The Anatomy of a Free ReadBooks! Bag

by Kesel Wilson, Editor and Programs Manager

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”
―Frederick Douglass

How often do you come across something that is both free and of tremendous value? How often does everything you need to begin a challenging journey come in a single free bag? How often do you find resources created specifically for you by an organization with 90 years of experience? If you answered “Not often” to any of these questions, you probably aren’t aware of our ReadBooks! childrens’ braille literacy program.

Since we began this program in 2003, we have sent free bags of beginning braille materials to over 17,000 parents and teachers of the blind and visually impaired all across the United States and Canada. We believe passionately that literacy is the foundation of education, independence, self-expression, privacy, lifelong learning, and success in the workplace. Our ReadBooks! bags are designed to give caregivers and teachers the knowledge and resources needed to start children on a path of early braille literacy and they are 100% free. Let me take you on a quick tour of the bags and their contents:

We have 3 different bags, for 3 different age levels, and the bags come in both English and Spanish versions:

  • A red bag is for ages 0 to 3;
  • A blue bag is for ages 4 to 5;
  • And a green bag is for ages 6 to 7.
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Blue ReadBooks! bag with below contents inside

Every bag has:

  • A welcome letter from our president, Brian Mac Donald
  • An order form for a free book for called “Just Enough to Know Better.” This book will help you learn “just enough” braille to help your child learn it too.
  • A sign-up sheet for our Children’s Braille Book Club—a low cost subscription program featuring a new print/braille book every month.
  • A flyer about our Great Expectations program—a program that brings picture books to life for blind children with picture descriptions and free online activities.
  • Our most recent catalog, so you can be up to date on all of our newest braille books.
  • A braille alphabet card, so you can learn the braille symbol for each letter of the alphabet.
  • A Happy Birthday coupon, which can be redeemed for a free braille children’s book.
  • A caravan block, which is a fun, tactile block for practicing your braille alphabet.
  • A “Because Books Matter” pamphlet to help you understand why braille is so important to literacy and independence.
  • A “Because Pictures Matter” pamphlet which explains how and why to introduce your child to tactile graphics.

The other items in the bag vary according to the age level of the bag, but each bag has:

  • A print/braille picture book for practicing beginning reading with braille;
  • A tactile graphic for exploring non-textual information through touch;
  • And a tactile manipulative, such as a sensory ball or Wikki Stix—to experiment with tactile play.

I encourage you to take advantage of this free resource! You can order your bags directly from our website at https://www.nbp.org/ic/nbp/programs/readbooks/readbooks.html

The Power of Great Expectations!

 National Braille Press is pleased to introduce Measuring Penny, the 6th book in our innovative “Great Expectations” children’s book program. The primary mission of this program is to bring picture books to life for blind kids through song, tactile play, engaged listening, word play, body movement, and picture descriptions. We do this by creating 9 accessible, fun, and free online activities to go with each book in the program. These free activities can be used at home or in the classroom to further explore the themes found in the book.

measuring penny and activities

In Measuring Penny, the main character Lisa is given a fun but challenging homework assignment—to measure something using both standard and nonstandard units. She decides to measure her dog, Penny, using everything from traditional wooden rulers and yard sticks to the decidedly nontraditional paper clips and cotton swabs! She learns a lot about herself, her dog, the art of measurement, and the things that you can’t put a number on, like love.

Enjoy the book and check out the free online resources we have created to go with it. Each online activity has a downloadable BRF file and a downloadable, accessible PDF file so you can take the activities with you and share them with others. And best of all, the activities were created especially with blind kids in mind. Here are the activities for Measuring Penny.

Make Doggie Biscuits

Make delicious treats for your dog using this fun recipe from Stir It Up! Recipes and Techniques for Young Blind Cooks.

Accessible Measuring Tools

Learn about all sorts of accessible tools made especially for budding blind scientists, and then make your own balance scale using items from around the house.

Same Versus Different

Use comparison to evaluate how things are the same and how they are different.

Tips from a Blind Scientist

Meet Henry “Hoby” Wedler, a Ph.D. computational organic chemist, and make your own ice cream using an experiment from Out-of-Sight Science Experiments.

Tactile Graphs

Have fun surveying your friends and family, and then turn your data into a tactile bar graph or tactile pie chart.

Animal Friends

Collect data on how much work it takes to care for different types of pets. Also learn about how pet dogs and guide dogs are different.

Jokes About Math

These are some real zingers to share with family and friends. Who would have thought math could be so funny?

Songs About Measurement

Sing some great songs about different units of measurement.

Picture Descriptions

Enjoy detailed descriptions of the illustrations in the book, all created especially for you!

 

Follow the Great Expectations program on Facebook!

What We Discovered In Bringing Picture Books to Life for Blind Kids

It started as a pretty straightforward concept: blind and visually impaired kids miss out on critical information that is conveyed through pictures in children’s storybooks. Many times, the illustrations in children’s books supplement the text and enhance the story, both in entertainment value and through additional information that helps move the story forward.

After observing a group of sighted kids laughing uproariously when shown the pictures as they were read the Dr. Seuss classic, Hop on Pop, a simple rhyming book, I knew that blind kids were also missing out on a lot of fun.

How could we make the act of reading children’s picture books more interesting for blind kids and spark a love of reading that would last a lifetime? This was the question that some NBP staffers, headed by former publisher, Diane Croft, asked after hearing Matt Kaplowitz of Bridge Multimedia, show parents how to describe pictures to their visually impaired child to make storybooks come alive.

