Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Edible Braille

Have you ever tried edible Braille? Are you looking at your computer screen wondering what in the world it even is? Edible Braille is mini M&Ms making Braille cells on sugar cookies. Yummy for little kids and it's a great activity for the whole family. I recently did an edible Braille module at my siblings weekend in May. You can do this in your own family, church and best yet, in the classroom as a sensitivity training.

Pictured above is Lauren A.,
a great PE teacher who often teaches at my sports programs

Here's some ideas on using edible Braille as a teaching tool:
1. Don't open the M&Ms just yet!!
Before you whip out the M&Ms (and lose everyone's attention...), ask family members, siblings or classmates to talk about what Braille is. Also, ask everyone to share specifically about what the child actually sees. For example, at siblings weekend I asked the sighted sibling about their blind sibling. I asked them what could they see and to describe what they understood about their siblings' vision impairment. It was a great way to get an idea of what the siblings understood about their blind sibling.

2. Set the groundwork for understanding Braille.
I like to use The Braille Trail from AFB. I like to get my families understanding about the basics of Braille and then do some of the activities from the book. Here's a great idea: I don't give out the alphabet cheat sheets with the numbers listed on the Braille cell. I simply tell them the order of the numbers within the Braille cell. I make the person ask the Braille reader what the letter is. (For example, the siblings had to give their blind sibling the dot combination). This allows the Braille reader to be top dog and it includes them a lot in the activity. Click here for more info on The Braille Trail.

3. Discuss the importance of developing good tactual skills for Braille.
Again at siblings weekend, I paired up the siblings for a touch skills challenge. I put a ton of random items in a box and blindfolded both of them. They had to reach in a using their tactual skills only identify as many items as they could. It was quite a fun challenge and it was a great way to have siblings working together. My Braille readers are usually better so once again, this gives them a little bit of confidence boost too!

4. Finally edible Braille!
I like to leave edible Braille with the actual cookies to the very end. It's a fun activity that everyone can enjoy. I print out a lot of alphabet Braille cards so everyone can make their letters. Special note: be careful to observe your blind students' daily living skills. This can be a very visual activity and if your blind child doesn't have good spreading skills and stuff, this can be kind of messy for them and they may get quiet. How do we fix this? I use simulator goggles for the sighted students. You can use a variety of things for simulators if you don't have access to the simulator kits. You can use bubble wrap, color one of the goggles eyes black, tape half of the goggle eyes, etc. to simulate vision impairment. And they can't cheat and take off their simulators!! Parents take a note: If your child with the vision impairment is struggling with spreading, start working on that skill! It's one of those multi-functional skills that I make sure all my students have.

1. One package of sugar cookies. Skip the baking--there is so much to do with this that store bought just makes it easier!
2. Frosting--look for some with a good smell or enhance it by adding peppermint so that it's more appealing to our blind students.
3. Mini M&Ms. I've done this a lot and M&Ms just work the best!
4. Cutlery, napkins, etc.
5. Braille resources. I like the Braille Trail! Lots of good activities (and remember, don't make the alphabet Braille cheat sheet. Have everyone go to the Braille reader and practice using the dot combinations!)

Do it at home: There are lots of people in the family that don't get the opportunity to really learn about Braille. This is a great family home evening idea. Invite extended family, baby sitters and other care givers to participate. This is also a great multi-age group activity. Little kids love this (they just need more help) and older kids get creative with what they do with their Braille. Fun for everyone!

Top Ten Things Said to Professionals Who Work with Children who are Blind or Visually Impaired

I just thought this was fun. Any professional in the vision field has heard these ten little sayings a million times.

Top Ten Things Said to Professionals Who Work with Children

who are Blind or Visually Impaired

10. I don't understand how those little dots could say anything; they just look like bumps to me.

9. I forgot to give this to you, but we need it in braille today.

8. How does the dog know when to cross the street?

7. The Miracle Worker always makes me cry.

6. What would he/she like to have?

5. You have how many students? - AND a teaching assistant, too!

4. My worst fear is of going blind.

3. It must be soooo rewarding!

2. Do you know sign language?

1. You must be so patient!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

ECC Advocacy

Here is something I am really excited about!! I recently presented on the ECC at the early childhood conference at Perkins School for the Blind in April. I met the President of Perkins and he told me about the new venture between Perkins and AFB. Their venture is a new forum on advocacy for the ECC!

It doesn't matter what age or vision impairment that your child has. The ECC is a vital part of any student with a vision impairments education. Too often, only the TVI and the vision team address this disability-specific curriculum.

