From Amanda English, TCVI, COMS, MDE-LIO Education Consultant

“I don’t have time.” 

“It’s too hard.”  

“I’ll teach them when they’re older.” 

The reasons are endless, and chances are you have said or heard one of these phrases when talking or thinking about teaching independent living skills (ILS) to a child who is Blind or Visually Impaired (BVI). Teaching food preparation, cooking, cleaning, dressing, bathing, organization, and everything in between may seem overwhelming. However, these skills are important for becoming an independent person and are critical for a child’s education and development. 

Building Independence

The main reason for incorporating ILS into your lessons should be student independence. These skills are part of the expanded core curriculum (ECC), and research has shown for years that people who are BVI are more successful as adults if they have ECC skills. Teachers and orientation and mobility (O&M) specialists often focus on compensatory, technology, and O&M skills within the ECC. It can be easy for the other ECC skills, including ILS, to get lost in the shuffle. 

Think about the last time you incorporated ILS into one of your lessons. If you are like me, the thought of that lesson brings a big smile to your face. In fact, it might be one of the highlights of your time with that student. I remember working with a fourth-grade student who was making a microwave mug cake for her birthday. She made three mug cakes that day, and it only took a half hour total. She made one for herself, one for me, and one for a friend. She practiced reading the recipe on her notetaker, measured the ingredients, cracked eggs, mixed ingredients, used the microwave, and washed her dishes. She smiled, laughed, and learned. It was invigorating! 

Did you know a Microwave Chocolate Mug Cake only takes two minutes to cook in the microwave and usually only needs nine simple ingredients? Check out MDE-LIO’s ILS Resource Module [PDF] for other easy ILS recipes and ideas. 

Start Early

ILS are not skills to start teaching when the student is about to head off to college. These skills need to be taught from an early age. For example, toddlers can learn how to: 

  • Put their toys away 
  • Play with spoons and bowls 
  • Stack crackers and cheese 
  • Start exploring a toothbrush or comb 

Elementary students can learn how to: 

  • Tie their shoes 
  • Pick out their clothes 
  • Make breakfast 

Teaching ILS ideally begins when the child is very young; skills develop over time with meaningful and intentional instruction. Don't worry, however, if you have not yet started teaching ILS. Your student will still benefit from ILS instruction at any age. Your student also does not need to learn every part of a task in one session. The skills build on each other, and it will take time for each student to develop skills. You may not have a full half hour to work on ILS, but be intentional and incorporate three to five minutes into your lessons to practice new concepts. 

Helping a student’s family learn about ILS is important, too. Families will look to you to guide them. Do you know what to do? Check out the ILS Modules and Checklists on MDE-LIO’s Independent Living Skills page to get started. 

Upcoming ILS Workshops 

This fall, MDE-LIO’s ILS team will partner with districts for four one-day, hands-on sessions. The sessions will help teachers incorporate ILS into their daily instruction or start their own ILS program. There is not one right way for adapting an ILS skill, so bring your ideas for adapting a skill. 

Each workshop will essentially be the same. Choose the one that works best for you! Space is limited to 30 participants for each location.