Preschool and Elementary Activities

Let’s Learn Shapes and Tactile Drawing! 

A young student drawing a house on a piece of paper with a cardboard cone and a cup on the table next to the drawing.Materials 

  • Items of different shapes such as tactile foam stickers, household items, familiar shape-sorter toys, and paper/cardboard cutouts of common shapes. 
  • Sensational BlackBoard (SBB) *See Additional Resources 
  • Copy paper 
  • If SBB is unavailable; a silicone mat or phonebook/catalog and Braille paper or other thick paper 
  • Ballpoint pens 

*See the Resources and Purchase Information sections at the bottom of this page for some helpful links. 

Shape Adventures 

Depending on your child’s age and experience, they will have an understanding of basic shapes in their surroundings. For beginners, introduce them to the basic shapes using a shape-sorter toy or familiar objects around the home. Play a game with your child to identify shapes around the home. Find all the circle plates, the square couch cushions, or place tactile stickers of the same shape next to each other on a sheet of paper. Race each other to find the most rectangle objects before one minute is up. Get creative with helping your child learn about different shapes. 

Tactile Drawing and Tracing 

If your child is familiar with basic shapes, begin doodling and drawing basic shapes on a tactile drawing board. The Sensational BlackBoard is a fantastic option for this. See the Resource section at the bottom of this page for more information and helpful videos. Your child can practice doodling freehand or tracing small objects. If you have some cookie cutters or shape-sorter toys, they make great tracing options. As your child becomes more advanced and comfortable with the drawing board, they can try putting shapes together to make a picture. For example, a triangle on top of a square resembles a house. Take turns with your child drawing a tactile picture for you to interpret with your hands and you drawing one for them to interpret.  

Don’t have a Sensational BlackBoard? Not a problem. An alternative is to use a silicone mat or a thick book such as a phone book or catalog as your board. Place thicker paper such as cardstock or Braille paper on top of the surface and use a pen to draw the tactile shape. Now, flip the paper over to feel it on the other side. Keep in mind that this option requires the drawing to be in reverse (similar to using a slate and stylus for Braille). 

Pop-Out Shapes 

The Sensational BlackBoard can be used to create tactile pop-out shapes. By applying enough pressure while drawing, the shape being drawn or traced will become perforated on the paper, allowing it to then be popped out. Check out this instructional video. The shapes created with this pop-out method can then be glued to a new paper to create tactile pictures. For example, glue a triangle and circle onto a page to make an ice cream cone. Encourage your child to make traced or free hand out pop out shapes to create fun and complex pictures. 

If you do not have access to a Sensational BlackBoard, practice cutting shapes with your child out of different textures of paper. Sandpaper, cardstock, and craft foam are all great options. These shapes can also be glued to separate paper to create new tactile pictures. 

Why It Matters 

A great deal of what is taught in math and science deals with pictures, diagrams, charts, and other visual learning tools. This has contributed to the misconception that blind students will not be successful in learning these subjects or that they will find them too challenging. However, blind students can learn to interpret tactile versions of the same graphics their peers are using. Introducing your child to tactile discrimination early and often will build this skill and increase their confidence in interpreting a variety of tactile graphics. Furthermore, encouraging your child to draw their own tactile graphics will grow their ability to think spatially. The activities above will introduce a foundation for your child’s ability to interpret and learn from tactile graphics in the future. 

Using Tools and Technology 

Zoomed in shot of a student using a Braille ruler.Materials

  • Braille ruler 
  • Click ruler 
  • Braille caliper 
  • Tactile measuring tape 
  • Talking measuring tape 
  • Talking calculator 
  • Talking thermometer 
  • Talking kitchen or bathroom scale 

*See the Resources and Purchase Information sections at the bottom of this page for some helpful links. 

Let’s Measure It! 

Gather a range of accessible measuring tools such as those listed in the materials. Encourage your child to explore the tactile measuring tools available. Explain how and why each type of tool might be used. For example, would we use a ruler or a measuring tape to measure the distance across a room? Which measuring tool is more accurate, a tool with few tactile markings or several? Why? Make a game of measuring small objects around the home. For beginners this could be as simple as determining which object is smaller and which object is larger. For more advanced children this can involve trying to measure the same object with a variety of tools. Is one tool more accurate than another? Is there a tool they prefer to use? Why? The more your child practices with these tools, the more confident they will be when the time comes to measure something for school, homework, or that science fair project. 