Why advocate for the ECC? The ECC is the bridge that takes the child into independence. The ECC isn't just about daily living skills. It addresses social skills, technology, recreation, self-advocacy, self-determination as well as transition and mobility. Without these skills, our kids have no chance of gaining an independent life. Here's what I tell my parents: It doesn't matter how smart or or how many academic classes your child can complete. If they do not have ECC skills, where will they end up? They will end up at home living with their parents!!

Parents, please do not ignore the ECC when it is addressed at IEP meetings. Many parents are afraid of it because they feel it has a stigma of a "functional" curriculum. Vision impairment education is unique and all of the components of the ECC make it possible for our kids to grow up prepared, independent, successful and have a life of their own.

I know it seems like I am on a soap box---I am! I believe that we need to change the way education teams and parents view the ECC. Your child should have at least 20 minutes of ECC a day: mobility--have them check the mail and walk to the mailbox, daily living skills--chores!!, social skills--they should be in an after school club or playgroup, recreation--what do they do for fun? These are just a few examples off the top of my head.

Here's the link and your opportunity to get involved: http://www.eccadvocacy.org/eccforum.asp.

We can all work together to implement the ECC. Everyone has a part that they can play. I hope you find resources (as parents and professionals) here on the independent little bee. It's why I write!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Wonder of Wonderbaby.org

Hello early childhood parents! I found a website this week that I am loving! It's a new site called wonderbaby.org. Why do I like it? I feel that it is family friendly and a nice little hub to meet other parents. I like the feel and organization of the site. It was started by a mom who like me, wanted to post resources that she found that were helpful. What I think is really a nice part of this site is that parents are encouraged to participate. Always remember that one size doesn't fit all so you may not find your child's exact eye condition or something else. However, the most important thing to know is that you are not alone as a parent of a child with a vision impairment. You have a whole community to belong to and that starts right here on The Independent Little Bee :)
Here's an excerpt from the site:

"Hi there! My name is Amber Bobnar. Welcome to WonderBaby.org! WonderBaby.org, a project funded by Perkins School for the Blind, is dedicated to helping parents of young children with vision impairments as well as children with multiple disabilities. Here you'll find a database of articles written by parents who want to share with others what they've learned about playing with and teaching a blind child, as well as links to meaningful resources and ways to connect with other families.

In 2011 WonderBaby teamed up with Perkins in order to provide more features and support for families through the internet. My original intent for the site was just to link to resources I found on the web, but before I knew it I was writing more and more about Ivan and all he had to teach us! I soon learned that other parents were experiencing this too... we all know that our children are full of wonder and they amaze us every day. As we focus on teaching our children all they need to learn in order to be as independent as possible we are often surprised to find out that we are learning so much from them!"

Maybe one of these days you will see my blog up on wonderbaby.org too!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

USABA Seeks Judo, Track/Field Athletes (Ages 12-19) for 2011 IBSA World Youth and Student Championships

Hi everyone,
I am posting this email I received today from USABA. This is a great opportunity! All contact information is included in this post!!

Dear Friend of USABA;

We need your help with getting the word out on an outstanding opportunity for young athletes. This year (12-17 July) the United States Association of Blind Athletes will host the International Blind Sports Federation World Youth and Student Championships in Colorado Springs. Athletes ages 12-19 who are blind/visually impaired (B1-B3) from over 20 countries will compete in Track and Field, Judo and Goalball. In past years, this has been not only an outstanding sports opportunity, but also a once-in-a lifetime opportunity for athletes to meet their contemporaries from around the world. This event has been the catalyst for many athletes to continue on in sports to compete on collegiate, national and Paralympic sports programs.

This event isn’t a sports education camp-type of program—it is an international competition for up and coming youth athletes—but our experience has been that there are many blind and visually impaired youth in the United States who are competing in sports programs in your schools or programs who would excel in this competition.

Our challenge is—and this is where we need your help—is getting the word out about this opportunity. Although we reach out to athletes through our website and membership database, there are many young outstanding athletes in your schools, who participate programs in your agencies, or that you may be aware of through other means that we are still trying to reach.

Can you help us share the word about this opportunity by sharing this information with athletes, parents, coaches, teachers, recreation/sports program managers or anyone else who can help us get the word out?

