Free play ideas for blind and visually impaired children that relate to learning

Children playing on the floor with toys.
August 27, 2014

As summer winds down and the start of school is just around the corner, many parents have begun to think about what strategies will help their children be most successful in the coming school year.

Mind/Shift, a blog launched by KQED and NPR, has begun to explore How Play Wires Kid’s Brains for Social and Academic Success. Their exploration suggests that free play may be more important to brain development than classroom time.

Sergio Pellis, a researcher at the University of Lethbridge, says that, “play changes the connections of the neurons at the front end of your brain…without play experience, those neurons aren’t changed…It is those changes in the prefrontal cortex during childhood that help wire up the brain’s executive control center, which has a critical role in regulating emotions, making plans and solving problems, so play is what prepares a young brain for life, love and even schoolwork.”

In order for this brain development to occur, children need to participate in free play, which means there are no rules. When kids have to come up with the rules themselves, the brain builds new circuits in the prefrontal cortex, which helps it navigate complex social interactions.

While play is important, children with disabilities can be limited in their opportunities to play; however, by building upon what the child can do and using low-tech assistive technology, play can be achieved. The Let’s Play Project, which was funded by the U.S. Department of Education, created a guide book intended to assist parents with babies with disabilities and the individuals who provide them with Early Intervention services, with ways to encourage play in the children's lives.

Additionally, there are many Pinterest boards that feature toys which children with visual impairments may enjoy. WonderBaby’s Pinterest boards, especially the Fun Activities for Blind and Visually Impaired Children board is a great place to start. This board is open to others to pin, so if you would like to be invited to share on it, email help@wonderbaby.org. Also, check out Anna ECVE’s Toys, Games and Activities board.