Little Room By Dr. Lilli Nielsen

The “Little Room” is designed to give blind infants, children with slow development, severely disabled children and children with combinations of disabilities the possibility to gain the ability of reaching, the beginning of the understanding of space, and early object concept.

A Little Room adapted with a wedge and to accommodate a feeding pump.
A Little Room adapted with a wedge and to accommodate a feeding pump.

Non-handicapped children are reaching for objects when they are 3-4 months old while blind children often are 10-12 months old before they achieve this ability. Some blind children will instead of reaching behavior, develop a stereotyped motor behavior, which is turned toward their own body. It is therefore important to offer the blind infant surroundings, which can motivate him to reach for objects as early in life as possible.

The “Little Room” can be built in the size that best fits each child. The material in the Little Room must be provided with objects that hang from the ceiling and/or upon the walls, so whatever movements the child makes, he will come in tactile contact with the objects. It is a good idea to observe which qualities the child prefers – which structure the child prefers to search – which sounds the child prefers while reaching – which smells the child prefers just now.

When the child reaches for the ceiling and the walls (one can build the Little Room bigger,) so the child thereby can be motivated to move himself around in the Little Room and perhaps out of it and into it. In some ways the handicapped child gains the experiences and understanding of space that non-handicapped children achieve by looking around, and by building a lot of different playhouses. Blind children and severely disabled children are not able to build playhouses by themselves, or to find small spaces under furniture and cupboards as needed early in life.

The modules of the “Little Room” must now and then be moved from one place to another and be provided with new objects so the child’s curiosity and thereby his motivation for experimenting can be preserved. It is important that the “Little Room” is equipped with many objects so the child can compare different tactile and auditory stimuli. It is also important that the objects can be reached by the child, and are graspable.

References:

Lilli Nielsen, 1992, SIKON: Space and Self.

Lilli Nielsen, 1989, SIKON: Spatial Relations in Congenitally Blind Infants.

Lilli Nielsen, 1993, SIKON: Early Learning – Step by Step.

Lilli Nielsen, 1998, SIKON: The FIELA Curriculum – 730 Learning Environments.

More About the Little Room

The Little Room is described in detail in Dr. Nielsen’s book, Space and Self. It is a piece of equipment that provides students with a safe environment for independent play and exploration. Many children are more willing to tactually explore objects when they are in control of an activity and can anticipate what might happen.

The Little Room is one of the many pieces of Perceptualizing Aids that can be used to help a learner develop the ability to reach and grasp.  Other equipment includes include the Activity WallEcho BucketMobiles and Scratch, Position and Grasp/Grab Boards.

Dr. Nielsen tried several designs for the Little Room before settling on a design that provided an environment to make use of both auditory and tactile feedback as well as durability, safety and proper ventilation.  For this reason we do not advocate making home-made Little Rooms.  Little Rooms can be configured to adjust height for individuals who can sit unsupported.  They can also be re-configured to adjust for individuals who are tall.  LilliWorks sells them in various packages.

Educational Benefits of the Little Room

A toddler plays in a Little Room while sitting.
A toddler plays in a Little Room while sitting.

The Little Room provides an environment which gives students the opportunity to work on object exploration and manipulation, object comparison, object permanence, cause and effect, spatial concept development, problem solving, independent play, recognition, anticipation, sensory integration, and spatial memory. The Little Room also provides the opportunity to learn about the different materials from which objects are made (paper, leather, wood, metal, etc.) and the different attributes of objects (size, weight, temperature, etc.).

As learners experience these different objects and learn about their specific characteristics, they will discover that some objects are better for some activities than others. They will learn that some objects make better sounds when batted at than others, some are better for mouthing, some are more interesting to touch, etc.

How Big Should the Little Room Be?

Three different sizes of Little Rooms configured for different sized individuals so can and cannot sit independently.
Three different sizes of Little Rooms configured for different sized individuals so can and cannot sit independently.

