Future Reflections                                                                                               Winter 2001

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Pre‑Braille Experiences for Infants
and Toddlers

by Terry Connolly

Reprinted from VIPS News 17/*, May/June 2001, a publication of the VIPS Program in Louisville, Kentucky. Editor’s Note: This was the second article in a two-part series published by VIPS in the Spring of 2001. In the first article, Ms. Connolly discussed the importance of understanding spatial relationships, of developing cognitive concepts, and of tactile discrimination. In this part, she expands upon other important pre‑Braille experiences.

Number Concepts and Patterns

Important number concepts and patterns include few/many; some/none; more/less; pair; zero; all; one-to‑one correspondence; first/second/third; last; and counting to ten.

Play with objects in a six‑muffin tin. Find and take out one or two. Guide the child’s hand to learn how to use one hand as a placeholder and the other hand to place an object in the hole. This reinforces one-to‑one correspondence when one object is put into each hole. This will help the child imitate patterns later on.

Large pegboard play is great for beginning number relationships. Let the child play creatively and later introduce number concepts. Older infants and young toddlers will enjoy positioning large pegs and blocks to create things.

Older toddlers may be ready to imitate patterns of pegs on a board or large shaped beads on a string. Create rows of tape or Velcro strips with blocks or shapes. Again, as with sorting and matching games, begin with two and increase to three or four.

Motor Skills

Practice doing movements with words to describe them. Also, talk to the child about what he/she is doing so the words have meaning at natural times of the day. Important movement concepts include go; start/stop; fast/slow; push/pull; scribble; draw; trace; bend; open/close; slide; roll; hold; insert/place/put; reach; sit; squeeze; turn; and follow.

Good head control and independent sitting are important to read Braille with ease. Reaching for an object based on sound or visual cues or on command is also important.

Guide the child to develop a systematic approach to searching for an object within reach to develop good skills for later exploration of pages and manipulation of books.

Fine motor skills that are important for eventual reading include grasp/release; twist/turn; rotate and examine; open/close; stack; nest, etc. Busy boxes and nesting or stacking toys are good for developing these skills.

Dexterity Further refinement in motor skills can be encouraged by putting objects into and taking them out of containers of all sizes and by playing with manipulatives, such as finger foods in containers; shape sorters; pop beads; linking chains; large pegs; form boards and simple puzzles; and blocks. Important skills for dexterity include pincer grasp; poke/probe objects, spreading/wriggling fingers; pointing; isolating each finger, relaxed curving of fingers; wrist flexibility; and tracking a raised line by touch.

Communication Skills Babies are like sponges – they absorb information. Use words to name and request and eventually the baby will, too. Guide infants and toddlers to use words to name and request, and to follow simple directions. Help them listen to a short story with objects as props and to explore tactual books and turn pages.

Braille in Everyday Life

* Encourage “scribbling.” It’s fun and important. Allow toddlers to “scribble” with a Braillewriter or slate and stylus (with supervision). Plastic sheets from bacon packages, when thoroughly washed, work great for Braille.

* Share with your toddler what you are writing – grocery lists, notes to friends, etc.

* Braille notes for toddlers to take to family members and have them read aloud.

* Leave Braille “love notes” under the toddler’s pillow or in his lunch box; include print so anyone can help the child read it.

* Take the toddler’s hand to experience Braille in the community on signs, elevators, and Braille menus. Remember, sighted infants have been seeing print in their world from a very early age.

* Get a Braille labeler or a slate with slits for dymotape for labeling. Label the child’s belongings with his name (diaper bag, cup, lunch box, snacks, etc.) Label areas of the home, familiar objects, and toys with Braille. Label the numbers on a toy telephone or animal names on a See’N Say, for example.

Literature Rich Experiences

* Create a box or bag with items associated with a familiar routine. Write a story on an index card about taking a bath, visiting Grandma, or going to a restaurant. Include objects associated with that experience – a story in a box or bag!

* Clap and bounce with rhymes, finger plays, and songs; pause before the last word of a familiar rhyme to let the child anticipate and fill it in.

* Keep textured books, cloth and cardboard books, Braille books, and sound books available for your child on a low shelf where she can find them herself.

* Go to the library for story hour to hear richly read stories. There are usually hands‑on activities associated with these.

* Practice turning pages together. Reinforce this by slipping treats, leaves, or pieces of fabric to find between the pages.

* Adapt print books by placing Braille above or be­low the lines of print.

* Make books meaningful by gluing an object on the front to match the story, or tie an object on it with a ribbon.

Reading from Left to Right

* Play at making rows of large pegs in a pegboard from left to right.

* Roll a car or rolling toy on a table from left to right with one or both hands.

* Play at following the track with wooden sticks, sandpaper strips, lines of glue, and Brailled materials (with and without spaces).

* Glue objects to a strip and have the child move from left to right to discover and talk about each.

* Place objects in a 12‑muffin tin; have the child identify the objects, moving from left to right across each row.

Concrete to Abstract

Braille is a system of symbolic representation of real objects and experiences, just as print is for the sighted reader. Infants and toddlers learn best at a con­crete, hands‑on level. Touching experiences with ob­jects and people are critical. Begin by describing what he is doing when he is playing with a toy: “Tyrone is banging blocks.” Talk out loud about what you are doing, too.

The next step is to use an object as a reminder or to prepare for a transition in activity, such as a key to go for a car ride. For example, let the baby hold the keys as you prepare to leave (and only at that time). The next step is to use the same or similar objects to talk about a past or future experience. This way, you see, it becomes a symbol.

Then make a book with object symbols to tell a pretend story about someone else. At this time, add a raised drawing to represent the object and match it, as well as a Braille label next to it. Then the connection can be made between the real object and the Braille word. Sighted children go through a similar progression with pictures as symbolic representations.

Match real objects to things that go together or outlines of them. Trace familiar, real objects to make puzzles out of them.

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