask Colin, ‘who would you like to play with?’ Alternatively some observation of the child should suggest a few children that he occasionally interacts with, either in the playground or in the main nursery. Try to get four to six children that he has something to do with to develop the following activities. If this is successful it could then be extended to other children. But it is probably unrealistic initially to expect any child least of all one with limited vision to be able to know everyone.
Colin needs to learn the distinctive sound of each child’s voice. He also needs to learn how to filter out other sounds. In other words he needs to develop and hone his listening skills. Visually impaired children rely heavily on hearing. It is not that their ears become extra sensitive, but they use their hearing more than others. So it develops into a more sensitive sense. One way to do this is to use a digital recorder to record each child speaking, upload the files onto the computer in a specific folder, carefully log the name with the voice on the computer and make a game where you have to match the voice with the name. This can be done with the lsa. It can be a one-to-one activity. I am not saying making this will be easy but it is a challenge. I suggest you get some help to develop the game. 

Colin also needs to learn the faces of the other children. To him they are a blur a lot of the time. So how do we do this? Each child has a photograph on their file; there is also a camera in the classroom and pictures are taken of the children’s progress. So it is not impossible to use these pictures or take more and make up a little Facebook of the nursery children. Again 35
it may be overambitious to have all the nursery children in the book so select the same six. Make the book out of a loose-leaf binder, so that the pages can be removed for an activity. It goes without saying that the pictures of course need to be very large and clear. Now you can make up some sort of a game where Colin has to match the name with the face. Later you can mix and match the two games and get Colin to match the voice with the face. 

I think the rationale and underlying idea is sound. Colin needs to learn at least some of the names and the faces and match the voices with the face and name. When he knows the other children he will be able to choose his own playdate

Spaghetti Bolognese game
This is a variation on the activity above and it lends itself much more to a small group. It does not involve recordings or pictures. However as a small group activity it would need to take place in a small room, with no interruptions. Limit the game to Colin and three other children. But it can be played with up to six. Sit them in a circle and talk about their favourite food. What do you like to eat? Pin it down to different foods for each child, e.g. sandwich, chocolate, biscuit, pasta etc. When you say the child’s name each person will say what they like. When you say Colin he will say ‘I like pasta’. Then sit one child in front with the others sitting behind. The teacher sits in front of the group and points at one of the children sitting behind and the child will say, ‘I like …’. Colin in front will not see the child but will only hear the voice. So he gets up and looks for the child and touches the child, points to or gives something to the child. Everybody takes a turn calling and everybody takes a turn sitting in front. It need not be food; it can be a favourite animal, anything to connect the children and maintain their interest.

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