University of Edinburgh

"Braille is not a language, it is another way to read and write a language."

Presented on Thursday 23 November 2006

Pre-Braille and Early Skills

Lorna Hall, South Lanarkshire

Areas of Development

  • Motor skills
  • Auditory skills
  • Language development
  • Tactile recognition
  • Reading awareness

Note: You will receive a handout today, which without apology, I’ll tell you is many years old.

This is a pre-Braille syllabus, as devised by the AEWVH – the Association for the education & welfare of the visually handicapped. I don’t know the exact date, but I think probably the mid eighties.

I still look to it for general guidance and I thought you would find it interesting at the very least.

I have based this talk on the general areas discussed in it.

This isn’t going to be a developmental talk, beginning with the baby and ending with the 5 year-old.

As you can see, Braille is not mentioned until the very end!

All areas of development are important in the preparation for Braille. Just as they are for sighted reading.

Motor Development

  • Tactile defensiveness
  • Body awareness
  • Be aware of developmental delay
  • Developmental check list
  • Deliver the “Be Active Box”!

1. This is something I discuss on my very first visit, no matter how young the baby. If baby’s hands are grabbed and toys inserted, they come to resent this and draw back. This, in time, can become an automatic reaction.

2. All the areas are inter-linked. You could say that when you say “I’m washing your arm” you’re tackling language , motor development,awareness of self etc. Initially, this would be as part of the daily bath time - developing a routine, so that baby knows what’s going to happen next. Later, this can be through singing games, eg; head shoulders ,as well as the usual baby games..”where’s your nose?” . . . Later through stories and games. Many books provide body awareness activities and songs

3. There is an acceptance that motor skills are generally a bit later in developing. This, however, is not a general rule – there are always exceptions. It can be a comfort to parents to hear this. They are beginning to think that there is something other than blindness wrong with their baby!

4. I use the Oregon Skills check list which has been adapted for visually impaired children, having a section for vision skills and compensatory skills.

5. This is the British version of Lili Nielsen’s “Little Room” and is available from the RNIB. Although recommended for children with complex needs, it encourages the young blind baby to explore and be active. The theory is that it gives the child a safe environment in which to explore. One which doesn’t change – even where there is an adult present!

be active box

Auditory Skills

  • It’s never too early
  • Teach the usual nursery rhymes
  • Discuss environmental sounds.

1. Rattles should not be placed in baby’s hand but brought very near to him and then lightly touch the back of his hand. Or allow his hand to touch it accidentally. I referred to tactile defensiveness earlier.

2. Nursery rhymes teach the rhythm of language as well as developing memory and rhyming skills.

3. Talk to baby from day one, moving around the house, in the garden, in the street. Give example of young Mum, who thought this a ridiculous idea. Again, switch the TV off. Encourage parents not to have the television on all day, to allow baby to differentiate household sounds. As with tactile materials, vary the sounds as much as possible. Use all sorts of materials and implements. More and more toys and books have sound effects and tapes built in.

Listen On!

  • Use sounds in games and stories.
  • Rhyme & Analogy
  • Develop sound identification.

1. Introduce sounds into stories wherever possible. Show “early stories”

Palmis stories are an excellent addition to the supply of stories.

2. The development of these skills should be no different to that used with sighted children. Rhyming games can be played with objects or raised pictures, rather than illustrations or photographs. (Possible game.)

3. There are commercially produced kits – sound Lotto – expensive – but household materials and home made games are very effective.

Tactile Recognition

  • Object recognition
  • Beware of a plastic world!
  • Texture Recognition
  • Shape recognition – 3D shapes
  • Tactile lines

In this section I have made it progressive so we would start with object play and recognition.

1. This starts at a very early age and must continue throughout nursery. Household materials should be the priority, with the usual safety limits.

2. Most of baby’s toys are plastic and parents need to be told this at an early age, to encourage them to give the baby a wide range of textures and materials. In the early years world, they call this heurisitic play.

3. The names of textures can be taught in a fun way with stories, before there is a need to test the knowledge. Initially, I would always give enough material to grab a handful of. The amount can gradually be reduced over the years. There are now many books which do this, but your own can be made.e.g. “Getting ready for a walk”.
Pairing bridges is a commercially produced game.
Various materials can be used and theses should be varied as much as possible. Again, the material should vary- away from plastic.
Many books are available , but textures are limited – show example.

4. Initially this would be with the 3D shape stuck onto the card. I chose this picture from the RNIB catalogue, but I probably wouldn’t use it for shape recognition, rather for a fun activity when the shapes are well established.
Demonstrate with examples.

5. Around this time I introduce the tactile lines, initially using material such as Vivelle, then going on to use a raised line copier.

Tactile Skills (2)

  • “Feeling Ready to Read”
  • Shape recognition – 2D shapes
  • It’s getting smaller!
  • Braille games

1. This is the pre-Braille scheme available from the RNIB . This is very good, but definitely has to be supplemented. It’s not a progressive scheme, but focuses on a different feature in each book, being based on the story of Snow White.I would say it’s suitable for use in the pre-school year by a fairly bright child.

2. Initially I use thin wooden or plastic shapes glued to the page, progressing gradually to felt, Vivelle, raised lines.

3. Shapes are gradually reduced,down to about fingernail size.

4. These games are a bit like visual perception games – odd one out, find the space. If the child is making super progress – very rare– would introduce their name and that of other family members.

Language Development

  • Talk to the baby.
  • Attach the meaning to the Words!
  • Sing to the Baby
  • Beware echolalia.
  • Teach the concepts.

1. Some parents/adults find it difficult to talk to a baby without eye contact. I advise parents to talk, talk, talk, even when the baby is lying /sitting.

2. A song bag gives the parents something to hang their hat on. Tell of Ethan’s bag.

3. Wherever possible attach meanings to the words being used.

4. Echolalia often occurs when there is no understanding. It is a huge barrier, which some children just vault over, while others stand at it for months or even years. I think it helps if parents are aware of the possibility and also the reason for it.

5. There is a huge number of concepts to be learned, which have to be taught. (Long and short book.)

Reading Awareness

  • Early Stories
  • Exposure to books
  • Fingerfun Books
  • Exposure to Braille
  • Language of books

1. Show books. First mine, then Donald’s. Involve other members of the family, where possible.

2. Huge variety of books on the market – whether for blind or partially sighted children. Textures, sounds, inset shapes . . .You’ll see a variety over there, including some of the new touch books available from RNIB.

3. The Braille labeller is very useful for introducing a child to Braille. It can be used at home and in the nursery. From 2 years onward I use Brailled books. These are done by me or from the Library for the Blind. Braille can either be stuck on or put in as an overlay, which does look more professional, but is not so hard wearing.

4. 0-5 transition document has a list of attainments which should be met by age

5.In the column headed reading, some are apposite only to text, but many can be transposed to Braille (not literally). Knowing how to hold a book and how to turn pages can be taught from early days with board books. I have made some books to teach some of the language used, eg; top and bottom of the page, which when you look at it logically is quite difficult.