Homework with the Wheel

Most responsible parents (a group to which I like to think I belong) discourage their children from doing their homework in front of the television. I’ve lightened up a bit since my children have moved to middle and high school and will let them listen to their I-Pods while doing their homework. But, if their grades start to falter, the I-Pods are history. Those rules apply to everyone but Ashley.

Several years ago, during Ashley’s early elementary school years, she loved to watch Wheel of Fortune each evening. I don’t think the producers of that show realized that they were designing a TV show that was almost perfect for a child with vision and hearing impairments. At first, Ashley would just follow the ‘little Vanna’ on the screen, back and forth as the letters were turned. In the world of vision impairments, that skill is called ‘tracking’ and it is something vision teachers work on all the time with their students in school.

Ashley moved from there to pointing out Vanna’s shoes and sparkly dresses and learning sign language for ‘pretty’, ‘dress’, and ‘shoes’. Soon we were adding ‘walk’ and ‘smile’. Vanna even got her own sign, a ‘V’ made with the fingers, like the victory sign or the bunny in the fingerplay, Little Bunny Foo Foo. So now, Ashley’s homework involved tracking and practicing her sign language skills. Learning letters of the alphabet became the next logical step in the Wheel of Fortune Curriculum!

Here again, the show’s producers made the letters of the TV screen large, colorful and bright – a perfect combination for a child with vision impairments. And, the contestants who called out the letters, usually did so in a loud scream – a perfect foil for Ashley’s hearing impairment. While the contestants worked on solving the puzzles, Ashley worked on identifying letters and numbers.

Although Ashley has now moved on to more traditional academic methods, I know “little Vanna’ holds a special place in her heart. Most little girls love the Disney princesses. But Ashley would choose Vanna any day over the princesses. The princesses glide around, their feet almost never showing, talking in sweet, quiet voices. Their movements are restrained and lady-like.

Vanna, on the other hand, walks – no, strides – across the stage. Her arms move up and around to display the letters. Her big movements, even on the little screen, mean Ashley can see them. Ashley never could see the tiny hand movements of the Disney princesses or the tail flicks of Ariel the mermaid. Wheel of Fortune, and specifically Vanna White, are custom made to entertain AND educate a child with vision and hearing impairments. So, Ashley, go in the family room right now and do your homework with Vanna!

Deborah can be found writing here at 5MFSN every Sunday and Wednesday, and can also be found at Pipecleaner Dreams.

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