We’ve had many takers for goalball and because it’s a team sport, limited to 1 boy’s and 1 girl’s team, numbers were limited and required us to conduct a separate selection process. However, we are still looking for track and field athletes and judo athletes for this competition. Unfortunately, this year there was enough international interest for us to be able to provide a swimming competition. I’ve attached a flyer to this email that provides a little more information about the competition and lists sports contact points. If you have questions or are looking for additional information, please don’t hesitate to call me or send me an email. I

Although we’re looking for track/field and judo athletes for this specific competition, we’re always looking for athletes who may be interested in our other sports programs as well including, swimming, tandem cycling, goalball, powerlifting.

We thank you in advance in helping us get the word out.!


Sports Director

United States Association of Blind Athletes

Email: jpotts@usaba.org

Phone: 719-534-3805

Web: www.usaba.org

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Playspace Makeover

I am so happy that this mom emailed me this picture! I recently worked with this family and their playroom. The picture I posted is the "after" picture. Originally this space looked exactly like several other homes I visit: toy choices everywhere, bright warm patterns and a toy chest full of toys. Please note: There is nothing wrong with having a play space like this EXCEPT when you have a child with a vision impairment (especially CVI).

This is important: too many choices in a space is overwhelming for children with vision impairments. Too many choices create visual clutter!! It's too much for the child and it is often too much for other members of the family. The dad in this family mentioned that he was overwhelmed when I was discussing this room with them. That was another cue for me that we needed to change the dynamics in the room. It's important that parents and children feel good to work in the space.

How do you fix this space? Head to the fabric store and buy some black fabric in bulk!!
Step one: Reduce the toy choices and send half the toys on a toy vacation!! Pick toys that you know your child loves to play with.

Step two: Organize the toys in a way that your child likes. Some possible ideas are grouping toys by likeness (music toys in one bin), small toys on top shelf, big toys on bottom and super favorite toys at eye level.

Step three: Get a finished box! There should always be a beginning (picking a toy), middle (playing with the toy) and an end (cleaning up). Play time is also a great way to work on connected experiences for children. The children should be the ones who go to the toy shelf and pick something, play with it and they should put it away (either in finished box or back on the shelf).

Step four: Use the black fabric! This family did a great job of covering up the toy clutter. You can do this by using industrial velcro. Mom can pull up the fabric on one shelf at a time when her son is in the room.

Step five: Use a defined workspace! This mom did a great job of also changing the original carpet to a straight up black carpet!! The carpet does two things: 1) it's a defined workspace (her son knows that he has to keep toys on the carpet) and 2) the black is a clutter eraser for any toy. It will help with focusing on the toy and reducing clutter.

You can do this makeover in any space. I have also done a similar "cover up" in closets where there were too many clothing choices and have done this multiple times in playspaces.

The other thing that I love about how this room is that it still looks like a kids play space. The black did not pull away from the kid friendly energy. High five to this family! I had a great time working with them :)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Volunteer Recruit for Camp Abilities CT 2011

Volunteer Opportunities
for Camp Abilities Connecticut
August 16-20, 2011
(August 15th Staff Training Day)

Camp Abilities Connecticut
is looking for energetic new volunteers!

Requirements for volunteering:
Be able to pass a background check
Responsible and motivated
Have a background in special education,
camp counselor or physical education
Commitment for the entire week of camp & training day

Camp Abilities Connecticut is a one-week developmental sport camp
for children with vision impairments.
Activities include: wrestling, ropes course, aquatics,
soccer, track & field.
Camp Abilities also offers sports designed for children with
vision impairments such as goalball and beep baseball.

For more information:
Robbin Keating, Camp Abilities Director
Educational Projects Coordinator for the Board of Education & Services for the Blind

Check us out:

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day!
This week my post is a poem written by a mom of two children who are deafblind. I had the pleasure of teaching her son for many years. I have this poem and pictures from teaching days with him on my desk. This isn't just a poem to me. It says so much about how I feel about my students and her son specifically.

To all my moms who are out there watching lessons with teachers, standing up for their children's needs in IEP team meetings and loving their children enough to not step in and help them but let them go on their own, this is is especially for you!

My Hands
By LH, Mother's Day 2003

I don't talk like most people do-
My hands help me to talk to you.
My body is different-don't be concerned.
I've been sent to this Earth where I can still learn.
My eyes can't see and my ears can't hear-
But I can feel your spirit so you need not fear.
Dont' be afraid to put your hands in mine
To say "hello" or that you're doing "fine"!
A simple hug, a hold of myhand-
My parents and teacher can help you understand.
You don't have to remember, sometimes we forget.
Just keep on tryin' and you won't reget.
Someday I'll thank you for not passing me by
Because you were not busy and decided to try.
A brother, a sister, you helped me to see
That I'm a child of God in His Eternity.