Future Reflections Spring/ Summer1989, Vol. 8 No. 2

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by Jane K Kronheim, Educator of Young Blind Children, Creator of Learning Pillows

When Mr. Bug was sent to Paris, he was referred to as Titi La Puce. In Israel, my friends named him Adon Pish-Pesh (bedbug), and south of the border in Bogota, Colombia, he was titled El Senor Chinche (and El Chinche Tonto for the beloved Boo Boo Bug). I was so impressed by all of these international names and titles for my friend, Mr. Bug, that I decided to write to you today and to update all of you on the many facets of my business, Learning Pillows.

Since 1984,1 have been marketing Learning Pillows products in the U.S., Canada, and abroad. I continue my work as a teacher for visually impaired and blind children in various locations around Massachusetts, while pursuing my direction in product development. All of this is extremely time-consuming, however very challenging. I am forever inventing new pillow designs and story lines. And every time this happens, I can't wait to get together with one of my students to share this new multi-sensory experience. Each child responds differently to a given learning pillow. And because of this, I am always on the lookout for each child's unique approach and individual style. I am increasingly aware of how the children explore the learning pillows.

Each learning pillow is carefully designed with specific combinations of materials. Patterns, choice of colors, contrast, and tactile items enhance the child's learning activity, while giving pleasure through an aesthetic channel. For example, I stitch lace at the top of particular pillows to direct the child to where the "top" is. My learning pillow label is always located at the "bottom" of each pillow. I use a product called "slik pen" to create many bumpedy bumps, raised lines, faces, and additional decorations surrounding the "king's closet". There are pockets trimmed with ric-rac, and one can locate a repetition of this pattern/material somewhere else on the pillow. A child is both encouraged and motivated to PSlookPS and to PStouchPS and to engage in simultaneous visual-tactile exploration. And this is what learning is all about.

Several years ago I had the chance to use the learning pillows on home visits in Central Massachusetts. During one home visit, I was working with a three-year-old girl (severely visually impaired) and her older sister. Now these two girls

just couldn't decide on what to call Mr. Bug. The older sister said that he looked just like a bat, while the younger girl said he was more like a spider. So we made up a new name, and I proudly called him: Mr. Spider Bat Bug. After moments of giggling and tickling, we all decided to play hide-and-seek with Mr. Bug (excuse me, Mr. Spider Bat Bug). He was hiding everywhere, and each girl had a bug to hide with. What fun and laughter. This is what teaching and learning should be all about. Fun, joyous involvement, concept-building, discovery, and sharing.

Sometimes all of this results in other forms of unintended learning that relates to numerous situations. I love the unintended, the unexpected. Most of all, I enjoy the ideas that come from the children themselves. I have shared learning pillows with kids from ages nine months to 87 years old. I remember one teen-age girl who was homesick (while attending a summer program far away from her native New York State). Together we began to design a new pillow and a new character ... the Sleep-Away Bug. He was prone to getting homesick when he wasn't in his own cozy bug bed back at home. Well, this young girl was no longer homesick and since that experience she has been sharing other ideas and story lines for future learning pillows. Other youngsters have suggested that I do a Rehab Bug, or even a Valley Bug. Other folks ask me to produce a round pillow where all of the round bugs live, etc., etc. So many ideas, and not enough time to produce all of them.

It is thrilling for me to observe and to participate at the same time. It is exciting to realize that I have helped a young mind to flourish and that the families are participating as well. I receive tremendous feedback when I can sit back and watch a child explore all of those bumpedy bumps, king's hats, velcro attachments, and raised line faces. Even pockets become more interesting and zippers hold a place of greater importance-- especially when Mr. Bug is trying to find a hiding place. As the child leans back and hugs the learning pillow, I am satisfied to know that seeing and touching, listening and understanding, begins to unfold in that child's greater being.

Oh, how I wish that I could jump inside each learning pillow and run away with Mr. Bug or the King or the long, lazy lines. If I could, I would find myself in France or Switzerland; Scotland, Australia, Bermuda or Quebec; Nova Scotia; Alaska; Lubbock, Texas; or Fall River, Massachusetts! There are so many places and not enough time to run away! So here I am, in my sewing room, dreaming up new ideas to send to you. Since I can't get away to visit all of you, please come and see me! Or at least write and send me some of your ideas and thoughts about the learning pillows. All the best for a fun-filled year of learning and doing--in my home, and in yours.

Jane K. Kronheim, M.A.,
Learning Pillows.
P. O. Box 631, New Town Branch
Boston, Massachusetts 02258
Telephone: (617)926-6974

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