Future Reflections         Special Issue: A Celebration of Braille

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Kendra’s Kindergarten Year:
As Good as it Gets…

by Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway

Her teachers, Ms. Peggy Echt and Ms. Mary Kaye Moore, look on while Kendra, with cane in hand, enters the classroom on her birthday. Editor’s Note: Readers may recognize Stephanie’s name; she has contributed several excellent articles to Future Reflections. As the article below demonstrates, she is a passionate advocate for her daughter and for Braille literacy; but she doesn’t stop there. As the founding president of the Georgia Parents of Blind Children (GA/POBC), and as a member of the national board of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, both affiliates of the National Federation of the Blind, Stephanie is a tireless advocate for all blind children. Here is her description of what can happen when everyone on an education team gets excited about Braille and buys into the Federation philosophy about high expectations for blind students:

When visitors walk through the doors of my daughter Kendra’s school, one of their first impressions must be that they have just entered a Braille-rich environment. A quick glance around the school reveals the Braille numbers on the doors, the class list in Braille outside the classroom, the enlarged print version of the Braille alphabet on the kindergarten classroom walls, the large collection of Braille books in the library, the selection of Braille books alongside the print books in the classroom, the Perkins Brailler readily accessible in the classroom, the tactile school map outside the teacher of the visually impaired’s (TVI’s) door, the Braille numbers added to the side of the school bus, and the Braille on the cafeteria keypad that the children use to pay for their lunches. If the visitors were to spend some time in Kendra’s kindergarten classroom, they might also observe that both the general education teacher and special education teacher have learned enough Braille this year to be able to interline some of Kendra’s work and that, with the help of a chart, they produce short passages in Braille for her. [Interline refers to writing the print equivalent below or above the Braille text.] They would see that the classroom para-professional has been trained to use the Brailler. They might notice how it seems to be second nature for both the adults and other children to identify themselves by name when they speak to Kendra, or how the children take turns verbally describing the pictures in a story that is being read to the class. The overall impression upon leaving the school would most likely be that they had just observed an example of what mainstreaming or inclusion was meant to be.
We all want to find a school environment where our children will feel welcomed and fully included. We know how wonderful and capable our children are, so why is that sometimes not immediately apparent to the school? It can be scary for administrators to hear that a blind child wants to enroll in their school, particularly if they have never had a blind student. Through this article, I hope to provide some concrete examples of what worked for Kendra so that these ideas can be implemented in other classroom settings as well.

Kendra reads an assignment (in Braille, of course) to Ms. Peggy Echt, her special education teacher, on the first day of school.When Kendra was three years old, we enrolled her in a private Montessori school. Although she had a wonderful TVI and orientation and mobility (O&M) instructor, we grew to feel that this particular classroom environment was not best for her. After two years in the private school, we placed her in a public pre-kindergarten program. This current school has preschool, pre-kindergarten, and kindergarten classes in which typically developing students and students with disabilities work together in integrated skill level settings. They also offer more structured settings in self-contained classes. Luckily, Kendra has been able to continue to work with the same TVI and O&M instructor for the past four years. I think the familiarity helped tremendously when the transition was made from one school to another. Both women have been staunch advocates for Kendra, often going beyond what might be expected of them. Kendra’s TVI, Dr. Laurel J. Hudson, has done an incredible job of educating the teachers and other students about blindness and about ways to make the inclusion model work efficiently and effectively. Much of the training Dr. Hudson has done is based on her book, Classroom Collaboration.1

The remainder of this article will highlight specific things that were done to make Kendra’s kindergarten experience such a successful one.

Physical Environment

Kendra works on an art project while Dr. Laurel Hudson, her TVI, watches.Toward the end of Kendra’s pre-kindergarten year, her TVI expressed her reservations to me about the Promethean Activboards which were being installed in all the kindergarten classrooms. These are interactive whiteboards which are not particularly blind-friendly. To get around this limitation, Kendra’s teachers add sound effects and screen reading as often as possible so that she can participate in lessons taught on the Activboard. They worked out a system so she can use the stylus to mark items on the board, just like the other students. Kendra loves the Activboard and often tells us about the stories she has heard on it during the day.

As in many kindergarten classes, one wall of the room is decorated with the print alphabet and pictures of objects or animals starting with each letter. What’s different about Kendra’s classroom is that the enlarged simulated Braille version of each letter is also included. One of Kendra’s teachers told me that if she forgets how to form a Braille letter, she just glances over at the wall.

