APH’S Sunshine Kit Shines Brightly for Teaching Children to Read

By Kristie Smith-Armand, M.Ed, CTVI

"Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand."

I remember my first year of teaching students who have a visual impairment. My Braille student was a beautiful kindergartener named Yasmine. Yasmine was adorable and ready for fun. She was, however, not too excited about feeling dots that were suppose to represent words.

I would take Yasmine’s fingers hand-over-hand and read to her while she felt the dots. “The dots tickle my fingers,” Yasmine would complain. “Let’s go outside and play.”

I resorted to bribing her with chocolate during the first two months of teaching beginning Braille skills.

“Track the letters, and you’ll get a Hershey Kiss,” I would plead. “Okay, okay,” is how Yasmine would respond. I continued to follow this pattern until one day my mother also a vision and reading specialist said, “Let’s find out what type of books Yasmine likes and use real objects and puppets with the stories.” What a great idea! The story box idea is not only beneficial for students who are learning concepts but is critical in order for them to begin to understand the vocabulary words and meaning of the story.

Yasmine loved the Patterns from APH’s series and used her Groovy Gal dolls named Tim and Pam to role-play the stories. She taught her dolls the new Braille contractions that she was learning as well as how to count money. Tim and Pam were even pictured in the school year book.

We found other books in the bookroom that Yasmine loved: Ratty- Tatty, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, and other repetitive books by Joy Cowley, Dr. Bill Martin, Jr. and Eric Carle. My mother and I would braille the stories until our fingers bled. We did anything and everything to keep Yasmine’s enthusiasm for reading at a higher level.

Imagine my surprise this school year when I opened up the APH catalog and saw a new reading kit, The Sunshine Kit, filled with fun repetitive books and all by one of my favorite authors for little ones, Joy Cowley. Ms. Cowley’s books are fun, easy-to-read and predictable which is exactly what a young student needs- especially one who has problems with their vision. Repetition helps to build brain neurons, so when a story is repetitive it helps the child to predict the following page.

I am also an author for Flaghouse Special Populations and create activity books that teach parents and professionals activities to do with children who have a visual impairment. My books: Wee Play, Wee Learn, Wee Are Ready, and Wee Play in the Dark are designed for teaching the younger ones, while my other two activity books: The Elephant in the Room and Views from a Vision Teacher are more for the older students who have a visual impairment. I love writing all types of books and could not resist writing activities for fun and easy-to-read books like The Sunshine Kit offers. I selected a few of the following stories and wrote the activities below for developmental levels ages 2-7.

Ratty- Tatty is an adorable mouse who steals food in the household where she lives. The characters that live in the house complain that Ratty Tatty is no good because she steals their food; They would catch her if they could, but they cannot seem to outsmart the little mouse. She takes an egg, bread, a fish, and cheese right out from under their nose. Ratty Tatty is too clever for the rest of the characters when she takes the cheese from a trap with the assistance of a fork and is never caught.

Activities for Ratty- Tatty:

  • Make a story box complete with objects mentioned in the story. Show the real objects with the representational ones, so that the student makes a connection between the ‘real’ and ‘plastic’ objects, and then use the representational ones throughout the week. Fill the story box with an egg, a piece of bread, fish, cheese and a plastic fork. When the objects are mentioned, ask the student to show you the object.
  • Tell the child that ‘ratty’ and ‘tatty’ are rhyming words. Name other word pairs that rhyme such as: egg and leg, bread and red, fish and wish, cheese and please, fork and pork, mouse and house.
  • Allow the student to feel the following words in Braille or large print: egg, bread, fish, cheese and fork. Now ask the child to match (with assistance if needed) the word to the object.
  • Have the little one to illustrate an egg. If the child has no vision have him to feel around a tactual shape of an egg and color inside the picture.
  • Using an electric skillet, scramble eggs and read Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss.
  • Discuss the word ‘clever’. Tell the child that the word clever means smart. Ask the student to explain ways that Ratty-Tatty was clever.
  • After reading the story have the child to make a cheese sandwich.
  • Sing the words to, “The Farmer in the Dell”, and talk about what happens to the cheese at the end of this fun song.

Activities for What Would You Like? By Joy Cowley

  • Story book idea: Fill the story box with the following items: two pieces of plastic bread, a plastic spider, a toy mouse, toy grasshopper, a plastic worm, plastic knife and an empty jar of peanut butter.
  • Make Peanut Butter Play-doh with your student. Simply pour one box of a white cake mix into a large bowl and add peanut butter. You will want the same consistency as bread dough. Add food coloring if the child has vision. Children love this easy-to-make play-doh and after making objects, letters, numbers or shapes, the dough is edible.
  • Practice spreading peanut butter on a slice of bread.
  • Sing the following finger play, “Peanut Butter and Jelly”. “Peanut, peanut butter and jelly. Peanut, peanut butter and jelly. First you pick ‘em, you pick ‘em and then you say, “Peanut, peanut butter and jelly. Peanut, peanut butter and jelly. Peanut, peanut butter and jelly.”- (Substitute ‘pick ‘em’ with spread ‘em).
  • Ask the child what he likes on his sandwich. Next, ask him to name his favorite foods. Do a language experience story by writing down the child’s exact words. Allow him to illustrate his story.
  • Hand the student ‘yes’ and ‘no’ cards written in large print or Braille. Go over the words while the child is looking or feeling of the words. Ask her if she likes the following: spider, grasshopper, peanut butter, or a worm. If her answer is yes, she will show the ‘yes’ card, and if her answer is ‘no’, she will demonstrate the ‘no’ card.
  • Make a delicious gummy worm recipe. Place Oreo cookies into a plastic baggy. Ask your student to crunch the cookies. Pour the crunched cookies into a bowl. Mix in gummy worms. Makes a delicious snack while enhancing the story.

The Sunshine Kit from APH has many other stories that children will love and it comes complete with Braille labels.

When you are enthusiastic and well planned, teaching the child concepts and vocabulary, you are setting the student up for success.

Children who cannot see well, are often times missing out on understanding their surroundings, concepts and vocabulary. When you intervene before reading a story with real objects and experiences, the child begins to truly absorb that words represent real objects, experiences and people that are relevant in their life. And with high interest books like the ones from The Sunshine Kit, the world and those around him, begin to make sense to the child.

To quote the rock group, Katrina and the Waves, “I'm walking on sunshine , wooah I'm walking on sunshine, woooah I'm walking on sunshine, woooah and don't it feel good!! Hey, alright now and dont it feel good!! Hey yeh!

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