Future Reflections                                                                                     Spring/Summer 2004

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Refrigerator Art

by Susan Povinelli

Adapted from the article in the Fall 2003 issue of the Vigilant, the newsletter of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia.

Susan Povinelli
Susan Povinelli

Editorís Note: Can blind kids color and draw pictures? Can they learn to cut paper with scissors? Susan Povinelli has some thoughts, and some very practical suggestions, about those topics. She also has some pretty impressive credentials for this task. Povinelli is a blind mother, an engineer, and an active leader in the Virginia affiliate of the NFB. Here is what she has to say:

I can remember as a child drawing simple pictures of houses and trees with my crayons. Many happy hours were spent that way. In turn, my daughters created beautiful artwork for me when they were very young. We proudly hung their art with Big Bird magnets in the Povinelli Galleryóthe front of the refrigerator or on the metal door leading into the hallway.

This is a simple pleasure that most blind children donít get to experience. Sighted parents and teachers may think drawing is too visual an activity, or perhaps they fear the children will become frustrated by the activity. This does not need to be true. There is no reason to deny blind youth the simple pleasure of expressing their creativity in this manner. Kids learn many things by drawing. For example, they develop their fine-motor skills, build hand strength, learn to recognize shapes, and better yet, they can do the same thing that everyone else is doingóitís a social experience. They will be as proud as their sighted classmates to hang their works of art in their own home gallery. What is so wonderful is that you donít need any high tech devices to make a tactile drawing kit for blind children.

A tactile drawing kit is a system for etching a visual and a tactile image with an ordinary pen or other marking device. Hereís how you can assemble a simple drawing kit. You will need the following items for your kit: a screen board, a box of crayons, paper for drawing, a potato chip bag clip (or something similar), Braille ruler, blunt end paper scissors, cookie cutters (optional), and a glue stick. Most of these items are probably lying around your house. However, you will have to construct the first item, a screen board. Donít worry. It is really easy to make. Here are the materials you will need: a piece of window screening about 30 inches by 24 inches (you can buy screening at a hardware store, but you may need to cut it to the size you need); one piece of cardboard, poster board, cake decorating board, or very thin plywood cut to about 18 inches by 12 inches; a second piece of poster board or cardboard cut slightly smaller than the first board; glue; and a heavy duty tape, such as duct tape.

Place the screen on a flat work surface and then place your larger piece of cardboard/board in the middle of the screen. There should be an inch or two of screen around the cardboard. Make sure that the excess screen is equal on every side of the board. Next, fold back one of the overlapping edges of the screen and affix it to the cardboard with glue or other adhesive. Do this for all the sides. Then, glue the second (slightly smaller) piece of cardboard over the top of the first board, covering the edges of the glued-down window screening. Use tape to hold it all together and to protect the child from any sharp edges.

Congratulations, you have successfully constructed your screen board. If you have assembled the other items for your kit, you are now ready to start drawing. Place a piece of paper on the side with the screen. Use your clip to hold the paper to the board so that it does not move. Let your child draw or scribble on the paper with a crayon. The window screening underneath will cause a raised line to appear on the paper.

To introduce your child to various shapes, give her a cookie cutter and let her draw around it. Cookie cutters come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. I like the plastic ones because they donít warp with use. You can make your own tactile picture coloring sheets by tracing pictures from commercial coloring books or graphics from your computer onto sheets of blank paper using the screen board. Your child can practice drawing inside the lines of the images you create. Simple pictures without much detail work well.

You can then hand your child a pair of childrenís safety scissors and let her practice cutting along the raised line. Assuming she is right-handed, begin by having her place her left hand finger on the raised line near the edge of the paper as a guide. Then, with her right-hand holding the scissors, show her how to slip the paper between the scissors and align the inside blade of the scissors with her left-hand guide finger. She is then ready to begin cutting as she moves her left-hand finger along the tactile mark. It may take practice before cutting along the line becomes second nature. But donít worry; sighted kids donít get it right the first time either.

I use a screen board for myself to make patterns for sewing, quilted artwork, floor plans, and other line drawings used at home and work. I place a straight pin through the paper into the screen board to mark a starting location. I then measure the length of a line with the Braille ruler and place another straight pin into the screen board. Placing the Braille ruler against the two pins enables me to draw a straight measured line between them. (Of course, straight pins are not recommended for small children.)

Now all you need is to apply your imagination and you and your child can make wonderful drawings and artwork to adorn your refrigerator.

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