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University of Edinburgh

Skills Needed to Teach Braille to Children

Presented in March 2005

Pre-Braille Skills

Lorna Hall, South Lanarkshire

Part I Guidelines for the teaching of Braille at pre-school and infant level

The Early Stages

The young visually impaired child needs to develop specific skills in readiness for braille. In considering any child's readiness to read, specific skills need to be well developed.

The VI child who needs braille as his medium of learning will have to develop even more specialised skills. The following areas of development are of particular importance.

  1. Motor development
  2. Auditory skills
  3. Language development
  4. Reading awareness

1. Motor development

Motor development skills need to be developed from the very beginning. The first important stage is the encouragement of the gross motor movements, but it is vital to realise that for braille the child then needs to develop fine motor skills.

The skills needed in this area can be analysed as follows:

  • Wrist flexibility/finger dexterity
  • Two-handed coordination
  • Light finger touch
  • Tactile perception
  • Tracking a line
  • Position of hands

The development of these skills should be approached systematically and a series of activities devised to make sure that the child acquires these skills. It is helpful to use the Checklist.


Wrist flexivility/finger dexterity

1. Recognition of three-dimensional objects. The child must be encouraged to handle and explore the object using both hands.

2. Matching of objects. Everyday objects are better than models. (This activity can be used to develop an understanding of the words 'same', 'different', 'large', 'small', etc.)

3. Sorting activities. Begin with large familiar objects and gradually introduce smaller objects. Sort into groups according to size, shape, position and relationship.

4. Stacking activities. Again start with large objects sich as boxes and then move to stacking blocks, beakers, etc. (It is important to use these exercises to develop an understanding of language. For example 'top', 'bottom', 'larger', 'smaller', 'first', 'second', 'last'.)

5. Bead stringing. Prior to using beads with thread, practice shold be given in putting beads onto something rigid such as a piece of dowelling. Start with large beads and use thick firm thread (plastic washing line is ideal, it can be bought in varying thicknesses.) The bead size can be reduced as the child becomes more proficient.

6. Collecting various jars with screw tops. Let the child sort small objects by putting them into jars.

7. Giving the child thin card to punch holes in. He can then trace the holes. (The child makes a pattern of holds with a punch, then traces them with his fingers.)

8. Pinching clothes pegs to the side of a tin; this encourages the use of both hands to find the side of the tin and to place the peg.

9. Teaching the child to use a cassette recorder. This develops manual dexterity.

10. Playing with plasticine and pastry helps strengthen the hands. To help manipulation in children with stiff fingers, encourage them to practise using their fingers on keyboard instruments. Many electronic toys are useful.

Two-handed coordination

The child must always be encouraged to use both hands for all activities.

  • bead threading
  • stacking
  • peg boards
  • filling containers
  • posting boxes

Light finger touch

1. Show the child how to move counters on a surface just by touching them very lightly.

2. Place counters on braille graph paper and make up a game to see how many counters the child can find without moving them outside the square.

3. Show the child how lightly braille dots can be touched.

Tactile perception

The child needs to develop the skill of recognising and discriminating between shapes using the pad of his fingertips. This is a unique skill and the child should be carefully prepared for it.

1. Sorting of textures

This activity involves the use of the fingertips and the first textures used should be markedly different from each other, for example, fur and plastic. The child's attention should previously have been drawn to objects made of different, contrasting materials.

Cards can be made of different materials, for example sandpaper, fur, linen and leatherette (about four cards of each) and then the child can sort these into groups and play 'snap' with them. Later, cards of different shapes can be introduced.

Cylinders can be covered with different material at each end, for example velvet on one end and tween on the other. The child learns to place cylinders on a board with the same material end up.

Feely caterpillar. Each segment is covered with two very different materials on each side. The sides with the same material can be joined with velcro.

Matching cotton reels. Each reel is covered with material. An older child who is able to thread can do a variety of activities in the same way as a sighted child follows a bead pattern.

Texture dominoes. Make up dominoes of different textures for the child to match. These are also available from specialist suppliers.

Feely, bags. Fill a bag with a particular item, for example beans, peas or rice. The child matches bags containing the same contents.

The ability to recognise different shapes under the fingertip

It is important to appreciate that this is a different skill from that needed to recognise a large shape held in the hand. Obviously the child will need to be confident in recognising large shapes before this stage can be introduced. A structures approach is essential. A series of exercises can be developed; for example a booklet can be made using pages of card and material. The contents should be as follows.

Page one: shape of a child's left hand
Page two: shape of a child's right hand
Page three: large square
Page four: large square and a smaller square