Observations WIthout Sight: Teach Your Children Well

While at a friend’s house a few weeks ago, a little boy loudly asked his mother, “Is that the one with bwinded eyes?” His mother quietly told him yes, and then quickly tried to distract him with other things. Not to be deterred, he asked me, “How did your eyes get bwinded?” I must admit that I don’t have much experience around little children and feel a bit awkward around them no matter what the situation. But I told him openly that my eyes didn’t work because I’d been born too early, before they were ready to work. (OK, not completely accurate, but close enough.)

His mother continued to shush him and I felt a little angry at this. I wanted to say (but didn’t) “You’re teaching your child, right here and now, that blindness is something we shouldn’t talk about, something shameful perhaps.” I doubt very much that this was her intention, and I can’t imagine what it’s like to have a young child and be embarrassed about what they’re saying or doing, worried that it will offend someone else. But if I could get one message across to parents of young children, it would be:

You know better than anyone how curious your child is, how eager they are to learn. Let them learn; let them ask questions, interact, engage. Please, don’t worry about me. There’s nothing your child could say that I haven’t heard before, and I’m not likely to be offended by a little one who is learning.

girl petting guide dogAbout a week after that, I was walking down the street when a little 6-year old girl and her father came up to me. She asked if she could pet my guide dog, Colbert. I stopped, had Colbert sit, and let her pet him. She asked me why my eyes weren’t open, and I told her that since they’d never worked, sometimes I just forget to open them. She asked about how Colbert and I did things, and her father told her that we do the same things everyone else does, just sometimes a little differently. She asked why I couldn’t see, and I told her I’d been born 3 months early. It turned out that so had she, and that we both weighed 1 pound 11 ounces.

This was a wonderful experience mainly due to her father’s open attitude, his willingness to allow her to ask questions, and to take that risk of possibly embarrassing or offending someone. If parents have a general attitude of kindness toward others and sensitivity to the feelings of other people, their children will pick up on this and learn from them. It will be much less likely that a child’s comments or actions when they see someone who is different will come from a place of criticism or meanness, and much more likely they will just want to learn!

Love your children, teach them to love, and allow them to engage, connect, and explore that common ground that we as humans all share!

 

Wynter Pingel works as a braille proofreader at National Braille Press in Boston, MA.

What’s in a Name?

A lot, actually, especially if you are trying to come up with a name for a new program or website. You want people to “get it” as soon as they hear it. And you want it to be easy to say (or type).

Earlier this year National Braille Press asked me to serve as a consultant on their new program for children.

“What’s the program about?” I asked.

They told me it’s a free, online resource offering accessible, multi-sensory activities for parents and teachers to help them bring picture books to life for their kids. There’s advice on how to describe pictures in books, how to explain colors to kids who are totally blind, and lots of ideas for ways to experience the intangible concepts in books, which can be particularly difficult for kids who are blind.

“Wow! That’s amazing! I’m definitely on board! What’s the program called?”

Well, that hadn’t been decided yet. Diane Croft, Publisher & Creative Producer at NBP, told me they were using a place-holder name: “Great Expectations.”

I didn’t love it (partly because it made me think of Charles Dickens and top hats), but it worked for the time being. Plus part of the fun was going to be coming up with a name and thinking about how to present this program!

We met with the brilliantly talented team at FableVision Studios, a transmedia development studio, to brainstorm and came up with a list of questions the program’s branding needed to answer. What is the message? What is the vision of the program? What are we trying to say?

We had some ideas based on the building blocks of what we already knew. We’re trying to make picture books more accessible. We also want families to understand that just because their child is blind doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy picture books. With the right motivation and adaptations, this is possible!

Our whiteboard looked something like this (only messier):

  • Picture the Possible
  • Picture Power
  • PicturePlay
  • The Whole Story
  • Touching Pictures
  • The Big Picture
  • Get the Picture
  • In Touch
  • Imagine Stories
  • Sensing Stories
  • Reading on the Move

It all felt so close… but not quite there. Picture the Possible and The Whole Story were frontrunners.

FableVision made up some really magnificent artwork to accompany the brainstorming process:

Picture the Possible sketch of a girl and her cat on a flying book     The Whole Story sketch of a girl sitting on a large book at a farm

And that’s when it hit me. It’s all about expecting more… more for our kids and from ourselves as parents and educators. Our children have the right to access literacy in the format that suites them best, but we can’t stop there. They also have the right to imagine and enjoy reading. They have the right to fall in love with a story or a character, to play out their own alternative endings, and to experience the words in the book in real, tangible ways. We need to help them learn how to get the most of books and we need to expect that this can happen.

We need to have Great Expectations!Great Expectations logo of a girl and her dog on a flying book

It’s not about Charles Dickens or top hats… it’s about attitude!

And that is the short version of the long story of how Great Expectations got its name.

Now I love the name!

Amber Bobnar lives with her husband and nine-year-old son, Ivan, in Watertown, MA, where Ivan, who was born blind and multiply disabled, attends the Lower School at Perkins School for the Blind. Amber is founder and website administrator of WonderBaby.org, a website dedicated to supporting parents and caregivers of children who are blind or visually impaired, with or without additional disabilities.