Good tactile books for children
Within the framework of the international EVEIL-Project, supported by the EU program COMENIUS, requirements have been compiled for the production of tactile pictures and books for blind and visually impaired children. These criteria are not new, but here we tried to phrase them as broad as possible and understandable for laypersons.
The basic principles for this presentation are rules for the production of tactile books for early support, that have been developed and tested in the framework of the preschool curriculum of the Sonderpädagogische Beratungsstelle (Special Needs Education Helpdesk) der Schloss-Schule Ilvesheim by Michaela Pfeifer, Adalbert Wagner and Inge Ziehmann. The EVEIL-Project has supported a parenting course for the production of a tactile preschool book “Ich und meine Familie” (“Me and my family”) of the Ilvesheim Helpdesk in cooperation with Susanne Sariyannis, the mother of a blind preschool child, where these criteria had been applied in practice with parents and their children. Furthermore, criteria for the production of tactile images of the correspondent technical literature have been evaluated. (Lang 2008, Hanke 2006)
Focusing on the children
The following criteria do not apply to all blind and visually impaired children equally. With the designing of pictures and books one should always keep the concrete target group in mind. For children of higher age and advanced training in touching as well as development of concepts and terms much more abstract figures can already make sense, e.g. in order to familiarize them with the visual picture language of the seeing people.
- Use simple figures – do not reconstruct true to original!
- The picture must be reduced to the basic elements, just due to the mere fact that touching needs more time.
- The figures must be adapted to the children’s age, tactile skills and wealth of experience.
- Complicated issues may be arranged to several tactile pictures.
- Symbols and forms of presentation should be consistent.
Variety of materials
- Use as many different materials as possible! The younger blind children are, the less useful are reliefs on cling wrap.
- The used materials should feel like the original objects. Suitable are e.g. articles from decoration shops (leaves of artificial plants) or self-crafted miniatures of synthetic modeling clay.
- Original objects themselves can also be used, e.g. stones, pieces of wood, fur, snail or sea shells.
- The elements of a tactile picture should be clearly distinguishable, e.g. by clear edges, difference in elevation or surface characteristics.
- Form shapes instead of drawing lines!
- The form of the depicted objects should be represented as true to the original as possible. A circularly embossed surface can more easily be identified as a ball than a tactile circular line; an embossed, arched cut ball even more.
- Take account of tactile anatomy
- Lines or points in a distance of less than 2 mm can usually no more be palpated. Therefore the distances should always be larger.
- Line profiles are not very well touchable. Lines that converge or cross can easily create the impression of a complete closed figure. Crossovers and interruptions of lines should be avoided.
- The different tactile designing of spaces by dotting or hatching – though visually easy to distinguish – can usually not be differentiated by touching.
- Objects should always be depicted in a straight angle. E.g. show just the front face of a house and not also perspectively the side front. Animals should be shown straight from the side or front, not skewed.
- Objects in a larger distance cannot just be depicted smaller.
- Elements should always be shown side by side and not behind each other or overlapping.
Use bold colours
Since most of the visually impaired people dispose of certain remaining visual functions, tactile pictures for blind people should also be designed rich in contrast with strong colours in order to train the children’s eyesight.
Not too large
- The space that is supposed to be touched should not be larger than the arm radius of the child.
- With preschool children the picture size of 15 x 21 cm has been well-proven.
Books are important cultural assets of our societies. Blind and visually impaired children are supposed to know what a book is, how it is composed and handled.
In fact, one can illustrate stories to blind children with other materials, too, e.g.:
- Important tactile objects of a story can be lined up to a string or clothes line according to the sequence of their appearance in the story. The listener touches simultaneously to the narrative thread along the cord.
- Objects can also be stowed into tactile small bags or boxes and then taken out and be touched according to the progress of the narrated story.
- A leporello fold in the form of an accordion is also possible. There the tactile pages are not composed one behind the other, but side by side.
