I love to homeschool our girls. One of my favorite things has been teaching them how to read. Our three oldest were reading well by age 5, but teaching Valerie to read has been a bit more of a challenge. Her visual acuity is 20/20, but she uses only one eye and that eye has very limited visual fields. We also do not know exactly what she is seeing. I would often do a visual field test on Valerie. I would have her keep her eyes on a spot on the wall, and then I would "walk into her picture". As approached the spot she was staring at from the side, she would say "see you!" just as I was in front of that spot. In return, she would enjoy testing me. I would sit in the chair and she would walk to the very end of the room. I would say "see you!" right away, as I could see both ends of the room using my peripheral vision. I remember the first time, she was sure I was tricking her. "Mom, seriously - you cannot see me if your eyes are looking at the spot on the wall". She listened as I told her that most people can see objects, especially moving ones, out of the corner of their eyes; and that their "picture" is much bigger than hers.
It was around this time, that a low vision specialist in Memphis, TN recommended Braille. She also recommended a white cane. Wow, was I resistant to that idea. Valerie tried it out though and had a great time running down the hallways and "parting the sea" rather than playing bumper cars with the other people in the hallway. She now only uses a cane in crowded areas, just to let people know not to get too close to her. It makes getting through the airports really easy (especially in America).
So, I decided to enroll the girls in the Nate Saint Memorial School in Ecuador for a semester so that I could learn braille. Families of the visually impaired can take free classes through Hadley School. Even living in Ecuador I was able to take classes, send in my work (thanks to the visitors that carried mail back for us), and complete the non-contracted braille course. It was a lot of fun and I earned an A.
When we moved back, I was able to get a Braille writer for Valerie. The challenging part was getting help from another instructor who could teach her contracted Braille. Braille teachers are normally only available through the school system. Thanks to the help of a friend, we were able to continue to homeschool and have a Braille teacher come to our home once a week. Valerie learned proper hand position and reading techniques very quickly. Then we moved again!
Obtaining help in our current town was much more of a challenge. Florida does not recognize homeschooling as a form of private education. They leave the decision of whether or not to help visually impaired children up to each county. It turns out, our county chooses not to help. We called Lighthouse for the Blind, Division of Blind Services, and the Department of Education. Basically, if you live in our county and your child is blind or visually impaired, there is no one to help them unless they are enrolled in school. That is unless God gets involved. If we lived 2 blocks away, we would be in a different county that does provide services. I went to meetings and pleaded my case, but in the end had to agree to have a regular education teacher come to our home in addition to the braille teacher. After 3 months of the county failing to find a regular education teacher, our friend from our old mission organization called. She prayed with me about this. That day, we received notice that the county wanted us to homeschool again and they would continue providing braille services.
Now, Valerie receives help from a Braille teacher twice a week and I continue the other days. Valerie is learning contracted Braille. Not only is she learning the letters in Braille, but also the whole words that each letter stands for (the letter 'x' stands for 'it') and the other contractions (such as a one cell contraction for 'er'). Valerie is really thriving with Braille. Her teacher is a Christian and a wonderful help to us.
Our homeschool room has a few unusual items because of this new way of teaching. It is recommended that visually impaired children with some remaining vision be taught Braille using a blindfold. Valerie does not appreciate being blind folded and finds one quite irritating. I had an idea for a device that would help. Craig built me the stand below out of PVC and I sewed on some scrap fabric we had laying around. Now Valerie can put her hands under the fabric and read the Braille without being tempted to cheat and read it with her eyes.
This is what Valerie brailled in the video (all her idea)...
Valerie can go for a ride. "
Each letter or braille cell is made by pressing one or more of the six embossing keys on the brailler. The letter "v" is dots 1, 2, 3, and 6, the letter 'a' is dot 1, the letter "l" is dots 1, 2 and 3. I am just amazed that this is easier for Valerie than writing the letter using a pencil.
Valerie is also learning how to read visually as well, though she prefers to do spelling tests on the Braille writer. Her favorite subject is still math. She is telling time to 5 minute increments, quickly making change for a dollar and counting change, and doing multiply digit addition and subtraction. She does this all in print.
Resources for visually impaired children:
The Seedlings Braille book company now has some books in English and Spanish. They are in print and braille and great for people to read to children who are blind just to familiarize children with the fact that the bumps represent words. The website is http://www.seedlings.org/bkangel2009.php.
A Braille Kit is available for ages birth-7. There are three separate kits. There is information in Spanish on English on helping blind children function independantly. The website is http://www.nbp.org/ic/nbp/programs/readbooks/parent_info.html.