What’s Buzzing with the National Federation of the Blind?
Are you looking for something fun and educational for your child to do this summer? Do you want your child to be able to practice Braille, travel, and other blindness skills? Do you dream of your child making new friends with blind peers and learning from, and connecting with, positive adult blind role models? Well, the National Federation of the Blind Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (NFB BELL) Academy might be just what you’re looking for.
The NFB BELL Academy is a program for children four to twelve years of age. Some states allow three-year-olds to participate in their programs, and one state, Arizona, even has a program for toddlers! Some states have residential programs, while others have day programs. All participating states help children learn and practice Braille, travel, and daily living skills. All states take children on engaging field trips and allow them to interact with blind peers and successful blind adults. All NFB BELL Academies build confidence in participants, give information and support to participants and their families, and are tons of fun!
To see whether an NFB BELL Academy is being held in your state, and to apply for the program, please visit the NFB BELL Academy webpage.
As I sit in my living room, with the window open wide to let in the cool breeze, I am thoroughly enjoying the sounds of birds singing their songs. I am always a little surprised at how many birds I hear, even though I live in a busy city neighborhood. These bird songs, and the beautiful spring weather, make me think of wonderful walks I had in the woods on my grandparents’ farm when I was a child. The woods were so quiet and peaceful—yet there were always sounds to hear. My mom, brothers, or cousins would describe the things they saw, but there were always so many things to pick up, touch, smell, and often take with us. Rocks, moss, wild mushrooms that looked like big puffballs, flowers, prairie grass, interestingly shaped and textured sticks, pieces of wood, cattails, pussy willows and, once, even a live toad! These walks deepened my understanding of the natural world and also my appreciation for nature. Although I live in a city now and enjoy the conveniences and comforts of city life, and although I do not particularly enjoy camping (too much nature is not my cup of tea), I do truly miss those walks in the woods. I hope I can find ways to make excursions of this sort with my husband and children this summer.
With all of this in mind, I decided a themed issue of the Bee was in order. Our featured article this month is The Voices of Birds, the Smells of the Forest. There is so much information a person can gain just by learning bird calls, and I love how this article points out that sighted bird watchers also rely a great deal more on their ears than their eyes to identify birds in a specific area. This is an important message for blind children to receive; often so much emphasis is placed, even unintentionally, on the role vision plays in the world. Blind children should be given examples of how other senses are used in everyday hobbies—particularly hobbies in science and nature.
The rest of the sections in this issue are built around ways to include Braille, cane travel, and a fun craft project into a trip to a nature trail or forest.
Literacy Hints from the Hive
There are enjoyable ways to incorporate pre-Braille skills into a forest adventure.
For young children, encourage exploration of different natural objects you come across on your walk. Encourage your child to systematically explore objects. If possible, have her start at the top left and run her hands down an object to the bottom right. Of course, with some things this is not very practical, but it is important that she is encouraged to explore all areas of an object—not just a small portion of it. Talk to, or ask questions of, your child as she explores. “This moss is very soft and spongey.” “These sticks are sharp.” “This plant is soft. Can you think of anything else that feels this way?” “Can you tell what Braille dots make the beginning letter of this object?”
Older children should be encouraged to explore in the same way, but below you will find ways to add even more Braille to the day:
Have your child make a Braille list of things she hopes to hear, smell, and touch in the woods. You could make this list on separate notecards. Your child could find the notecard with a specific sound or object on it and place it in a separate pocket or pile delineating the cards of the things she has heard, smelled, or touched.
Help your child make a scavenger hunt list in Braille for siblings, parents, or friends. Your child could be responsible for reading the list and telling everyone the things they need to find, hear, or see.
Have your child write a Braille journal entry about your trip to the woods after you return home.
Some nature centers or parks have special sensory trails that may include signs in Braille, objects to explore, and even Braille information guides. Check the internet to see if there are any special exhibits of this kind near you.
Walking in a wooded area is a different kind of travel experience. Here are some tips.
For younger children, you may want to choose a trail that is fairly smooth and free of obstacles.
Let your child walk using his or her cane. Have him feel the trail with his cane, and have him feel places where there is no trail. Talk to him about how he can know, just by using his cane, if he is still on the trail or if he is wandering away from it.
Some blind people like to use a hiking pole either in addition to or instead of a traditional cane. The hiking poles are sturdier, and they can give a lot of information on the trail ahead.
If there are obstacles, allow your child time to explore the obstacle and see if he can figure out how to get around or over it by himself before you offer advice. Of course, if it is truly dangerous in some way, you should help your child so he stays safe, but when there is no real danger, this type of problem solving is extremely valuable.
Lastly, allow your child to take advantage of other types of movement opportunities. Is there a perfect tree for climbing? Take a deep breath if you are anxious, and show your child how to climb a tree. On the other hand, let someone else show him if you are too nervous. Are there a few logs close enough together so they are perfect for jumping from one to another? Show your child these and let him jump. Is there a hill in a clearing perfect for rolling or running down? Allow your child to roll and run. You will not regret the fun you both will have.
A Taste of Honey
If possible, collect “treasures” on your trip to the forest. Small rocks, pieces of wood, moss, grass, leaves, and sticks are some of the things you may find. All of these treasures can be perfect material for craft projects throughout the summer.
Use these materials to make a nature collage.
Your child could use her treasures to make a diorama to remember the trip. Shoeboxes are great places to build dioramas. Braille labels can be added so she remembers what each object represents.
If your child needs to work on spatial or map-making skills, use the materials to help her make a map of part of the trail she explored in the forest.
Have your child write a short book about your adventure and glue something on each page of the book. Alternatively, you or your child’s teacher of blind students could create such a book for a younger child to explore.
Older children might enjoy trying to make a small log cabin out of sticks.
Not crafty? Worried about making a mess? Try not to worry about either of these things. These projects do not need to be elaborate. They are more about letting your child express herself and making memories with your child than anything else.
Messes can be cleaned up, and not all projects turn out the way we plan. The key is to try not to stress about this and focus on the fun. Choose a day when you have nothing else going on so you will not have to rush. Have your child only work with one material at a time if you are worried about messes. Put newspaper over the table so it can be removed and thrown away at the end of the project. If your child asks you to help her make a bird, don’t worry if it doesn’t look or feel perfect. Generally, your child will think whatever you make for her is perfect, just the way it is.