Helping Your Preschooler Practice Orientation and Mobility Skills
As your child becomes more and more active, you’ll want to help him practice different ways of getting around safely and to encourage an awareness of his environment. You’ll also want to reinforce the skills and concepts he’s learning from his orientation and mobility (O&M) instructor, if he has one. You can help your preschooler learn how to know where he is, how he got there, and how he can find his way back, starting in your home and expanding to your neighborhood.
Different rooms in your home have different odors, floor textures, and sounds. As your child begins to move around on his own, or as you help him get from place to place, point out these differences to him with comments such as these:
- “Do you hear those humming and swishing sounds? That’s the noise the dishwasher makes, so you know you’re in the kitchen.”
- “You’re standing on the rug in the hall. It feels a lot different from the wooden floor in the dining room.”
- “Your dad must be working on something in the basement. You can hear the buzz of his drill.”
- “That’s a car outside. Car noises sound louder when you’re in the front of the house because we are closer to the street.”
- “Don’t you love the smell of the cookies baking in the kitchen? We’ll have some in a few minutes.”
Practicing O&M skills can be fun for you and your preschooler because you can do so with a variety of games and activities. Here are a few suggestions.
- Try marking your child’s special places in a way that will have meaning to him. For example, choose some cloth that has a pleasant feel or self-adhesive paper with a raised texture. Tape a piece of this material on the door to your child’s bedroom, on his chair at the dinner table, and on the kitchen drawer or cabinet that contains the pots and pans he’s allowed to play with.
- Encourage your child to practice trailing walls, both to find his way and to give him a sense of control over where he is and where he’s going. Trailing is done by lightly curving the fingers and holding the back of the hand against the wall but slightly ahead of the body. The wall isn’t used for support but as a guideline.
- When you’re used to things being in a certain place, it can be very confusing not to find them there—especially if you can’t see that they’ve been moved. If you’re going to move furniture around, be sure to tell your child what you’re doing and even ask him to help you. Include him in the process.
- Make up travel games to play with your child, for example, “You got to the kitchen by walking through the hallway. Now, can you go back to the hall without walking through the kitchen?” As your child gets older, you can expand these games to the community. Ask your child to tell you where the two of you have been and how to get back home.
- Play follow-the-leader in such a way that your child has to follow the sound of your voice as you walk around a room. Try this outside, too, as your voice will be more difficult to locate in a large open space.
- As you walk around the neighborhood with your child, point out driveways, corners, mailboxes, trees, and other landmarks. These will become useful when he begins getting around alone. You might say, for example, “If we walk out the front door, walk left, and count three driveways, we’ll come to the mailbox.”
- Remind your child to use sidewalks as clues. If he’s supposed to be following the sidewalk and he finds himself walking on grass or dirt instead, he’ll know he’s gone off course.
- Begin teaching compass directions—north, south, east, west—early on. If your child has some vision or perceives light and darkness, knowing that the sun always rises in the east and sets in the west may someday help him find his way home.