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Learning Through What One Loves

This blog post by the mother of a young girl who is blind shows how preferred activities can be used to teach language and basic concepts as part of emergent literacy.

woman holds baby in poolFirstly I’d like to introduce myself:  my name is Charlotte and I am a single mother of two.  I have Scarlett, who is blind and three and a half, and Sonny, who is two and a half and fully sighted.  I run an online parents’ support network based in the UK called inspired by my mission to raise my daughter in the very best way that I can…. by seeking knowledge and educating myself as much as possible to enrich her life.  I also want to help other parents by offering a support network and information-sharing platform.

Literacy and my daughter Scarlett seem so many worlds apart.  She has no sight and is considerably developmentally delayed.  She is also being investigated for social and communication problems, as she doesn’t learn like other children do and she has some very quirky behaviours.  In some areas she really excels and in others she lacks.

The main area in which Scarlett struggles is to engage in shared interaction, something which is pivotal to the learning process.  She has such a determined baby sitting by edge of poolnature and will not do anything unless she feels it’s her idea.  This is rather a tricky situation to be faced with when you are trying to guide your child in the world of literacy.

In particular there are a tiny amount of motivators in Scarlett’s life, and there are a very small range of activities in which we can engage Scarlett.  Getting her to branch out into other areas is hard and becoming detrimental to her learning.

So after lots of experimenting with Scarlett, we have eventually come to the conclusion that unless it’s associated with what she wants to do, nothing will sink in.  So in this blog I am going to examine how we have used one of Scarlett’s great loves, water play, to teach her some necessary language.

man holds baby in poolIn particular I am going to focus on her Hydrotherapy sessions and how we have scaffold language around that shared interaction.  Scarlett doesn’t have much choice but to share this experience as she needs to hold onto the adult; either myself or her VI teacher to do it, so there’s the first barrier broke down.  Now from that it’s about applying the learning in this well loved activity.

So here is a draft of the plan we use with Scarlett whilst in the pool:



Nouns: Body related – easiest to initially work on in the pool: head, face, hand, arm, feet, back, front.


  • listen to Sue (instructor)
  • feel the wall
  • hold hands
  • stop (during play or song activities relating to that word/action)

Concept Development/Spatial Awareness:

  • up
  • down
  • backwards
  • forwards
  • from
  • front
  • back
  • goodbye

Some suggested strategies:

woman with baby in pool

  1. Follow a predictable route, sequence of events, and entrance to the actual pool.
  2. Always introduce Scarlett to Sue – name and touch ( links to applying meaning to the instruction “listen to Sue”).
  3. Stand close to Sue in a singing activity, so that Scarlett is able to hear her voice as the primary sound.
  4. During the ‘Hello’ song touch Scarlett’s hand to that of the named child.
  5. When moving from one side of the pool to the other – encourage Scarlett to feel the pool wall when starting from one side and returning to it.
  6. If playing the Scarlett up/down game in the shallow end of the pool – use your voice location ( i.e., near the water/raised above Scarlett’s height) to support her understanding of the instruction/action.
  7. Use the water jet in the shallow end to spray against and support Scarlett’s understanding of feet/ legs.

All the activities used in the pool are things Scarlett is interested in, from this she is learning purposeful language, centred around directions and body parts.  These are essential when laying the foundations of language, things that will be important for Scarlett to learn and will be heavily involved in her successful Path To Literacy!


developing basic concepts through preferred activities


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