A clearer look at the senses

17th January 2003 at 00:00
Jean Evans says a trip to the optician can help children find new ways of seeing.

New topics are frequently introduced to foundation stage children by setting up interest tables or displays to motivate them. But you can also introduce topic-based activities using your classroom's role-play area and a related visit to a real doctor's or dentist's surgery; below are suggestions on how to introduce a "senses" topic through "visits" to a role-play optician.

First things first

* Visit an optician's shop, with a group of children if possible, to look at how waiting and consulting rooms are organised. Take note of what's around that you can use as a resource; ask for free leaflets, posters and old spectacle frames without lenses that you can take away. You can also invite the optician into school to talk to the children about their work.

* Write a list of resources needed to create your own optician's role-play area and display it in class so that parents can contribute by bringing some in.

* Prepare some large "eye-test cards", displaying a single letter, number or picture that can be held up, and a set of smaller matching cards for "patients" to point to. (This resource can be used to introduce appropriate letters, numbers and pictures, according to the ability and individual needs of the children in the group.) Setting the scene

* Divide your role-play area into three sections - a waiting area, a consulting room and a place to try on frames - using low screens or chairs.

* Organise the waiting area to include a table or desk for the receptionist, complete with telephone, pencils and pens, a diary and notepads. Include a computer (create one from a recycled box if necessary). Display posters and leaflets for the patients.

* Set up the consulting room with a large chair for the patient and an alphabet chart on the screen opposite. Arrange resources for the "optician" in an old briefcase, such as a torch with the battery removed, the eye-test cards prepared previously and plastic frames without lenses. Hang up a white shirt for the optician to wear.

* Organise an area with a table, chair and safety mirror so that patients can try on plastic frames and sunglasses.

Act the part

Encourage learning opportunities by appropriate interaction with the children.

* Introduce them to the area and demonstrate what happens in each section. Hold "eye tests", with children taking on the roles of patient and optician so they are aware of the purpose of the resources. Invite them to cover one eye and read the cards with the other.

* Explore the collection of sunglasses and frames. Talk about why people wear spectacles.

* Invite the children to play freely.

Moving on

Introduce planned activities related to the sense of sight, ensuring that the role-play area remains accessible.

* Explore how far the eye can see by holding up test cards at varying distances in an outdoor space. Investigate a range of optical equipment such as telescopes, binoculars and magnifying glasses.

* Discuss how eyes can be protected, exploring sunglasses, ski and swimming goggles and safety glasses.

* Invite children and parents who wear spectacles to talk about their choice of frames and how they care for them. Make positive comments to encourage respect for differences.

* Talk about children and adults who have a visual impairment and explore a range of resources to assist them, such as large print and magnifying rulers.

* Explain to children the importance of other senses to those who cannot see at all. Play games with "feely" bags, identifying objects by the sense of touch. Listen to a "talking newspaper" or the bleeping signal at a pelican crossing. Borrow a Braille typewriter or book so that children can feel the words. Invite them to form their initial letters on card in Braille script, using sand sprinkled on to glue. Can they identify their own initials by touch? Invite a guide dog and owner to visit the school.

What next?

Link sight related activities to different areas of learning.

* Make scientific investigations about change by creating some cardboard spectacle frames and inserting coloured "lenses" made from cellophane. How does the world look as the colours are changed? (Remind children not to look at bright lights or the sun.)

* Develop creativity by inviting children to design fashion spectacles using card, glitter, sequins and foil.

* Look through a kaleidoscope and discuss how colours are associated with different moods.

Jean Evans is a registered nursery inspector, author and in-service training provider.

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