Monday, December 13, 2010

Getting Acquainted With a new BFF (Best Friend Forever): Braille

Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You? By Dr. Seuss
Photos by Heather Withrow

On November 20th, Thomas, Orion and I went to a 'Braille Babies' workshop at the Rockville Library provided by the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind. Skyler and 'Tasia stayed with their little friends. We were looking forward to learning how we can introduce pre-reading skills to Orion. We knew about the 6 dots of braille but how would we make it fun for a toddler Orion and Pre-School Orion interested and familiar with braille?

I managed to memorize A-Z in grade 1 braille (uncontracted braille); there's even more to learn with grade 2 braille (contracted braille) but we have time, obviously, as Orion is approaching 5 months old. Grade 1 is one 'symbol' for each letter while grade 2 has one symbol for 2, 3, or more letters. I wish I could think of a better example off the top of my head but in Grade 1, the symbol for 'C' is just C. In Grade 2 the symbol for 'C' is used for the word 'can'. A completely new symbol not used for grade 1 is used for letter combinations in grade 2 braille. As for braille books, it is possible your local library has some for children. I've checked a couple out from our library to try it out myself. I hope each library in our nation has braille books, can you imagine how inconvenient it may feel to go to the library to have a few leaves (or none) for you out of the entire forest? I'm sure there is a national library of braille books that can mail the books to the readers who request them.

The presenter showed us a Perkins Brailler- looked like a typewriter but with much much less keys. (I just HAVE to have one for Orion.) There were some other portable brailling equipment and plenty of everyday toys that are quite usable or interesting to blind children. One of Orion's Prince George County ITP teachers came to the workshop, too. We were happy to see her there grabbing this wonderful opportunity. This workshop was designed for teachers and parents of blind or visually impaired children from birth to 6 years old.

I really loved the idea of using the 6 spaces you'd find with egg cartons and cupcake pans- they're perfectly lined up as 2 vertical rows with 3 spaces. You can take 6 plastic Easter eggs, or tennis balls or whatever.... and make braille letters. A kid could 'accidentally' make a 'T' and you can explain/remark, "Oh, you made a 'T'!"

I also liked the idea of using 6-cup cupcake pans for snack time (I imagine I'd rather have silicone than metal), you can put the kid's drink in the first space and put the goldfish crackers in the 4th space. Just getting the kid familiar with 'something with 6 dots'!

The presenter had a plastic storage container of giant puffballs, perfect for hiding a hard or differently textured or shaped object in for the child to look for. The puffballs looked so soft and cozy so I imagine it's somewhat of a hand/forearm massage as you stick your hands in there. You can also use rice or dry beans.

Orion can play the Memory Game someday! We were shown wood cards that had fabrics and ribbons glued to one side, a tactile memory game. I would have never thought of that! Since then, I've also gotten a tip on a different activity to do with Orion, a matching game, shared with me by Thomas' Uncle Frank. Hold an object in one hand, perhaps a marshmallow and have Orion look for a matching marshmallow in the mystery bag. To up the challenge/fun, add a variety of other things in the bag so he can tell the difference and find the matching marshmallow.

The workshop wrapped up with a big bang, especially for us parents, since they had us go for first dibs on FREE braille books! My eyes nearly popped out of my head when we were shown braille labels of things/rooms around the home that we could peel and stick all over our house. We ended up hauling home a 12x18x18 box of braille books/binders with tactile images for Orion and learn-to-read braille stuff for us sighted parents. So did Orion's teacher, we all left with smiles.

I'm glad to know of a good handful of things to do with Orion when it's time, hopefully I will pick up some more fun activities for him along the way. All the literacy fun will come later. For now, we look forward to Orion's first word... I can make a few guesses. It would be funny to do a 'First Word' betting pool here. Feel free to leave a guess in the comments area and we can come back later on and see who's the lucky winner!

Our favorite gift from Orion: his smile.

Update (9/2/2013): Orion's first sign was "MILK" after all!  Then we second-guessed ourselves; not sure if he meant to say milk or it was just a hand activity as part of him exploring his body.  However, make no mistake, Orion did sign "MORE", repeatedly in front of the rest of the family at dinnertime asking for more cinnamon bread sticks.  We were all very jubilant!


  1. Hildy said....MaMa..or a derivative thereof...Gramma (not really on the "Gramma" part) Ha, ha. Look at that cute little hearing aid!

  2. I'll bet on milk. :) I agree with Hildy - that little hearing aid is cute!

  3. I agree, very likely it's "milk" but maybe "Mama" or "Daddy" or "water". Not because of it being Helen Keller's first word but because Orion LOVES water.

  4. These ideas you mentioned -- egg cartons, cupcake pans, 6-dot activities and the tactile memory game -- are inspiring. There are always ways for any kind of development.

    I guess I'm kind of too late to guess his first word. I will soon find out as I keep reading your next 7 to 8 months worth of blog posts :)