SMILE! project is a European training program for professionals responsible for the care and education of visually impaired (VI) children and young people. The staff working on this special field has a common, relevant experience related to the integration of VI youth: their social skills are the base of the successfulness of their integration to the society. Experts also agree that the social skills of visually impaired children and young people are deficient and need to be developed due to lack of vision.
This real professional challenge, which also exists at the international level, resulted in the creation of the project, the main goal of which was to thoroughly map the problem and formulate possible methods and solutions within the framework of European cooperation.
There were 8 organisations participating in the project with 2-5 different experienced professionals: special teachers of VI children, itinerary teachers, mobility trainers. The course of their work all of them found, that VI students had difficulties or no integration with their sighted peers due to deficiencies in their social skills.
During the first training of the project in Belfast the participants determined the target group and common goals for project. They agreed on their experience on the subject and decided to exam the problems of socialisation of VI young persons, collect data from the members and environment of the target group by questionnaires and interviews. As a part of the training activity we created the content and forms for the interviews and questions in group work in order to get information about the social behaviour of VI children, from them, their parents, support workers and teachers in mainstream education. There also was an opportunity to present and discuss the professional materials currently used by the participants.
The second training event took place in Prague. The participants arrived with completed homework, the filled, summarized questionnaires and interview forms and case studies from their pupils. At first the representatives of institutions presented the results from questionnaires and interviews.
Then the participants described their cases that were followed by discussions and analysis using Socrates workshop method. The next activity was a collaborative work to highlight the main challenges, discussion of possible solutions based on the results of case discussions and questionnaires.
The third event in Zagreb presented the good practices gathered by each team in developing social skills. There were more presentation with good practises: about sporting and other physical activities, ideas of Mindset, developing activities in the pre-school, games, daily and free time activities, orientation and mobility competition, the special bakery. Each presentation was followed by international team work, during which we formulated methodological ideas and suggestions in small groups based on what was said. We then worked collaboratively on creating a guide booklet / brochure that could help colleagues recognize the importance of pupils ’social skills, the need and the way to develop them. There were 10 topics related to the socialisation of VI children suggested by the participants to put into the booklet.
The last training event instead of locating in Budapest has realised in online form because of the pandemic. This occasion was preceded by a long preparatory process online participating of national coordinators of the project. In the course of this and as a homework of the previous meeting, the participants worked out the topics they undertook. So we presented the topics during this training after each other and discussed their content and form together. We also decided to display all the themes on the posters as well, with just a representation of the title, a few keywords and expressive drawings produced by a designer colleague.
There were also guided tours in the institutions during the first three training and an introducing presentation from our school last time, thus the participants got direct experiences about the similar professional organisations in different countries. Besides, the project allowed even cultural activities, sightseeings, restaurant programs with national cuisines or viewing local attractions. At the online event, this was done by watching a short video.
The compiled brochure and posters for assisting social skills’ development of visually impaired children and young people can be considered as a tangible results of the project. But there are further effects: we got to know different professional opinions, gained new knowledge on the subject and in the cultural field, our efforts to develop social skills have been reinforced by international experience. The long-term advantage of the project is that, based on the knowledge shared by the participants, the helpers and professionals dealing with the target group can more effectively prepare VI young people for integration.