Literacy & Pre-Braille for Young Children Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

The work of literacy begins in infancy. Emergent literacy is the cognitive knowledge small children gather about language, reading, and writing long before they learn to read. This knowledge is the foundation for success in literacy later in the educational process. (Note the difference from prebraille skills, which are physical and tactile.) For children with visual impairments, emergent literacy must include tactile experiences integrated with verbal language. Teachers will find many resources for fostering emergent literacy, including creating tactile books, story boxes, and language experience stories.
 
Literacy at its simplest means the ability to read and write, but it starts with comprehension and encompasses many media and formats, including listening, speaking, and object communication. Most children aim for basic or academic literacy, which is the ability to use reading as a tool to gain more knowledge. Others will strive to attain functional literacy, which supports the activities of daily life. This section offers an introduction to the forms of literacy for children who are blind and visually impaired, ranging from tactile symbols and calendar boxes to print and braille.
 
Below is a list of topics you'll find in this section. Click on a title to jump to a specific topic.
 

Early Foundations of Literacy at Home

In this section parents can learn how to foster literacy in children of all ages. Topics include the importance of early literacy preparation, how children learn to read, suggestions for games and activities, and instructions for making tactile books.
 
FamilyConnect
Parents learn the importance of exposing children with visual impairments to literacy skills from a very early age; includes activities to enjoy together.
 
American Foundation for the Blind (AFB)
These activities integrate literacy into a preschooler's play, storytime, and daily activities.
 
American Foundation for the Blind (AFB)
AFB's article offers specific strategies to help preschool children develop essential literacy skills.
 
FamilyConnect
The author offers ideas parents can use to foster a love of reading and writing in preschool-age children with visual impairments.
 
FamilyConnect
AFB's Family Connect shares tips on choosing books to read with small children, adding tactile drawings and braille to a book, and making story bags or story boxes.
 
American Foundation for the Blind (AFB)
Diane Miller shares how she helped her daughter develop literacy skills. She describes the importance of bridging concepts, her search for braille books, homemade books, and how she created a literate environment.  
 
Emergent literacy refers to the cognitive knowledge children gather about language, reading, and writing before they learn to read. This knowledge is the foundation for success in literacy later in the educational process. (Note the difference from prebraille skills, which are physical and tactile.) For children with visual impairments, emergent literacy must include tactile experiences integrated with verbal language. Teachers will find many resources for fostering emergent literacy, including creating tactile books, story boxes, and language experience stories.
 
American Foundation for the Blind (AFB)
This article offers guidelines and good topics for stimulating books for parents to make with their children.
 
Tactile Book Advancement Group
This organization offers advice and information on the design and creation of tactile books, including guidelines for commercial publishers for small changes that will make their products more accessible to children with visual impairments.
 
ClearVision
These guidelines outline each step in making a fabric tactile book, from selecting a theme to gathering materials and putting it all together. (Microsoft Word Document)
 
RNIB - National Centre for Tactile Diagrams - Tactile Book Advancement Group
This booklet offers suggestions for making tactile books for young children with visual impairment (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Research: Emergent Literacy

J.M. Stratton "explores the fit between emergent literacy and the learning needs of children who are blind or visually impaired"; includes literature overview.

Web-based Organizations and Internet Resources: Emergent Literacy

CELL is committed to the adoption of evidence-based early literacy learning practices, with information for parents, educators, and researchers.
 
Paths to Literacy
This section of the Paths to Literacy website offers an introduction to emergent literacy. You'll find tips for helping young children developing literacy skills and supportive routines, story box ideas from Norma Drissel, tactile experience books, pre-braille, emergent writing, and technology. There is also information about early literacy for students with multiple disabilities. Users may post content, including strategies, technology, resources, and research, and there is also a Q&A forum.
 

Prebraille Skills

Prebraille skills are physical and sensory: tactile perception, fine motor skills, particularly finger and hand movements, and ability to identify braille characters. (Note the difference from emergent literacy skills, which are cognitive). This section offers advice and activities for developing these critical tactile and motor skills.
Multisensory Skills for Preschoolers
 
American Printing House for the Blind (APH)
Young learners will enjoy memorizing the braille alphabet with this rap song, with a unique dance-like gesture to accompany each letter; features an audio recording of the song, and the complete lyrics.
 
Early Intervention Training Center for Infants and Toddlers with Visual Impairments
Motor and cognitive skills essential to literacy are presented in a grid that shows how they interrelate and support a child's development (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader.
 
Young Exceptional Children
Janice Day, Andrea McDonnell, and Lora Heathfield discuss ways to enhance literacy skills in inclusive preschool settings by incorporating braille and large print into the classroom; media, materials, and equipment; curriculum modifications, and more.
 
Paths to Literacy
Authors Cindy Reed-Brown and Peggy Palmer share aspects of the pre-braille curricula that are helpful for families who want to support their child's pre-literacy skills. There are additional resources listed at the end of the article.
 
Future Reflections, 2001, National Federation of the Blind (NFB)
Terry Connolly discusses a variety of pre-braille experiences, including number concepts and patterns, motor skills, braille in everyday life,  literature rich experiences, reading from left to right, and moving from the concrete to the abstract.
 
American Printing House for the Blind (APH)
Developed in collaboration with BANA (Braille Authority of North America), these are APH's proposed guidelines for transcribing early literacy textbooks into braille.
 

Reinforcing Reading Skills

FamilyConnect
This article introduces parents to braille and its tools, and tells them what to expect when their child goes to school, and what they should know about the role of the Teacher of the Visually Impaired (TVI).

Research: Reinforcing Reading Skills

Future Reflections, 1995, National federation of the Blind (NFB)
Christopher Craig presents his research on emergent literacy in the home and offers specific suggestions for parents to provide literacy experiences.

Web-based Organizations and Internet Resources: Reinforcing Reading Skills

Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and Blind
This web site, which is now a part of Paths to Literacy, is for family members, teachers, and "others interested in promoting literacy opportunities for young children with visual impairments."  It includes a who's who and sections on braille writing, lessons, technology, fun and games, and stories.
 
National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
Parents of preschool children with visual or physical disabilities will find a wide range of information to assist them in promoting their children's development from infancy to age five. The listing includes many producers of children's book in alternate formats.