The BEE: November/December 2019

What’s Buzzing with the National Federation of the Blind?

Every December, the National Federation of the Blind helps Santa send letters in Braille to young blind children across the country.

Over ten years ago, Santa Claus made the staff at the National Federation of the Blind honorary elves. Ever since, we've been helping him send letters in contracted Braille to blind boys and girls who are ten years old and younger in the United States.

Between November 11 and December 16, parents can go online at and fill out a Santa Braille Letter request form. The form can also be printed and faxed to (410) 685-2340 or emailed to [email protected]. Beginning Monday, December 2, the Braille letters from Santa will start going out to boys and girls around the country. The Braille letter will also be accompanied by a print copy (for mom and dad to read) as well as some other fun Christmastime activities.

The deadline for letter requests is December 16 to ensure that a return letter in Braille is received before Christmas.  For more information, please visit the NFB website at

Literacy Hints from the Hive

Create a Braille message in a bottle with or for your child this year!


  • 1 (or more) plastic juice or other drink bottle(s)—make sure the bottle you choose has a wide mouth so the message can easily be placed into and pulled out of the bottle.
  • Decorations for each bottle, which could include stickers of different shapes and textures, cotton balls, construction paper, or even different colors of duct tape.
  • Glue
  • Scissors
  • Index cards
  • One pipe cleaner (for hanging up your creation)


Clean each bottle and make sure it is thoroughly dry before you begin. Your child can help with this.

Have your child decorate his or her bottle, or a number of bottles to give to other friends or family.

Have your child Braille a message on an index card to put inside each bottle. If your child is too young to do the Brailling, you or a teacher could Braille the message for your child.

If you like, poke two holes across from one another on the upper part of the bottle, below the cap.  Thread a pipe cleaner through the holes, knotting the ends, so the bottle can be hung.

The uses for these bottles are endless. You could have your child write a message to a favorite teacher and give the teacher the bottle along with a few artificial flowers. This way, the teacher could put the flowers into the bottle after she reads the message. You could have your child write a message to Santa and hang the bottle on the tree. And, perhaps Santa might write her a message in return and put it in the bottle for her to find on Christmas morning. Maybe family members could put messages for each other in these bottles all season long. Alternatively, they could write something they appreciate about each family member every day. In whatever way your family decides to use the bottles, I hope you enjoy creating them together and have fun making Braille a part of this project.

Travel Tales

This is the season to purchase gifts for friends and family. Although I realize gifts these days are often purchased online, do what you can to allow your child to experience purchasing at least one gift at an actual store. This experience will help very young children understand more about their world and will encourage older children to interact with store staff—a skill that will serve them well in adulthood.

If you have a very young child who is riding in the cart at a store, talk to him about all the things you are seeing, smelling, hearing, and doing as you walk through the store. The more things you can allow your child to touch, the better.

If your child is walking, make sure he brings his cane with him to the store and encourage him to use it. If you have a teaching cane, bring it as well. The two of you can tap on tile floor and see how that sounds, tap on carpet and see how that sounds, as well. You can also begin to explain aisles to your child and encourage him to use his cane to find openings for each aisle. You could even count the aisles together.

Talk to older children about the layout of the store you are visiting. Is it a large department store with many items to buy? If so, make sure your child understands what types of things are in each department of the store. Is it a smaller store that only sells one type of item? If so, things will most likely be organized in some type of way; see if you and your child can discover the organizational system.

Have your child participate in the purchase as much as he is able. You could allow a very small child to hand the clerk money or carry the bag for you when the purchase is complete. An older child could place an item on the counter, hand a clerk the money, wait for change, and take the bag with the item. A child who is older still might be able to find and purchase a gift completely independently by asking a clerk to help him find what he is looking for, asking questions about the item, choosing the item, and making the purchase. You could be in the background to watch this process. You and your child might rehearse what he wants to say ahead of time so he will feel more confident. You could even play store at home to practice these skills.

A Taste of Honey

Cutout cookies are fun to make this time of year, regardless of whether you make more “traditional” cutouts such as Christmas trees, Santa’s, or angels, or less traditional cookies such as animals. Your child should be encouraged to help with the cookie making.

Your child can work on skills such as mixing dough, rolling it out, and placing and pushing down the cutters. Another very important skill, however, is for your child to be able to identify the shapes of the cookie cutters she would like to use. Some cookie cutters are easy to identify by touch, particularly if your child is familiar with basic shapes. A heart cookie cutter, for example, should be easy for your child to identify. Your child will need to learn the shapes of other cookie cutters, so you might need to give your child a real object so she can compare it to the cookie cutter. This way, she can better understand why the cutter is shaped the way it is. For example, you might want to give your child a real large stocking to hold. Talk to her about the shape of the stocking—how the “foot” comes out at the bottom. This should help your child understand the same shape in a stocking cookie cutter. A bell might be another shape you may want to use. Show your child a real bell, and then talk about the fact that even though you can’t ring a cookie cutter that looks like a bell, it is still a similar shape. If you are using animal cookie cutters, help your child identify the characteristics of the cookie cutter that let you know what animal it is supposed to be. Does the cookie cutter have long ears and a curly tail like a dog, or ears that stick straight up and a puffy tail like a bunny? Does it have a long elephant trunk, or a long giraffe neck? These can be difficult concepts, but they are important for children to begin to understand, ask questions about, and make their own discoveries.