Bridging the Gap Through APH Materials

by Kristie Smith, M.Ed, CTVI

“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss it, you will land among the stars.”- Les Brown

I have been an educator for over twenty-eight years and have taught most grade levels. While I love the individuality of each group, teaching students who are blind or visually impaired has been my favorite.

It has always been my philosophy that all children can learn. Some may learn slower or different from others, however, the fact remains that all students can achieve. Can you imagine if Albert Einstein, Helen Keller, Franklin Roosevelt and Walt Disney were overlooked because they had a disability? So many of our greatest accomplishments have been achieved through others who have had a disability. The American Printing House for the Blind gives children who have a visual impairment and other disabilities a chance to compete with their sighted peers, so that they, too, can make a difference in the world through their many achievements.

The American Printing House for the Blind (APH) has been in business since 1858. APH products are designed for infants, toddlers, children in grades K-12, adults and people with multiple impairments both in academics and daily living.

My students’ teachers are so excited when I hand them the APH catalog and explain that they can also order materials for their classroom. I further discuss that as long as the items are on quota funds they are free. APH makes me the superstar and most popular itinerant teacher because of all the exceptional materials. Bold line paper, Talking Calculators, tape players, headphones, 20/20 pens, a periodic table in Braille, as well as many other items from APH help students who have a visual impairment to function successfully in the classroom.

APH has such a variety of excellent materials that meet many needs of people with a visual impairment. I do, however, have my favorites when I am teaching children ages three months to twenty-two-years old. Since I have so many beloved items from APH that help my students to master their goals and objectives, I must limit my discussion to my daily picks, otherwise my article would take months to read. American Printing House products are that awesome.

One of my most used items from APH is the Mini- Lite box and Lite Box Materials. The Mini-Lite Box comes equipped with a dimming control, tilting stand and many materials to inspire children to look, touch and explore. Goals such as exploring the environment, hand-to-eye coordination, learning colors, shapes, counting, using upper and lower fields can all be met through this product. I use the Swirly Mats and place them on the Lite Box and my infants and children with multiple disabilities become interested in their surroundings. They explore, touch, pick up the mat and look through the colors. Lite Box materials come in levels 1-3 depending on the child’s developmental needs. The Lite Box is small but like they say, “Dynamite comes in small packages,” and this product is dyno-mite!!!

Two other wonderful items that I could not live without are The Sensory Learning Kit (SLK) and Let’s See. The Sensory Learning Kit helps people without much control over their environment to make choices as well as giving themselves sensory input independently. The kit is an extensive set of items that help children increase their curiosity, understand cause and effect and work on goals that are designed especially for them. I use the Let’s See Kit for infants and children with multiple disabilities to explore the high contrast objects. One of my favorite pieces from the Let’s See Kit is the black, white and pink soft blanket for little ones. Teachers and parents are always asking me for additional blankets.

Since many students who are blind or visually impaired are often times behind in their younger years because of understanding concepts and their world around them, reading materials must be presented to children at a young age. APH supplies teachers and others who work with children with a visual impairment an array of fun items for reading, writing, math, science, daily living and social studies.

I teach children as young as two-years-old to feel the Braille dots. I call this technique ‘sprinkling’ knowledge. The seeds are sprinkled on the ground and not yet ready to grow, but with watering, sunshine and air the seeds begin to blossom. Sprinkling skills to a younger student who is blind is crucial in keeping them on grade level or higher in later years. Teaching pre-Braille reading skills to a young future Braille reader will help bridge the gap between the child with a visual impairment and their sighted age group. When a young child feels the Braille dots when being read to, he will begin to make the association that the dots he is feeling represent words and that words represent ‘real’ objects, people and his surroundings.

There are many items from APH that help our younger children to pre-read in Braille. For example, books that are in Braille and in large print like Giggly-Wiggly Snickety-Snick have real and textured objects throughout the story, so that a child who is blind can ‘see’ pictures throughout their books, too. Some of my favorite Braille books are Jennifer’s Messes, Jellybean Jungle and many others that are also equipped with Braille and raised-line drawings.

Another popular book from APH is Splish the Fish. Skills such as positional words like up, down, middle, first, last, etc. can be taught throughout this fun rhyming book. Splish and his friends are embossed, so a child who cannot see may use his hands and begin to explore for information and learn about rhyming words.

I cannot write an article on APH without mentioning Patterns. The familiar characters who are brother and sister named Tim and Pam teach contractions throughout every phase of learning Braille until the young student becomes a fluent Braille reader. Tim cannot see so younger students are able to identify with him and his struggles. My mother and I bought one of our younger students two groovy gal dolls- one boy we named Tim and the girl Pam. Everyone in the school was in on the fun. My student’s orientation and mobility specialist even bought the toy Tim doll a cane and the school yearbook committee put pictures of the Tim and Pam dolls in the school year book.

Vision teachers everywhere were ecstatic to see a new series that will also inspire new readers to read. The Sunshine Kit contains many high interest books for little ones and comes with Braille labels as well as an interactive website. Books like Ratty-Tatty and the Cooking Pot are just a few of many that will entertain and instruct children through many reading skills.

I could go on and on about other favorite items- The All-in One board, Math Builders and many others, however, since I am now a writer for Fred’s Head I will continue to write more about how using APH materials will fill in the gap between children who are blind and sighted children.

As Stevie Wonder once said, “Just because a man lacks the use of his eyes doesn’t mean he lacks vision,” and how correct he is because through APH materials and enthusiastic teaching our students will accomplish great things.

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