Active Learning

Staying at Home: Cook with Your Child

As we think about engaging and learning while at home, cooking provides a multitude of multisensory learning opportunities. Pick one food that your child loves and create an opportunity to cook that food repeatedly throughout the week. Pick a quieter time and quieter place for this activity for optimal visual abilities. Create a non-complex surface with increased spacing of materials. Block distracting light and movement around the activity. This can be a long or very short activity.

Some simple favorites:

  • Koolaid
  • Eggs
  • Smoothies
  • Nachos
  • Peanut butter and banana sandwiches
  • Chex mix
  • Ice cream sundaes
  • Yogurt parfaits
  • Pre-packaged Mac and Cheese
  • Chicken Nuggets
  • Pizza

Let’s think about what this one activity provides our students with CVI:

Visual Benefits: Remember to engage visual skills at all times. Tell your child what they will see. Show the item to the child without talking. Describe the visual features of the item. Show again without talking. Allow tactile exploration.

  • That repeated visual opportunity will provide visual prediction that your child needs to develop visual recognition of the foods, the packaging, the utensils and the storage containers that are regularly and consistently seen.
  • Thinking about the support of color, picking packages, utensils and containers of very different colors will help the child discriminate and recognize each based on color.
  • That will allow you to describe the visual features: what the food, packaging, utensils and the containers look like.
  • Repetition provides opportunities to develop visual memories.
  • The movement of the cooking sequence draws and helps maintain visual attention.
  • Using these real materials will allow exploration of the different visual perspectives of the visual materials.

Compensatory Skills Benefits:

  • Activities engage visual, auditory, olfactory, taste and tactile senses; all of which support visual recognition skills.

Language Benefits:

  • Creating foods provides opportunities to develop sequencing and following directions.
  • Provides opportunities to use position words: “on top of”, “add to”, “in/out”.
  • Provides opportunities to use attribute words for the visual aspects and tactile aspects of the foods.
  • Provides opportunities to use cooking vocabulary: “mix”, “fold”, “stir”, “beat”, “add”.

Cognitive Benefits

  • Provides opportunities to use concepts: hot/cold
  • Provides opportunities to use concepts: more/less
  • Provides opportunities to use concepts of attributes: big/little, long/short, curved/straight
  • Provides opportunities to use concepts of the appropriate storage of foods (those stored in the cabinets, refrigerator, freezer).
  • Provides opportunities to understand the properties of liquids and solids
  • Provides opportunities to use for grouping and categorizing
  • Provides opportunities to understand parts to whole: sliced banana vs. the whole banana.
  • Provides opportunities to for food handling: peeling, cracking

Reading Benefits Reading in print, Braille, symbols, pictures

  • Provides opportunities to for reading in print, Braille, symbols, pictures
  • Provides opportunities to create lists of things to buy to get ingredients
  • Provides opportunities for reading and following directions of the recipes

Mathematics Benefits:

  • Provides opportunities to for measuring and weighing
  • Provides opportunities to understand one to one correspondence
  • Provides opportunities to understand time concepts
  • Provides opportunities to understand temperatures
  • Provides opportunities to understand size concepts
  • Provides opportunities to count
  • Provides opportunities to cut into foods into factions
  • Provides opportunities to fill and dump
  • Provides opportunities to understand portions

Science Benefits

  • Provides opportunities to experience cause and effect
  • Provides opportunities to use chemistry
  • Provides opportunities to understand how foods are different in form: milks require pouring while mayonnaise requires scooping
  • Provides opportunities to understand how heating and freezing impacts foods
  • Provides opportunities to use force for cutting, separating

Social Benefit

  • Provides opportunities for sharing
  • Provides opportunities for cooperating

Motor Benefits

  • Provides opportunities for opening and closing containers
  • Provides opportunities for holding heavy and light materials
  • Provides opportunities to use two hands together
  • Provides opportunities for stirring different textures with different tools
  • Provides opportunities to use pouring, scooping, kneading

Advocacy Benefits

  • Provides opportunities to plan
  • Provides opportunities to make choices.

