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!

Blindness Skills, Uncategorized

When Santa Lost His Eyesight

When I attended the Louisiana Center for the Blind in Ruston, LA, (the best blindness training center in the country in my humble opinion) I remember seeing a presentation of a short humourous play at one of our Christmas parties there in which Santa goes blind and comes to the LCB for training. I’d forgotten about it until I saw this post in a blog written by a friend of mine. I thought this was a fun read and have reposted it here for you. Some of your blind children out there might enjoy hearing about a Santa with whom they can identify. Just to give you a little background, the original play about Santa losing his eyesight was written by Jerry Whittle, the former Braille teacher at the LCB. Mr. Whittle is known for his plays in which he always shares some kind of story of an individual’s journey to overcome his/her blindness through training and gaining of a positive attitude towards blindness. These plays are usually performed at local and national conventions of the National Federation of the Blind. This post came from a post in the blog “Slate and Stylish”,found on blogspot, and one of my favorite blogs I follow which is written by a friend of mine, Deja Powell. I hope she won’t mind me sharing this. I hope you enjoy reading it too and that it brings you a little Christmas joy.


Posted: 18 Dec 2012 10:03 AM PST

*This is a cute little story written by my good friend Alex Castillo adapted froma play from one of my heroes, Jerry Whittle. Enjoy!

When Santa Lost His Eyesight

Santa winking/

By: Alex Castillo

Most people know about Santa Claus. He’s the Jolly old fellow who along with a team of flying reindeer and tireless elves, work year round so that on one night out of every year, they can bring presents to children and adults all over the world. What many people are not aware of, is that one year, Santa began noticing that his vision was not what it used to be. Of course, he did not want to admit it to himself, but driving that sleigh at night, and being up there in the sky with all of those airplanes zooming by, made him feel quite unsafe.

It was no surprise when news started being gossiped about in the North Pole that Santa had gone blind, and that he was quitting the holidays. He became depressed, and without his work, he lost his sense of purpose in life. The man was a real sad mess. On one of those special Holiday nights, everything started going downhill and Just got worse and worse. The naughty and good lists were becoming a blur, and he handed out the wrong toys to more than 1 billion people. I know what you might be thinking at this moment, If Santa had gone blind, you would have surely heard about it. I’m not saying this is all true, but was there one year in which you received absolutely the most unlikely gift ever? Well, if the answer is yes, then this story might make a little sense.

After getting home that night, Santa could do little more than lock himself up in his office at the toy factory, and no matter how hard anyone tried to cheer him up, he could do absolutely nothing for a very long time. This is the story I heard last year when I was visiting friends in Ruston, Louisiana. They say that one year after he had lost his vision; Santa came down there to receive training at their blindness center. “He could barely even see Rudolph’s nose,” they said, “He had lost about 75 pounds when he had first arrived, and wouldn’t even touch a cookie.” “he’d get real close to ya when he was talking,” they would all whisper, “Couldn’t tell north from south even if he was holding a compass: bless his heart.” And apparently the entire town knew about this phenomenon. So well-known was the story down there that a writer by the name of Jerry Whittle wrote a play about the whole ordeal, and everyone in town came to see the production.

When I asked how come Santa didn’t choose Nebraska to come and train, after all, we have an awesome center right here, and it would seem the familiar choice with all the snow we get, howling winds, and freezing weather, the answer I received was: “well, Nebraska? With all that snow up there? He’d be recognized in a heartbeat if he stepped outside dressed in all red in his Husker gear. “They said: “Down here, he’s just another blind guy with a beard.” The more I thought about the story, about this blind and depressed Santa Claus, the more sense it made. Often when people start to lose their eyesight, they feel ashamed, and even worthless. People find themselves almost transforming from a productive and contributing member of their family, or community, to just sitting passively, watching life and everyone else pass them by.

We often confuse the inability to do, with the inability to see. And all that it would take for us to get back into our routine, or even find a more exciting and challenging one is to simply understand that with some blindness training, many doors can open up with the promise of opportunity. Training centers do not create Santa Claus’s. But they can help Santa figure out how he can do his job as a respectable blind person non-visually. As I recall, the play ended with Santa making the decision to keep the toy factories open and to stay in the Job as Santa Claus, and arriving at the North Pole to continue his yearly duties, with some new blindness skills and alternatives. It was a true happy ending. But the people in Ruston tell a different story. They say that he didn’t go back to the North Pole right away. “Oh, he had some trouble with the training,” they said. At first, he was always lifting those sleep shades. They said he would use the excuse of being overheated to lift them and peek during every class. He didn’t like travel very much, they said: “Oh, Santa, Santa, you would see him just hiding when it was time for travel class,” But what surprised me the most was when they told me: “the first time Santa stepped into the wood shop and heard those live blades running, he almost fainted.”