Standard tactile Braille can be found throughout the classroom. The cubbies have the children’s names in Braille above them and the “word of the day” that the children read from an index card as they exit the room is in both print and Braille. The Perkins Brailler is accessible to Kendra at all times in the classroom. Even when Kendra has been out sick, her TVI has often gone to the classroom to let the other children write on the Brailler. The children are so accustomed to hearing the Perkins that during a listening game, when presented with the sound of an old-fashioned typewriter, one of the boys raised his hand and identified it as a Brailler. The children are also accustomed to the soft “punch” sound of the slate and stylus. When Kendra’s TVI is in the classroom, she will often write down for Kendra what’s on the board using the slate and stylus. Key words from various subjects that are written on the Activboard are Brailled for Kendra for each subject chapter.

The bookcase of leisure reading materials in the classroom contains both print and Braille books. The Braille selections are Twin Vision® books which contain print and Braille on the same page. Kendra’s classmates enjoy looking at them and have even checked Twin Vision® books out from the school library. The school librarian did an incredible job of acquiring Braille books over the past two years. She applied for and received grants to purchase a sizeable collection of titles.

Students and teachers outside of Kendra’s class are exposed to Braille as well. Last year, for Louis Braille’s birthday, Kendra’s TVI created a large exhibit about Braille which stood in the school lobby for the first week of January. She also added Braille to many teachers’ ID cards that week, and wrote Braille on the daily teacher’s sign-in sheet. During a unit on the sensory systems, the TVI consults with all the kindergarten classes, lending her kit of extracts for the students to smell, Brailling the names of all the students in the rooms, showing them a Brailler, some Braille books, and other Braille products.
 In order to structure the flow of materials, Kendra’s classroom teachers organized a series of bins, including work for the TVI to Braille/adapt, work which the TVI has adapted/Brailled and is now ready for Kendra to use, and work Kendra has completed that is ready to be interlined. Kendra uses an array of different materials and adapted Braille text for each section of the instructional day. Kendra’s general-education teacher turned a divided shelf unit into each section of the school day to keep Kendra’s materials organized and easily accessible. For example, Kendra’s Picture Maker and other math manipulatives are in the math section. Brailled text and raised diagrams for science lessons are in the science section. There is also a filing system above the bookshelf where classroom teachers leave Brailled material written by Kendra for the TVI to interline, and for the TVI to return to teachers to grade once interlined.

Extracurricular Activities and Field Trips

For the past two years, Kendra has participated in a tap/ballet class at her school one afternoon a week. Very few adaptations have been needed. I did ask her O&M instructor to observe one week to see if she had any suggestions for keeping Kendra in one place during some of the routines. Apparently Kendra believes that one’s feet should be moving constantly during a dance class. The dance class provides a way for Kendra to meet children outside of her own kindergarten class. It’s also a good opportunity for the other children to see that a blind child can do the same things they do.

As a kindergarten student, Kendra became eligible to join her school’s Daisy Girl Scout troop this year. Even before the first meeting ever took place, the Daisy leader contacted Kendra’s TVI for suggestions on how to best include Kendra in the troop activities. The leader and TVI check in with each other every few weeks. When the other girls took home their Girl Scout pledge to learn, Kendra took home her copy in Braille. Instead of having a piece of paper to color at the start of the meetings, Kendra uses Picture Maker. The Daisy troop leader, like Kendra’s classroom teachers, makes a point of adding sound to anything they do on the Promethean board. Kendra enjoyed planting spring bulbs with her troop outside the school and, although she wasn’t thrilled about participating, she went caroling at a nursing home with the other girls at the holidays.

Kendra’s kindergarten class has participated in two field trips this year. Prior to each trip, Kendra’s TVI contacted the venue to discuss ways to make the trip more meaningful for Kendra. The first trip was to see a puppet show. At the school’s request, Kendra was allowed to go onstage before the show to explore the puppets and was told about the loud noises that would occur during the show. Kendra still has some fear of loud or unexpected noises so the warning was helpful to her. She also sat next to a teacher during the show so she could hear a verbal description of what was happening onstage. The second trip was to an art museum. Again, the school contacted the museum in advance, to be sure that it was accessible to Kendra. All of the students wore headsets so they could hear a commentary as they toured the exhibits, and in addition, Kendra was given miniature models of the pieces in the exhibit so she could explore them tactually while the other children were visually looking at them. Kendra’s TVI sent the museum the NCAM Web site, so they could know how to verbally describe the event. She also Brailled the printed brochure which was handed out to all the students, including many of the tactile-graphics.

Kendra’s TVI, general education teacher, and special education teacher went on a “field trip” of their own this year. They decided to attend the Dialog in the Dark exhibit together. Blind or visually impaired guides lead the guests through a series of darkened rooms which are meant to simulate everyday experiences. The teachers felt it would give them a greater appreciation of the way Kendra experiences things.


