Note: This article is adapted from a “Paths to Literacy” blog post written by Lisa Pruner and Catherine Summ.
It’s important to teach fire safety to all children, but children with visual impairments are at increased risk in the event of a fire. Smoke detectors, fire extinguishers and rescue equipment are abstract concepts to kids who are blind, unless they have the opportunity to explore and learn about each item in a hands-on manner. And without practice and preparation, children who are blind might panic in the noise and confusion of a real fire emergency. Here are eight effective ways to teach fire safety to young children with visual impairments.
- Collect items related to fire safety. A fire extinguisher, smoke detector, batteries, firefighter’s helmet, etc. can all be tactually explored while discussing what each item does. For the child who can’t easily see these items, being able to touch them will make them more real.
- Contact your local fire station to arrange a field trip. Ask if they can show you some of the things they use when fighting a fire: boots, helmets, masks, pump truck, ladders, siren, hoses, lights, passenger seats in the fire truck, etc.
- Make a fire-escape plan and choose a meeting place that everyone agrees on. Conduct a practice family fire drill so that everyone is familiar with the evacuation procedure. Explain about the dangers of smoke, and practice crawling along the floor.
- Disconnect your phone (or turn off your cellphone) and let your child practice calling 911. Have the child rehearse giving their name, address and any other information that will make it easier for firefighters to find your home. Remind them never to call from inside a burning building.
- Practice how to “stop, drop and roll.” Emphasize that if their clothes catch fire, they shouldn’t run. Instead, they should stretch out on the ground, cover their face with their hands, and roll from side to side to smother flames.
- Show them where the smoke detectors are and listen to what they sound like. Remember, your smoke detectors’ batteries should be changed every year.
- Practice what to do in fire emergency situations. Explain that they shouldn’t stop to take toys with them, or change their clothes. They should feel closed doors before opening them. If the doors are hot, they should not open them, and instead find another way out, such as a window. Teach them how to remove window screens and unlock windows so they can be used as exits in an emergency. Remind them that the most important thing is to quickly and safely get out of the building.
- Discuss what things are potentially dangerous in your home and could cause a fire. For example: matches, hot stoves, curling irons, coffee pots, fireplaces, etc.
For more information on teaching fire safety to young children with visual impairment, including how to put together a “skills kit” on this topic, check out this Paths to Literacy post, Creating a Literacy Skills Kit to Teach Fire Safety. It’s written by Lisa Pruner and Catherine Summ, who work with Connecticut’s Bureau of Education & Services for the Blind, Department of Rehabilitation Services.