Time to Get Technical 

Simple assistive technology devices such as handheld talking calculators, talking thermometers, and talking scales can be purchased online (see Resources) or borrowed from your child’s school. Encouraging your child to become familiar and comfortable with these devices early in their education is extremely beneficial. Technology will continue to get more complex as they move into more academically challenging grades and learning to use these basic tools will build on their future successes. 

Practicing with these tools can involve lots of simple and fun games. Have beginners locate specific numbers or operators on a talking calculator before progressing to performing simple calculations. Encourage more advanced children to play a temperature-measuring game with the thermometer. What temperature is the milk in the refrigerator? The hot coffee? What about the air outside and the air inside? Your child can even practice weighing items on a talking scale and learning how similar items compare. For instance, is a cup of flour heavier than a cup of sugar? What about a cup of water? Encourage them to come up with their own mini experiments and explore their own scientific questions. As these simple technology devices become second nature to your child, the more complex devices ahead will be easier to learn. 

Why It Matters 

It is no secret that a variety of technology are used in the science and math classroom. It is critical that blind children have access to accessible versions of the tools their peers are using. If your child doesn’t have access to accessible tools, or doesn’t know how to use them, they are missing out on a key part of learning. When all the other kids in class are reading the measurements on a scale or thermometer, your child may be sitting passively without access to the same information. This increases the likelihood that they are not engaged in the activity and therefore not learning what their peers are learning. The activities described above present your child with opportunities to participate actively and engage in learning. It is also important to practice using these tools in advance, so that your child is comfortable and confident when they need to use them in the classroom. These devices will not be beneficial if the child has to spend the classroom time learning how to use it instead of participating in the activity. 

You Can Make It: DIY Accessibility 

Modeling clay in the shape of a ball, a cardboard cup, a cardboard cone, and a drawing of all three objects.Materials

  • Braille label sheets 
  • Braille label maker 
  • Tactile foam stickers 
  • Bump dots 
  • Craft knife (for cutting tactile notches) 
  • Salt dough ingredients (flour, salt, water) 
  • Blocks, LEGO®, or other building toys 
  • Modeling clay or craft plaster 
  • Small fossil toys (seashells, rocks, dinosaurs) 

*See the Resources and Purchase Information sections at the bottom of this page for some helpful links. 

Label Adventures 

Labels are a very simple way to make lots of things accessible. Have your child go on a label adventure around the house to search for items that could benefit from a Braille or tactile label. Some ideas could be toy bins or baskets, favorite foods in the pantry, microwave buttons, or even a set of crayons. Check out these triangle-shaped crayons that are easy to add a Braille label to since they have flat sides. Does your child have a favorite board game that could use some labels? Or could you cut some notches into all the black checkers so they can easily join the game? Once you and your child get going, you are likely to find a lot of fun and easy adaptations around your home. Check out the Resources section at the bottom of this page for more information. 

Model Making Fun! 

Do you remember that papier-mâché volcano from your elementary science class? Sometimes the best, and most fun, way to learn something is by building it yourself. There are many easy ways to make models out of household items such as mixing flour, salt, and water to create a basic salt dough. You can also grab some clay or craft plaster and use these for simple models. Encourage your child to use the materials to make their own models of favorite things or things they are currently learning about. This can be as simple as using cookie cutters to make salt dough shapes with your preschooler or pressing toy dinosaurs into plaster to make fossils with your fifth grader. Take turns making models for each other and describing what the models are. 

Making models doesn’t always have to be a crafty or messy task either. You know that bin of blocks or Legos in the closet? Get it out and build some houses, buildings, and other structures with your child. Stacking the blocks and fitting pieces together in different ways will build on your child’s spatial skills. Encourage them to try to build an idea they are imagining in their mind. Did it come out the way they intended? What changes could they make to the current model to better reflect their idea? This practice will help them learn to do the reverse when they have to conceptualize a model they are interpreting themselves. 

Why It Matters 

Making accessibility a priority in your home will help make equal access an expectation for your child. When you create an environment where they can access and enjoy appropriate items in your home, they will come to expect the same access in their science classroom. The great thing about the activities above is that creating access doesn’t have to mean spending a lot of money on special tools. You can help your child understand that some of the simplest solutions are extremely effective. They can take the same knowledge to their teachers and work through accessibility challenges in school. Although equal access to school materials is not the burden of you the parent or your child, you may be amazed at how your child will learn to advocate for what they need through these activities. They will also develop their own creative solutions and grow those critical thinking muscles. 

