By Charlotte Mellor
Farm animals are a perennial favourite with young children, and feature prominently in games, learning activities and early literature. The great thing about these types of animals is that it offers children a chance to get ‘hands-on’, which can help a child who is visually impaired gain a greater understanding of how fun farm animals can be. With lots of sensory stimulation farm’s can be an exciting place to learn.
Following the success of my Christmas visit to get up close and personal with a reindeer in the post ‘When Scarlett Met Rudolph’ I wanted to try and recreate something similar based around a farm visit. I wanted to further enforce the learning experience by doing a follow project at home with Scarlett which addresses concept development, tactile discrimination skills, incorporating Braille and fine motor skills.
I followed a similar process as I did for my ‘When Scarlett Met Rudolph’ project prior to visiting the farm. Included reading early farm animal based literature, playing farm animal songs and listening to animal sounds! All this stuff can be easily sourced from YouTube and myself and Scarlett explored a variety tactile books on the run up to the visit!
I also addressed the environment for this project and wanted to ensure that the farm was as accessible as possible! Last year we visited Nuzzlets, it is a small charity based in based near Great Ouseburn, York. Nuzzlets objectives are to provide loving homes for unwanted animals, free access to young people for therapy and education and they specialise in visits for children with disabilities, special needs and life threatening illnesses. If you would like to read more about our first visit please click here!
Nuzzlets is a great place for children who have some of the difficulties that Scarlett faces. Scarlett struggles in busy environments, particularly with noise. It has a detrimental effect on her ability to engage. In particular, sound can be very overwhelming for Scarlett so visiting places which have lots of young children running around can make it very difficult for her to feel at ease. Being able to focus and feel comfortable was key to the success of this visit. I wanted her to be able to fully explore all the different textures of the animals without feeling overwhelmed by the surrounding environment so there needed to be an element of control with this. Nuzzlets is a wonderful place it allows children to be able to do just that, numbers of people visiting are controlled and kept to a minimum, on this particular day Scarlett, Sonny and I had the farm all to ourselves! We were also provided with 3 helpers at the farm to give us the guided tactile tour which was VERY helpful. I’m sure as parents you are all fully aware the difference an extra pair of hands can make!
Scarlett has some barriers with regards to exploring things with her hands, rather than tactile defensiveness, it is more a complete reluctance! Over this past year I have seen a massive improvement in this area. Scarlett’s school and the sensory diet in place has helped Scarlett to develop confidence within this area and everyday I see an improvement in her willingness to engage with tactile items. As we have visited the farm previously it was great to return a year later and be able to see this progress come to life. Despite being tired on the day and the long drive to the farm Scarlett very happily explored all of the animals at the farm and the other tactile activities on offer. In particular she loved the sand box and when she started to become slightly distressed she became very calm whilst running her fingers through the sand.
She was also a massive fan of the turkeys neck and spent a long while rubbing it in between her fingers! The turkey was very happy to let her do this and her face was beaming.
She also happily explored rabbits, guinea pigs, ducks, a lamb, a sheep, chickens, a hedgehog, a goat and baby chicks! The hedgehog is a temporary resident at Nuzzlets as he normally lives in the wild, and we luckily got the chance to meet him briefly as part of a tactile visit. He has since recovered and has been introduced back into the woods! Towards the end of the visit she had pretty much given up and it was very hard to keep her awake, when the big woolly sheep came in to say hello Scarlett tried to snuggle into him and bed down. I also managed to witness a first for Scarlett, which meant ever so much to me. Little girls seem to love to push things around in prams, something which Scarlett has never really showed any interest in, so to see my little girl push a massive bunny around in a pram independently, well it made my day! It only seems like a little thing, but to me it meant the whole entire world.
The trip was a massive success and both Scarlett and Sonny thoroughly enjoyed the day. I was very proud of my daughter to see how eager she was to explore the animals, that shift in willingness will make a massive difference to her ability to understand the world. The difference a year has made between visits is tremendous and made me realise that sometimes, although progress is slow, it is happening. Organisations like Nuzzlets are such special places for children and can make the impossible possible. I am very thankful that such places exist, places that go that extra mile for children with additional needs, as Scarlett may never have got a chance like that, to have the chance to understand and gain knowledge of a subject area that is very important to young children. So I want to thank Mary and the rest of the Nuzzlets team for a wonderful day from myself, Sonny and Scarlett.
There is a follow up blog to this which looks at how following the trip we created a tactile project, which encompasses the farm visit, looking at tactile discrimination, fine motor skills, braille and listening skills.
We had to travel for over nearly an hour and a half to visit Nuzzlets, it really was worth the journey! I did attempt to locate a similar organisation which would be closer to our home in Manchester, but Nuzzlets was the closest. I think it would be wonderful if there was a place providing a similar service close by.