Helping Your Preschooler Practice Orientation and Mobility Skills

As your child becomes increasingly active, you’ll want to help them practice different ways of getting around safely and encourage an awareness of the environment. You’ll also want to reinforce the skills and concepts your child is learning from the orientation and mobility (O&M) instructor. You can help your preschooler learn how to know where they are, how they got there, and how to find their way back, starting in your home and expanding to your neighborhood.

Orientation

Different rooms in your home have different odors, floor textures, and sounds. As your child begins to move around on their own, or as you help your child get from place to place, point out these differences with comments such as these:

  • “Do you hear those humming and swishing sounds? That’s the dishwasher’s noise, 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.”

Mobility

Practicing O&M skills can be fun for your family. 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. For example, choose some cloth that has a pleasant feel or self-adhesive paper with a raised texture.
  • Encourage your child to practice trailing walls to find their way and give a sense of control over where your child is and where they are 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 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.
  • 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 ages, 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.
  • Begin teaching compass directions—north, south, east, west—early on.
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