A visit to the orchard every Fall for apple picking has become as common as going to the pumpkin patch before Halloween. It’s a trip that can be sensory-filled fun for everyone if you plan ahead of time, too. Here are a few tips for a successful trip to go apple picking if your child is blind or has other sensory impairments.

Finding the Orchard Right For You

What if there are a number of different places to choose from for apple picking in your area? Find the one that’s best for your child! The easiest way to find a list of orchards open to the public is often from your local news station. Although the contact information for most places will be listed online, some may not have websites to give you an overall idea of what they offer. In this case, you could call them to ask about accessibility for a child who is blind, or has mobility differences, etc. If you can get the right person on the phone, they will probably give you a good enough idea to see if they’ve even thought about accessibility and customers with different abilities or special needs.

If the places you are considering have lots of information on their websites, look specifically for anywhere it outlines accessibilty services or considerations. I’ve found a few orchards near us that have a paragraph or two about groups with special needs- which most often means they’re somewhat accessible. I figure they’re a good place to start since they’ve taken the time to address it on their website! PickYourOwn.org is a great website to begin your search as well.

Things To Do at the Orchard

Many orchards are part of a larger farm- which often means they have much more to offer than just picking apples. When we lived in Arkansas, Madilyn’s Kindergarten class went on a hayride after they picked apples, and to my surprise, she really enjoyed it! If you plan your trip at the right time, you may also find pumpkin patches, corn mazes, hayrides, animal petting zoos, along with concession stands where you can taste warm apple cider and donuts! There can be so much to do in fact that you may want to try visiting a couple times in order to experience it all without the stress of trying to cram everything into a limited time.

Mobility & Apple Pickers

Many apple trees are tall enough that apples are out of reach from people standing on the ground, especially younger kids or those in wheelchairs. Madilyn was only 5 years old and used a walker the first time we took her. The paths between and around the trees were already full of overripe apples that had fallen off, making the use of her walker and pre-cane device pretty much impossible. There were dwarf trees that had lower branches which I could bend down slightly for her to feel and grab ahold of an apple, but I wouldn’t have felt comfortable getting her on a ladder at this time.

Orchards with taller trees usually have apple picker devices to use. They’re the long poles with the basket and claw-type device on the end to help get the apples up high. Of course, you have to be able to see or have someone describe to you where the apples are so you know where to place the apple picker. You might just get lucky putting it up there and moving it around, but it will probably be pretty tough without a sighted guide.

Preparing Your Sensory Child for the Trip

One of the best things you can do is prepare your child for the trip ahead of time. After you have the details planned out about where you’ll go and what you’ll do, take the time to talk about it with your child. Tell about where and when you’ll go, and how you’ll get there. It helps to describe what sounds, smells, and textures you might experience when you’re there. Sensory bins (there are tons of great ideas for these on Pinterest!) are a great way to introduce new things in a comfortable, confined environment. You can also read books and watch tv shows about going apple picking.

We put together a “Shared Reading” activity for the book, “Fancy Nancy Apples Galore!” for Madilyn this month (read more about this literacy strategy on Paths to Literacy). It is a regular print version I bought for a few dollars at Barnes & Noble, then added braille labels for only a selection of the words. It’s a great way to share our time reading without the stress of expecting Madilyn to read an entire book, yet she gains the confidence and appreciation for reading some of the words. I definitely recommend it for early braille or struggling readers! I’ve noticed a few PBS Kids shows with themes about apple picking. The Curious George episode “Curious George Meets the Press” in Season 3, episode 2, is all about George picking apples and making juice at the Renkins’ Farm. (If you have Amazon Prime, you can watch it there!)

After your trip, you’re going to want something fun to do with all those apples! Don’t stop the sensory experience after the trip is over- try using the apples for a variety of different activities to further explore the fruit and the senses! Try making applesauce to eat- the aroma of apples cooking along with cinnamon and spices will warm your home or classroom for Fall. If you brought home different types of apples, you could have a taste test to see which your child or students like best. If you didn’t make an apple stamp art bag to take with you on the trip, make one now with the produce then use it as a braille book bag! There are so many things to do with apples… Let us know what your child’s favorites are below in the comments or on Facebook and Twitter!

A Few More Things to Consider…

Most orchards will have bags or buckets for you to carry around your picked fruit but it may be helpful to take your own reusable bags to take the fruit home.

If you have specifics about what kind of apples you want to pick- whether it be by variety or organic vs. conventional, definitely check with the orchard ahead of time.

Remember to be encouraging at exploring different things on the trip, but don’t stress! Take the time to allow everyone to enjoy what they like best about going apple picking so you’ll be ready to go next year, and it will probably be even better!