Gingerbread Houses and Cane Travel ?

I had what I’d consider a “brilliant idea” a while back. Unfortunately, I’ve not yet had the opportunity to implement said idea, but I hope to at some point. My brilliant idea: Make Gingerbread houses to help teach principles of cane travel (orientation and mobility).

This could be a really fun activity to do with young children around the holidays. Okay, so maybe we’re not actually talking about the real nuts and bolts of cane travel, i.e., how to arc a cane, use echo location, locate landmarks, cross streets, etc., but there are some great foundational pieces which you could introduce through play, a.k.a., constructing a gingerbread house which are just as relevant to cane travel as the afore mentioned skills.

Concepts of Parallel and Perpendicular: These concepts will come up in multiple ways as you place walls, a roof, and other elements on your structure. You can also discuss how in neighborhoods, sidewalks usually run parallel to the houses and the street, but there may be smaller side walks which run perpendicular to the main one or to the street which lead to the entrance of the house. You can also talk about how things like grass or mailboxes can be found along the sides of sidewalks or driveways which sometimes serve as useful landmarks when one is trying to orient him/herself to an area.

Cardinal directions: Cardinal directions are often tricky to teach to children, but this could be a fun way to help instruct a child on how to use cardinal directions. Some people don’t really understand the value of cardinal directions, but here’s a quick explanation which might help you see how they can be useful. Imagine you are driving down Main Street and you live on Smith Ave. The way you are driving right now on main street means you will have to turn left on Smith in order to reach your house. Now, let’s say you are giving a friend directions to your house. She is driving the opposite direction on Main Street. If you told her to turn left on Smith Ave like you did, she would end up driving away from your house. So, even though left and right can be helpful things, they vary in their use depending what “direction” we are facing at the time. But, if you know that when you are traveling north on main street, you will need to turn west on Smith to go to your house, or east if you are going south on Main street, directions can be a lot more useful. . Knowing whether you are traveling north, south, east, or west can be very useful tools in using directions when you can’t always rely on looking for landmarks like a sighted person would do. . . These directions can also help in areas like schools or businesses to help a blind individual orient him/her self to a place. For example, if you enter a store and you are heading north, you can mentally map which direction you are walking while in the store. Then, when you are ready to exit the store, you know that you have to make your way back to the south to locate the exit. This, along with other environmental cues can be very helpful in traveling in different environments.

While constructing your house, you can help give your child directions like, “Should we put the door on the east side?” Or, “If the front door is on the east wall, what wall do you think we should put the back door?”, or “Oh, it looks like you put a tree on the west side of the house.” AS you use this kind of language, you can explain what these directions mean, and how your child can determine which direction is which.

Understanding Structural Concepts: One other idea you could teach your child is about building structure. Often, we take for granted some of the things sighted children learn just by visual observation such as what different stories on a building look like, or how roofs are designed, how doors or windows look in relation to a building’s face, or what different materials such as brick, stone, or siding look like. These can be important concepts for our blind and low vision children to understand too, but unless they experience it in a way that is meaningful to them, and/or we teach them about these things, they may not fully “get” these concepts. This is where a lot of “hands-on” learning is useful and essential. Looking at realistic models is especially valuable, or the real thing” when available, but the idea of making gingerbread houses can be a fun way to reinforce these ideas or concepts in young children. So, for example, when making your house, you can talk about how the mini Hershey bar you are using for a front door should probably not be in the middle of the front wall close to the roof, but instead may be better placed toward the bottom of your wall, or lined up with the ground or side walk like a door usually would be. Or, if your child wants to make a brick house, she could line up small square candies (like caramels or mini candy bars) on her wall, or use chocolate chips for a stone house.

Lastly, here are a couple of quick ideas for fun, easy, gingerbread houses:

  • Use a large, flat piece of cardboard covered with tin foil as your base on which to construct your house/neighborhood (size may vary depending on how elaborate you and your child want to get, but a 1’x1’ sq. piece would work well.)
  • Use graham crackers to serve as walls and roof material
  • “Royal” icing works really well. You need the really thick kind of icing, not the kind of frosting you find in the cans in the baking isle. You can usually order the icing from your local bakery or ask there for the right stuff. You want it to be really thick so it will hold your house up.
  • You will want to have a variety of candy on hand to construct different elements of your house and neighborhood or property around your house. I recommend some of the following : mini candy bars, small round candies like M & M’s, caramels, hard round candies, licorice ropes, chocolate chips, sprinkles, Hershey’s kisses, Lifesavors,candy canes, gum drops (both large and small),and pretzel sticks.
  • Remember to have fun and be creative!

One last idea, covering a pretzel stick in icing makes a great white cane and would look really cute in the hand of a little gingerbread boy or girl out front of your house.

If any of you implement this idea, I’d love to see pictures to post with this post in the future to show off your creations. Let me know how it goes!

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