While the pathway to literacy for children without visual impairments is never a straight line, easy, or effortless it tends to be easier than for children born with visual impairments or children born blind.
The pre-literacy portion of a sighted child’s life is inevitably exposed to the idea of the written language even if they aren’t quite able to wrap their heads around the ins and outs of it just yet. They see things in print, they see the adults in their life interacting with those visual cues, and over time they begin to better understand exactly what’s happening and are able to better put the pieces of this puzzle together.
Children with visual impairments, however, are not given this day today exposure. They aren’t able to make the same kinds of visual connections that young children make between a logo from their favorite television show and the same logo on a toy at the store, and they aren’t able to recognize the signage outside of their favorite restaurant even if they can’t quite make out what it says just yet.
At the same time, there are pathways to helping visually impaired children learn to read books even from a very young age. Parents and educators just have to be prepared to provide many of these same experiences in a way that resonates with the world that visually impaired children are living in to help encourage their interest in reading.
Start As Easy As Possible
As highlighted above, children without visual impairments are exposed to the idea of reading almost from day one, even if they have absolutely no conceptual idea of what they are looking at.
Children with visual impairments, however, can be given a similar experience if you’re able to describe the world around them, describe what’s happening and why, and “anchor” words to experiences and tangible things they can wrap their minds around even if they aren’t able to physically see what you are describing.
This exposure during the early learning stages contributes big time to literacy rates later down the line, particularly if you’re able to make these experiences as varied and as wide-sweeping as possible. Describe to them different animals, different objects, different activities, and different experiences that can help them learn the meaning of words before you dive into reading specific lesson plans.
When you’re preparing to teach your visually impaired child to learn to read it’s important to have a firm grasp on the tools and resources that your child can make the most of. If you’re working with a child that has significantly impaired vision but is not blind you may be able to use many of the same resources non-visually impaired children are able to leverage modified to suit their specific needs.
On the other hand, you may want to use a combination of larger print and braille materials – particularly if the low level of vision is significantly compromised. Children that are blind will necessitate a braille approach, and you want to make sure that you are building lessons around these approaches before you dive into the actual reading material itself.
Make Reading Fun
It’s critical that you make reading especially engaging for children with visual impairments, particularly if they are going to have to work through obstacles and challenges that can turn them off from reading altogether in the early stages.
You’ll want to find material that is age-appropriate but more than that you’ll want to find stories that really resonate with their interests and really resonate with things that excite them.
Sure, the “standard” children’s books and nursery rhymes are never a bad approach to lay down the fundamentals. But if you’re able to find story materials that they get really excited about, the kinds of books or stories that they want to read over and over again, you’re going to find that their capacity to work through these early struggles and hurdles is almost unlimited.
Connect Them to the Concept of Writing
Another smart strategy you can utilize to really bring home the sometimes nebulous concept of the written word for children with visual impairments is to encourage them to “right” with crayons, with markers, and with pencils and pens as you tackle storytime.
Not only is it a good idea to have them write while you are reading to them (even if the drawings aren’t all that recognizable), but it’s also a good idea to encourage them to write stories for you – drawing and scribbling on a piece of paper and then reading you what they have written, really reinforcing the concept of language down on paper.
At the end of the day, teaching a child to read books (regardless of their visual capabilities) is always a labor of love filled with challenges, milestones, and celebrations.
If you’re willing to work with them and can match their excitement, you’ll have a guaranteed path to literacy no matter what! If you need help finding free books read our article here.