Helping Your Child Develop Literacy Skills

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Aaron puts mom's hand on braille.

Braille is the medium this second grader uses for reading and writing. Although his mom is sighted, he grabs her hand and lays it on the braille to "show" her what he wrote.

In today's information-based society, literacy—the ability to read and write—is a more important part of life than ever before. In the early grades of elementary school, your child will be spending a good part of his time just learning how to read and write. But as he moves up the grades, he will be putting those skills to use, reading textbooks in science and social studies, for example, writing essays and stories, and doing math problems. Eventually, he will need to use his literacy skills to function as an adult in a work environment and in daily life. Making sure your child gets a firm grounding in these skills is, therefore, essential.

How Will Your Child Read and Write?

Depending on your child's visual condition, he might be learning to read standard print like his classmates, or he might need to use an alternate medium such as braille. To find out whether using vision or touch is the best way for him to read and write, his teacher of students with visual impairments will conduct a learning media assessment. If your child is visually impaired and has some usable vision, he will also need a functional vision assessment. The results of these assessments will determine the most effective way for your child to read and write—in print or in braille. In addition, the use of aural methods (such as listening to recorded textbooks), although not considered literacy, can supplement your child's access to written information. Most likely, your child will use a combination of methods. These assessments will also give details about the formats in which your child's texts and other materials need to be presented, such as what size print is best if your child reads print. Your child's needs can change over time, so the assessments should be repeated each year to see if any changes have to be made in the materials or tools he uses.

Depending on your child's needs and visual condition, there are a variety of devices and tools that can help him (see "How Students with Low Vision Read and Write" and "How Students Who Are Blind Read and Write"). It is important to determine not only how your child will do near tasks—things he can do at his desk—but also distance tasks—for example, how he will get access to information on the bulletin board, the classwork the teacher has on the chalkboard, the lunch choices on the menu posted by the cafeteria door, and the street signs when he walks through the neighborhood.

Getting Books on Time

If your child uses an alternate medium for reading and writing, his teacher of students with visual impairments will need to arrange to get his textbooks and other classroom materials put into that medium. It may require ordering a textbook in braille or in recorded format, or the teacher may need to enlarge or braille the worksheets the classroom teacher hands out in class or for homework. Preparing those materials takes a lot of coordination on the teachers' part. However, it is crucial to your child's success at school that he receive his books at the same time as his classmates. Sometimes this may not be possible, for example, when there isn't enough preparation time. In such cases, someone will need to read the material to your child so that he still gets the information on time. Keep in mind, though, that listening to someone read and being able to read a text yourself are not the same thing. It's important to monitor closely whether your child is receiving his materials on time and in a format that is accessible to him. If this is not happening, consider raising this issue with his teacher of students with visual impairments or his educational team to talk about how the situation can be remedied.

How You Can Help Your Child Develop Literacy Skills

You can help your child develop strong literacy skills by making sure that he has access to the same reading and writing activities as his classmates and his brothers and sisters at home. It's also important to make sure that he understands the importance of reading and writing as activities all people engage in—out in the community as well as in school.

If your child is now reading and writing in school, don't stop giving him opportunities to read and write at home. Continue to point out how you are using your own literacy skills throughout the day, from reading a recipe, directions on a medication bottle, or a magazine to writing out checks, shopping lists, and directions to a friend's house. Provide your child with opportunities to take what he is learning in school and use it outside the classroom, such as by making out part of the family shopping list, taking a telephone message, or reading the directions as you travel to a new location. Write notes to him in his literacy medium, be it print or braille. Here are a few other suggestions.

  • Develop a chore list in print or braille for your child to complete each week.
  • If your child has a savings account, help him keep a list of his transactions that he can read and write on.
  • Play games that are accessible to your child. Many board games are available in braille or can be easily adapted. If a scorekeeper is needed, make sure your child has an opportunity to take on this role.
  • Finally, continue to share family reading time. If you can't read your child's braille books, try letting him read them to you!

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JVIB Special Issue on Critical Issues in Visual Impairment & Blindness

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