Amazing Grace.png

How would you describe this picture? Check out the picture descriptions on our website: http://www.nbp.org/ic/nbp/programs/gep/grace/grace-picdesc.html

That was the beginning of the Great Expectations: Bringing Picture Books to Life for Blind Kids program. Not only does the program help parents and teachers tell the “whole story” by providing picture descriptions for each Great Expectations book selection, but NBP and a cadre of dedicated volunteers went even further. Now, the program takes a multi-sensory approach to literacy — songs, tactile play, body movement, engaged listening, as well as picture descriptions — all designed to promote active reading experiences for children with visual impairments and featured on our website, www.nbp.org.

This program has been well received by sighted parents and teachers but what we didn’t expect was how many blind parents absolutely love this program. The picture descriptions provide blind parents with information that was previously unavailable to them. Now when reading to their child from one of NBP’s print/braille GE books, they can engage in a dialogue with their child using information from the pictures that is rich with learning opportunities. They can also share in the laughter with their kids when pictures are silly or whimsical.

As a result of this discovery, the Great Expectations program tries to incorporate more elements that blind parents will also find useful. We welcome feedback from all parents — blind and sighted — on how to keep this program lively and informative.

By Kimberley Ballard

Follow the Great Expectations program on Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/GreatExpectationsProgram/

 

 

Customers Are Like Family

After 18 years in customer service, Joanne Sullivan will be leaving NBP at the end of 2015. We asked her to recap her most memorable moments on the job.

Joanne Sullivan stands behind NBP tableWhen I say I work in customer service at National Braille Press, people envision a bank of phones with reps waiting to handle orders. Actually, there’s just me and Jamie. After answering more than 10,000 calls, I can honestly say our customers have become like family. “Hi, Joanne, it’s me.” No need for introductions, “Hi, Jeffrey, what’s up?” I know the voice and I probably remember the order.

But people don’t just call to place an order; people call NBP when they’re looking for anything in braille. In the early days, I had a five-drawer filing cabinet filled with braille resources to share, but now I rely on the Internet. The most challenging calls are from parents who have just discovered their child is visually impaired. Emotions are heavy. We navigate this loss together and then we move on to more practical things: What is Braille? What resources can they access? What about education, parent groups, agencies and blindness organizations? I pass along as much information as they can handle for now. I tell them about the blind people I know who work at NBP, practice law, teach, parent, live full lives. The dream is not lost, but it has changed and it will take a different path to get there.

I’ve sent out more technology books than I care to remember, dating back to the early ‘80s. I’ve personally distributed over 8,000 braille literacy bags through the ReadBooks! program, umpteen children’s books, bazillions of Harry Potter books, and so many other exciting adventures in the publications department—from kids’ cookbooks to print/braille Valentines. But my fondest memories are the many conventions of the blind where I exhibited and sold braille publications.

Joanne and friend at ACB

Joanne (right) and friend hold up a NBP t-shirt at the 2014 ACB Convention

I love meeting some of the people I’ve chatted with throughout the year, adding depth to my initial over-the-phone impressions.

I am not able to put into words the feelings I have about the people I have worked with at NBP through the years, and it would take a few more blog posts to acknowledge each and every one. I am grateful to have shared my work life with them and will cherish many lifelong friends. But, I would be remiss if I did not recognize the person who hired me, Diane Croft.

I interviewed with Diane, and former president Bill Raeder, all those years ago and knew from the start that NBP would change my life. Diane and I did not stay within the traditional question-and-answer format of an interview. We connected on so many levels and our discussion that day was all over the place. We had to continually remind ourselves to get back to the facts. How often does that happen at a job interview? Diane took me out to lunch on my first day on the job. We were talking non-stop as we walked to our lunch destination and somehow ended up in a liquor store. “Hmmmm,” I thought to myself, this is NOT the impression I had of Diane. “What kind of lunch is this?” She saw my perplexed expression and started laughing. There was a deli at the back of the store. Whew!

I’m near the end of this blog and I can’t say good-bye. It’s too hard. So I’m ending this post by saying, let’s stay in touch. My email is: reallylowtide@yahoo.com or you can write me at 12 Florida Street, Marshfield, MA 02050. I will miss you all more than you know.

Plaque given to Joanne Sullivan

NBP presents a print/braille photo plaque to Joanne.

Presented to Joanne Sullivan

December 18, 2015

 With love & gratitude from the tens of thousands of blind children and adults whose wishes you fulfilled with the gift of literacy, and from our employees to whom you gave your heart for 18 years at National Braille Press.

 

Promoting Braille with Ducklings

Kids feel the print/braille version of Goodnight MoonLast week, NBP hosted an event to read several of our print/braille books to blind and sighted pre-school children. We had a print reader and a braille reader team up to share the Boston classic, Make Way for Ducklings (Penguin Young Readers), and a few other favorites. Our goal is to make these events more than just spending a nice afternoon with a good book – we want to raise awareness about braille as a literacy tool and let the world know that braille is still essential in a blind child’s education.

It seems that braille is still novel enough in the sighted world to draw attention in the media that helps us to spread the word about braille’s benefits. The kids always love our reading events—what’s not to love about a listening to a good story—and it’s always fun to feel the braille bumps on the pages after the storytelling.

As I traveled to the event with our braille reader for that day, she remarked on how much she loved Make Way for Ducklings. She thanked me for bringing a new copy because she had worn down the braille on hers from repeated readings to her children, and now grandchildren. She also expressed how much she loved braille – a common refrain among braille readers—and how afraid she was that it wouldn’t be used as much by future generations. I hear this sentiment often and it’s why we take our advocacy role seriously when it comes to literacy for blind children.

As we celebrate Children’s Book Week, the longest running national literacy week that honors books and the joy of reading for young people, remember that braille storybooks are an important part of this equation. Braille is still one of the best ways for a blind person to be literate and that’s worth celebrating all year.