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This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

 

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Tactile books for blind children: The concept of the Pfeifi-books

Text: Annette Strack, Pädagogische Frühförderung für blinde und sehbehinderte Kinder, Diakonisches Werk für Frankfurt am Main des Evangelischen Regionalverbandes

 

In the following section I want to introduce a series of tactile books which you can produce yourself easily and inexpensively. I call this series the "Pfeifi-Books".

The Pfeifi-Books have been created within the framework of early intervention with a four years old blind girl. The design was mainly focused on development support.

In these books you will find two figures ( = items), who are present in every volume. The two protagonists are Pfeifi, a pipe cleaner, and Korkus, a bottle cap. (The names are derived from the German words Pfeifenputzer [pipe cleaner] and Korken [cork, bottle cap]).

In the stories there will appear everyday objects, which are familiar for blind children and therefore interesting for them. Stories are told with and around these objects. The objects are not abstracted, but remain what they are.

The objects are to be glued on card boards with adhesive and Scotch tape. The card board pages will then be bound to a book. Further on, you will find more detailed information for the manufacture of a Pfeifi-Book (texts and handicraft tips).

The stories comprise issues from blind children's real life environment. The different books are partially related to each other; nonetheless, each book stands independently for itself and has got its own character and emphasis.

In the book "Pfeifi sings" the text can be sung to an easy melody.

The books invite to literally handling and discovering. For instance, in the book "What is gone, is gone? - Pfeifi on the search" different boxes and closures can be opened and closed again.

With the professional view of an early intervention specialist for blind and partially sighted children, I would like to especially highlight the pedagogical aspects, why the Pfeifi-Books are very suitable for the targeted support of blind children.

The "Pfeifi-Books" are entertaining; blind and partially sighted children have lots of fun with them. Blind as well as sighted children can "grasp" the books with their respective senses. This integrative aspect is very interesting e.g. for preschools because of two reasons: There, on the one hand, a blind child can be given the opportunity to act on par with the sighted children. On the other hand special needs as well as special gifts and potential of visually impaired children can be communicated to the sighted children. They explain themselves just by the fashion of the book and are tangible and comprehensible for children.

Children learn by playing. It is difficult to find suitable game materials a visually impaired child can play with on its own plus at the same time find interesting challenges. For babies and toddlers there is a huge range of "noise toys" and tactile books; but they eventually become boring. On the other hand blind children also lose interest once they are overstrained - e.g. by complex demands and fine motor skills as required by visually oriented games. The range of special game materials is limited.

The basic idea of the Pfeifi-Books is: allowing a blind child to experience itself as competent and active while dealing with the stories. Confronted with daily life things and issues the child feels as an expert, can contribute its abilities and use recognition and experiences. To experience oneself as competent strengthens self-confidence. That is an important precondition for the next step, in order to be keen on new things and encouraged for the unknown.

Each book can easily be adapted to the issues and individual needs of a child. If a child is particularly fond of special objects or materials like keys, shells or buttons, I recommend to let these objects appear in his book! A sighted child who loves cars or animals will preferentially choose picture-books with cars and animals, will gladly and frequently look at them. Blind children just act equally.

For blind children tactile discoveries, getting to know the different tactile qualities and recognizing by touching are very important experiences.

It sometimes happens that blind children show kind of tactile shyness and anxiety in order to get into something new. Blind children are often very interested in music. For these children a book with singable texts can be a real motivation in order to engage in with the rhythm of the music.

Children with multiple handicaps also show special attention with sung texts, go - led by the music - with interest into tactile experiences and have fun with looking together at the book.

 

In the following section the particular subjects of the Pfeifi-Books will be described:

In the book "Pfeifi Allcounter and Korkus Neverfull" the children's book "Die kleine Raupe Nimmersatt" (Little caterpillar Neverfull) which is well known in Germany is varied.

The main focus of the book is to practice counting. Furthermore the children learn to develop tactile strategies by the different positioning and size of the objects. Therefore the position of the objects is particularly structured. With the glueing of the materials, the six point system of Braille as well as the structure of number cubes are specifically considered.

 

The title "What is gone, is gone" does not only express Pfeifi's attitude, but had also been the attitude of the blind girl whom I accompanied when the book was created.

The subject is the "object permanence": An object continues to exist even when it has left the immediate area of perception. This knowledge is the precondition for seeking objects outside the grasping area and not waiting for  their appearance out of nowhere.

Also important is the experience that it is worth to search, e.g. by learning search strategies, by movement etc. What is right, left, up, down, close, far, under, above, open, closed? Pfeifi's experiences can easily be transferred "out of the book into the world". During our early intervention lesson, after repeatedly looking at the book, they became motive for the girl to hide, seek and find things and persons herself. These hide-and-seeks ("what is a hiding-place?") will then be amplified, space will be enlarged (inside, outside, familiar, unknown, etc.) in order to facilitate increasing space experiences and the pleasure of movement. These are basics for orientation and mobility.

The book "Pfeifi sings" deals with the basic question, how objects feel like. The next step could be distinction and evaluation. For instance, what is a favourite object? These experiences can also be expanded from the book into space. New verses can be invented, related to objects in the room. The child can contribute its experiences and show what he or she can. In doing so, you can detect, what the child does not yet know in the room, what it does not yet know about the objects and where they are. Thus the "intervention issues" become a game for the child: In a playful way the child can gain new experiences, get to know objects and the entire room, and start moving.

 

In the book "Five little objects" Pfeifi and Korkus are constructing a house. A cord is laid as wall, windows and doors are cut in. In a tactile way the child gets to know the model of a house. At the end of the book it is invited to build a house him- or herself. One can build houses with boxes, building bricks, blankets, planks, card boards, tables, chairs etc. For me as an early intervention specialist I ask myself: For a blind child, what has a house to do with a card board having three holes cut in and a triangle glued on it? What does the child really know about houses? What constitutes a house? What belongs to a house? How can a child get to know houses, if it qdoesn't see them?

It is a very important aspect of intervention to find or invent interesting games together and create causes, that motivate the child in order to actively deal with the world and gain experiences. That is much more difficult for a blind than for a sighted child! Blind children are often good listeners, can very quickly learn by heart and are fantastic story-tellers. If the stories they tell, however, are not filled with experience, then they consist of empty "word shells". The Pfeifi-Books offer animating potential in order to invent further game possibilities. They stimulate new activity. Activity is the precondition for comprehending, what so far has only been said, so that words become experience - and finally knowledge. This creates curiosity and once more new knowledge.

Children love and need role models. Therefore it is not a coincidence that Pfeifi is unable to see. It has already been written that the children's individual issues can well be integrated into the books. That also applies to problems, where Pfeifi can give helpful inspiration. The present texts can be varied, new texts or books can be invented. No limits are set to imagination!

From my own experience I can tell: Once you have come to appreciate Pfeifi, he will become an important companion. This experience has been confirmed by feed backs from parents and professionals. Here I would like to mention the first three Pfeifi friends, who became crucial for the invention. The Pfeifi books would not exist without the ideas and the enthusiasm of Noemi and her mother! I owe particular thanks to Gudrun Badde from "Bewegung im Dialog (movement in dialogue) e.V.", who has been a very motivating  advisor for the making of these books due to her vast experience with "Playing with blind children".

 

Pfeifi is still very young and has just been sent to the world! I am very excited to see what really he will be, how he will develop and what people will experience with him. Therefore I would be happy and grateful for feedbacks and new suggestions and am also at your disposal for any further questions.

 



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