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Early Learning Step by Step
A Review by Lis Grundy
Reprinted in Future Reflections from the Information Exchange, a publication of the Royal National Institute, England.

Anyone who has attended a Lilli Nielsen lecture will know, from watching her mimic the antics of toddlers, that she has a great insight into the learning processes of the "normal child." This, coupled with an extraordinary empathy for the needs of visually impaired children, forms the basis of her new book: Early Learning-Step by Step.

In it she explores the concept of "active learning" and how, by examining and exploring the world about them, children are able to acquire new skills that are meaningful to them and will therefore be used by them to fulfill their own needs and also their interactions with others. Children learn by "selecting." This is precisely what I see them doing when they are learning to grasp, to experiment with balance games, to play sequence games, and so on. The child can only select if he has something to select from, "something to compare."

To those who have read Lilli's books this may all sound rather familiar but, as the title suggests, this book heralds a welcome progression of her work with the "Little Room" by suggesting how environmental intervention can be used in the world beyond.

She begins by looking at normal motor development, before and after birth, and goes on to relate this to those children with a visual impairment and/or multiple disabilities and suggests how missed developmental stages hinder the child's progression and therefore further development. Alongside this she gives many suggestions on how to encourage a child to explore and to move and therefore to experience those lost stages that are the prerequisites for progress onto the next skill.

For those children with little signs of mobility she describes how kinematics, or unintentional movements, can be harnessed to produce those that are intentional and therefore meaningful.

For those children who are more able she suggests ways of encouraging independent sitting, crawling, walking, and dressing.

It is interesting that nowhere in the book does Lilli explore the use of "high tech" equipment. Instead, she constantly introduces the "tools" which are her "stock in trade"—ordinary spoons, cups, plates, brushes, buckets, etc.—all of which can facilitate learning whilst enabling a visually impaired child to make sense of the world in which they live.

This is particularly so with feeding and Lilli devotes two chapters to this topic—"Learning How To Chew" and "Learning How To Eat." Again she suggests activities for a great range of abilities including marbles in the mouth for the more able pupil, definitely not for the faint-hearted tutor!!

In the chapter that is given over to "Toys & Materials," Lilli describes specific pieces of equipment that were developed in unison with the Active Learning Approach. These include the Essef Board, the Support Bench and the Net Hammock "Poten" all of which were designed to encourage movement. Throughout the book there is a great deal of useful material that describes the functions and ways of using the equipment.

To conclude, rather than examining toys and methods in detail, Lilli looks at learning to play constructively as she outlines the developmental steps and looks at the significance of the sequence of learning required to manipulate toys and to play games.

This book stands alone as a source of information and suggestions for those who are new to caring for, and to teaching, those children with multiple disabilities and/or a vision impairment. It would however be enhanced by having first read Lilli's other work. For those who are already in the field this is the practical book that follows the theory.

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