Members of our family automatically state their names when approaching Kendra. It has become such a habit in our house that Kendra’s two-year-old brother introduces himself to everyone and everything (“Hello cat, this is R.J.”). I’ve observed the same courtesy from Kendra’s classmates and from teachers passing Kendra in the halls at school. This didn’t come naturally to the children (or to the adults, for that matter) but Kendra’s teachers were so consistent in doing it that the children gradually learned by example. The other children have also learned appropriate ways of assisting Kendra, when needed. For example, recently, when Kendra wasn’t sure where a particular table was, a classmate tapped against it to provide an auditory cue for her.
At the beginning of the year, Kendra’s teachers provided a great deal of social information. For example, at lunch they might tell Kendra who is seated on either side and across from her, or what various children were having for lunch. As the year has progressed, this type of information has been filled in more and more by the other children. The older they get, the more Kendra will ask for information and the better the other children will get at providing it. Information about what the other children are doing has been particularly helpful on the playground. Left on her own, Kendra is much more likely to either choose a solitary activity or to choose an activity with one other child, such as playing on the tire swing. However, if someone tells her that three of her girlfriends are playing a game, she is more likely to join in.
The teachers make a point not to single out any child in the class when providing corrections. Kendra occasionally sits with her head down towards her chest. If the teachers notice this, they make a general comment to the class about how all the children should be sitting up straight.
When Kendra was a baby, one of my biggest concerns was whether she would make friends. We have always tried to encourage play dates (with blind and sighted friends) and we have a tradition of inviting every classmate to Kendra’s birthday parties. Kendra’s birthday is towards the beginning of the school year so inviting all her classmates, plus their parents, gives us a chance to meet and get acquainted. I was very touched at her last birthday party with the thought that went into choosing the gifts and cards. She received Braille books, Braille card games, and Braille birthday cards from her friends. Her best friend also decorated a box and included several items she thought Kendra would enjoy feeling or hearing (sea shells, cotton balls, a small music box, etc).


Kendra’s TVI collaborates with the teachers to provide multisensory approaches to instruction. For example, a flashlight and blow dryer were used to represent the sun in a science lesson on how the earth’s rotation causes day and night.
Art projects are adapted in a meaningful way for Kendra, such as using pipe cleaners and star stickers to create a constellation. The school’s art teacher always provides art materials, such as tissue paper or foam stickers, to make each art project meaningful for Kendra. The art projects are designed for process rather than product. Kendra enjoys her art classes so much that she will often ask to do a project at home. It’s not unusual for her to request an odd assortment of items from me for some project she’s planned.

All classes at Kendra’s school receive weekly sessions with a speech therapist. The speech therapist sends materials to the TVI to be adapted on a weekly basis. The class often follows a recipe with the speech therapist and Kendra’s copy is always available to her in Braille. Kendra’s TVI will often pre-teach a lesson to Kendra after meeting with the teachers/therapist to find out what they will be covering. The advance planning also gives the TVI an opportunity to provide any adapted materials that may be needed.

We firmly believe the key to Kendra’s successful inclusion in school has been the ongoing communication between her general-education teachers, her O&M instructor, her TVI, and her parents. Kendra’s TVI and teachers are in contact with each other every day. My husband and I have been made to feel very much a part of Kendra’s “team” at school and any suggestions we’ve made have been listened to and respected.

As Kendra’s parents, we made clear our expectations. The following language was included, at our request, in Kendra’s most recent IEP:

Kendra’s parents wish to emphasize that they expect their daughter to develop in an age-appropriate manner. Their goal for their daughter is full inclusion in her school, her community, and her extracurricular activities. They request that Kendra be challenged academically and that those who work with her understand their expectations should not be lowered because Kendra is blind. Her parents would like to offer themselves as resources to the teachers and school staff and request that communication be open and ongoing.

Next year, Kendra will be transitioning to a new elementary school for first grade. The school has a partnership with her current school and shares many of the same characteristics we’ve liked, such as the co-taught inclusion classrooms. We have already started having conversations with teachers and administrators there, Braille books are being ordered, and Kendra has one O&M lesson a week at the new school to familiarize herself with it before school begins in the fall. We are hopeful that we will have a smooth transition and a successful year.

1 Laurel J. Hudson. Classroom Collaboration (1997). Perkins School for the Blind: Watertown, MA.

Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway would like to thank and acknowledge the members of “Team Kendra,” in alphabetical order: Ms. Peggy Echt (special education teacher), Ms. Elizabeth Hall (O&M instructor), Dr. Laurel J. Hudson (TVI), Ms. Tania Meek (para-professional), and Ms. Mary Kaye Moore (general education teacher).

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