Creating and Using Tactile Experience Books for Young Children with Visual Impairments
Lewis, Sandra, Tolla, Joan, Teaching Exceptional Children
What do very young children learn about reading? According to many studies on developmental learning (see box, "What Does the Literature Say?"), young children develop an appreciation that "reading" activities in which they engage are related to the words they speak and hear, and are further connected to the written symbols of our language. They observe others reading and writing within functional contexts and meaningful activities. Further, they develop important basic concepts about reading materials (see box, "Book Concepts").
But what about children whose vision is limited, or children who are blind? How do they participate in early reading activities? This article explores ways that educators, parents, and caregivers can ensure that all young children have a chance to learn to read.
Literacy Needs of Children With Visual Impairments
Obtaining access to the written symbols of language and observing adults and peers modeling reading and writing are not easily achieved for children with significant visual impairments. Visual impairment can directly interfere with the observation of symbols and events that are key to the development of early literacy skills. Many educators and researchers have discussed ways to purposefully introduce these young children to Braille and print and to inform them of reading and writing activities of others (Harley et al., 1997; Swenson, 1999; Wormsley, 1997).
An even more significant issue related to emergent literacy for young children with visual impairments is the development of meaningful concepts through essential life experiences (Finello, Hanson, & Kekelis, 1992). Because children with visual impairments are restricted in their frequent, spontaneous, incidental access to the things and events in their world, their information about these items is limited, inconsistent, or fragmented (Ferrell, 1997).
In addition, a key learning characteristic of children with visual impairments is learning from part to whole. Because their perception is limited to what can be felt by the hand or seen within a limited visual field, children with visual impairments often have difficulty understanding the "gestalt" of an experience (Ferrell, 2000). A sighted child can frequently observe from a distance all of the objects that are stored in the desk drawer, are pulled out of the cabinet to wash the car, or are associated with a bath; but the child with visual impairment may not have had the same experiences or understanding. As a result, many children with visual impairments do not bring to the emergent literacy process the same kind and quality of information that young children with good vision do. Children with visual impairments may not understand what others read to them and what they are expected to read themselves (Koenig & Farrenkopf, 1997).
Illustrations In Books for Young Readers
Children with typical vision have an added advantage in the process of learning to read over young children who are blind or who have significant visual impairment. Sighted children can learn about things even if they have had no direct contact with them-animals, events, people, and objects-except through the illustrations in their books. The thousands of books published for emergent readers almost always include illustrations or pictures. These illustrations not only introduce children to information with which they may be unfamiliar, but these pictures facilitate understanding of the text. "Illustrations play a major role in enriching the story line, adding humor and intrigue, giving instant clues to what the story is about and enabling the reader to reconstruct the story line (often without reference to the text)" (Lamb, 1995, p. 7).
Illustrations also provide the bridge between listening and early reading behaviors (see box, "Early Reading Behaviors"). Children only gradually become aware of the text. At first, they use the illustrations as prompts to recall the meaning and words of the story. …