Visually Impaired Preschoolers Learn From All Senses at TLC Preschool

By Elena Epstein

TLC Preschool Special Needs

PHOTO COURTESY TLC INCLUSIVE CHILDREN’S CENTER AND PRESCHOOL

It has taken 10 years of planning and fundraising, but the Therapeutic Living Centers for the Blind (TLC) Inclusive Children’s Center and Preschool is now open with a brand-new building offering innovative programs to children ages 3-6 with visual impairment and special needs – as well as their typically developing peers.

The preschool, opened in October, is designed for experiential learning and sensory integration. It incorporates the “High Scope Preschool Curriculum” and the “Active Learning” approach designed by renowned Danish psychologist Lilli Nielsen, Ph.D., for children who are blind or visually impaired with multiple disabilities. The approach calls for educators and parents to create environments or situations that encourage exploration, without interference from adults.

The goal of the TLC school, located in the San Fernando Valley, is to offer programs where children explore learning in a stimulating, interactive environment, says Diana Dennis, director of children’s programs. “We want the kids to learn from all their senses to maximize their full potential,” Dennis says. “For example, if we’re talking about apples, we are going to bring real apples to the classroom, cut them, smell them, taste them, make apple pie or apple sauce.”

Because 85 percent of early-childhood learning is visual, sensory integration is critical for kids with visual impairment, explains Dennis.

The curriculum is based on several guiding principles:

  • Relationships are central.
  • Play is a primary context for learning.
  • Learning is integrated.
  • Intentional teaching enhances children’s learning experiences.
  • Individualization of learning includes all children.

Inside each of the school’s four sun-filled classrooms are objects and materials that are interesting and safe for the kids to explore. “The Little Room” in each of the classrooms is a cozy space designed for visually impaired children. Students can independently sit inside the box-like room and explore toys and objects suspended from the ceiling with elastic cords. The idea is for kids to pull an object, feel it and hear a bang or a rattle. Each object then returns to its original spot, allowing the child to locate it again to repeat the activity and create a memory.

The school is also open to typically developing preschoolers whose parents are seeking a unique learning opportunity.

“Kids relate best to other kids, and we want our visually impaired and typical kids to play together and share a snack together,” explains Gail Peters, director of development at Therapeutic Living Centers for the Blind. “They will teach each other so much.”

Depending on the individual needs of each student, TLC offers a range of services, including a child development specialist; vision impairment specialist; occupational, physical and speech therapists; an orientation and mobility instructor and a music and art therapy consultant. The school also works to educate families on the best ways to advocate for their children, and offer referrals to counseling and social services in the community.

For more information, contact Diana Dennis, director of Children’s Services, at 818-708-4948, or visit www.tlc4blind.org.

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