Building Nonvisual Skills 

A student in NFB EQ cutting cardboard with a pair of scissors.Materials

  • Accessible measuring cups and spoons 
  • Cups, bowls, and pitchers 
  • Dry foods (beans, rice, cereal) 
  • Water 
  • Items with various fasteners (zippers, buttons, snaps) 
  • Various Items of clothing 
  • Basic household tools (scissors, pliers, screwdriver) 

*See the Resources and Purchase Information sections at the bottom of this page for some helpful links. 

Pouring and Scooping 

Learning strategies for nonvisual pouring and scooping will build great foundational skills for your child’s success in a science lab. These tasks may sound simple enough, but your child is learning so much by practicing them. How do you efficiently measure liquids? Which measuring tools work best for a particular task? Not to mention an opportunity to practice following directions—and even fractions. All of these skills are transferable skills used to perform experiments in a science class. Beginners can practice pouring water from one cup to another. Encourage them to transfer all the liquid without spilling. Have them practice using one hand to locate and steady the cup they are pouring into and using the other hand to pour. Beginners can also practice scooping dry goods using measuring cups. Encourage them to build the habit of scooping enough to fill the cup and using a hand to level off the cup at the top. Engage in a discussion about why it is important to fill the measuring cup all the way, as well as why it is important to level it off. More advanced children can try simple recipes such as boxed cake mix. Check out the Resources section below for a great article about cooking with your child. 

Grooming and Home Management 

Did you know that encouraging your child to learn personal grooming and home skills will actually help them in all areas of their life, including the science classroom? Building on skills from tying shoes to cleaning up their own room contributes to skills from finger strength to advocacy. For beginners start with tasks such as independently zipping zippers, securing snaps on clothing, or putting toys back in the toybox. Take out items of clothing and sort them with your child. Have them identify shirts, socks, pants, etc. As your child progresses, encourage them to dress themselves, choose their own clothing, and definitely keep putting those toys away. Advanced children can practice washing their own clothing and determine how they might organize their personal belongings. Although it may seem abstract, your child is actually learning so much in completing these daily home management tasks. They are building dexterity, critical thinking, organizational habits, independence, and so much more. All of these abilities do actually generate confidence for your child when they are performing in the ballet recital, making friends on the playground, and of course doing that science fair project. 

Using Household Items 

Just as learning personal grooming is key, making sure your child is familiar with household tools and items is extremely important. It can be quite daunting to be handed a pair of scissors for the very first time while working on a project with your peers and have no idea how to use them. Create as many opportunities to use these items in your home as possible. A micropipette doesn’t seem so confusing when you’ve already used a medicine dropper or a turkey baster. Using tongs to pick up some dry ice is pretty easy if you’ve already used tongs at home in your kitchen. Have beginners practice using a glue-stick, opening containers with twist off lids, or grooming the dog with you. Work with your child to progress into using scissors to help you open food packages in the kitchen or a screwdriver to help fix the wobbly table leg. Don’t forget about learning how to safely use household appliances such as vacuum cleaners and microwaves. Grab the toolbox from the garage and go through all the tools with your child. They can learn what the tools look like, how they’re used, and what kind of projects each tool might be used for. All of these activities will help your child feel comfortable and confident with the everyday objects they are likely to encounter on a regular basis and the less common ones they may run into in the science lab. Check out the Resources section for some helpful materials. 

Why It Matters 

Strong nonvisual skills can be the foundation of success for blind individuals. When a blind child realizes that they can complete the same task as their peers, regardless of the amount of vision they have, their confidence grows exponentially. As their parent, you can help your child ask “How can I do X?” rather than “Can I do X?” The activities above begin to set the expectation that, with some alternative techniques, your child can participate equally in the same activities as their peers. This means having the expectation that your child can and should do household chores, help in the kitchen, and clean their own room. If they are expected to fully participate in the home, they will have the expectation that they should fully participate in school and everywhere else. They will advocate for themselves to use the Bunsen burner, because they know how to safely locate the flame with a gently hovering hand. They will volunteer to measure out the baking soda for the experiment, because they have learned how to accurately measure dry ingredients in your kitchen. 



Purchase Information

Learn more and purchase the Sensational BlackBoard from Sensational Books

Here are just a few places to purchase accessible devices, tools, Braille labeling supplies, and much more: 


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