Before Anne Sullivan arrived, Helen Keller was trapped in a world of darkness. Unable to see and hear since she was a baby, little Helen struggled to make others understand her. A regular school was impossible with her condition, and she lived too far from the school for the blind.
Her parents did not want to send her away, so they hired a tutor. Since a tutor has some flexibility, because it is not a school setting, she took Helen outside. Helen had always enjoyed nature, because she could experience it more fully since it engages the other senses. Helen said the lessons “seemed more like play than work” because she enjoyed learning language and loved being outdoors.
We read and studied out of doors, preferring the sunlit woods to the house. All my early lessons have in them the breath of the woods–the fine, resinous odour of pine needles, blended with the perfume of wild grapes. Seated in the gracious shade of a wild tulip tree, I learned to think that everything has a lesson and a suggestion. (Ch. 7)
Helen said that Anne Sullivan had a “peculiar sensitivity” to her desires. She wanted to make up for all that Helen had lost, and that involved making the lessons as sensory as possible. Helen was intelligent and eager, and she was an extremely fast learner. Anne Sullivan personalized the lessons to Helen’s personality and interests, and she learned even faster.
Our favourite walk was to Keller's Landing, an old tumble-down lumber-wharf on the Tennessee River, used during the Civil War to land soldiers. There we spent many happy hours and played at learning geography. I built dams of pebbles, made islands and lakes, and dug river-beds, all for fun, and never dreamed that I was learning a lesson. (Ch. 7)
The creativity that Anne Sullivan uses, and the thirst with which Helen learns, result in her being able to engage in regular conversation soon. Anne Sullivan teaches her the regular subjects, but also language and personal interaction. She is teaching Helen how to live in the speaking world.