Future Reflections Winter/Spring 1991
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Editor's Note: This article was originally printed a few years ago in two parts in the VIP Newsletter, a publication of the Blind Children's Fund (formerly the International Institute for Visually Impaired, 0-7, Inc.). I have added to the text, where appropriate, additional names and addresses of resources.
This article is directed toward parents of three- and four-year-old children who may be Braille readers when they begin school. Although technological advances have decreased the dependence on Braille, Braille is still the major means of obtaining information for many visually handicapped students. Children who have some vision will benefit from the suggestions below, since they will have to use vision along with the other senses. Parents should also be aware that many children with low vision use Braille because it is more efficient to read than print. Some students are taught both Braille and print in the early grades, providing them with the opportunity to use whichever medium is the most useful for a particular task.
When sighted children enter school they have already acquired, on their own, the experiential foundations necessary for learning to read. They know that letters form words, and that those words express ideas. Many of them can read simple words and phrases, their names, names of favorite television programs, stores they visit with parents. No one taught them. They learned to read by hearing and seeing, again and again, words coupled with their meanings.
Braille students learn to read in much the same manner as print readers. The medium is different, the order of teaching letters and words may vary, but the process is essentially the same.
Reading readiness for both sighted and blind children includes the ability to:
converse meaningfully with others, using complete sentences; listen attentively for short periods of time; express ideas clearly; discriminate between likeness and differences; follow simple directions.
Children who must read tactually can benefit from the same kinds of exposure to Braille characters that sighted children have to print characters. Sighted children learn about print materials daily; every time they watch "Sesame Street" or sit in a parent's lap to listen to a story, they are learning. Children who will be Braille readers are denied this form of incidental learning. Intentional exposure to the tactual medium is necessary.
Many parents begin reading to their children when they are very young. It's a nice way to be close before nap or bed time. Babies won't care what you read them, but after a year of age, children enjoy books especially written for young children. Local libraries will have a good selection of children's books. Homemade books about actual events in the child's life are great. Children love to hear about "Debby's Birthday" or "The Trip to Grandma's House." By three or four, children should have books which are theirs alone, which they can "read" and enjoy on their own. For a visually handicapped child, these books include non-visual appeal. Look in your local toy or book store for books which incorporate fragrance patches: Scratch and Sniff Books, Sniff-It Books, or Sniffy Books. The above include such favorite children's characters as Winnie the Pooh, Big Bird, the Pokey Little Puppy, and Garfield.
Touch and Feel Books have moving parts and touch activities enjoyed by both visually handicapped and sighted children. If you can't find the above books locally, write to the Catalog Department of Science Products, Box A, Southeastern, PA 19399, and request the "Vision Aids Resource Guide."
There are also a few tactile books written especially for blind children: Roly Goes Exploring, Red Thread Riddles, What's That, and Catching (also available from Science Products.)
Print/Braille books are available, for loan or purchase, from a number of sources. Most print/Braille books are the print version of the book with Braille pages added, either on the printed page itself or as an insert.
National Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped Library of Congress
1291 Taylor Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20542
(free loan from your regional library)
American Brotherhood for the Blind
18440 Oxnard Street
Tarzana, CA 91356 (free loan)
Perkins School for the Blind
175 North Beacon
Watertown, MA 02172 (purchase)
Braille Children's Book of the Month Club
The National Braille Press
88 St. Stephen St.
Boston, MA 02115
Seedlings: Braille Books for Children
P.O. Box 2395
Livonia, MI 48151-0395 (purchase)
As children sit on their parents' laps and listen to a print Braille book, they learn naturally that words express ideas. Encourage your child to move the fingers across a row of dots from left to right to feel the tiny "bumps." Help her to find the top, bottom, and sides of a page and show her how to turn the pages, one at a time.
Many three- and four-year-olds enjoy listening to children's stories in recorded form. The Library of Congress loans free talking book phonographs and cassette players, talking books and cassettes to eligible readers. For an application form, write to the National Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped at address given above.