The size of the Little Room depends on the size of the child.  It is important for the child to be able to touch the side panels and the ceiling as well as the objects hanging in the Little Room.  LilliWorks currently sells three different sized Little Rooms which allow different configurations depending on the size of the child and whether or not the child can sit up inside without support.  For children who cannot sit up the Little Room is typically 1′ high.  If the child can sit up, it is configured at 2′ generally, though for older individuals it can also be configured at 3′ high.

When the child begins to reach for the ceiling and the walls you can make the Little Room bigger.  That way he or she is motivated to move around in the Little Room and/or go in and out of it. This helps the child have the experiences and understanding of space that typically developing children achieve by looking around and by building dens and playhouses. Children who are blind, especially those who are also severely disabled, are not able to build playhouses by themselves or to find small spaces under furniture and in cupboards to play. Creating and playing in these small spaces is an important feature of a typically developing child’s experience.

The objects that hang from the ceiling and/or upon the walls of the Little Room must be positioned so whatever movements the child can make produces tactile contact with the objects. It is a good idea to observe which qualities the child prefers in the objects that are used – which part of the Little Room the child prefers to search – which sounds and smells the child prefers. It is very important that the “Little Room” is equipped with many objects so the child can compare different tactile and auditory stimuli. It is also important that the child can reach the objects so they must be graspable.

Short Little Room  

Ryland in a lying down position in a Little Room.
Ryland in a lying down position in a Little Room.

The little room can be configured in many sizes to meet the needs of individual learners.  Little rooms configured to 1′ high should be used for learners who cannot sit independently.  (The design shown to the right is configured to 2’x2’x1′)  When possible, the short little room will be configured to a 4’x’2’x1″ design, so that objects can also be positioned over the legs. A resonance board is placed under the little room so that the learner’s activities echo and vibrate in the acoustic environment.

Ordering information is available from LilliWorks.

Tall Little Room

A young boy plays in a Little Room.
A young boy plays in a Little Room.

The tall Little Room is designed for learners who can sit independently.  It’s height can be changed to meet the needs of the learner using it, and should start at a minimum height of 2′.  (The configuration to the right is 3′ in length, 2’ wide and 2’ in height.  For adult learners, the same Little Room can be changed to the configuration of 2′ in length, 2′ wide and 3′ in height.  (It is important that learners who cannot sit use the short little room.) A resonance board is placed under the Little Room so that the learner’s activities echo and vibrate in the acoustic environment.

Ordering information is available from LilliWorks.

Little Room Lids 

At Penrickton multiple lids for the Little Room are available to be changed out to fit each child's needs.
At Penrickton multiple lids for the Little Room are available to be changed out to fit each child’s needs.

When possible, it is best for each learner to use their own individual Little Room lid.  This allows the items provided to meet the developmental needs of the learner.  This also addresses concerns about germs. 

While having individual lids may be ideal from an educational and therapeutic perspective, they do take up quite a lot of room.  It may be helpful to optimize storage by building customized shelving to organize the lids and keep them safe and separate.

Objects Used in the Little Room

Objects that are selected to be used in the Little Room should be graspable or allow the child to entangle his/her fingers in to pull or bring to his/her mouth.  If the child is unable to grasp the object, objects should produce some sound if the child pushes on it with head, hands, feet or legs. The objects should also have an interesting variety of tactile, auditory and/or visual qualities that will arouse the child’s curiosity to encourage exploration and learning.

The objects in the Little Room are attached with elastic and so they will return to their original positions when the child lets go of them, enabling him to find them again and repeat an action as quickly and as often as he wants. It is important to cover the elastic with protective tubing, so that fingers do not become entangled in the elastic. Find out how to use plastic tubing to cover elastic, so that children don’t get their hands or other body parts caught.

Providing sets of objects like measuring spoons and cups, provides the child an opportunity to work on number concepts (one, more than one) and/or size concepts (big spoon, little spoon). Hanging similar objects together allows for comparison (metal spoon, plastic spoon, wooden spoon) of things that are alike and different. We encourage you to read Space and Self to get ideas about objects to use and how to think about setting up the Little Room.  See also Points to Consider When Choosing Materials.

