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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Cherokee helps disabled children learn Dan Whitney, Staff Writer

Monday, April 24, 2006

Mick Bakker shows some of his panels, hung out to dry.(Photo by Dan Whitney)
You know how things sometimes just seem to happen at the right time? That happened for Cherokee resident Mick Bakker a couple of years ago. He had been employed at the Hy-Vee Warehouse for sixteen years, but had developed problems with his neck , which required a couple of surgeries. As a result of these problems, he felt he was no longer able to do heavy work .

At that point, Bakker and his wife, Sue, happened to entertain visitors from Kansas City. The visitors were relatives of Sue's, and in the course of the visit, they told the Bakkers about their son, Rand Wrobel. Wrobel had just started a non-profit company in Alameda, Calif., called LilliWorks Active Learning Foundation. Wrobel has a daughter with special needs, and had become familiar with the work of Dr. Lilli Nielsen in the course of rearing his child.

Nielsen is a woman who grew up with four blind siblings in her native Denmark, and saw first hand how disabled were often ignored and cast aside by society. She set out to do what she could to make the lives of people with multiple disabilities a quality life, and she has spent the last 25 years designing equipment that involved "active learning", wherein the disbled child learns by doing things for himself, in a safe environment, rather than being "spoon fed" or totally ignored.

Wrobel had successfully used the equipment designed by Dr. Nielsen with his own daughter, and he was very pleased with the positive results. Up to that point, the equipment was only available in Europe, but Wrobel received permission to market the life-changing equipment in the United States. He named his non-profit company the LilliWorks (after Dr. Nielsen) Active Learning Foundation. The four Design Principles of the Active Learning Environment are feedback, support, richness, and variety. These principles go into the design of every piece of equipment designed by Dr. Nielsen.

I am not going to go into any more details about Dr. Nielsen or LilliWorks in this limited space, but I would encourage readers, if you're interested, and especially if you , or someone close to you, has a child with multiple disabilities, to check out www.lilliworks.org on the web. If this sounds familiar, Lilliworks was recently (April 9) featured on the "Extreme Makeover, Home Edition" ABC- TV show.

Now back to Mick Bakker's story. Bakker has always enjoyed working with his hands - and if you've seen the house he built , you'll see that he must have had some "Lincoln Logs" as a child, because the structure, built in 1979, bears a strong resemblance to those structures. Anyway- Mick was interested in the Active Works story, and visited Rand and his wife Mike Wrobel in California, to see if there was something he could do to help their cause. As it turned out, there was, indeed.

One of Dr. Nielsen's primary designs is the "Little Room" - a living space for the child , in which they are encouraged to experiment and learn. The rooms, which are typically 2' high, 2' wide and 3' long, also come in a couple of smaller designs for shorter learners, providing room for a small child to sit , and those laying down to have extra room with objects hung at their hands. Smaller models can be expanded into the larger model if desired.

The rooms have a plexiglass ceiling with holes in it. Strings can be placed through the holes, and objects atached, so the child can get used to touching items. Dr. Nielsen, who has been knighted by the Danish Queen, spent seven years designing the "Little Room", and says that it "provides not just stimulation, but a resonant, warm, rich and safe place for chldren to ENGAGE." Used on top of a "Resonance Board," when properly populated with acoustically responsive toys, it naturally feeds back to the learner with every movement. Panels are all two-sided, positive-lock, and easy to rearrange, horizontally and vertically, providing a fluid, long-term interesting environment. Two clear acrylic roof panels provide light. Two "play bars" provide additional variety. Dr. Nielsen says that "If the child cannot go to the room, the room must come to the child."

Mick Bakker builds the panels (there are 12 in the standard - size Little Room), varnishes them, hand paints one side of the panel blue, orange, yellow, or white, and then packs them up in a box and sends them to California , where the room construction is completed.

Mick has also done some work on a couple of the other Lilliworks products. Again, if you're interested in learning more about these products, contact Mick, or go to the website.

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