Future Reflections Fall 1995, Vol. 14 No. 3
by Peggy Niedermann
At J.C. Hogian Elementary School in Marshalltown, Iowa, there are thirty-four students that have a "secret code." The code is Braille. After reading an article in Future Reflections, Fall 1992, by Bonnie Simons, I was inspired to start an after-school Braille club.
I took my idea to our school principal, and he was convinced this would be a great program. With his encouragement I contacted our town's park and recreation department to get support for an after-school activity program involving Braille. I was met with an enthusiastic response. "How soon do you want to start and what do you need?" With all this enthusiasm I started to work.
The first step was to set a date to start and then make a registration form. I was able to use the school's art room every Monday from 3:15 to 4:00 p.m. I made a registration form and sent it home with the students in grades third through fifth. To my amazement the registration forms started coming in the next day in great numbers. I had thirty-four students wanting to sign up. I even had to turn some interested students away after the club started.
The blind student with whom I work was in the third grade when we started. He is an intelligent fun-loving boy. This has been a wonderful adventure for him. He has been able to become a leader among his peers. He became my junior assistant. The Braille club members are seeing him in a new light. They are beginning to understand how much alike they are and how, with some adaptations, blind students can do their own school tasks without much difficulty. The sighted members of the club are beginning to understand the Braille code and how to read and write it.
The first meeting of the Secret Code Braille Club was a get-to-know-you time. Sitting in a circle we played musical hot potato. The kids passed the musical potato from person to person. When the music stopped the one holding the potato stated their name and why they wanted to be in the club. This enabled my blind "assistant" to learn the voices and names of the other members. We finished our first club meeting with a short lesson about the Braille cell. To reinforce the lesson we made an edible Braille cell. The students placed chocolate chips on a Rice Krispie rectangle as my assistant instructed the group on where to place the "dots." The first meeting was a huge success!
The next two meetings were spent making Christmas cards. Due to our large number of members we divided into two groups. One group used tactile materials to decorate the front of the card. The other group shared five Braillewriters and Brailled the word "joy." The next week we reversed the groups; this enabled all the children to experience both activities.
After our Christmas break we began our journey through the Braille alphabet. We first learned about the life of Louis Braille and how he invented the Braille code. We reviewed the cell and how each letter is made. To reinforce this lesson the members made their own alphabet in pencil and a numbered Braille cell. A discussion of the Perkins Brailler and the corresponding key numbers concluded our meeting.
The following two Mondays in January we once again divided into two groups. One group used paper, pencil, glue, and soybeans to write their names. The students wrote their names in pencil dot form and then glued soybeans on the dots. They also wrote the corresponding dot numbers under each letter. Most of the members thought this activity was the best yet. The other half of the club divided into groups of two or three and shared the Braillewriters. My visually impaired junior assistant helped the group get started on Brailling the alphabet. Just getting started was a learning experience. Rolling the paper into the Braillewriter was quite a task for most of the students. The students helped each other out and gave each other a lot of encouragement. The following week we reversed this activity allowing both groups again to work on each project.
We continued dividing into groups the next few weeks to work on the Braillewriters. The group not on the Braillewriters enjoyed playing games adapted for the blind. One week we decided to change the pace a little; we all joined together to finger paint. We used St. Patrick's Day green and added sand to the paint. This was not an activity for the non-tactile type person. Once the creations dried, the colored ridges of sand were cut into shamrock shapes. We displayed the shamrocks in our school's media center.
When it was time to end our Secret Code Braille Club, we went out with a party. The club members decided we should play bingo for prizes and make edible Braille cells again.
The club was a great experience for all involved. My blind student assistant had a chance to be the resident expert among his peers. The sighted members found out how much thinking goes into learning Braille and the coordination needed to use the Braillewriter. This writer enjoyed watching all the interactions of the students as they learned new skills. It was a time to make new friends, to be creative, express ideas with tactile materials, and learn a new method of written communication. The club was so successful that the following year two sessions were held, one for the beginners and one for the advance students. As this is being written the Secret Code Braille Club is getting ready for its third year of fun.