The benefits of creating experience books are many, but chief among them is their ability to help the child reflect and recall events from the past and be able to share them with others. This tangible focal point provides a sound basis for social interactions. The experience book becomes a support to the individual in expressive communication, and also in receptive communication. Joint attention to the book, the story, provides an invaluable point of connection between the individual and his/her communication partner.
Experience books can also serve as guides or instructions for completing specific tasks. Think about the way we use a recipe to make our favorite meals or assemble a set of bookshelves from our favorite DIY store.
In the hands of a proficient communicator, an experience can be built upon to create experiences we can only have in our imaginations. Creative writing can be a great recreational activity or way for a child to express their inner thoughts and feelings. Journaling, a form of experience sharing, has many mental health benefits. It also can be a fun project for a small group of individuals as they co-create a wild tale. To see some examples of creative writing experiences visit Playing with Words microsite developed collaboratively by Perkins School for the Blind and Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired.
There is unlimited value in helping children who are deafblind to create and read experience books. They can be made in the child’s preferred literacy medium that includes objects, object symbols, drawings, print, pictures of sign language, and braille. They may also be audio-based stories that can include simple rhymes, poems, and even longer stories.
Creating an Experience Book
At the heart of the experience book is the experience. It can be something as mundane as making your morning coffee or as exceptional as a ride in a hot air balloon. What is the deciding factor? Simply this — what experiences or what is it about an experience that interests the individual who is deafblind.
A second component to consider is the form of the book. By this we mean pictures, tactile symbols, braille, print, audio, or some combination of these forms. This is determined by the individual’s receptive communication forms.
Some children enjoy the process of drawing pictures if they have usable vision, others find the exploration of real objects or tactile symbols representing aspects of the experience most helpful. Remember the symbols are static, that is, they do not disappear and can be re-read any number of times. You can combine forms, for example print or braille with pictures. These static forms also help the child to read the story or share it with others using his expressive voice (gestures, signs, spoken word- dynamic forms). Adding print or braille to any page may also make it accessible to someone else who wants to share the story with the individual and who is unfamiliar with the meaning of, for exmaple, tactile symbols or pictures. The forms you use will guide you in the physical shape and composition of the book (braille paper, poster board, regular paper in a binder, etc.)
So what is included in the experience book – what is the story? Like any good reporter, we need to share the basics of the experience at a minimum. In the beginning look for the features of the experience that seemed to grab the child’s attention. For example, did he enjoy exploring the condensation on the outside of his drink at the restaurant or was he surprised by the feather he found on the playground?
We should also be sure to include who was involved in the experience. This is a great way to learn the names of important people (and animals) in a child life. It also is a way to introduce the roles people play in the community. For example, the waitress at a restaurant, the driver of the bus, the policeman in the car — things that help the individual know about various roles people play and the jobs they have.
Including information about when and where are also important. Did this experience happen yesterday or was it many years ago? Did it take place in her yard or was the experience conducted at the swimming pool?
A critical factor in creating the story is the sequence of events that make up the experience. What happened first, second, etc.? Is one part of the experience where the unexpected or most interesting part takes place? For example, traveling in the family car to the ice cream shop is part of the story, but the exciting part is when you tasted a new flavor of ice cream that was delicious because your favorite flavor was not available. In a good story, there is often a build up to a climatic event and then some resolve. For example, after tasting the delicious ice cream, you ate a huge bowl and were so full you didn’t want supper.
Some stories, especially for the beginning reader, will probably be very short. Others may have many components included in the event. The length of the story is not as important as the students interest and ability to revisit and recall the experience.
Kersten and Matt Create an Experience Book
In this video we see Kersten and her teacher, Matt, as they create an experience book together about a trip they took out into the community.
Stories about Everyday Events
One great place to start with co-creating a story with your child is to begin with everyday, familiar activities such as taking a bath, playing outside, changing clothes, or any other activity that the child is very familiar with and finds interesting. Think of the order of the events or steps in the event that take place. For example, drawing the bath water, pouring water on her hair, using the shampoo, rinsing out the suds, etc. What can represent filling the bath? Could it be the bath stopper or the handle of the faucet? You may need to use the entire object or a piece of the object or a drawing of the faucet with water coming out. Complete a page for the steps the child is most attune to or that are important to highlight. For example, did something unexpected happen during the familiar activity? Did Susie pull the plug out of the drain and let all the water run out before the bath was finished? Unexpected events can carry a great deal of emotion with them and stay in the child’s memory for a long time.
It is often a good idea to read the story before you complete the familiar activity and then again after the activity is finished or later in the day. Encourage the child to tell as much of the story as he/she can, in part by giving them plenty of time to explore the content (symbol) before interjecting ourselves as the story teller. Stories are meant to be shared, so take turns sharing the content.
Stories about Special or Unexpected Events
Sometimes the best stories come from events or experiences that are unexpected or out of the ordinary flow of the day. Special trips or activities, animals, events and people the child especially wants to discuss make for great experience books. For example, one individual we know was very interested in sharks and wanted to talk about them all the time. Being able to put some of her thoughts about sharks into a book after a visit to the aquarium was very enjoyable for her.
Another great topic for an experience book is an experience that is very emotional either in a positive or even in a negative way. For example, having a book about a visit to the doctor can help prepare the child and reduce his/her anxiety as you read and talk about the book. Does your child adore his/her granddad? Co-create a book all about Granddad and what the child likes to do with him.
Webinar on Experience Stories
Deanna Peterson and Kathi Garza discuss the benefits and how to use experience stories with students.
One more important feature about experience books is their ability to be first steps into developing important literacy skills. These include among others:
- Concept and vocabulary development,
- Use of vision, hearing and tactile skills to access symbolic content such as print, braille, tactile symbols, audio recordings,
- Development of motor skills to create and handle books – e.g. turning pages, reading top to bottom and left to right,
- Asking and answering questions about content shared in the story,
- Learning to read for various purposes such as gaining information or as a recreational pastime.
Create a Library
Finally, as you create experience books with your child or student, set up a special shelf or area to store them. This way the child can access them to share with others or simply to read for his/her own pleasure. You will find that you, too, may enjoy periodically pulling an experience book out and thinking about this special time you spent co-creating this document.