"Me and my family"

Designing tactile books for blind and partially sighted children and methods of reading to them promoting conceptualization

My Child will read and comprehend

Susanne Gudrun Sariyannis, mother of two blind children, has used her experiences from supporting her own children to develop a concept for designing tactile books for visually impaired preschool children. Constantly developing new, creative ideas, she has made them a new generation of books.

The books consist of simply structured tactile pictures with many moveable parts that can be varied, and contain texts in Braille. The stories they tell are useful to support conceptualization.

1. Principles of Book Creation

The books are produced in A6 Format, since it is suitable for the level of tactile exploration strategies of blind preschool children. Bigger formats lead to exhaustion in some of the children when it comes to orientation on the pages.
Each double page contains the text in print and Braille on the left. Even though the child is still unable to read the text, its encounter is important when developing a concept of what writing actually is.
The picture layout is based on the principles of tactile representation as described in Lang/Hofer/beyer, “Didaktik des Unterrichts mit blinden und hochgradig sehbehinderten Schülerinnen und Schülern”. Objects are represented as models closely resembling the original, mimicking the surface structure and material. The pictures’ view is always straight from above or the side, and never in perspective.
All pictures contain movable parts allowing for the child to be a part of the story or to play along while exploring them, or for variations of the picture in question. Objects can be removed from the book to play with them.
All the pictures contain Braille: Streets are presented as lines of Braille letters (keline b-Street, names of people, animals and buildings, quantities are represented by the corresponding number of Braille dots
The pictures contain tasks for developing tactile strategies such as: counting, following lines, comparing objects, symbols or letters, orientation on a page.
The story may be changed by changing the elements, so it becomes different each time it is read to the child. One example is fixing different letters with Velcro to a felt page.
The story contains objects promoting the child’s conceptualisation, e.g. by making aware the concept of a body using characters from the story, explaining different species of animals, and exploring landscapes.

2. How to read the book

Place the book on the table in front of the child using a non-slip mat, and have them open the book, explore the pages and turn them over on their own. The child gets the idea of books and how to use them.
Before reading the book, the reader analyses elements in the book suitable for conceptualisation. A face in the book, for example, can be used to develop a concept and the awareness of the body, a piece of bark to describe the decay of dead wood, etc.
The reader looks for background information on subjects contained in the book.
Each time the book is read, a different subject is chosen for a more in-depth discussion. The choice can be made based on the interests of the child, the knowledge or requirements or based on what has to be learned at that point.
The book is prepared with variants of exercises to be used beforehand (e.g. when assigning Braille letters). This makes the book a bit different each time.
The chosen topics to be discussed in more detail while reading the book are supplemented and illustrated by additional objects or models.
Some topics may also include activities such as excursions to the forest.
The prepared background knowledge on the subjects is presented in a manner suitable for children.

3. Book Example: Me and my Family

The points described above are clearly outlined in the book "Me and my Family", which Sariyannis presented during a workshop for parents and children held on 10/29/2011 in Rastatt, Germany.

1. Page: The front page shows a face– the face of the child

Different hairstyles may be attached to the forehead. When reading the book, the face may be a good opportunity to develop the concept of body in the child. What can be found in a face? What is where? The child should get the opportunity to touch the faces of family members and relatives. Different facial expressions may also be taught to the child as well as different hairstyles. Located below the face is a strip of Velcro. The child can attach its name in Braille. The book also contains a page of felt (cut from a doormat). You can attach letters to the page and have them at hand when needed. The child may also form words from Braille letters on this page. Alternatively, keep the letters in a matchbox to have them ready.

2. Page: The „Kurz’s“House“

The page shows a picture of a house with a door that can be opened, windows, a sign with the name and house number on it, a roof and a chimney. The child can conceptualise the structure of houses using the house from the book. A line of the letter a in Braille goes along the bottom of the house.
The text reads: "Mama, daddy, my older brother Leo, granny and grandpa belong to me. We live in a-Street No. 2."
The window and door have Velcro attached to them. The child’s name can be attached in individual Braille letters. The afore-mentioned felt page can be used to accomplish the task.

3. Page:

Text: "Mama is in the kitchen writing a shopping list. How many bananas, pretzels, eggs and biscuits would she like to buy?"
The child can touch the four objects. They may be elaborated upon later and compared to their respective originals. You can also experiment with eggs: out of three eggs, one is put in vinegar for three days, and another one for one day. After three days the three eggs are compared to each other. The child can also have all mentioned objects to eat. Beside every object you can find a line of Braille dots from 2 to 5 that the child must count. Then, using a Velcro dot, the number has to be assigned to a cube with the corresponding dot pattern.
Shopping may be a further topic extracted from this page. When going shopping, the child can learn where which of the four products is located in the supermarket, how they can be identified by touch and how they are wrapped.

4. Page:

Text: "Leo is doing his homework in the children’s room. The task: Look for the partner. Would you like to help him?"
The child has to assign four letters to predetermined letters from a selected range. The task may vary every time the page is read.

5. Page:

Text: "Granny and grandpa go hiking. Grandpa found a trail of slime on the sand path near b-Street. Where does the trail lead to?"
The sandpaper path goes parallel to a line of the letter b in Braille. There is a silicon strip with the words "trail of slime" on it. The child may follow lines made of different materials and compare the width of the routes.

6. Page:

Text: "It leads over soft moss, a stone and a piece of bark to a wilted leaf. Who is beneath it?"
The child may follow the trail with different ground materials. All objects contained in the page can be discussed more thoroughly. Please use original objects wherever possible, e.g. planning trips to nature, so the child can touch the objects. Do not force the child to touch the objects because this may lead to touch inhibitions.

7. Page:

Text: "Daddy says a letter and I take an object from the small bag starting with that letter."
You may attach a Braille letter to the page. You can put different objects and as many as you like into a small bag. The child then has to find the object or all objects in the bag starting with the pre-determined letter, e.g. the letter m as in mushroom.
The objects in the bag may be discussed further and elaborated upon.