Career Benefits

  • Provides opportunities to sort needed ingredients and tools
  • Provides opportunities for cleaning needed tools
  • Provides opportunities to set up for completing a task

Technology Benefits

  • Provides opportunities to use recipes on iPads
  • Provides opportunities to use blenders, mixers and other kitchen equipment
  • Provides opportunities to use the oven, the microwave and to use stovetops

Even if your child is not eating foods, participating in tube formula feeding is also an opportunity for many of these same learning experiences.

Each activity can be easily adapted for the various functioning abilities for each child. Some will be independent with supervision and some might require hand under hand support for participation. Touching, looking at, pushing something into a container is all participation. All levels of abilities can be engaged and learning fruitful for all!

Want more? You can use these to follow up after your cooking. Use again and again!

  • Take pictures and make a Powerpoint book of the ingredients or process
  • Find a Youtube of a character making the same food. Follow up your activity with this literacy material: Here is one about making pizza
  • Make a recipe book
  • Make a symbols book for the utensils

Visual Experience, Experience, Experience

For science nerds like me!

“Neuroscientists Reveal How the Brain Learns to Recognize Objects”

This article comes from work being conducted at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). They are studying how humans process visual information for recognition so they can design artificial visual systems. It seems vision is such a complex process! I think parents and teacher have understood this for years!

This great article that drives home the brain’s need for repeated experience to build visual understanding. The brain must have repeated experiences with objects in different kinds of positions, perspectives, lighting, size and distance. It reminds me to provide my students with real objects in repeated, predictable routines to build familiarity. It reminds me not it only present iPad visual targets that can’t be manipulated. The child builds visual recognition from the presentation of objects in multiple positions to view multiple perspectives. If the child is not able to manipulate material themselves, we must provide that varying visual perspective.




Toys for the Holidays

As we think about gifts for our children with CVI, we want to pick toys and materials for fun and learning. First and foremost, children with CVI are children. All children benefit from play as the basis of their learning. It is essential that our children have those opportunities carefully created and frequently available. Think about a child with typical vision. They have access all the time. Wouldn’t it be great to have teams look across the child’s day and make sure our children with CVI have visual and play access all the time?
These play opportunities need to be matched to children’s assessment results.

• A toy that includes single bright color. The multicolored nature of the toy surface can confuse the child. Single colors “hold” objects together visually and are easier to recognize.
• Lighted toys for those that love light
• Musical toys. We all love those!
Movement that is predictable, not too frantic

For the play environment:
• We want fewer toys to look at matched to their assessed tolerance.
• We want non-complex backgrounds so the toy really stands out.
• We want the toy to be in the child’s best visual field at eye level.
• We want toys close matched to their visual abilities for distance.
• We want an activation method for the toy. This might be a switch that the child can accidentally hit, learn and then purposefully hit. It might be a toy that makes a visual change or a toy that makes a noise when it is hit. There might not be reaching much yet but we need to present the opportunity to activate to build that reaching. Far too many toys for children with CVI rely on passive looking and no expanded access ability for the improving vision and visual motor skills.
• We want toys within the child’s arms’ length and arm movement abilities. If the child has limited arm movement, we must place the activation method near the hand/arm and have another part of the toy within their visual field (“I move my arm and I see this visual event”).

Free Active Learning Series

I can’t recommend this series strongly enough! I believe Active Learning is a core philosophy for providing our students and children ACCESS to materials and concepts for learning. Especially for children with CVI or children with multiple disabilities. The world must be brought to them to explore, wonder and experiment!

This is a free series, all online through Perkins eLearning. I’m signed up! It starts September 22 so don’t delay.

From the site:

“In this series of Active Learning webinars we will share ideas for moving from assessment to IEP development to delivering instruction. Attention will be given to organizing the student’s day and delivering both general curriculum and expanded core curriculum content using an Active Learning approach.”



Teaching Staff About CVI Pays Off!

I complete CVI inservices to the educational teams every fall and throughout the school year as needed. One inservice helps teams understand the overall concepts about CVI and the other inservice helps teams understand the CVI assessment, the functional vision assessment results for each child. With this information, teachers and therapists understand CVI and understand their student’s visual needs. They can adapt toys and learning materials to meet those assessed needs.

