Transition Teens Visit Discovery Cove
a group of transition students in the water gathered around a dolphin

Youth Services Manager, Heather Willenbacher, recently accompanied a group of teens from Lighthouse’s Transition program to Seaworld’s Discovery Cove. What follows is Heather’s summary of the day trip with an outline of critical learning objectives.

In Youth Services at Lighthouse Central Florida, we strive to provide our students with hands-on learning experiences that help promote independence within our students who live with visual impairments and blindness. Our partnership with Discovery Cove has changed the lives of many students. Without sight, our students learn to explore other senses like hearing, taste and touch.

During our recent trip to Discovery Cove, we learned about animals up close and personal! Students were able to touch and feel a dolphin’s slippery skin and hear their animal sounds as they were fed small fish. They learned about their habitats, eating habits and how they use their flippers and fluke to swim.

Many of these concepts can easily be read in a book or photos could be researched on the internet. But for our students with vision loss, it’s necessary to learn experientially with real animals to develop a full understanding of a dolphin.

In the water, as one of the dolphins swam by our students I heard a girls shriek! A female student shouted, “This whole time I thought dolphins were little. How much does a dolphin weigh?!” For the first time in her life, she realized dolphins were larger than humans and weren’t furry like her stuffed animal at home.

Another student was mesmerized by the dolphin’s skin and how smooth it felt under his fingertips. He compared it to the rubberized iPad case he used in school. Their smiles, shrieks, and countless questions to the Discovery Cove animal trainers were the best part of the whole day.

As a Teacher of the Visually Impaired, I am constantly searching for new ways to teach our students life concepts that they may have missed due to their vision loss. An estimated 90 percent of what we learn is through our visual senses. Teaching our students with vision loss, could be compared to putting together a 1,000 piece puzzle.

In a sighted world, there are many concepts scattered around like all the pieces of a puzzle. A couple pieces may be missing from the box and some are upside down, but eventually you piece it all together to form a beautiful picture—or in this case, a life experience like swimming with dolphins.

This life puzzle could not be created without the partnership of Seaworld’s Discovery Cove and the caring staff who accommodated for our students with visual disabilities. Thank you for supporting experiential learning for our students in Youth Services at Lighthouse Central Florida!