Odds and Ends and Homeschool in Braille

boy leaning over braillewriter

The joy of home school is setting your own school time. You also have the flexibility to change the time based on needs and progress. Three to three-and-a-half hours of day in home school translates into a good 5 to 6 hours of public school with arrive times, bells, class change, recess, lunch, and ready to go. That doesn’t even include bus time. The bus picks up the senior next door at 6:45 AM and returns at approximately 3:45. That is one heck of a long day. We use our time doing things like listening to a book and playing outside, getting “GASP” exercise. We also have more time to work on ADLS (activities of daily living skills).

Drill and practice, drill and practice… BORING! Pre-teach, review, redo! However, this is a method that works quite well. So how do you keep it from getting boring? Your enthusiasm is important! Mix up the schedule for the day, let the student pick which subject/activity to start with, get up and move, read a book, make it a game, and Vinnie’s and my personal favorite is a reward for good work.

I love rewards for a job well done. Make the reward small, so you can give lots of them. We use pennies (we used to use M&Ms), then Vinnie gets to choose and buy his snack. He then can use his left over pennies to buy M&Ms and to put in a bank. Later the extra pennies go to the bank to get deposited. We use a lot of “Atta Boys”, like high fives, “Way to go”, and “Great job”. You want to reward the intrinsic value of hard work through praise. See how that reward grew into a lesson! We all work for something that is pleasurable, be it a paycheck, time to goof off, or a word, “Good Job”.

We are finally learning to read. I thought it would never come. Vinnie has been able to write on the brailler for 4 years. At first it was my fingers on his, then it was dictating finger positions of braille cells, then it was dictating words for him to spell, then it was dictating sentences for him to write. However, tactile discrimination is coming a little slower. It seems like we worked on this forever. Vinnie can read! We finish the patterns books by Thanksgiving! Then we start Grade 1. How cool is that?

Some things we had to teach hand over hand, backing out until he was able to do it with little or no physical or verbal cues/prompts. This is the case with much of our teaching. We break it down into the tiniest parts and then bring it all together. Start simple with familiar and known activities. Then increase the expectations and complexity of the learning until you reach the desired goal.

Vinnie and I for the most part are able to do most of his work without my touching his hands. It meant I had to develop a habit of using verbal directions accurately. He had to learn spatial words and relationships. Try blindfolding a friend or spouse and have them maneuver or find something, following your verbal directions. It is not as easy as you think. He can do the same with braille.

Sometimes, people get frustrated with Vinnie because he isn’t doing something fast enough. So they will tend to “help” him. Don’t do this. You will create dependence and “Learned Helplessness”—not a good thing. I find even the professionals will do this. I too am learning patience and to start again at the beginning, because just like the rest of us, Vinnie can lose his train of thought.

In the end, my enthusiasm and celebrating small accomplishments is important to keep the learning momentum moving forward.

Find ways to make things interactive. We have a wonderful book called, “Jump, Frog, Jump” by Robert Kalan for ages 3 to 8. I print out the sentence, “Jump, frog, jump!” on paper, and he reads this sentence each time it appears in the book. I have him show me how the frog jumps so he can get away. It gets him moving. I also let him finish the sentences filling in the animal sequence, which is great for memory and sequencing of events in a story. This was one of those happy accidents when my friend sent me the book. He just happens to love it and we live on a pond and have all these animals, especially the flies! LOL.

What about technology? I love my iPad for listening to stories. We just started with the auditory books from the library. Vincent loves these. The challenge is to keep enough books so he’s not bored while we return others.

I like the Smart Brailler for some things. There are a couple of drawbacks with the Smart Brailler. The speech is not great and Vinnie tends to model the speech from the Brailler. The Smart Brailler makes mistakes sometimes, so even if you are listening, you have to be looking, too. Vinnie has been correct when the Brailler is wrong. The lines are too short to write numbers in rows of 10, thus lining up the ones, twos, etc. is not possible. It is hard to write a long sentence. It lists the dot sequences for punctuation at the end of the sentence, rather than saying the punctuation. The best part is Vinnie loves his Smart Brailler because he is great with cause-and-effect kinds of electronics.

I like my electric dumb brailler for really long tasks and writing numbers. I have a better sense of what my son knows because HE has to tell me. I am better able to repeat information, reinforcing learning as well as appropriate speech patterns.

Now that Vinnie has a good foundation of skills, I am able to use the curriculum I used for our sighted children, by Alpha Omega. You can look it up on line at www.aoacademy.com. I have to adapt it, but it gives me a great guide for teaching. For parents who are new to home schooling there are teachers’ manuals that give explanations, directions, and an answer key. If you have a good relationship with services for the blind, they can adapt materials for you, just as they would the public school. I prefer to do my own because I know how I’m going to use the material and how Vinnie learns. When the books get longer and more complex, then I’ll definitely need help with adaptations. My TVI (teacher of students with visual impairments) comes up with suggestions, as well. Now I’m in my comfort area where I can use materials that I am familiar with and Vinnie and I know enough braille that we can accomplish our learning together. It is a great feeling!

We need to advocate and educate regarding the needs of our children. Advocacy is an ongoing job to obtain services. At least with some school, I don’t have the added burden of the energy drain that comes from dealing with the public school piece. Whatever you are advocating for, stick with facts and not emotions when advocating. Cite law, regulation, and testing recommendations. Put everything in writing and keep a copy!

Home schooling is not for everyone. It is a choice. We don’t have control over others and many times our own situation. We do have control of our attitude. I use a lot of humor and sarcasm to deal with things. However, sometimes my attitude gets the better of me and I just stop and have a rant or a pity party. That is on me and I continue to work on it. I prefer to put my energy into my children. That is my choice, with the support of my family. Each of us has choices and voices, use them!