Early Literacy and the Child with Low Vision: What Parents Should Know
Why do we read? Some people say they read for instruction. Others say for enlightenment, entertainment, or stimulation. Whatever the reason, reading is a fundamental activity in most populations and a requirement for successfully managing life in one's community.
Before going on vacation we might read books about the region. Nonfiction books whet our appetites with details about architecture, nature, foods, culture, and the like. Fiction books let us create our own image based on someone else's story telling. Both open our minds and enhance our experience. Helen Keller was an avid reader, which she says helped her understand her world and express herself in writing.
Teaching a child who has low vision to read and write presents unique challenges and opportunities, and a debate exists about the best method of instruction. But all agree on this aspect:
Starting to read aloud with a child when he or she is very young is important. Reading helps develop vocabulary. It opens the door to new experiences and fuels the imagination. It also helps develop reasoning, thinking, and writing skills.
Books with large print, textures, and smells are excellent for young children with low vision. And activities to supplement the stories help reinforce information. Early reading gives a child a background for understanding literature and life, and for making personal choices.
Adults who read with children with low vision can enhance the experience by describing words. Where are the speckles on the speckled eggs, for example, or how do eight legs fit on an octopus? Models can be very useful and they help establish a precedent for reading Braille. It's important to set aside enough time for reading so that a child enjoys the experience and wants more.
Braille, Print, or Both?The traditional route for teaching children with low vision to read and write has been to emphasize either Braille or print. A newer approach teaches both concurrently. In other words, the child becomes a "dual learner." For children who have the capacity to read print and whose eye condition may change over time, this can be especially valuable.
Not everyone is in agreement about dual learning, or even approaches instruction through dual learning in the same manner. Some teachers and parents are opposed because classroom lessons and materials are not standardized or well tested. Some argue that dual learning is too time consuming.
Expert Cay Holbrook, Ph.D., of the University of British Columbia thinks the objections can be overcome. "The key is to address the unique aspects of teaching print and of teaching Braille while capitalizing on the shared processes of reading and writing, which are the same regardless of the medium," she explains. "Strategies for increasing a student's reading vocabulary, through phonics and structural analysis, for example, are the same in print or Braille."
Dr. Holbrook expects that standard instructional materials for dual learning will be developed as more teachers, parents, and students embrace it. Dr. Holbrook emphasizes that, when print and Braille are both taught, education must be well-coordinated. This is especially true in schools where Braille is taught by a specialist and print is taught by a regular classroom teacher. When a single person teaches both, he or she can capitalize on the similarities of the two media. When different teachers are involved, steps must be taken to carefully coordinate their effort. Parents should ask the school to explain the plan for assessing their child's learning, and then be sure to keep track of progress.
Books, Books, and More BooksThere are many books about teaching reading to children with low vision. Some are about the fundamentals of education. Others offer suggestions for books to read and steps to take to develop a child's reading and writing skills and love of literature. There are even fun activity books available for learning Braille.
A great many popular literature books, magazines, and even music scores can be purchased or borrowed in large print or Braille. An excellent source for borrowing is the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), a branch of the Library of Congress. NLS makes large print, Braille, and audio materials available through a national network of cooperating libraries. The program is free to eligible borrowers in the United States by postage-free mail. Visit www.loc.gov/nls/index.html for more information.
Many children love to own books and create a personal library. For them, commercially available large print and Braille books are available. Librarians, teachers, and the Internet can help you find and order these.
Whichever route to literacy you and your child with low vision embark on, it will surely be one that leads to investigation, adventure, and fulfillment. The Foundation Fighting Blindness holds annual meetings and website chats where families can talk with experts about literacy and related fields. We invite you to visit the website of The Foundation for information about upcoming events.
* Thanks to generous funding by the American Legion Child Welfare Foundation (ALCWF), FFB will be dedicating a series of articles throughout the year geared towards Making the World a Brighter Place for your Blind Child. To learn more about the ALCWF, visit our website at www.FightBlindness.org and click on "Kid's Corner."
Fun Is Good Vignette
Sometimes I get upset because I won't be able to drive. I can't read books and that stinks. I used to be able to read an entire book in 2 days. Now I watch my parents read or go online and it's frustrating.
But I don't let it slow me down. I like to dance, play piano, ride horses, and swim. I can read books - on tape - sometimes getting through an 800-page book in a day. I go to the ballparks and have fun. I can still have as much fun as I want. I see people, especially adults, who have perfect eyesight and don't seem capable of having fun. That's sad.
It seems like some people have forgotten how to have fun. They do things for money, not for the fun of it. These people even have a hard time having fun at ballparks, where it's impossible not to enjoy yourself.
It's the same thing when it comes to dealing with customers. People behind the front desk should be ecstatic to help customers. Instead, they often give off an air of "What do you want?" You don't need perfect eyesight to see the difference.
I'm extremely lucky to have grown up learning to deal with adversity by looking for the fun in life. For me, the basic idea is that if you don't think you're going to have fun, you won't, and you end up having an air of sadness and depression that pulls you and everyone around you down.
If I didn't keep myself busy, I don't know how sad I'd be. I have to try twice as hard as the other students at my school to get the same grades and I'm okay with that. It's when I'm easy on myself or feel sorry for myself that things start slipping out of control. I imagine it's that way for everyone.
Fun Is Good because that's the way life is supposed to be. It's the main feeling that we're supposed to have. I mean, if you're not having fun, what's the point?
An excerpt from Fun Is Good - How to Create Joy & Passion in Your Workplace & Career