Once you have returned your application, you will receive catalogs and additional information. The Library of Congress has many excellent records and cassettes of books for preschoolers in the "For Younger Readers" catalog. This service involves no cost to the parents and is supported by your tax dollars.
To help children make the connection between Brailled words and the objects they represent some parents have used Braille labels. What can you label? You child's records, books, cans of food, dresser drawers, containers for toys—whatever is meaningful to your child. The easiest way to make your own Braille labels is with a Braille Labeler. Write for "Products for People with Vision Problems," American Foundation for the Blind, Consumer Products Department, 15 West 16th St., New York, NY 10011; or for "Aids and Appliances Descriptive Order Form," National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, MD 21230. Braille labelers use vinyl tape with adhesive back and or magnetic tape (for reuse on steel surfaces). You can also use Labelon tape and a slate and stylus for labels, but more knowledge of Braille is required. [Little knowledge of Braille is needed with the Braille labeler because the labeler is also marked in print for the sighted user.]
Most teachers prefer that parents use Grade 2 Braille, with contractions for certain letter combinations, because that's what children learn in school. If you don't know Braille, an itinerant teacher of the visually impaired or your state school for the blind can help by telling you what contractions are present in your personal list of words to be Brailled. The American Printing House publishes Braille contraction sheets for grade 2 Braille (contractions, word signs, short-form words, and punctuation). Up to five copies of the contraction sheets are free of charge (write to the American Printing House for the Blind, P.O. Box 6085, Louisville, KY 40206-0085 and ask for catalog number 7-3596, the print form of the Braille contraction sheet).
Many parents ask, "Should I learn Braille?" Once your child begins to read Braille, you will probably learn along with your child. It's not necessary for you to become an expert, but you will need to know some Braille to help with homework; read letters from your child, and leave notes. If you wish to begin learning about Braille, the American Printing House publishes a handbook "English Braille, American Edition-1959," (revised 1972). The handbook is an excellent resource for a parent of a Braille reader. It includes grade 2 signs, contractions, short form words, the rules of Braille, and typical and problem words. For $3.16 a copy, it's a bargain for a handbook which you will be using for reference for many years. The order number is 7-35593. [The National Braille Press also produces a self-teaching Braille instruction book just for parents. It is called Just Enough To Know Better and is available for $12.95. A Braille contraction sheet comes with the workbook. Send check or money order to: National Braille Press, Inc., 88 St. Stephen Street, Boston, MA 02115.]
If you have ever tried to read Braille with your fingers, you have realized how fine the differences are between the individual cells. Before children can discriminate between Braille letters, they first must learn to discriminate between textures. If your child can tell you if two items (blocks, silverware, pieces of clothing) are the same or different and has learned to match like items (sorting silverware, or putting away toys), you can begin to teach matching of textures. Begin with textures which differ greatly (plastic or burlap, for example) and gradually make the task more difficult.
Cut out small squares of varied textures (sandpaper, felt, tile, flocked wallpaper, linoleum, cardboard. foil, etc). At first, present only a few textures: "Are these two alike or different?" or, of the three squares, "Which two are alike?" Present a number of texture squares and ask the child to sort them in piles of textures which are the same. Gradually introduce the names of the textures and ask the child to identify the textures. Make a texture concept book from cardboard and loose-leaf rings. As the child learns the name of the texture, attach the sample to a page of the book. If desired, label the texture in Braille. Provide the child with words and phrases to describe the textures—smooth, rough, scratchy, bumpy. Relate the texture to something in your child's world: "This is corduroy. Your new pants are corduroy. The oranges we buy at the store come in a bag of netting just like this." Once the child is proficient at sorting different textures, you may wish to adapt your own games, such as the following:
Tactile Dominos: 20-30 pieces of wood 2" by 1-1/2". Cover the dominoes in halves with several of each texture. To create a slightly different version, glue real objects (buttons, bottle caps, etc.) on the halves.
Old Maid: cover cards with various textures, have two matching cards for each texture except for one which is the "Old Maid."
Concentration: Use ten pairs of different textures. Place face down in four rows of five columns.
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