Sarah Holton, Children and Young People's Officer at RNIB, explores ways to create inclusive play time for children with vision impairment and their sighted friends.
Unstructured or informal times at school, such as breaks and lunch time, can present issues for a child with vision impairment (VI). Though they are often the times that school children look forward to most! So it’s important to try and create the natural social and play opportunities that break times can offer.
Adult support is a key factor. Getting the balance between essential support of a child to ensure safety and wellbeing, and standing back to make sure they can chat and play with their peers independently, needs careful thought.
Awareness and a can-do attitude among the class as a whole will help a lot.
A child with VI wants to play, chat and run around just like everyone else.
You might like to talk about safety, mobility and sighted-guiding.
RNIB has a video for young people about how to guide. It’s meant for young people of secondary or college age, but the principles of safely helping someone move around can’t be learnt too early!
A good starting point would be to enable the pupil to explore the playground with a teacher or habilitation officer with no one else there. An environmental audit from a habilitation specialist would also be useful to identify any obstacles, edges or steps that could be highlighted and any hazards that could be changed or improved.
Remember that children with photophobia may benefit from wearing caps or glasses when they play outside.
A ‘buddy stop’ or ‘buddy bench’ where a child can go so other children know they’re looking for playmates can work well. It might be useful to do an additional induction if this was introduced, so sighted children know to introduce themselves if they go to play with a child who has vision impairment. You could also work on finding the buddy stop as an independent mobility target.
Many hard-surface playgrounds or spaces with obstacles or clutter may not be suitable for encouraging this, but if there is a grassed area or school field, being able to run without fear of falling or bumping would be a great physical opportunity.
A designated safe area, perhaps with a table (like a picnic table with solid benches attached) can work well, so table-top games can be played. For example Connect 4 or draughts, where you can drill holes in one colour of pieces to tell them apart, or dominoes. Playground staff can set up a game for a small group, so friends can play together but with background adult supervision.
RNIB has other games in the Online Shop. Braille or large print bingo could also be a game a group of friends can play, as long as the child with VI had a bingo card in their reading format.
Remember that playing is the staple developmental diet of any child – and just as important as everything else that happens at school.
With thanks to advice from Suzy McDonald, Habilitation Officer at Birmingham City Council.