Panels Used in the Little Room

The Little Room comes with a variety of side panels.  Which panels are included when configuring the Little Room should be guided by the child’s preferences and motor skills. You should read Selecting Panels for the Little Room to learn more.

Astroturf panel encourages the child to scratch and explore with his fingers.
Astroturf panel encourages the child to scratch and explore with his fingers.
Little Room panel with castanets encouraged the child to make sounds by lifting and dropping or batting.
Little Room panel with castanets encouraged the child to make sounds by lifting and dropping or batting.
Various items can be attached to the pegboard panel to encourage the child to reach to the sides of the Little Room.
Various items can be attached to the pegboard panel to encourage the child to reach to the sides of the Little Room.
Panel with elastics and plastic loops.
Panel has two elastic strings with rings tied on them at intervals positioned horizontally. Use this for the child who has fisted or slightly fisted hands so he might be able to hook a single finger in the ring and pull on it.
Panel has a piece of stretch fabric secured to the frame using grommets and strings to encourage the child to push against this with hands and feet.
Panel has a piece of stretch fabric secured to the frame using grommets and strings to encourage the child to push against this with hands and feet.
Panel with hole cut out.
Panel with large square cut out in the center for the child who is ready for adult interaction and can sit in the Little Room. It should not be used with the child who is not moving a lot or has little experience in the Little Room. Using this panel, the adult might offer something to the child or take something offered by the child.
Panel with strings allows a child to get fingers around the strings to pull.
Panel with strings allows a child to get fingers around the strings to pull.
Panel has vertical dowel rods placed along the surface to encourage the child to grasp and let go of these rod or run another object along them.
Panel has vertical dowel rods placed along the surface to encourage the child to grasp and let go of these rod or run another object along them.
Use this panel with a child who has a preference for shiny things might be drawn to reach out and interact with objects on this reflective panel.
Use this panel with a child who has a preference for shiny things might be drawn to reach out and interact with objects on this reflective panel.
Panel with textured paper to encourage the child to scratch on the paper..
Panel with textured paper to encourage the child to scratch on the paper.
Panel with velcro strips.
Panel with Velcro strips is for the child who is ready to take things off and put things on or is interested in manipulating objects.

Other attachments can be used to place objects near feet and legs. The Little Room should be used in conjunction with a Resonance Board. Below are a series of pictures showing the various panels.

How Do I Put a Child in a Little Room?

How to put a child in a Little Room download.
How to put a child in a Little Room download.

There is a very specific way to correctly place a child in a Little Room.  You should review the instructions included below and download them so everyone working with the child can become familiar with the process.

Download How to Put a Child in a Little Room.

Forms to Use for Systematic Planning and Observation of the Little Room

Part of the Little Room Handouts Compiled.It is important for the team to carefully select the specific items to be used in a particular Little Room, depending on the needs and preferences of an individual child.  You may find it helpful to review this compilation of handouts on using the Little Room with a child. It includes forms to use in observation as well as suggestions for selecting materials based on the child’s skills to use in a Little Room.

Download the Little Room Handouts Compiled

Jack Using a Little Room

Jack is positioned lying down since he is unable at this time to sit up without support.

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Anna in a Little Room

Description: Child position in sitting in a Little Room.

TSBVI Coffee Hour for November 19, 2020 – Equipment: Little Room

Patty Obrzut discusses the selection and use of the Little Room. This includes how to configure the room, select panels and position the child in the Little Room.

PLAY FULL VIDEO

Downloads:


Where Can I Get a Little Room?

Although some pieces of Active Learning equipment can be made, we highly recommend that a Little Room be purchased.  Dr. Nielsen tried several designs for the Little Room before settling on a design that provides an environment to make use of both auditory and tactile feedback as well as durability, safety and proper ventilation. For this reason we do not advocate making home-made Little Rooms. They are available through LilliWorks http://www.lilliworks.org/.