More than a half of a million kids in the United States are visually impaired. That's according to a survey done by American Community Survey for the American Foundation for the Blind. Teaching kids who are blind how to read braille can sometimes be a challenge. But a new tool from a well-known company is getting into the hands of teachers to help kids learn to read and keep it fun.
Normally when you think of LEGOS, you think of colored bricks. They come in kits to build things like cars and spaceships, or you can freestyle and make something on your own. Now, the LEGO Foundation has found a way to use these classic toys to help children who are visually impaired learn how to read braille.
"A braille cell has six dots, three on one side and three on the other. And, the configuration of those dots is a different letter," said Kate Herndon with American Printing House for the Blind. "What they did is remove the bottom two studs, and put in print, and then, the top six studs are what you would have in a braille cell."
For example, a brick with one stud on the left and the two on the right is a D or a 4. They both have the same dot pattern.
Herndon's company is distributing the brick kits, which have gone out to teachers all across the United States and in 20 other counties as well.
"I don’t think I’ve used them with a student who didn’t like them," said teacher Paige Maynard.
Maynard was one of the first to get the prototype kit and says there are so many ways to use the bricks to help the students learn.
The kits come with 300 bricks. There are letters, numbers, punctuation marks, and math symbols to allow kids to create words, sentences, and math equations, and a baseboard for the LEGOs to snap into.
"It really levels that playing field of having those manipulatives to use and then also it’s that other thing that as teachers of the visually impaired, we can use to help our students with progressing with their skills and literacy," said Maynard.
Kids as young as 4 are learning from these braille bricks. One of Maynard’s 9-year-old students loves Disney princesses, so she came up with a game.
"She was pretending that each of the braille bricks was a seashell and that she was Ariel and she was going around and finding the seashells. And she was finding the ones that were the same and putting them in her seashell purse, and I just thought that was so much fun!" said Maynard.
Maynard says not only is it fun for the kids, but it’s also another tool in the toolbox that teachers of the visually impaired can use.
"We think about a lot of students who are print readers, and they have all the alphabet manipulatives that have been around for years. But children who are visually impaired and braille readers haven’t really had that in the past, and if they have, it hasn’t been as widely available," said Maynard.
"Learning braille is so very important and this is one way, one method, to reinforce the learning that’s taking place in the classroom and to bring play into it, to make it fun, to make it more motivating for kids," said Herndon.
Those classic LEGO bricks that have been around for almost 90 years are now putting those interlocking bumps to another use.