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Early Literacy for Children with Visual Impairment: Pre-braille
By Beth Ramella, M.Ed., TVI/COMS

Effective pre-literacy skills are essential in the toolbox of learning for both sighted and visually impaired children. Parents and teachers of young children may ask what pre-literacy skills are needed to help children who are blind/visually impaired as they prepare to read braille. What is the definition of adequate literacy skills and how do we get started?

At the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children, our certified teachers of the visually impaired help our youngest students with these vital early learning skills to foster school readiness. A substitute for visual reading and writing, braille is a tactile system of raised dots presented on a book or a display.

Just as sighted children require concept development before reading print, blind or visually impaired children require much preparation before they begin reading braille. Sighted children experience things on their own through visual cues. Children who are blind or have low vision require “hands on” experiences in a guided fashion.

When telling a story, the story teller should provide a rich language description to the visually impaired child. At the same time, objects should be provided and described so that the child can develop an understanding of its use and build on concept development.

Some basic concepts that all children with visual impairments should learn are development of motor skills, development of tactile system, awareness of sensory skills and development of concepts about text. Before beginning a preschool program, it is important that the youngster understand concepts such as what is a book, can sit to read a book and have developed good listening skills.

Whether through reading a story or engaging in daily routines, teachers/parents can gather objects that support a story or activity. Beginning a “story box” can benefit all young children, but are especially beneficial for young children with visual impairments. As you prepare to read a story to your child, hand the child the symbol or object even before reading the words. Describe the object to the child.

Story boxes can be used during designated “reading” times or, as the child becomes more familiar with the story, during dramatic play lessons. Constantly reinforcing and applying the concepts of up/down, left/right, top/bottom and a whole host of others, are important for young, developing minds - sighted or blind.

For more information contact Beth Ramella, WPSBC Director of Outreach, at (412) 621-0100 or ramellab@wpsbc.org.

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