Helen Keller: A lesson in using all our tools

I talked about Helen Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan, with my Sunday school class this week. We played a game of Pin the Drop on the Water Pump, so the kids would experience blindness. (Helen Keller had an “epiphany” at a water pump.)

We played a first round. The children put on a blindfold, I spun them around, and they plunked their drops on my hand-drawn pump. On this first round, the kids placed their drops up, down, and all around, but nowhere near the pump. Some of them weren’t even on the paper.


They said, “Can we do it again?” I had made extra water drops, and we had lots of time, so I agreed to a second round.

The kids learned. This time they used their sense of touch. They felt for the edges of the paper. They felt for the wrinkle in the middle they knew to be near the pump nozzle. When they used their touch, they did much better.

At first they floundered when deprived of one of their senses, but they quickly learned to use others. They had mini-epiphanies of their own. “Ah, ha!” they thought. “If I feel the paper, I can place the drop closer.” Imagine if we had played a third or fourth round. How steep would the learning curve have been? Would they have started to cooperate and help each other? Imagine how easy it would have been if a sighted friend’s hand helped to guide the drop.

Anne Sullivan was Helen Keller’s sighted friend. She’s not as well known, but she was equally heroic. Her patience and her perseverance made the miracles of Helen Keller’s life possible.

During the first round, the kids weren’t making use of all the tools available to them; their sense of touch was readily available, but they failed to use it. Then, their desire to improve drove them to search for other tools.

I wondered, how often I have failed to make use of all the tools available to me? How many times have I relied on one sense when drawing on the others would have made my experience richer? How many projects have I tackled alone that would have been more successful if I had asked for the guidance of a sighted friend?

From this I learned:

  • Perseverance and practice improves performance because each time we use new tools.
  • We achieve success if we receive help from experienced friends.
  • It’s important to choose to play the game to begin with.

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