Brenna Clarke strapped on goggles, wound up and -- Crack!
Her first hammer strike bounced off the center of a rust-colored ceramic square.
It was harder to break than the 7-year-old anticipated. With a little direction from an adult helper, she felt for the tile's edge, took aim and chipped off some pieces with her second hit.
Then, she collected the pieces and took them to a large table in the middle of the room. It was packed with art supplies, incuding bright containers of pre-broken tile pieces, beads, stones and other mosaic pieces.
Kids don't normally get to play with hammers, but ForSight Vision Center's Busy Bee Mosaic Project encouraged visually impaired children -- and their sighted family members -- to break tiles.
Periodic banging during an April art session signaled that the smashing station was popular.
At the beginning of class, Brenna and about six other visually impaired kids played games to orient them to the activity area and introduce them to everyone in the room, including adult instuctors, volunteers and parents. When it was time to make the mosaics, they darted around the table to grab items they needed. They used their hands to determine the shape, sizes and texture of each piece.
Project coordinator Rebecca Quattrone had each child tell a story with their mosaics, which were shaped like honeycombs.
Brenna picked up her project. She pointed to a pink bead -- that was her. The green bead it was bumping up against was her mom, Jana.
"I just put on the glue, put on the pieces and squished them down," she said. Piece of cake.
But Brenna doesn't see colors the same way most kids do, Jana said. Brenna has congenital achromatopsia, a rare hereditary disorder that usually results in colorblindness and increased sensitivity to light.
Her vision is about 20/100, which means she has about a fifth the visual acuity as a person with 20/20 vision. She wears red-tinted glasses to help her eyes filter light. She can distinguish some colors, but similar shades blend together.
But that shouldn't keep Brenna from creating art, said ForSight art leader Marian Lorence. In her class, the sky can be green. The sun can be blue.
Lorence focuses on finding creative solutions to help kids develop problem-solving skills they'll use through life.
"I'm not going to do crafts," she said. "We're really going to talk about elements and principles of art -- all the things you do at an art class. Why wouldn't we talk about design elements?"
Another goal of the class is to help children adjust to different social situations. During classes, sighted siblings get just as much instruction and attention as visually impaired kids.
Brenna wanted to help Jana make a mosaic. She started to prep the dessert plate-sized hexagon, which would serve as the base. But first, she needed a plastic knife. At ForSight, she knew she had to find supplies by herself. But help wasn't far if she needed it.
"Too far," Lorence said to guide Brenna toward the plastic silverware. "Not far enough."
Brenna secured the knife and Lorence helped her find a bucket of adhesive. Brenna sliced into the thick white paste.
"It's kind of like peanut butter," Lorence told her.
Breanna, deep in concentration, nodded. But after about 20 minutes of work, she let her mom finish the mosaic. She spent the final minutes of class playing with a volunteer's cell phone and showing off the moves she learned in karate class.
"She's more of a run-and-jump kind of kid," Jana said with a laugh. "(Art classes) have helped her sit down and focus. She likes the atmosphere."
About this series
Mosaic tiles. Costumes. Theater sets. Visually impaired people don't usually get to experience these artistic details. But two local programs are changing that.
Read more in the Living section:
July 15, ForSight Vision teaches children with low vision to make their own art.
July 22, Learn more about technological improvements for the visually impaired.
Creating an art class for visually impaired children
Marian Lorence said the ForSight art classes started with Shrewsbury mom Molly Slenker. When Slenker learned her child was blind, service providers could only address some of her questions and concerns. She wanted advice from other mothers of blind children.
So, Slenker helped raise money with a walkathon and donated the $14,000 proceeds to ForSight Vision Center. She worked with staff to find a way to bring parents and kids together. They landed on the idea for an art class.
The first session started in fall 2010. Another five-week session began the next spring. Classes continued this year.
Lorence, a York College instructor, was asked to help run the classes. She drew from her various career experiences in elementary art education, recreational therapy and as a support group leader.
"Grief and loss is an issue for many people," she said. "It can also happen with an illness or disability."
