Six tips for supporting numeracy development in children with vision impairment

Post date: 
Thursday, 2 February 2017
Child feeling items from the kitchen

Gwyneth McCormack (pictured), QTVI and Director at Positive Eye, explores ways parents can help develop numeracy skills at home in children with vision impairment.

We are surrounded by a vast array of learning opportunities which can be harnessed to support the numeracy development of children with vision impairment (VI). The child can participate in multi-sensory learning experiences which are important in building early maths skills of categorisation, discrimination, matching, sorting and counting.
 
Parents and carers play a vital role in supporting this development. Using inexpensive items from around the home enables parents to teach their child important early numeracy concepts, maximising the learning opportunity.
 

Here are some useful tips to share with parents and carers to enable them to reinforce their child’s numeracy skills

  1. Exploring qualities of objects: Encourage your child to explore objects from around the house and outside.
A child with vision impairment has limited exposure to visual experiences provided by the environment around them, so their understanding is fragmented. It’s important the child is exposed to the concept of the qualities of one object by being given the opportunity to explore to achieve an understanding of what one object feels, sounds, smells and tastes (when appropriate) like through as many different experiences as possible. This is also crucial to establishing early concepts of shape, form, size, purpose, cause and effect.
 
  1. Building experience of numbers: Ask your child to count objects as you go about your daily activities. For example as you set the table count the number of cups, knives, forks and plates.
A child with VI may not grasp the property of whole numbers and miss out on early number experiences in everyday life. For example, in one glance sighted children can see four plates on a table and gain a quicker sense of the concept of four. Whereas a child with VI needs to count the four plates individually, feel the plates in a stack and then place them on the table, counting them as they go.
 
  1. Developing classification skills: Collect a bag or box of everyday objects from around the house and sort by size, shape, texture, smell, sound or purpose.
A child with VI misses out on everyday opportunities to develop classification skills and tactile methods of access are a slower way to understand concepts. Grouping objects can be used to help develop the language required to identify, describe and compare size, weight, height and length of objects.
 
  1. Promoting understanding of shapes: Choose a shape and explore the environment collecting objects that are that shape. Order the objects by size, for example smallest to largest or heaviest to lightest.
A vast array of shapes exist within our environment which sighted children are constantly exposed to through many incidental learning opportunities not readily available to a child with VI.
 
  1. Promoting understanding of patterns: Make patterns from objects within the environment. For example collect pencils, paper clips or paper cups and stick them to cut out squares, triangles or circles made from scrap paper.
Almost all maths is based on pattern, therefore building a solid foundation in the early years is important. Sighted children experience pattern incidentally all around them, the patterns made by leaves or the pattern of footprints in the snow. A child with VI needs to experience pattern through tactile methods. Encourage your child to copy your patterns and also create patterns for you to copy.
 
  1. Exploring numeracy in real life situations: Create role play opportunities, for example serving cakes in a café.
Role play helps a child with VI to understand how they use numeracy in everyday situations. It gives the child an opportunity to apply both concrete and abstract numeracy skills, building the concept that numeracy doesn’t just exist in a remote counting activity of plastic objects, but that it is part of their daily life.
 
Activity:
  • Setting the scene: Make a bag that has some of the items you would find in a café, for example: 4 square place mats, 4 plates, 4 napkins, 4 knives, 4 forks, 4 spoons, 4 cups, 4 saucers, 1 jug of water, 1 tablecloth, 1 large plate for cakes, 4 cakes and 1 purse with some coins. Set the table using these items.
  • Placing an order: Role play being the waiter and customer in a café, order cakes and drinks. How many cakes are needed for four people? How many plates are needed for four people? Count four cakes onto four plates, giving one cake to each person, how many cakes are left?
  • Paying the bill: Order a number of cakes for the people at the table, add up the cost of cakes ordered and pay with the correct money, give change.
  • Counting objects: Feel and count the number of table and chair legs, record on a tally chart. Count the objects on table, record on a tally chart and make pictogram.
  • Matching shapes: Match shapes that are square and circular: circles – cups, bowls, cakes. Squares – place mats, napkins, tablecloth.
  • Matching sets: For example knives and forks or cups, saucers and spoons (match sets with two and three attributes).
  • Understanding capacity: Fill the four cups with water from the jug, how much water from the jug is needed to fill the cups? Find some bigger and smaller cups to fill and compare the amount of water needed.
 
For a sighted child a single glance can reveal the size, shape and material of an object or place. For a child with VI, this learning process takes longer as information has to be gained by touch, movement or by physically manipulating and exploring the object or environment. The child has to work with many different sources of information instead of just one (vision).
 
Maximising learning opportunities to develop early numeracy skills from within the child’s environment is an important approach. The child needs as many experiences, in as many different places, of shape, form, colour, size, texture, sound, smell, taste, cause and effect, and processes, and parents and carers play an important role in supporting this learning on a daily basis.
 

About Positive Eye

Positive Eye provides educational consultancy and training for professionals working with children and young people with vision impairment.
 

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