EARLY LITERACY EXPERIENCES
By: Carmen Willings
Updated October 28, 2017
The selection of picture books to read to students who have little or no useful vision is very important and particularly for students with additional disabilities. When selecting children's books, poems or songs, choose ones that relate to the unit or to familiar experiences or books that suggest new experiences the class will be encountering. You will also want to consider if the book depends on the pictures. The best way to tell whether or not a story depends on the pictures for meaning is to cover the pictures and read the story yourself or read it to another person. Select stories that do not depend on visual experiences or pictures. Choose short stories, poems or songs that are related to the topic and can be read in one sitting. Vary the selections, particularly for older students as picture books are not always age appropriate. Encourage the students to listen to, retell, and act out stories. Make the story come to life by reading with plenty of expression, especially the dialog.
Carefully Select Reading Materials
Select reading materials that encourage the reader to make sounds or be extra expressive and that encourage participation (hold objects related to the story, imitate animal sounds in the story, say the repeated parts). Encourage other teachers, aids or therapists to add their own sound effects or voices. Talk about new or interesting words in the story, relate the story to familiar experiences or suggest new experiences to try.
When selecting books, select those with clear pictures and good visual contrast. Books should be colorful with simple pictures rather than pictures that are visually cluttered. If the book uses photographs, try to select books with a matted finish instead of glossy to reduce glare. Also look for books where the print is not written across the pictures, but instead, is placed on a solid background.
Select books that fit the level of understanding and attention span. For younger students or those with short attention spans, use Mother Goose rhymes, repetitive stories, and simple songs. These stimulate a young child’s curiosity and attention. You might include finger plays to actively engage your student in the event. You may need to provide hand under hand assistance for students with little or no vision. For example, if you are singing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” you might show your student how to use the index and middle finger of one of her hands to “crawl” on her other hand.
Keep in mind that nursery rhymes and many picture books are not appropriate for older students. You will need to select reading materials that are developmentally and age appropriate. This can be challenging, but for older students, it is more appropriate to select short poems, lyrics from songs, information from a kids almanac or similar materials to incorporate reading concepts.
Early Literacy Experiences
Read to the student frequently and provide a literacy rich environment. As you read books with the student, help them develop an enjoyment in listening to the stories by reading with inflection and varying your voice. Encourage the student to pretend to read braille stories and explore objects related to the stories. Consider creating a book bag with objects related to the story that the student can explore as the story is read. For younger students, be sure to include books with objects, raised lines and textures or create your own. As with all children, practice proper care of the books and help the student develop "book sense" (e.g. locate front/back, top/bottom, right/left, middle/center; turn pages, etc.) and examine the writing and tactual graphics on each page.
Exposing children to literacy experiences at early ages is important for all students, whether they will be print or braille readers. Don’t hold off on providing exposure to braille until the student is ready for formal instruction. Think of the many opportunities sighted children have to print in their world. Students who are blind need the same exposure and experiences but it will need to be more intentional and less incidental.
Language Arts in Early Childhood Setting
The Language Arts Station, in an early childhood setting, should have a wide variety of games, pictures and puzzles that are adapted for students with visual impairments. Incorporate rhymes, word games, and other fun activities to increase phonological awareness, reading acquisition and to practice concepts and listening skills. Also incorporate MP3/Ipod/CD/tape players with headphones or ear buds with a collection of stories on tape/CD/digital.
Literacy is used almost constantly throughout the home, school and community environment, and the students need to know this. The book area should provide a variety of reading materials that would be found in these settings, including telephone books, restaurant menus (print and/or Braille), magazines, newspapers, cookbooks, signs, brochures, post cards, greeting cards, posters, pictures, charts, music lyrics, and church bulletins. Incorporate homemade picture books.
Pair Objects with Books
For younger students and those with learning disabilities, provide objects related to the story whenever possible, in order to actively involve the student and make it a concrete experience. Create book bags or book boxes to accompany stories and books. Fill the bags or boxes with some of the items from the story. When you have a current braille or a future braille reader, select Twin-Vision books (Books with both print and braille.), braille versions of the book to accompany the book, or request that the Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments braille passages or key sentences/words from the book. Be sure to provide the TVI with time to prepare the adapted book.
Environmental Reading Skills
Students need to learn how to correctly respond to informational signs/sounds in the environment (telephone, elevator, etc.). Provide students with ongoing opportunities to read/identify environmental signs through direct instruction in the classroom as well as natural exposure during field trips.
Toys for Early Exposure to Braille
The following are just some commercially available toys that help students explore and learn braille. You will have more variety, of course if you adapt toys by adding braille. Simply locate toys with shapes, numbers and letters and create braille labels either manually using clear labels with a slate and stylus or braillewriter or use a braille label maker. Although braille label makers only produce Grade 1 braille, they are very helpful when you need to quickly label and are still learning the braille code and how to produce it.
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