Lorence looked for projects that would give kids and parents a sense of accomplishment, which instantly boosts self-esteem.
"You have to think your way through it," she said about planning activities for the visually impaired. She encourages sighted participants to use blindfolds for a few minutes. It shows them what visually impaired people need help with.
Lorence scheduled visual artists to work with the group. This spring, York College art instructor Rebecca Quattrone led a mosaic project. Both Lorence and Quattrone brought York College students to the class as an independent study option.
Parents -- not their visually impaired kids -- sometimes needed more coaching.
"Many times, parents hover," Lorence said. "If a kid asks, 'where is the glue?' They will find it themselves and pour it themselves. You have to instill (an) adventure for learning. It's OK to make mistakes. It's OK to make a mess. You'll just clean it up. Big deal."
Sometimes kids do cry, Lorence said. But she tries to help them turn disappointments and mistakes into artistic opportunities.
As classes progressed, Lorence has seen kids become more adventurous and curious. Parents' bad habits have mostly disappeared.
"They are more relaxed and laughing," she said. "They have become that support that we wanted."
How ForSight's mosaic project came to 'Bee'
ForSight Vision, a Spring Garden Township center for the blind and visually impaired, introduced art classes for children about two years ago. President Bill Rhinesmith said the classes -- held during two sessions per year -- help about 10 visually impaired kids use their sense of touch to create tie-dye T-shirts, collages and beaded artwork. Siblings and parents can also participate.
In fall 2011, the Cultural Alliance of York County annoucned the Creative Impact Awards, a pilot program that invited organizations to apply for up to $70,000 to use for art and cultural projects.
ForSight applied for funds to put toward a large-scale art piece, titled the Busy Bee Mosaic Project. In February, the alliance announced the award recipients. ForSight received a $5,000 award that Rhinesmith said would cover about half the cost of the mosaic piece.
York College professor Rebecca Quattrone became a ForSight artist-in-residence and supervised the project during the center's art classes this spring. The center buzzed with activity as children created mosaic honeycomb cells that will be incorporated into a larger collective mosaic shaped like a beehive. The project is slated to be permanently installed in ForSight Vision Center's lobby after renovations wrap up this fall.
Quattrone said she chose the beehive design, since it captures the spirit and energy of the children who helped with the project. The goal, she said, is to raise awareness about the abilities of those with visual impairments.
For details about ForSight, visit www.forsight.org.
Do's and don'ts
Do's and don'ts for working with visually impaired kids:
Do: Give as much attention to sighted kids as visually impaired kids.
Do: Use correct mobility techniques: If you notice that someone needs help, introduce yourself and ask permission to guide them. Give them verbal cues to help them picture what they are doing. Give them verbal cues- give them a verbal picture of where they are going
Do: Have the child explain his or her creative process. Ask, "what is that? How did you do that?"
Do: Give directions from the visually impaired person's point of view. Use left and right and positions on the clock to help orient them to their surroundings if they ask for help.
Do: Use descriptive words.
Don't: Find art supplies for the child.
Don't: Touch or stand by a child without saying that you are there.
Don't: Direct the child to create the art in a certain way, i.e. "The sun should be yellow."
Don't: Overly praise a visually impaired child.
Don't: Get upset if the visually impaired child makes a mess. Work with the child to clean it up.
YLT to offer theater classes, performances for special needs children
York Little Theatre plans to incorporate more classes for children with special needs in its fall, winter and spring 2013 sessions, according to a news release. During the 2012-13 season, YLT will offer families of special needs children the opportunity to attend designated children's series performances. For these shows, the theater will adjust lighting and sound levels, provide an ASL interpreter and make other necessary adjustments.
These designated performances are scheduled for 3 p.m. Sept. 29 for "Adventures of a Comic Book Artist"; 3 p.m. Feb. 23, 2013 for "Puss in Boots"; and 3 p.m. June 15, 2013 for "Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp."
For details, call 717-854-3894 or visit www.ylt.org.