Nonetheless, with books blind and visually impaired children learn
- that there exists front and back, top and bottom
- that texts are to be read from left to right, from top to bottom
- that pages are turned over and that there are always two pages side by side
- that there are a front page, page numbers, chapters and headlines
- and much more – which means to develop the concept of a book
Books should always be drafted inclusively. They should be usable with the same fun by seeing, visually impaired and blind children. Tactile pictures should also be attractive in terms of colours. Texts must be written in Braille and black-print.
- Scripture is important even for children who can not yet read. Especially blind children do not come across scripture as much as seeing children do in their everyday life. Scripture in children books helps them to develop a concept of scripture and to recognize letters and words.
- The text can always be arranged at one side and the tactile pictures at the other side of the books.
- With blind children it makes sense to have the Braille- and black-print-scripture always in parallel. This way with remaining visual functions black-print can still be perceived and seeing readers or siblings can read along the text.
- An optimal version of Braille scripture for preschool children contains:
- left-aligned text
- capital and lower case letters
- no hyphenation (syllable division)
- no direct speech
- double line-spacing
- no double letter-spacing
- Scripture can also be integrated into pictures. Objects can be labeled, there can be street signs, name tags and instruction plates.
- The pictures can also contain adhesive letters or words, which gives you numerous variation possibilities and tasks for the child, e.g. to look for the missing letters in their one names and insert them correctly.
- In an optimum way the labels are adapted to the individual child. It motivates if the main character of the story bears the same name as the child itself.
- But labels are not supposed to disturb the touching of the picture. Direction and marking arrows complicate the perception. Where appropriate, abbreviations or a legend can be used.
Comprehending by acting
- As many elements as possible should be movable so that the child can replay and create the story on its own terms. Thus e.g. an animal could be hidden in a cave and pulled out again. Matching objects could be allocated to each other by the child. With Velcro (hook-and-loop-tape) many elements can be arranged flexibly and movably.
- The book can also contain objects, which can be totally taken out of the book and used in order to discover or play, e.g. cars, plush toys etc.
- The design of the pages should be variable, so that the book keeps being different and interesting for the child any time it starts reading again. With counting tasks (“How many bananas does Mum want to buy?”) the number can be made changeable.
- Thus the book can contain many tasks that support the child in
- fine motor skills
- comprehension of concepts
- reading preparation
- Besides the exciting tactile design a book can also contain elements that can be heard, smelled and tasted.
- On the one hand the book should be cognoscible as a book with front cover and spine as well as with pages to be turned over. On the other hand it helps, if the pages can be taken out in order to better touch and work with them. This way you can also vary the extent of the book and its degree of difficulty. If the child is already tired or lacking in concentration, you can just cut the book by half.
- The page numbers of the book can be indicated by the corresponding number of tactile dots bottom left.
- The use of folders has been proved to be practical.
- This way the child can already practice the ability to file and take out, which will later be needed at school.
- The pages should be firm, in order to be a solid pad for touching.
- Pages, pictures and texts should be stable, robust and preferably washable.
- According to experience, the following materials are most suitable:
- imitation bristol as basic material for the pages
- adhesive foil as pages surface for Braille lettering
- door mat (looped fibres) as hook-and-loop surface (Velcro) for assembling letters, words and objects
Markus Lang (2008): Inhaltsbereiche und konkrete Ausgestaltung einer spezifischen Didaktik des Unterrichts mit blinden und hochgradig sehbehinderten Schülerinnen und Schülern. In: Lang, M. / Hofer, U. / Beyer, F.: Didaktik des Unterrichts mit blinden und hochgradig sehbehinderten Schülerinnen und Schülern. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart, 151-197
Peter Hanke (2006): Gestaltungsmöglichkeiten für taktile Bilderbücher - Vorgestellt an einem taktilen Bilderbuch für blinde und sehbehinderte Kinder im Alter von 3 bis 6 Jahren - Darlegung des Konzepts unter wahrnehmungsphysiologischen, pädagogischen, technischen und entwicklungspsychologischen Aspekten, Marburg
Inge Ziehmann, Adalbert Wagner (2012): Ilvesheimer Standards für die Buchherstellung zum Erwerb der Brailleschrift. Unveröffentlichtes Manuskript der Beratungsstelle der Schloss-Schule Ilvesheim