Here is an example of a toy adapted by the speech therapist for one child’s assessed visual needs. It provides color support with red duct tape at the activation button. Pushing the button creates a light show!

This is a box of holiday lights but left in the box. It is available from Amazon.

string lights

string lights box

string light amazon


Supporting Reaching for Children with CVI

If a child is not reaching: we want to support reaching by:

  • Always having something within arm’s to touch and look at that are shiny, of their favorite color and slightly moving.
  • Use long things that can be attached up in the best visual field and attached to the wrist. Movements will make visual events. Bells or other sounds attached to the other end will make it even more interesting!
  • Help the child understand that their movements can make changes: balloon tied to the wrist at the best visual distance, something tied to the foot at the best visual distance, red socks on feet and red hair elastics on wrists so their own movements create a moving visual event. This also helps children understand hands and feet are part of their bodies.
  • Teaching the child to reach by stroking from at his elbow to the hand, reaching together in a hand under hand exploration technique. As they get the idea, give less support.
  • Never grab the child’s hand. Use hand under hand to guide them to touch things.

For a further explanation of the hand under hand and the hand over hand techniques see American Foundation for the Blind:



Comparative Thought Using Active learning and Visual Attribute Language

Children with typical visual skills access materials and people in their environment at near and distance. They build understanding of their world by seeing and then comparing similarities and differences in the environment.  This same experience of comparative thought must be available to our children with CVI.  This comparative thought builds understanding of attributes of materials and keeps the brain stimulated and engaged. Children’s brains that compare and are engaged, build neural pathways as they learn but they need access.

If the child with CVI, who has difficulty seeing and understanding objects, is always provided with these comparative materials at near, they have this access.  I always start with materials I know children prefer.  If they prefer certain objects, these are familiar. I place the familiar object against a non-complex background and add another that is similar but slightly different in one way.  If the child is looking at a large red slinky, I might present a smaller blue one.  I am then able to provide salient language: “Here is your favorite red slinky.  Now you will see a smaller blue slinky.  It moves in the same way”. I like to think of this expanded visual access as lateral learning.  Lateral learning is assessing what a child can look at and carefully presenting materials that are slightly different in color, size and then shape. (Note: the stuffed toy has slinky arms and legs.)

active learning 033



Happy Holidays Activity

The classroom teacher picked up this blowup snowman after the holidays last year.  This child, Jim, needs movement and light to draw visual attention to his weaker right visual field.  In this inventive activity, the snowman is connected to a switch using a Powerlink environmental control device interface.  When Jim hits the switch, the snowman slowly inflates and lights up.  After 30 seconds, it shuts off and slowly deflates.  Jim needs to visually locate the switch to watch it re-inflate. He increasingly accesses the weaker right visual field in this fun activity!  The Powerlink can be controlled and the individually set for every child in the classroom matched to the assessed processing time, visual field, switch color, distance, and complexity needs. Fantastic visual and visual motor activity!  I love activities like this for home as well.  Children can engage and play in a meaningful way while parents cook dinner, do laundry and all the other household tasks. I can’t think of a child who wouldn’t love this!

thumb_IMG_1141_1024                                thumb_IMG_1140_1024

Active Learning Resource: Hold Everything

Here a resource, Hold Everything, that you will find helpful to build Active Learning experiences for children.  You can build any of these with considerations for the child’s color needs, create motion if needed, backlight or use lighted toys if needed, place in the child’s best visual field, and place at optimal distance for visual and visual motor abilities reduce complexity as needed.  Have fun creating these fantastic opportunities!

Click to access hold_everything.pdf


Active Learning Slantboards Based on Child Preferences

ball slant                          ribbon slant

Two children in our preschool have distinct object preferences and recognition abilities, one for ribbons/strings and one for balls. To provide an active learning experience at near, we created slantboards with some pegboard materials placed in their preferred visual field. We started with one item then increased the array. With building skills, we could more to the child’s other weaker visual field. In the beginning, their own movements created movement in the materials. Now reaching and batting is happening intentionally! It goes to show that using favorites is the way to go!