Ada Chen, a teacher in Perkins’ Deafblind Program, holds out a fleecy pink scarf in one hand and a black felt hat in the other.
“Which one is your scarf?” she asks Casey, 9.
Casey, who has low vision and moderate hearing loss, carefully touches each garment before selecting the scarf and wrapping it around her neck.
She strokes the soft fabric as Chen reads aloud from an interactive book about winter. The book includes pictures of Casey, her classmates and the clothes they wear to stay warm.
After each page, Chen introduces tactile objects like the scarf that reinforce the printed words. The activity encourages Casey to efficiently utilize all of her senses to learn and interact with the world around her.
“Students like looking at their pictures, and that motivates them to use their tactile senses to differentiate between objects,” says Chen. “Every sense is so important.”
Sensory efficiency is one of nine blindness-specific Expanded Core Curriculum skills taught at Perkins. Students are encouraged to use all their senses – hearing, touch, smell, taste and any usable vision – to get information about their surroundings, engage in active learning and achieve their goals.
At the Perkins Horticulture Center, teacher Marion Myhre helps students learn about plants through lessons that involve all five senses. To help them understand how succulents survive in dry climates, for example, Myhre encourages them to tear open the plump green leaves.
“We break it open and show them that there’s water right inside,” she says. “That’s one of the students’ favorite activities because they can feel the water.”
Off-campus, older students use sensory efficiency skills to navigate and accomplish daily tasks.
In a lesson at a local grocery store, Perkins orientation and mobility instructor Pamela Oddis helps public school student Isais, 18, use sensory clues to learn the store’s layout and locate items on his shopping list.
As he walks up and down the aisles, Isais notices the cool air flowing from refrigerated dairy shelves, the shape and heft of various sized milk cartons, the texture of a plastic-wrapped steak and the distinctive aroma of the seafood section.
“Do you smell anything?” Oddis asks as they walk by piles of salmon, tilapia and shrimp on ice. “Yes,” Isais laughs. “This is a good landmark,” says Oddis. “Now you know where you are in the supermarket.”
Back at the Horticulture Center, Myhre encourages students to use their senses to explore the greenhouse area. A boy in a wheelchair puts his hand beneath a trickling stream of water, feeling the rush of cool liquid. Nearby, a student smells the lemony fragrance of a scented geranium.
Learning to utilize all of their senses helps students engage more fully with their surroundings, Myhre points out.
“Exploration is so important,” she says. “There are so many things you can learn just by exploring.”
The Expanded Core Curriculum is designed specifically for students with visual impairment. It covers everything from using technology to independent living to socializing with peers – knowledge most sighted children acquire by observing everyday life. The ECC gives students who are blind a toolbox of crucial skills they need to succeed at school, in social situations, at home and on the job.