Children develop thinking skills by having numerous opportunities to play with the people and objects around them. Any activity which helps a child learn, gives them new ways to think about the world.
Most children who can see begin to learn thinking skills at about the following ages:
- Between 6 and 9 months, babies learn that objects still exist — even when they no longer see, touch, hear or smell them. For example, if they drop a cup, they know it has not disappeared but is now lying on the ground.
- At about 9 months, babies begin to copy what others do (imitation).
- Between 9 and 12 months, babies learn that they can make things happen. For example, they learn that if they hit a cup with a spoon, it makes a noise. They also begin to solve simple problems.
- At about 1 year, babies can match 2 objects that are alike. Later, they will learn to sort and count objects.
Children who cannot see well can also learn these skills. With some help, they will learn them only 3 to 6 months later than children who can see. If your child can see a little, be sure to adapt these activities to make the best use of the remaining sight.
Babies know that an object (or person) exists when it can be seen, touched, heard, smelled, or tasted. But if the object drops out of sight or no longer makes a sound, they think the object has disappeared. Babies who cannot see well have more difficulty learning that these objects still exist than babies who can see. This is because they have less information about objects. For example, they may not be able to see that the object is still there when it stops making a sound. You can help your child understand that objects still exist even though they cannot be seen, heard, felt, tasted, or smelled.
- Tie strings onto toys and then onto chairs, tables and your child’s clothes or hands.
- Put seeds or small stones into a ball so it makes a sound as it rolls. Then encourage your child to roll the ball back and forth between you. The sound will help them learn that the object still exists even after it leaves their hands.
- Tie a piece of string to a favourite toy. Show your baby the toy and string and then place the toy out of reach. Encourage them to pull the string to get the toy. Remember, since strings can be a hazard for small children, watch them to make sure they do not wrap the string around their neck. “Do you hear your rattle, Sipho? Pull the string some more! “
- Show your child how to drop an object into a box and then shut the lid. Then show them how to open the lid and reach in to find the object again. “Linda, where’s the rattle? There it is!”
Children who can see learn a lot by watching others and trying to do (imitate) what they do. Children who cannot see well, however, must learn to pay attention to sounds and other clues to know what people are doing. To encourage your child to imitate others, imitate them.
- When your child makes a noise, make the same noise back.
- Do something that makes a sound and encourage them to repeat what you do. “Oh, listen! The boxes fell down. Can you push the boxes down, Johnny?”
- When they get older, encourage them to dress up and pretend they are someone else. “Here’s Papa’s hat. Now you be Papa.”
When young babies play with toys, they do not know if anything additional will happen. But slowly they learn that by doing certain things (banging a toy on the floor) they can make other things happen — such as a loud noise. This is an important lesson for babies because they are learning that they can have an effect on the world around them. They also learn that they have some control over what happens. This makes them more curious about how things work.
- To help a child learn about cause and effect, place noisy toys across the area where they sleep or play. Make sure the toys are close enough so they will accidentally hit or kick them. Soon they will learn to hit and kick them on purpose. “That was a tall stack, Sarah!”
- Make a stack of small boxes or cans that babies can knock down. As they get older, they can learn to make the stack themselves. Encourage them to see how high they can make the stack before pushing it over, and to notice the different sounds each box or can makes.
- Encourage them to put things inside a box and then toss them out.
Babies quickly learn something about solving problems. For example, if they cry when they want something, they have learned that crying can get them what they want. But by crying, they are asking someone else to solve a problem. They also need to learn that they can solve many problems themselves.
- “Where’s Luis? There he is.” Put a cloth over his face. He may pull it off right away. But if he does not, pull it off yourself and then put the cloth on his face again.
- Play hide-and-seek with your child’s toys. Shake a noisy toy and then hide it under a cloth. See if they can pull the cloth off to find it. Next, try turning a bowl or a pan upside down and putting it over the toy. See if they can figure out how to turn the bowl over. What’s under the bowl?”
- Give your child a box filled with different sized objects and let them play with them. Then cut a hole in the lid of the box but make the hole smaller than some of the objects. Put the lid on the box and encourage your child to take all the objects out. See if they can figure out how to take off the lid to get the biggest objects out. The hole should be large enough for their hand to reach inside the box, but small enough so that some toys are too big to pull out of the box. “The toy is too big to get out, isn’t it? What can we do?”
Every child needs to learn how objects are similar to and different from each other. Matching and sorting objects helps teach a child to pay attention to important similarities and differences.
- Put 2 different objects — like a spoon and a pan — in front of your child and let them explore them. Then provide a third object that is like one of the first 2 objects. Ask the child to find the 2 objects that are shaped the same. “Thembi, there’s something on the table just like this. Can you give it to me?”
- Ask your child to match objects which are the same size or colour, or that make the same sound, or have the same feel. “If you find the big balls, James, we can play with them.”
- Cut a hole in a box which is the same shape as a simple toy. Then ask your child to find the same shape to put in the box.
- To help your child learn how to sort objects, make a hole in a box and then ask your child to find all the toys that are small enough to go through the hole into the box. “All the small toys can go in the box. But some toys are too big.”
- “Let’s put the seeds in one pile and the stones in another.” Make a game of putting similar objects together in a pile.
- Make a game of comparing objects. “Let’s find the shortest stick. It will be good for making pictures in the sand.”
- Make a shape puzzle. Cut out shapes — like circles and squares — from a piece of strong cardboard. Help your child fit them back into the correct places. When they can do this, try harder shapes, like triangles and stars.
- Look for ways to teach your child to count throughout the day. “Let’s count the spoons you have. Are there enough for everyone?”
- “Let’s count the buttons: 1, 2, 3… 1, 2, 3… Good, Nomsa!
- “You found the big balls. Let’s count them: 1, 2…”
- When your child is matching and sorting objects, you can also teach them to count. Make a simple counting frame. Your child can slide beads or rings from one side to the other to count, add, and subtract.
- When your child becomes more skilled with numbers, they can learn to use the methods in your community that rely on touch, like counting stones or using an abacus.
As children develop, they must learn to use their skills to form more complete ideas about the world around them. You can help by providing them with many different opportunities to learn about their world.
- Help children learn more about objects by teaching them to feel the whole object, even when it is very large. Encourage them to identify the object’s size, shape, weight, and feel. “I’ll put Raymond on my shoulders so he will know how big the tree is.”
- If your child can see a little, ask them to describe objects to you or to draw them. This way you will know if they see well enough to understand what the object really looks like. If they have not seen the object correctly, explain what it is like. “What a nice dog. Can you tell me what he looks like?”
- Help your child learn about all the different parts of an activity. For example, take them with you to explain all the things you must do to prepare a meal. “Anna, first I get tomatoes from the garden… …and eggs from the chickens. Then I can chop the tomatoes and cook eggs for supper.”
- Help your child to learn how objects can change. For example, in the cooking example above, the child can also learn how the vegetables and eggs change and feel different after cooking. “Anna, remember the hard, round egg we got from the chicken? Feel how slippery and wet it is inside. And here is the same egg, cooked. Now it is soft and warm for you to eat.”
- Help your child connect one experience with another. For example: “Peter, feel how cold the water in the river is. This is water, too, but it’s warmer from being in a barrel in the sun.”
These may seem very elementary exercises, but the basic ideas and methods should be modified and adjusted gradually as the child grows older. The most important aspect is that parents are involved closely with the development of any child, especially one with a visual disability.
Refer to this booklet about making creative toys for many more ideas.
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