One would think that someone who has been working with factory machinery their whole lives would be able to handle an arm saw. As time went by, he settled into the center and became an excellent student. But, after training, he didn’t go back to the North Pole right away. He wanted to try out a new career. He went to work at this Cajun restaurant as a cook in the next town. During training, Santa had discovered that he had let Mrs. Claus do all the cooking their entire marriage, but he actually enjoyed working in the kitchen. “Could you imagine that?” they said, “Santa as a cook in a Cajun restaurant?” I suppose he just felt like he wanted some independence.

Like many people after they finish blindness training, he must have felt a bit rebellious and must have wanted to prove to anyone that he could go far beyond the common expectations for a blind person. It wasn’t until the Mrs. Threatened to come and get him that he decided to go back up north. Sometimes the path to independence isn’t obvious and clear. Sometimes, like Santa, we need to figure ourselves out for a little while. Sometimes, blindness gives us an opportunity to learn and make decisions which vary greatly from our past, and that we would have never thought possible if we had not lost our eyesight. And sometimes, we just get a stronger sense of who we are.

But, The first step toward independence, and starting your life, or getting it back is recognizing when it’s time to receive training, and then going through that training in a program that will allow you to fully realize yourself as a respectable blind person. After all, this is our life, and we live through our choices. As for Santa, You can decide to believe this story or not, but the children and grownups are still receiving presents on time and without any strange mix-ups. Polls show that he’s been doing a better job year after year. And just the other day, I read a review about some new restaurant opening up on the North Pole which specializes in southern cuisine. Note:

This Story was based on the play written by Jerry Whittle.

Link: http://nebraskacenterfortheblind.blogspot.com/2012/12/blind-santa-goes-back-to-work.html

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Pages from the Hartle Playbook: Oh Christmas Tree

I recently saw a question on a listserv for blind parents asking how one decorates a Christmas tree as a blind person. A pretty reasonable question I thought. Sadly, she had never had the opportunity to help with this before, or been shown or figured out any alternative techniques for herself. She was concerned about safety issues as well as aesthetics. So, since this is something that we as blind people do, I shared with the list a reply to her post. I thought some excerpts from my post may be of interest here in showing some alternative techniques we’ve used in doing this.

WE actually have a pre-lit tree, just because they are so convenient whether you are blind or not. But, I used to have a regular tree and my husband who is also blind, and I would put the lights on ourselves. It’s really not that difficult to decorate the tree as it’s all hands-on. Usually, we can just feel the branches and decorations to make sure they are placed correctly. But, there are a few things I’ve found that can help.

Hanging Lights and Garland:

When we used to put lights on our tree, my husband and I would pass a coil of lights between ourselves with either of us on a side of the tree. You want to make sure the strands are evenly spaced out, which you can do by feeling where the strand is running. You can put the strands back deeper in the branches close to the trunk of the tree (or pole if it’s artificial) so that the strands aren’t showing that much. Before you put the lights on though, run you’re hands down the strands to make sure there are no bare wires exposed no fraying, and no broken bulbs. It is probably a good idea to have a sighted person check the strand before too if you can’t see the lights just to make sure the light bulbs are all working and that none have burned out. Sometimes you can run your hand across each bulb and feel if they are hot, but this takes a lot of time; or if they are small lights, sometimes the heat from the lights on either side can make a burnt out bulb still feel warm. It can also be a pain to keep the strands from becoming tangled during this process,(which even sighted people struggle with) so having someone look at the whole strand briefly to make sure it is working can be helpful.

When putting the strands of lights on the tree, just make sure you space each strand out and move it up the tree a few inches at a time. You can do the same thing for garland. Just go back around after you’ve wrapped the tree either with lights or garland and make sure you weave the strands in and over and under the branches some with your hands so that it doesn’t look like you just tied the tree up. You want the lights and garland to look more draped or looped over the branches.

You may want to use your arm or hands to measure how far apart each of the strands of lights around the tree are separated from each other—so as to keep them more evenly spaced apart.

Hanging Ornaments:

These are a lot easier to put on the tree than the lights and garland in my opinion. With these, I usually divide the tree into sections and decorate a section at a time. This way you can make sure not to over decorate a part of the tree and make sure your ornaments are evenly spaced out. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but this seems to help keep our tree from looking really crowded in one place and bear in another. I tend to divide my tree into four sections like a front, back, right, and left side. I then work from the top to the bottom in each of the four sections. I’ve even divided up my ornaments so that I have the same (roughly) amount of ornaments in each section. WE tend to have bulbs and then some specialty ornaments, so by dividing the ornaments into piles or groups first, I then have better chances of distributing them evenly around the tree. I then decorate one section, like the front for example, with one of the groups of ornaments. I tend to put our favorite or most special ornaments that I want to be seen better into the pile that is going on the front of the tree–the part of the tree that is facing out to your living room the most, or wherever most people will see. If you are displaying your tree in a window where your neighbors will see it, you might want this to be your “front” section. Anyway, this strategy has seemed to work well for me. Then, as I’m decorating each section, I can feel where I hang ornaments and then place them a few inches apart. It’s not a perfect measurement, but I spread my hand out like as if I was making a hand print, and then touch one of my outside fingers to an ornament and then where the other outside finger is is where I place the next ornament. This way, I can kind of guide my placing of ornaments down the tree. I start at the top and work down to the bottom rather than just randomly hanging the ornaments so that I don’t miss a spot or put too many ornaments in one place. If it’s helpful, you can even place a chair or something around the tree to use as a border to mark off your sections while you are decorating so that you don’t go over a section while you are working on that section. AS you are also hanging the ornaments, you want to make sure that the ornament isn’t resting against a wire from the lights, or a light bulb so that you can minimize your risk of the ornament melting or causing a fire–worst case scenario. Same thing with garland. It’s pretty easy to check around to see if anything is touching your ornament before you finish hanging it. I hope that makes sense. I actually haven’t put garland on our tree for a few years—mostly because I haven’t found one I liked yet—so instead, I’ve been using this idea I got from a craft store display tree where they draped long ribbon down the tree instead. This design has also proven to be helpful in decorating our tree as it provides a marker or divider on the tree itself which I now use when decorating to divide the tree while I’m hanging ornaments. I have four curled strands of thick Christmas ribbon coming down from the top of the tree and cascading down the tree. Basically, it is two long strands of thick ribbon (the kind with the fine wire on the edges so you can shape it) which I divide in half. Where the fold in the middle is, I make a loop and place it around the tip of the top of the tree (where your tree topper/star/angel/etc. will later go. Then, I drape one side down the front, and one side down the back. I do the same thing with my second strand of ribbon and put it on the left and right sides. When I hang ornaments, I used these ribbons as my dividers. Then, when we put our tree topper on, the ribbon kind of looks like a bow on a package, except the bow is the tree topper. It looks pretty good apparently as I’ve had complements on using the Christmas ribbon instead of garland.

Since our tree is pre-lit, there are so many lights that I think the garland could look cluttery anyway if not done the right way. Using the ribbon is really easy too. It’s kind of hard to explain but I hope this makes sense. I just mentioned this as one way you could divide your tree. Again, I did this because visually it looks pretty, not to help me decorate though, or to get out of using garland which can be hard to space around a tree nonvisually. .

Since Christmas trees are supposed to be visually appealing, it may be helpful to have a trusted friend or family member check out your tree when you’re finished decorating it just to make sure things look visually pleasing –ornaments are spaced out well and wires are hidden, etc. I’ve even Skype called my mom before and showed her the tree to get her opinion and have her point out any things I need to fix to make it look better. AS far as safety issues, I think if you are proactive and checking where you place things as you go, you shouldn’t have any problems.

Good luck. !

So, there you have it. Not a perfect science, and I’m sure other blind people out there have other, even more effective techniques, but hopefully this at least illustrates that it can be done. . On a slightly related note, this year since it’s our first year in a house, we are thinking of hanging up outdoor lights in our yard and on our house. I have yet to figure out how to do this initially, let alone as with any alternative techniques (if necessary); but if we can find some for a reasonable cost, and if I can convince my husband that decorating is fun, and if I can just figure it all out, then I’ll hopefully have a post for you on that too.

Merry Christmas!